Surat Alley


Surat Alley was a trade unionist and political activist who campaigned tirelessly for the rights of Indians – and particularly Indian seamen – in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s. India Office surveillance files record the details of his passport, thus shedding light on his date and place of birth, but beyond this, little is known of his early life in India. Indeed, even his affiliations are disputed, with some describing him as a Bengali and former seamen and others doubting that he was a Muslim. It is likely that he arrived in Britain some time in the early or mid 1930s, and it is known that he married a white woman called Sarah (Sally) Reder, with whom he lived first in London’s East End and later in Glasgow.

While Alley was involved in an extraordinary range of activities and organizations, his struggle for equality for Indian seamen was perhaps his greatest political contribution when in Britain. He held a number of posts in different organizations all of which aimed for the betterment of the pay and employment conditions of lascars. He was Secretary of the Colonial Seamen’s Association, formed in 1935 by black, South Asian and Chinese seamen in reaction to the British Shipping (Assistance) Act. He was also the London representative of Aftab Ali’s All-India Seamen’s Federation. In this latter role, he gave much assistance to lascars striking against their unequal treatment at the beginning of the Second World War. He organized meetings and rallies, distributed leaflets, and listened to the seamen’s grievances. When Aftab Ali called off the strikes, having reached an agreement with the authorities, Alley cooperated with this decision but continued to campaign for the release of lascars from prison and their subsequent re-employment, lobbying the Home Secretary and calling on the TUC for support. Alley gained a reputation among government officials as an agitator and trouble-maker, in spite of their partial reliance on him to negotiate with lascars.

In the early 1940s, Alley wrote pamphlets and issued memos on the appalling conditions of Indian seamen’s hostels in Britain, their lack of compensation and pay when injured during the war, and the insufficiency of their wages. In 1941 he sent his memo titled 'Indian Seamen in the Merchant Navy' to the Shipping Federation, the Indian High Commissioner, the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Labour and National Service, urging their intervention. But the authorities repeatedly stonewalled him, claiming intervention could only come from India. In September 1943, when the All-India Seamen’s Federation was starting to disintegrate, Alley launched the All-India Seamen’s Centre, which was soon merged with Aftab Ali’s India-based India Seamen’s Union. The inaugural meeting, held at British Council House, Liverpool, was attended by ninety seamen and other South Asians, as well as spokesmen from the National Union of Seamen, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and several other organizations. By 1944 the AISC had branches in London, Glasgow and Liverpool. Alley worked hard for the organization, disseminating information in Urdu and Bengali as well as English, and urging seamen to join in order to better protect their rights and interests. His years of activism did see some small successes, although these were generally credited by the authorities to the ship-owners rather than to Alley himself.

Surat Alley’s political interests extended beyond the concerns of lascars. He was Honorary Secretary of the Hindustani Social Club, an organization committed to the social welfare of working-class Indians in Britain as well as to raising their consciousness of the struggle for Indian independence. In this capacity, he helped to organize a charity performance by Ram Gopal and his troupe at the Vaudeville Theatre in December 1939. Alley was also general secretary of the Oriental Film Artistes’ Union. He was involved with Swaraj House, and in 1943 he helped to set up the Federation of Indian Associations in Great Britain which brought together the middle-class members of Swaraj House with the working-class members of the Indian Workers’ Association. Surveillance reports suggest he was an associate of the revolutionary Udham Singh. Shortly after Singh’s arrest in 1940, Alley’s lodgings were searched. Not just confining himself to Indian organizations, Alley was also an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, helping them to gain access to the Indian working classes, and worked as an ARP warden in the Second World War.


Note Misc. No. 17/I.P.I, L/PJ/12/384, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 113-14

Date of birth: 
18 May 1905

This is a surveillance file on the Communist Party of Great Britain. The extract is taken from an IPI report on ‘Indian Communist Activities in London’, dated 29 July 1940.


