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Port of Liverpool
1910 – 1923
Lascars
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The Lascar Institute: A sequel to The Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen

A Lascar Institute in Birkenhead is mentioned in the annual general meeting minutes of the Mersey Mission to Seamen, held at the Liverpool Record Office. This appears to be a continuation of The Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen. The minutes first mention the Institute from 1910 and continue up into the 1920s, when a new building was constructed.

The annual general meeting minutes of the Mersey Mission to Seamen, which are held at the Liverpool Record Office, include references to a place variably referred to as a Lascar or Asiatic Institute. This Institute appears to be a continuation of The Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen. The Birkenhead Mission was initially founded as a room in 1900, before a larger building was constructed to accommodate up to 400 ‘lascars’, who visited the mission each month. This story continues from the Birkenhead Mission, starting with the first mention of the Lascar Institute in the Mersey Mission minutes, in 1910.  

An entry on 2 December 1910 discusses continued expenses of £30 for the upcoming year’s missionary work amongst ‘lascars’, taking place in Wallasey. Mr Guidor and Mr Shearer are mentioned as responsible for the scheme. No further information about these individuals is provided by the minutes. However, previous research informs us that Mr Shearer originally set up the Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen in 1900. This would become the Asiatic branch of the Mersey Mission to Seamen in 1902. Subsequent minute entries up to 1915 mention the Lascar Institute in relation to its upkeep. The painting and provision of railings are specifically discussed. There is also a conversation about the employment of a dedicated Asiatic Mission employee on 1 April 1915. An application from Mr Crawford was received. Mr Crawford appeared well placed for the role as he had ‘done similar work at the Tilbury and London docks’ and ‘spoke Hindustani fluently’. The next mention of the Lascar Institute in the minutes is not until 1923.  

Life for Black and Asian seamen in Britain would have been significantly different by 1923. The transition from World War I, where seafarer labour was in high demand, to a declining post war economy with increasing unemployment contributed to racial tensions, resulting in the 1919 riots and legislative discrimination against Black and Asian seafarers (Tabili, 1994; Visram, 2002). Riots occurred across UK port towns in 1919, with more notorious cases in Cardiff and Liverpool and lesser-known incidents in Glasgow, London, South Shields, Salford, and Hull (Jenkinson, 2009). This environment led to a greater demand for the services that the Mission provided in Liverpool. According to the minutes, by the end of 1923 the Mersey Mission started to discuss the purchase of a new building for the ‘Lascar Mission’. There was a ‘need of larger premises’, confirming greater numbers of Black and Asian seamen in Liverpool after World War I.  A sub-committee was appointed with the task of finding new premises and overseeing the development of the new Institute. By 9 July 1924 land in Birkenhead had been acquired for £200, and by April 1925 the new building was complete at a total cost of around £2750. On 9 December 1925 ‘the Chairman reported’ that ‘the new Lascar Institute…was formally dedicated and opened on 12 May 1925’.   

There is no indication of the number of seamen that used the Institute within the Mersey Mission minutes. Fortunately, an India Office report by Captain E.W. Huddleston, Director of India Office Shipping, who visited Liverpool on 6 August 1926, supplements information from the Mersey Mission. Huddleston writes that the Lascar Institute, which included a hall with seating for 150 to 200 men and the ‘usual sanitary arrangements’, is not ‘intended as a Home’ as it has no ‘sleeping or boarding accommodation’. The Institute was rather a recreational or social club where ‘lascar’ seamen could get refreshments and enjoy entertainment from ‘conjurers and lantern lecturers’. Huddleston recalls the British Chaplain of the Institute saying that it was set up to provide ‘shelter’ and a means of getting men off the streets. Given the events of 1919, for the British government and the Mersey Mission, a place such as the Institute may have offered a means of separating ‘lascar’ seamen from their white counterparts at a time when conflict in port towns was seen as likely. The Institute also appeared to play a pastoral role. Huddleston is told by a Bengali ‘Missioner’ who lived on the premises that they ‘look after men in distress’ and ‘find employment for men who missed their ships or who have deserted’. Huddleston’s overall impression is positive, and the report is a valuable addition to the Mersey Mission to Seamen minutes. 

 

 

2 December 1910 entry for the Annual General Minutes of the Mersey Mission to Seamen

Reference: 361 MER 1/1 - 1/6, Mersey Mission to Seamen, Annual General Meetings Minutes, 2 December 1910, Liverpool Record Office. 

References

361 MER 1/1 - 1/6, Mersey Mission to Seamen, Annual General Meetings Minutes, Liverpool Record Office.  

IOR/L/E/7/1360, File 3847, Report by Captain E.W. Huddleston, 25 August 1926, India Office Records, British Library.  

Jenkinson, Jacqueline. 2009. Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain, (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press). 

Tabili, Laura. 1994. "The Construction of Racial Difference in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order 1925", Journal of British Studies, 33:1: 54-98.  

Visram, Rozina. 2002. Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History, (London: Pluto Press). 

Citation for this article

Haseeb Khan, 'The Lascar Institute: A sequel to The Birkenhead Mission to Asiatic Seamen' Mariners: Race, Religion and Empire in British Ports 1801-1914, https://mar.ine.rs/stories/the-lascar-institute-a-sequel-to-the-birkenhead-mission-to-asiatic-seamen/
Retrieved 20 April 2024