Masters and servants

Cultures of empire in the tropics

By Claire Lowrie

Masters and servants


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9533-7
  • Pages: 232
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: March 2016
  • BIC Category: Colonialism & imperialism, Australasian & Pacific history, Australasia, HISTORY / Asia / China, HISTORY / Australia & New Zealand, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, Modern History, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Humanities / Colonialism & imperialism, History, United Kingdom, Great Britain, European history
  • Series: Studies in Imperialism


Masters and servants explores the politics of colonial mastery and domestic servitude in the neighbouring British colonies of Singapore and Darwin. Through an exploration of master-servant relationships within British, white Australian and Chinese homes, this book illustrates the centrality of the domestic realm to the colonial project. It is the first comparative history of domestic service and British colonialism in the tropics, and highlights the important role which 'houseboys' played in colonial households in the tropics and the common preference for Chinese 'houseboys' throughout Southeast Asia.

The book is meticulously researched, and draws from archives that have never been addressed in this way before. Its highly original and innovative approach, which combines comparative analysis with a focus on transcolonial connections, puts the book at the forefront of current postcolonial scholarship. The insights that Masters and servants provides into the domestic politics of colonial rule make this book essential reading for students and scholars of empire.


'Based on her PhD thesis, the author draws on a very wide array of sources to explore a subject seldom found in official documentation to paint a vivid picture of class, race and gender relations amongst both male and female masters and their domestic servants.'
Michael Quinlan, University of New South Wales

'Lowrie has brought to light a fascinating, hitherto neglected aspect of the 'cultures of empire in the tropics', as her subtitle puts it. Her study iscrisply written, carefully researched, and clearly argued.'
DaneKennedy, George Washington University, Australian Historical Studies, 48,2017


Introduction: Domestic service and colonial mastery in the tropics
1. A 'second Singapore'? The connected histories of Darwin and Singapore, 1860s-1930s
2. Historicising 'houseboys': cultures of male servitude in the tropics, 1880s-1910s
3. White masters and their Chinese 'houseboys': masculinity, sexuality and racial anxiety in the home, 1880s-1930s
4. White women and the case of the disappearing Chinese 'houseboys', 1910s-30s
5. Idle mems, weary wives and 'red hot revolutionaries': domestic tension and political antagonism in the home, 1910s-30s
6. Masters and colonisers: the politics of Chinese domestic mastery, 1920s-30s
Conclusion: Domestic service at the end of empire
Select bibliography of secondary sources


Claire Lowrie is Lecturer in History at the University of Wollongong, Australia

Newsletter Sign Up

Manchester University Press

Your cart is empty.

Select your shipping destination to estimate postage costs

(Based on standard shipping costs)

Final cost calculated on checkout
Promotional codes can be added on Checkout