chapter  22
15 Pages

Bengalis in Britain

Migration, state controls and settlement
WithJohn Eade

The Bengali presence in Britain long precedes the end of the British Indian empire. In 1616 the Mayor of London attended the baptism of ‘Peter’, an East Indian from the Bay of Bengal, who had arrived in 1614 and whose ‘Christian’ name was chosen by James I. As RosinaVisram reveals in her pioneering book, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes (1986), British involvement in the Bengal delta soon led to servants being brought to Britain, to be followed by sailors (lascars), aristocrats and university students. Hence, by ‘the time the first Indian students came to Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, an itinerant Indian population of ayahs and lascars already existed’ (Lahiri 2000: 3). The first record of a specifically Bengali student presence in Britain appears in 1845, when ‘four Bengali Hindus accompanied Dr Goodeve, Professor of Anatomy in Calcutta, to University College, London’ (Visram 1986). The most renowned Bengali visitor was India's first Nobel Prize winner, the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), who attended a public school in Brighton and studied law at University College London before returning to Bengal in 1880. An inveterate traveller, he visited Britain again in 1912 and 1930 during subsequent tours of Europe.