This is the passport for Ms Anthony Ayah. Issued in the town of Ootacamund in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, it would have allowed her to travel in her capacity as an ayah.

Who were ayahs?

‘Ayah’ was a name applied to South Asian women who were employed by British families as nannies or nurses. In particular, ayahs accompanied families on the long voyages between Britain and India.

The European practice of employing Asian nannies had been firmly established in the 18th century. As this passport indicates, the colonial-era practice continued well into the 20th century.

‘Essential attributes’ for ayahs

In 1922, a magazine article listed four essential attributes that an ayah should embody: honesty, cleanliness, capability and a need to be good sailors.[1] Indeed, ayahs often became seasoned travellers, with Ms Antony Pareira making the journey on 54 occasions.

[1] A C Marshall, ‘Nurses of the Ocean Highways’, The Quiver: The Magazine for the Home, vol.57, 1922, pp. 924-25.