The welfare of seamen
|The Coloured Men's Institute|
Prejudice and racism
For non-white seamen, the perils of life in the port were made worse by the prejudice and racism they experienced from the locals. Some initiatives set out to help Asian and African seamen specifically, but the most important work was carried out by the Methodist Pastor Kamal Chunchie, founder of the Coloured Men's Institute.
The Strangers' Home
The most important initiative in the 19th century was the opening of the Strangers' Home, also known as the Home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and Others. Its promoters were Lieutenant Colonel RM Hughes, formally of the East India Company, and Joseph Salter of the London City Mission.
The main contributors were the East India Company and several Indian princes, with a smaller donation coming later from the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (later P&O). The Strangers' Home opened in 1857 on the West India Dock Road.
Chunchie was given special responsibilty for the non-white seamen, who were going through a particularly bad time in the post-war years. Large numbers were recruited during the war, and most had been laid off once they were no longer needed. Many were left stranded in Britain's port towns.
Chunchie's work for the QVSR
He discovered there were many black and Asian seamen living in London and facing both racism and poverty. Determined to help improve their lives, he collected donations to relieve their poverty.
Chunchie distributed food, clothing and other items to individuals in need. He also organized group events such as outings to the countryside and seaside.
Chunchie and the Coloured Men's Institute
The original Coloured Men's Institute lasted only four years, as the building was demolished to build the Silvertown Way. Chunchie carried on the Institute's work at various places near the Royal Docks.
Chunchie died in 1953, after three decades of relentless activity. Without his exceptional drive and fundraising skills, the Institute did not survive him.
He had made enemies and attracted much criticism. Some did not like the issues he highlighted, and he broke with the Methodists in 1932. Others felt he should have been more radical and openly political.
However, by devoting his life to the local black and Asian communities, Chunchie made a real contribution to the lives of many people who were marginalized or ignored by British society.
To find out more about the work of Kamal Chunchie, visit the following site, part of the Channel 4 Black and Asian History Map:
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