In the late 1850s, a young woman, orphaned as a child in India under the Raj, ran away from unsympathetic guardians in Scotland to the British colony of New South Wales, where she successfully re-invented herself, in relation to Aboriginal people, as a classic 'little missus'. This paper takes her colonial trajectory as the starting point for an exploration into the construction of respectable white womanhood under British colonization. Drawing upon the approach taken by Ann Laura Stoler in her discussion of the emotional economy of colonial memories of the beloved and nurturing servant, it suggests that such a transcolonial construction was dependent upon the figure, particularly, of the native female nursemaid. Furthermore, it argues that the Indian ayah, as she was imagined in Anglo-colonial culture from the late nineteenth century, would provide a template for the ‘fashion' of engaging young Indigenous women as maids in both Australia and the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. As this practice was inextricably bound up with the destruction of Aboriginal Australian and Native American communities, the links between imperial practice in South-East Asia and settler colonial practice in the modernizing ex-colonial nations highlight the roots of contemporary female domestic service relationships in colonialism and dispossession.
5th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 5). ICAS 5 Abstracts (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2-5 August, 2007)