Photographic collage featuring lascars


This early 20th-century collage shows Indian lascar sailors at work and in their lodgings on shore. Scenes include ‘A Breather on Deck’ and ‘Making Curry’, and show the types of roles held by lascars including chefs, carriers and stokers. The ‘serang’, featured in the top right of the collage, held the position of ‘head lascar’ and sometimes acted as an interpreter between the ship’s captain and lascar staff.

Published in 1906 in the popular newspaper, Illustrated London News, the collage was created by German photographer Reinhold Thiele. During his career Thiele documented a range of Asian experience in the UK and British Empire, including professional shots of Indian cricket player ‘Ranji’.

Shipping, lascar sailors and Britain

In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened, greatly reducing the distance between Britain and India by some 4,500 miles as ships no longer needed to travel round southern Africa.

The Suez Canal, together with the reliable service of steam-powered liners, led to an increase in merchant and passenger shipping. As a result, maritime companies employed Indian lascar sailors in far greater numbers, and considered them able to withstand the heat of engine rooms. Employed on ‘Asiatic’ contracts, they were paid much less than their British counterparts, thus enabling ship owners to increase profits.

Lascars were exploited as cheap labour to service Britain’s globalised trade networks. 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.

Full title:
'Lascars on British ships: the question of their retention' in The Illustrated London News
27 October 1906, London
The Illustrated London News
Newspaper / Photograph / Image
Reinhold Thiele
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© Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

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Mary Evans Picture Library

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