Aftab Ali, Ayub Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, Jyoti Basu, Tarapada Basu, Amiya Nath Bose, Ben Bradley, Reginald Bridgeman, Michael Carritt, B. B. Ray Chaudhuri, D. N. Dutt, May Dutt, Ram Gopal, Abdul Hamid, Kundal Lal Jalie, M. A. Jalil, Chris Jones (led Colonial Seamen’s Association), Balram Kaura, Abdulla Khan, Akbar Ali Khan, N. Datta Majumdar, V. K. Krishna Menon, Narayana Menon, Tahsil Miah, S. P. Mitra, R. S. Nimbkar, Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi, Sarah Reder (wife), V. S. Sastrya, Pulin Behari Seal, Said Amir Shah, John Kartar Singh, Iqbal Singh, Udham Singh, Sasadhar Sinha, D. J. Vaidya, C. B. Vakil.

All-India Seamen’s Centre, Bengal Indian Restaurant, Communist Party of Great Britain, International Transport Workers’ Federation, London Majlis, National Union of Seamen, Trades Union Council.


Surat Ali in recent months has continued his activities on behalf of Indian seamen and his Oriental Film Artistes’ Union, but is very seriously hampered in both respects by war conditions. Over the UDHAM SINGH case he has established many contacts with the Sikh community in England. He now attends on CARRITT for instructions and pay and appears to have been promoted to more difficult country in his Party activities; for instance, he was sent by CARRITT to speak at the opening of the ‘INDIA EXHIBITION’ when this moved from Cambridge to Oxford (incidentally it was very poorly attended there). He addressed the FEDIND in April, spoke at an Empire Day meeting, and one or two other major Party fixtures. Latterly he has been advised to do no open Party work lest he be arrested, and to burn his papers and remove his Communist books to safe addresses. He has been specially zealous in endeavouring to work up Poplar Communist activities to the same level already reached by Stepney, and by way of encouragement was recently made Propaganda Secretary for Poplar. He is also a regular attendant at meetings of the Colonial Committee of the CPGB.

Secondary works: 

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


This passage emphasizes the range of political activities and organizations that Surat Alley was involved with in Britain. From actors, to students, to the Sikh supporters of the revolutionary Udham Singh, Alley interacted with a wide range of Indians, advising them of their rights and aiding them in their various campaigns for justice. The passage is also suggestive of the way that a figure like Alley bridged Indian and British organizations, working on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain in their struggle for equality – and probably encouraging Indians to join the Party – but also establishing and developing Indian groups to cater for their particular needs. This further implies a productive interaction and exchange between Britons and South Asians within the political sphere.

Archive source: 

L/E/9/976, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/384, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/646, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

MT 9/3150, National Archives, Kew

MT 9/3657, National Archives, Kew

Involved in events: 

British Shipping (Assistance) Act, 1935 (campaigned against)

Indian Workers’ Conference, United Ladies Tailors’ Union Hall, Whitechapel, July 1939 (organizer)

India League conference, Central Hall, Glasgow, September 1941 (gave speech on conditions of lascars)

Joint Maritime Commission of the International Labour Organization, London, June 1942 (presented Indian seamen’s case)

International Seafarers’ Conference, London, 13-14 December 1943

Empire Day meeting organized by CPGB, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, 24 May 1940 (gave speech)

City of birth: 
Cuttack, Orissa
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Surat Ali


179 High Street Poplar
London, E14 0BH
United Kingdom
42° 57' 59.922" N, 81° 14' 15.0468" W
Dates of time spent in Britain: 


Mohammed Ali Jinnah


Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the founding father of Pakistan. He was the eldest of seven children born to Jinnabhai Poonja, a merchant, and his wife Mithibhai, and attended the Sind Madrassa then the Christian Mission High School, Karachi, where he failed to excel. He first travelled to Britain when just seventeen years old to take up an apprenticeship with the British managing agency Douglas Graham and Company, marrying his first wife Emibhai shortly before he set sail. Emibhai died just a few months later. Jinnah worked in accounts at the firm’s head office in the City of London, and lived in various lodgings including at 35 Russell Road, Kensington, the home of Mrs F. E. Page-Drake and her daughter. Once in London, he shortened his surname from Jinnahbhai and took to wearing tailored suits and silk ties. Just two or three months after his arrival in England, Jinnah left his apprenticeship to train as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn. Fascinated by politics, he frequently viewed parliamentary debates from the visitor’s gallery at the House of Commons, and was present there to witness Dadabhai Naoroji’s maiden speech in 1893. He studied at the Reading Room of the British Museum, listened to speeches at Hyde Park Corner, visited friends at Oxford, and developed a keen interest in the theatre, even considering a stage career. He was called to the Bar in 1895 and returned to Bombay, India, the following year.

