Shipping Lords and Coolie Stokers

Shipping Lords and Coolie Stokers:Class, Race, and Maritime Capitalism in the Early 20th Century

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This microhistory of a shipping accident reveals how racialized labour management fuelled maritime capitalism in the age of imperialist globalization

When eighty-seven passengers and crew died in the shipwreck of the Royal Mail Ship “Egypt” in 1922, the accident gave rise to a racist international press campaign against the employment of Indian seafarers who had been the majority of the ship’s crew. This was not unusual at a time when a fifth of the British mercantile marine’s workforce was recruited from the subcontinent. The book combines the extensive press coverage and judicial records of this accident with a plethora of archival, literary, technical, and linguistic sources to reveal the pervasiveness of a genteel racism in the board rooms of British shipping imperialism. It explains the business logic driving the pervasive use of irrational racist ideology for structuring the maritime labour market and for implementing racialized modalities of labour management on the world’s most glamorous steamship liners. It also discusses the scope for “agency” of maritime workers under a racialized labour regime in an age of imperialism—issues that are no less relevant in our own time of postcolonial capitalism.