Anglo Indians

“Never take your hat off to any European again.”

The historical presence of Anglo-Indian families is often overlooked in the story of empire. Intermarriage between British and Indian men and women became regular practice, and over generations this community developed a culture of their own. On partition in 1947, many Anglo-Indians left India for new lives in the UK. We have invited descendants of one such family, sisters Kay Barnard and Elizabeth Kerr, to explore their Anglo-Indian background.

Photo: Clifford George Burns with two of his younger Anglo-Indian cousins in India, 1917.

Personal collection. With kind permission of Kay Barnard and Elizabeth Kerr

Black and White photo of Clifford George Burns (father) with two of his Anglo-Indian cousins in India, 1917.

Kay and Elizabeth write:

Black and White photo of Kay Barnard and Elizabeth Kerr as children in a friend's garden, Bournemouth, 1956

Kay and Elizabeth as children in a friend’s garden, Bournemouth, 1956. Photo courtesy of Kay Barnard and Elizabeth Kerr

What is striking about the two audio histories is the close link between race and social status, both in India and the UK.

Amy Peters* and Edward Lamb were mixed race individuals from relationships between white British people and Indian or Anglo-Indian partners. They were educated through a British Christian educational system, speaking English as their first language. However, their experiences with local Indian people were different. Edward was sent at the age of two to an orphanage school, not knowing his Bengali “tribal” mother and estranged on purpose by the school from his well-off British father. The attitude of the boys at the school was to look down on Indians, describing them in derogatory terms.

Amy’s family were comfortably off, living in a nice house with Indian servants and neighbours. The servants were treated well, to the extent that the families remained friends over many years and great distances.

Edward tells how, during his life, top management jobs with the best pay and perks were reserved for white British people. Anglo-Indians were also privileged but to a lesser extent, having reasonable jobs in the railways, postal service, or plantations.

Both Amy and Edward considered Britain to be a natural place to come to on leaving India. In Amy’s case, her family left after increasing hostility to British people post-independence. Both found their social status here was much lower than they had been used to in India, in essence having to start again at the bottom of the ladder.

* not her real name


Amy Peters*

Excerpt from an interview with Amy Peters*. BECC OH 0546

View transcript on SoundCloud

Edward Lamb

This an excerpt of the interview with Edward Lamb.  BECC OH 0547.

View transcript on SoundCloud 

About Kay Barnard and Elizabeth Kerr

Our father arrived from India in 1920 aged 14, with his mother, our Nana. This we knew. We didn’t know that his ancestors had gone to India with the British Army about 1800 and that mixed-race children were part of our family tree until we researched our family history. Nana’s husband had followed the Anglo-Indian tradition of working on the railways, becoming a Station Master. When he died young, Nana left India with our father, arriving in grey, wet Wales without all the privileges they had previously enjoyed. It was a huge surprise to us to realise, after she died, that Nana had spoken with a strong Anglo-Indian accent – to us, she was just our Nana!