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Ayahs & Amahs

Transcolonial Journeys

The Exhibition

Ayahs & Amahs: Transcolonial Journeys presents the stories, memories and histories of Indian, Chinese, and other Asian nursemaids who journeyed across the networks of the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our exhibition focuses upon the mobility of their lives and experiences, and of the representations and memories of these earliest global domestic workers. Their work of caring was vital to colonial and imperial projects. They helped shape the interconnected world we share today.

The exhibition was initially held from September 8, 2022 to December 31, 2023.

It is back due to popular demand.

September 8, 2022 - May 26, 2025

The Galleries

Lam Ah Sup with Valerie and Michael Hill

Down Memory Lane

Sentimentality pervades these intimate family snaps of amahs and ayahs at home and on outings with the children they cared for. But these images are also open to more critical readings.

Photograph, Ted Hood, 1940 | Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd.

Nussiban, our ayah - Gertrude Ellen Burrard

Moving Figures

From pages in storybooks, to recollections in memoirs and autobiographies, ayahs and amahs appeared in diverse art forms and visual media traversing continents and oceans. 

'Nussiban, our ayah (nanny)', Oil on canvas, Gertrude Ellen Burrard, 1895 | Courtesy of the National Army Museum, London.

Frontispiece of Edith and her Ayah by A.L.O.E.

Turning the Page

The stories and memories of the ayahs were told and transmitted throughout the colonial period in books written by and for English-speakers – enough to generate a veritable library

A.L.O.E., Edith and her Ayah and other stories (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1872), Frontispiece.


Ayahs and Amahs Making their Way

The journeys of the travelling ayahs and amahs took them far from their homes and familiar surroundings, and opened up a whole world of new sights, sounds, experiences and identities. 

‘Ayah (S.S. Simla)’, Drawing, 1842-1873 | Papers of Captain and Mrs John Vine Hall | State Library of New South Wales.

© Some of our images are in copyright - please access the original source for further information
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