Strangers' Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders


West India Dock Road Limehouse
London, E14 8HB
United Kingdom
Other names: 

Asiatic and Overseas Home

Date began: 
01 Jun 1857
Date ended: 
01 Jan 1937
Precise date ended unknown: 

The Strangers Home was built on the initiative of a number of missionary societies working in the East End of London, foremost among them Henry Venn, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, who launched an appeal for funds. The first donation of £500.00 was made by Maharaja Duleep Singh. The foundation stone was laid by Prince Albert on 31 May 1856. The home would open one year later. Throughout its existence, it served a double purpose as a centre for government-subsidized shelter for lascars and a centre for religious instruction.

The Home provided temporary accommodation and food for foreign sailors. Furthermore, it served as a repatriation centre where sailors were recruited for ships returning East. It was also used as a missionary centre with Joseph Salter of the London City Mission as its resident missionary. Among the facilities provided by the home, were a library of Christian books in Asian and African languages, a depository for valuables, and remittance of their earnings to India. The dormitories could accommodate 220 people; the home provided store rooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms and sanitation as well as a dining hall. Attached to it was the Lascar Shipping Office, which registered unemployed sailors. From 1857 to 1877 according to the Home’s own figures, it cared for 5,709 people, of which 1,605 were destitute and gratuitously provided for. The Strangers’ Home was subsidised with £200.00 annually by the India Office for the temporary maintenance of lascars before their return to India.

In 1923 the Strangers Home was recommended by the India Office to ship owners as the only place for suitable accommodation in London. In the 1920s the union activist Nathalal Jagivan Upadhyaya attempted to recruit lascars at the Strangers’ Home for the Indian Seamen Union. He was banned from the Strangers Home in December 1926.

The Home closed down in 1937 due to a lack of funds and a dwindling number of occupants. Having run at a yearly loss of £2,000.00, the Indian High Commission made arrangements for destitute Indian sailors to be taken in by other organizations. The proposed closure caused concern among Poplar’s South Asian community. Syed Fazal Shah, secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, expressed his concern about the disappearance of ‘a place of refuge for the people of Asia in London’ (L/E/9/967). 


J. Freeman, Colonel Hughes (Hon. Secretary for the Strangers Home), N. A. Lash, Maharaja Duleep Singh, Joseph Salter, E. C. Stephens, Nathalal Jagivan Upadhyaya.

Secondary works: 

Miller, Robert, From Shore to Shore: A History of the Church and the Merchant Seafarer (R. Miller, 1989)

Salter, Joseph, The Asiatic in England (London: Seeley, Jackson & Halliday, 1873)

Visram, Rozina, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes (London: Pluto,1986)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Wainwright, A. Martin, ‘The better class’ of Indians: Social Rank, Imperial Identity, And South Asians in Britain 1858-1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/2/59, L/E/7/567, L/E/7/1152, L/PJ/12/233, L/E/9/967, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras