Left to fend for themselves

The blessings of empire:

During the heyday of the British empire, thousands of women from India and other parts of Asia were brought to London to look after young children – but many of these nannies were later abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Now, a building in London which housed them is set to be commemorated with a blue plaque.

That’s nice. Drag them half way around the world and then abandon them.

“Ayahs and amahs were basically domestic workers and the backbone of British families in colonial India. They looked after the children, entertained them, told them stories, and rocked them to sleep,” says Rozina Visram, historian and author of Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History.

When these families returned to Britain, they would often bring their ayahs back with them. Some were asked to accompany the families just for the long, difficult voyage, Ms Visram says, while others were employed for a few years.

Usually they were given a ticket back home when the time came, but many were just dumped.

By the second half of the 19th Century, as the empire grew stronger, travel between England and India became more regular – and the number of nannies travelling to Britain also increased.

“Every year up to 200 ayahs stayed at the Ayahs’ Home. Some stayed for a few days whereas some stayed for months,” Dr Visram says.

Stranded amid the alien corn.

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