Skip Navigation • Access Keys • Frequently Asked Questions •

Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Indian Servants

Have a look at this photograph (below). What do you notice about the servants? Do you think they were from England or India?

DLI Family, 1909 (D/DLI 7/427/2(46))
Icon showing image can be enlarged
Look at the servant sitting on the floor. She is an ayah. In Britain, the youngest children would have been looked after by a nanny. In India, they were cared for by an ayah.

There were other types of servant that a family might have. They might have a khansama (cook), a mali (gardener), a bearer (waiter) and khitmagar (butler). There might also be a doodh-wallah (brought milk to the house) and pani-wallah (brought water to the house).

There were Indian terms for the members of the family as well. The father would be sahib and the mother memsahib. These were respectful terms used by the Indian servants, similar to adding 'sir' when you speak to a man.