The establishment of the East India Company in 1600 began a complex relationship between Britain and India, which led to a migration of South Asians from all walks of life into Britain.
The importance of cross-empire trade grew during the time of the British Raj in India, and was vital to Britain’s rapid industrialisation.
Lascar sailors worked on board ships to transport the steady flow of people and goods from India to Britain and back.
The common perception among ship-owners and the public was that lascars were essential as they could ‘stand the fiercest heat of the tropics better than any other race’.
In reality, however, it was their low wages that made them an attractive labour force: while Indian lascars were officially British subjects, they were employed on ‘Asiatic’ contracts, which meant that they received much lower pay than their European counterparts.
The hard working conditions led some lascars to settle in British ports and they became the earliest Asian working class in Britain.
Meanwhile Asian nannies, known as ayahs, played an essential part in the lives of British families in India.
Ayahs would often travel between the two countries to support wealthy families within the highest levels of society.
Among the most prominent South-Asian figures of the day was Col. James Skinner, who was one distinguished biracial child of the period and was born in 1778 in India.
His mother was an Indian princess and his father was Lieutenant-Col Hercules Skinner, an officer of the East India Company.
Among the most prominent South-Asian figures of the day was Col. James Skinner, who was one distinguished biracial child of the period and was born in 1778 in India
Because of his Indian heritage, Skinner was unable to serve as an officer in the East India Company army and, at the age of sixteen, he entered the Maratha army as an ensign under Benoît de Boigne, the French commander of Maharaja Scindia’s forces of Gwalior State.
Eventually he joined the Bengal Army of the East India Company where Lord Lake had become Commander-in-Chief of British India in 1801.
Another distinguished South-Asian figure of the period was Sake Dean Mahomed, who established the first Indian restaurant in the UK
It is said that James Skinner had fourteen wives and many children.
Another prominent South-Asian figure of the period was Sake Dean Mahomed.
As a soldier in the East India Company’s Bengal Regiment, he had first settled in Ireland in 1784, in the service of captain Baker with whom he worked for many years.
By 1810, he had established the Hindoostanee Coffee House at 34 George Street, London, Britain’s first Indian restaurant run by an Asian owner.
In 1814, he moved to Brighton, where he set up Mahomed’s Baths, treating patients with muscular ailments with a massage or champi (the origin of the word ‘shampoo’) after a steaming bath of Indian aromatic herbs and oils.
The remedy quickly became famous, and fashionable people around the country flocked to his baths. Even doctors sent their patients to Mahomed.
In 1822, King George IV appointed him his personal shampooing surgeon, an appointment continued by William IV.
In 2005, Mahomed’s memory was honoured with a plaque dedicated to his work at the site of Britain’s first curry house in London