Ayub Ali


13 Sandys Row
London, E1 7HW
United Kingdom
51° 31' 3.4248" N, 0° 4' 39.0864" W
Date of birth: 
01 Jan 1880
Precise DOB unknown: 
City of birth: 
Sylhet district
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Sylhet district
Current name country of birth: 
Date of death: 
01 Apr 1980
Precise date of death unknown: 
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1920
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



Ayub Ali made his way to London via the US, having jumped ship there in 1919. He set up the Shah Jolal Restaurant at 76 Commercial Street, in the heart of the East End. The café served as a hub for the Indian community there. In their interviews recorded in Caroline Adams’ book, the early Sylhet migrants to Britain describe Ali in glowing terms. According to them, he took care of lascars who had jumped ship and were in breach of their contract and therefore wanted by the ship companies. He gave them free food and shelter and helped them register at India House and the local police station. When they got jobs, many would go on to rent rooms in his house in Sandys Row, known locally as ‘Number Thirteen’, where they would continue to receive support from Ali in the form of letter reading and writing, and help with remittances to India. He was known by them as ‘Master’.

Ali formalized his social welfare work among lascars when he founded the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League with Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi in 1943. The organization had its office in Christian Street and its stated aim was ‘to look after the economic, social and cultural interests of Indian seamen, to provide them with recreation in Great Britain and to communicate with their relatives in India in the event of any misfortunes befalling them’ (L/PJ/12/630, p. 140). Ali was also involved with the East End branch of the India League (serving as treasurer at one point) whose meetings were frequently held in his café, and is recorded as present at the 1943 protest meeting of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin at their dismissal from the East London Mosque by its trustees. He was also president of the UK Muslim League, reportedly mixing with Liaquat Ali Khan and Jinnah. He went on to start up a travel agency business, Orient Travels, at 13 Sandys Row, which later moved to 96 Brick Lane.


Aftab Ali, Surat Alley, Tarapada Basu, Haidri Bhattacharyya, Amiya Nath Bose, B. B. Ray Chaudhuri, Abdul Hamid, Kundan Lal Jalie, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, N. Datta Majumdar, Ismail Jan Mohamed, M. A. Mullick, Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi, V. K. Krishna Menon, Said Amir Shah, John Kartar Singh, D. B. Vakil.

Involved in events: 

Meetings of the East End branch of the India League

Meetings of the Indian Seamen's Welfare League

Secondary works: 

Adams, Caroline (ed.) Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers (London: THAP, 1987)

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


Letter from Ali on behalf of the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League to Clan Line, St Mary Axe, EC3, 22 June 1943, L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 143


This Indian Political Intelligence file, titled 'Indian Seamen: Unrest and Welfare', includes numerous government surveillance and police reports on the activities of lascars in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, focusing in particular on their strikes and other forms of activism against their pay and conditions.


In order to remove the longfelt want of the Indian seamen in London to have a centre of friendly meeting and recreation of their own, a Club has been recently organised under the name of the 'Indian Seamen’s Welfare League'. The aim and object of this Club is purely to provide social amenities for the Indian seamen and their friends.

I am…directed to invite you to a memorial meeting in honour of the Indian seamen who have lost their lives in the course of their duties in this war. The meeting will be held under the auspices of the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League at 4pm on Sunday, 4th July 1943, at Kings Hall, Commercial Road, Aldgate, London, E.1.
Knowing your interest in the welfare of the Indian seamen, the Welfare League will highly appreciate your presence at such a meeting and will remain grateful for your encouragement and support.

The Indian Seamen's Welfare League changed its name from the Indian Seamen's Union because they did not want the organization to appear political - in part because they wanted recognition from ship-owners, and in part to avoid attention from the police. This letter from Ayub Ali to the Clan Line is further indication of the organization's attempts to build bridges between lascars and their bosses. In spite of this, however - and in spite of Ali's insistence in the letter of the purely social nature of the League - the inevitable politicization of an organization concerned with the welfare of lascars is evident in the very fact of a meeting 'in honour of the Indian seamen who have lost their lives in the course of their duties in this war' and who were no doubt labouring under particularly harsh and dangerous conditions in the employ of the ship companies. The organization's advisory committee, who worked in the background, included well known political activists in the India League and Swaraj House - such as D. B. Vakil, Surat Alley, Tarapada Basu, B. B. Ray Chaudhuri, Mrs Haidri Bhattacharji and Said Amir Shah - also casting doubt on its self-description as non-political.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/455, 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