In Bombay, Jinnah joined the Indian National Congress and began to practice law, attaining a position in the chambers of the acting advocate-general, John Macpherson. He first attended the Indian National Congress in 1904, and in 1906 served as secretary to the Congress President, Naoroji, in the Calcutta sessions. In 1909 he was elected to the Muslim seat on the Bombay Legislative Council, and he joined the All-India Muslim League in 1913, becoming its President in 1916 and playing a key role in the Lucknow Pact which brought the Congress and League together on issues of self-government to make a united stand to the British. Jinnah made trips to London in 1913 and 1914 – the latter as chair of the Congress deputation to lobby parliament over their proposed Council of India bill. He also helped to found the All-India Home Rule League in 1916. In 1918, he married his second wife, the Parsee Rattanbai Petit, with whom he had a daughter, Dina, born in 1919.

The next few years saw a decline in Jinnah’s political influence and success. In 1919 he resigned from the legislative council in protest against the Rowlatt Acts, and in 1920 he broke with Congress and resigned from the Home Rule League because he disagreed with the increasingly popular Gandhi’s policy of non-cooperation with the British and aim of complete swaraj or self-rule. He remained active with the Muslim League throughout the 1920s, however, and in 1927 negotiated with Hindu and Muslim leaders on constitutional reform in the wake of the Simon Report. In 1930, Jinnah returned to London to participate in the first, abortive Round Table Conference. In his short speech, he represented Indian Muslims as a distinct ‘party’ with their own demands and needs, and warned of the urgent need for a settlement that satisfied all of India, including its minorities. At the close of the conference, he decided to remain in England, calling for his sister Fatima and daughter Dina to join him. Despairing of the settlement of Hindu-Muslim conflict, he immersed himself in law, securing chambers at London’s Inner Temple. Jinnah lived in Hampstead during this period. He tried to enter parliament, first as a Labour Party candidate, joining the Fabian Society in an attempt to gain credibility, and then as a Conservative candidate – but he failed on both counts. He also failed to achieve his ambition of practising in the Privy Council Bar. He was invited by Wedgewood Benn to sit on the Federal Structure Committee of the second Round Table Conference, but played a very minor role there, with Gandhi, as the voice of Congress, taking centre stage. During his years in London, Jinnah received persuasive requests from prominent leaders for his return to India to assume leadership of the newly formed Muslim League, including a visit to his Hampstead home by Liaquat Ali Khan and his wife. In 1934, he succumbed to these demands, and returned to Bombay.

Back in India, Jinnah struggled to strengthen the League’s position. In the 1940 League sessions, the Pakistan resolution was adopted by the party. In 1941, he founded the newspaper Dawn which increased support for the League, and in the 1945-6 elections the League was successful in securing the vast majority of Muslim electorate seats. Jinnah’s concern now was to ensure the best possible outcome for Indian Muslims after independence. He assented to the British Cabinet Mission’s proposals of June 1946 for groupings of Muslim- and Hindu-majority provinces under a weak Indian union government, but later rejected it when Congress refused the idea of parity with the League, and advocated instead the formation of the separate state of Pakistan. On 3 June 1947, Jinnah accepted the Mountbatten plan to transfer power to two separate states. On 14 August 1947, he was appointed as governor-general of Pakistan and set to work establishing a government and restoring order after the horrific communal violence that had accompanied the partition of India. Already suffering from tuberculosis, Jinnah succumbed to the strain of this enormous task and died at home in Karachi just a year the creation of Pakistan. He is remembered by Pakistanis as Quaid-i-Azam, or Great Leader.

