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The Goan community of London

A maritime culture
The priest and the company
The Goans of Bombay
Lascars in the East End
Colonial clerks
The exodus
A Konkani translation of the full story
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Lascars in the East End

Arrival of the first Lascars

Baptism records from the end of the 17th century in East Greenwich show that a number of young Indians from the Malabar Coast were brought to England as servants. However, it is difficult to find out exactly where these people came from.

A Navigation Act was passed in 1660 that restricted the employment of non-English seamen to a quarter of the crew on returning East India Company ships. There is evidence of this law being enforced with the arrest of a Captain Bookie in 1730 at Greenwich.

East India Company pay books suggest that the captains had become so attached to their Indo-Portuguese cooks that these cooks were travelling on two or even three voyages between London and the East Indies with the same master.

Replacement crews

Church of Our Lady of Assumption.
View full size image Church of Our Lady of the  Assumption. © NMM
Between 1720 and 1800, the volume of trade at the Port of London tripled. Several of the larger East India Company ships called at Goa and returned to dock at Erith, Woolwich or Deptford. Many British sailors were lost on the voyages to the East Indies, so many Indo-Portuguese Lascars from Bengal and Madras were recruited as crew.

The employment of Goans on board East India Company ships was further encouraged after the brief British presence in Goa between 1797 and 1799 during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Deptford Goans

The British generals acquired a taste for Goan food and took many Goans as cooks and general servants to Bombay. It is possible that there were Goans at Deptford among thirteen Lascars and a Portuguese on board an Indiaman who were buried in the parish of St Nicholas at Deptford in 1796.

If there were some Goans living in Deptford it is quite likely that they lived around King Street, New Street and Lower Street, which were the most cosmopolitan streets at that time.

Abandoned seamen

Shadwell Basin in Rotherhithe.
View full size image Shadwell Basin, the location of the Oriental Quarters for stranded Goan seamen. © NMM

Around the middle of the 19th century, increasing numbers of Goans settled in London. Most were seamen who had been abandoned by their shipping masters.

There were some specific areas of East London that attracted the early Goans.

One of the most famous areas was a group of passages off the High Street at Shadwell known as Tiger Bay.

Skittle-ground at the back of the Royal Sovereign Pub, Shadwell.
View full size image Skittle-ground at the back of the Royal Sovereign Pub, Shadwell. © NMM

Census returns for this period omit Goans and other Asians as a landlord could be imprisoned for housing them. But there is evidence from other sources of Goans in the area. At 12 Bluegate Fields, Francis Kaudery (probably Cordeira), who arrived from Goa around 1855, worked as a steward at the Royal Sovereign Public House.

This was a popular meeting point for Lascars who would often gather to drink Arrack and play skittles in the courtyard behind the pub.



The Strangers' Home

The home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and others at West India Dock Road.
View full size image The home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and others at West India Dock Road. © NMM

The plight of these often poor people was taken up by Lieutenant Colonel R. M. Hughes, formally of the East India Company, and Joseph Salter of the London City Mission. The men held a meeting in 1855 to set up a Strangers' Home.

The main contributor to the 'Home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and Others' on the West India Dock Road was the East India Company, which provided £200. The newly founded Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) provided £20 to the home, which opened in 1857.

Lascars were admitted as long as they had the prospect of local employment, or were on a ship returning to the East. Beside the home was the Lascars Shipping Agency. There were Goans at the home and one of them complained that there was no Konkani-speaking priest to hear his confession.

The Suez route

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 ships could travel to India and Australia by a shorter route, without sailing around Africa. Companies such as the British India Steam Navigation Company (BISNC), which were already employing Goan crew in the Indian Ocean, now used them on voyages via Suez to London. This further added to the seamen on P&O vessels visiting the port of London.

Writers mention Lascars, servants and Ayahs (children's nurses) at the Isle of Dogs where Goan Arrack was available in 1872. The nearby area around Ratcliffe Highway, behind the Limehouse Basin, was another popular haunt of Lascars. Some of these men married local British women and lived at Mile End Old Town. They may have gone to church at St Mary's and St Michael's in the Commercial Road.

First family

The first Goan family known to live in England was the Mascarenhas family, who came via Bombay and lived in Mortham Street, East Ham. Three of their children were born in East London. Mr Mascarenhas was a professor of languages and his wife was a dress-maker.

It is very possible that these Goans worshipped at the Church of St Francis of Assisi on Grove Crescent Road. In the more affluent area of the city about six or seven Goan women lived at a lodging house. These Catholic Goans were regular attendants at the Sunday services of the Roman Catholic chapel of St Mary at Bloomfields Street, Moorfields.

This early Goan community was eventually assimilated into the general population of East London and ceased to exist as a distinct community by the beginning of the 20th century.  

P&O and the Lascars

SS Ravenna P&O Passenger/Cargo Liner.
View full size image SS Ravenna, P&O Passenger Liner, March 1886. © NMM
In 1881 the Peninsula and Oriental (P&O) line moved its terminus from Southampton to London. The census reports of that year provide a valuable insight into the changing Goan Lascar population in the port of London.

Altogether there were more than 55 Goan Lascars on four vessels in the port of London - three of these were P&O ships. Many of these men were recruited in Bombay via an agent in Goa.

It has been possible, through family history studies, to trace some of these men to particular Goan villages. P&O continued to employ a large number of Goans on ships sailing between London and India or Australia

Goans in St Katharine's

SS Indus (P&O) Liner.
View full size image SS Indus, P&O Passenger Liner, 20th July 1882. © NMM
St George's Street, with shops on one side and the warehouses of St Katharine's Docks on the other, was a popular area for Asian sailors. Here, in a housing scheme originally intended for the poor, a Goan appears to have rented a flat at Katharine Building in Cartwright Street in 1888.

The census of 1901 shows the increase in Goan Lascars in London. There were more than 120 Goan seamen in the Port of London, of which 104 were on the P&O ships in the Albert Docks.


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