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Asians in Britain: Visitors

Many Indian visitors to Britain have left us accounts of their impressions of Britain and the British 'at home'. Some of these accounts were first written as articles in Indian newspapers and magazines or as lectures and later published in book form.

Mirza Abu Taleb Khan

Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, an early 19th century visitor. [BL: 303.k.21.22] © The British Library Board.


Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, a Muslim Scholar who travelled to Africa and Europe in the years 1799-1803, has left us his observations of the life of upper classes in Georgian Ireland and England in his travelogue. Of his reception by the King and Queen Charlotte, he wrote:
"Both these illustrious personages received me in the most condescending manner, commanded me to come frequently to court. After this introduction, I received invitations from all the Princes; and the Nobility vied with each other in their attention to me. Hospitality is one of the most esteemed virtues of the English; and I experienced it to such a degree that I was seldom disengaged and enjoyed every luxury."
- From: Abu Taleb Khan, Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan in Asia, Africa and Europe During the Years 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802 and 1803. Written by himself in the Persian Language, 2 Vols, Charles Stewart, trans. (Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1810; 1814. pp. 161-162.)

"...and my wit and repartee, with some impromptu applications of Oriental poetry, were subject of conversation in the politest circles."
- ibid. (p. 160).

Abu Taleb Khan's original Persian Manuscript

Abu Taleb Khan's original Persian Manuscript: 'Masir Talib fi Bilad Afranji', 3 Vols © The British Library Board.


Bhagvat Sinh Jee Thakore Saheb of Gondal, a visitor in the 1880s, found himself an object of curiosity in Victorian England:
"A great many people seemed to remark upon my dress. It was a novelty to most of them and it would have afforded me great amusement to hear their criticisms on it. I could not exactly make out whether their smile was indicative of their approval or disapproval. At any rate it was pleasing to me to be told that the peculiarity of my dress had made me for a time the cynosure of all eyes."
- Bhagvat Sinh Jee Thakore Saheb of Gondal, Journal of a Visit to England in 1883 (Bombay, 1886. p. 29) [T37598]

Beramji Malabari, a Parsi newspaper editor and a social reformer who campaigned against child marriage and enforced widowhood, and who visited Victorian England in the 1890s to further his campaign, like many of his contemporaries, was shocked at the poverty of the industrial working-classes in places like the East End of London:
"Poor as India is, I thank God she knows not much of the poverty to which parts of Great Britain have been accustomed: Men and women living in a chronic state of emaciation, till they can hardly be recognised as human, picking up as food what even animals will turn away from. This is not a picture of occasional misery, in some places it represents the everyday life of the victims of misfortune, and side by side with such heart-rending scenes of misery, one sees gorgeously dressed luxury flaunting in the streets, dragged along by horses better fed and better looked after than many a human family in the same neighbourhood."
- Behramji M Malabari, The Indian eye on English Life or Rambles of a Pilgrim, Reformer (Bombay, 1895, 3rd edition, pp.84-87) [10349.dd.8].