Published works: 

Congress Leaders’ Correspondence with Quaid-i-Azam (Lahore: Aziz Publishers, nd)

(with M. A. H. Ispahani and Z. H. Zaidi) M. A. Jinnah-Ispahani Correspondence, 1936-1948 (Karachi: Forward Publications Trust, 1976)

The Collected Works of Quai-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, compiled by Syed Sarifuddin Pirzada (Karachi: East and West Publishing Company, 1984-6)

Date of birth: 
25 Dec 1876
Secondary works: 

Ahmed, Akbar, Jinnah, Pakistan, and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (London: Routlege, 1997)

Ahmad, Riaz, Jinnah and Jauhar: Points of Contact and Divergence (Islamabad: Quaid-i-Azam University, 1979) 

Ahmad, Ziauddin, Mohammad Ali Jinnah: Founder of Pakistan (Karachi: Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, 1976)

Jalal, Ayesha, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)

Jinnah, F., 'A Sister's Recollections', in Hamid Jalal (ed.) Pakistan Past & Present: A Comprehensive Study Published in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of the Founder of Pakistan (London: Stacey International, 1977)

Khan, Aga, The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1952)

Khurshid, K. H., and Hasan, Khalid, Memories of Jinnah (Karachi and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)

Montagu, Edwin Samuel, and Montagu, Venetia, An Indian Diary (London: Heinemann, 1930)

Mujahid, Sharif Al, Founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) (Islamabad: National Committee for Birth Centenary Celebrations of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammed Ali Jinnah, 1976)

Mujahid, Sharif Al, Quaid-I-Azam Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation (Karachi: Quaid-I-Azam Academy, 1981)

Pirzada, Syed Sharifuddin, Foundations of Pakistan: All India Muslim League Documents, 1906-1947 (Karachi: National Pub. House, 1969)

Robinson, Francis, 'Jinnah, Mohamed Ali (1876–1948)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/34191]

Roy, A., 'The High Politics of India's Partition: The Revisionist Perspective', Modern Asian Studies 24 (1990), pp. 385-415

Wolpert, Stanley A., Jinnah of Pakistan (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984)

Zaidi, Z. H., Quaid-I-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Papers: First Series (Islamabad: Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project, 1993)

Archive source: 

Quaid-i-Azam Papers, National Archives of Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan

Archives of the Freedom Movement, University of Karachi, Pakistan

Syed Shamsul Hasan Collection, National Bank of Pakistan, Karachi, Pakistan

Quaid-i-Azam Academy, Karachi, Pakistan

India: The War Series, L/PJ/8/524, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Mountbatten ‘Top Secret’ Personal Reports as Viceroy, L/PO/433, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Private Secretary to the Viceroy on the Transfer of Power, R/3/1, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Rahmat Ali pamphlets, L/PJ/8/689, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Brabourne Collection, Mss Eur F 97, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Chelmsford Papers, Mss Eur E 264, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Christie Collection, Mss Eur D 718, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Cunningham Collection, Mss Eur D 670, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Fleetwood Wilson Papers, Mss Eur F 111 & 112, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Hailey Collection, Mss Eur E 220, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Halifax Collection (Irwin Papers), Mss Eur C 152, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Hallett Collection, Mss Eur E 251, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Hamilton Papers, Mss Eur D 510, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Linlithgow Collection, Mss Eur F 125, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Montagu Papers, Mss Eur D 523, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Mudie Diary, Mss Eur 28-34, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Reading (Lady) Collection, Mss Eur E 316, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Templewood (Hoare Papers) Collection, Mss Eur E 240, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Zetland (Lawrence Papers) Collection, Mss Eur D 609, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library St Pancras

Cripps Collection, CAB 127/57-154, National Archives, Kew

Ramsay MacDonald Papers, PRO 30/69, National Archives, Kew

Alexander Papers, University of Cambridge

Baldwin Papers, University of Cambridge

Hardinge Papers, University of Cambridge

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 
Other names: 

M. A. Jinnah

Mahomedali Jinnabhai


London, NW3 1AX
United Kingdom
51° 33' 14.76" N, 0° 10' 27.84" W
35 Russell Road Kensingon
London, W14 8JB
United Kingdom
51° 29' 55.6548" N, 0° 12' 36.9144" W
Date of death: 
11 Sep 1948
Location of death: 
Karachi, Pakistan
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Feb 1893
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1893-6, 1913, 1914, 1930-4

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