The 1920s was a decade that saw the British Empire at its largest in terms of territorial size.

This advertisement for P&O and British India Lines – which transported freight goods, post and passengers – was published in 1924. It signifies the establishment of more frequent and regular communications between countries including Egypt, India, Britain and China, as well as a heightened movement of people around the globe. The conditions for liner passengers were comfortable, with ‘all tastes and purses […] catered for’.

For those working on board the ships, however, the experience was different. Lascars (South Asian sailors) were exploited as cheap labour to service Britain’s globalised trade and passenger networks. Employed on ‘Asiatic’ contracts, they were paid much less than their British counterparts and thus enabled ship owners to increase profits. In the absence of trade unions for lascars, their campaign for better wages and working conditions became a long drawn-out struggle. Some jumped ship in Britain, setting up cafés and hotels in port cities or working as pedlars.