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The Goan community of London

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Colonial clerks

Imperial civil servants

Poster advertising BISNC services to East African ports, 1901.
View full size imageBritish India Steam Navigation Company East Africa Coast Service. © NMM
The British India Steam Navigation Company (BISNC) employed Goans as clerks at their offices around the Indian Ocean as early as 1874. Sir William Mackinnon, the owner of BISNC, also set up the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) in 1881 to administer the trade in the Uganda Protectorate and British East Africa. This link between a shipping company and a trading company eventually led to the growth of the London Goan community in the 20th century.

Zanzibar and shipping taken from HMS London
View full size imageZanzibar and shipping taken from HMS London. © NMM

These photographs were taken at Zanzibar in 1875 from the HMS London. In 1881 there were eight Goans aboard this Royal Navy depot ship. There were also Goans on board the HMS Malacca, to the left.

Mackinnon and the BISNC

In 1891 Duncan Mackinnon (nephew of William Mackinnon) took over the BISNC, managing a fleet of 81 ships. Mackinnon increased the BISNC services between India and East Africa, moving the East African base from Zanzibar to Mombasa.

Dhow anchorage in Mombasa.
View full size imageThe Old or Arab Harbour at Mombasa, where the BISNC established its East African base after 1891. © NMM

The BISNC was so pleased with the Goans' loyalty that it began to rely on Goan staff to run its offices in East Africa.

Between 1890 and 1895, when the British colonial government took over the IBEAC administration in East Africa, the policy of employing Goans in the colonial civil service and telegraph offices of East Africa was already established.

In fact, by 1890 there were 160 Goans in Mombasa forming the backbone of the ports and harbour administration. 

The Imperial British East African Company was also behind the construction of the Uganda Railway in 1896.

When the colonial government began this venture, Goans were employed as stewards and administrative staff for the East African Railways & Harbours.

East African settlers

Engines of the East African Railways (EAR).
View full size image Engines of the East African Railways (EAR). © NMM
The migration of Goans to East Africa reached a peak in the years between the world wars (1918 to 1939), when many Goan seamen who had served in the Merchant or Royal Navy during the First World War moved to East Africa with their families.

Report for Smith Mackenzie & Co.
View full size image Report for Smith Mackenzie & Co, on the German East African ports during 1899. © NMM

In East Africa the BISNC continued to operate as the Smith, Mackenzie & Co. Ltd. It was the main local shipping agency for the P&O, BI and Union Lines.

By 1950 the BI fleet was the largest in the British Merchant Navy, but operated mainly east of Suez. In an event known as 'BI Sunday' on 16 September 1951, there were seven BI ships occupying every berth at Mombasa, and over 200 Goan seamen in port.


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