Celebrating Asian Heritage Month in the Queen Mary Archives – A Snapshot

Courtesy of the Queen Mary Archives. Here’s a glimpse at some of the notable Asian alumni who attended Queen Mary throughout the decades.


Courtesy of the Queen Mary Archives. 

Here’s a glimpse at some of the notable Asian alumni who attended Queen Mary throughout the decades. To learn more about the inspiring people that attended Queen Mary University throughout its history, drop by the Asian Heritage Month Archives Event on Tuesday 12 March from 12:30pm-4:30pm at the Mile End Library.  

Rachel Parayankarimpil John  

Rachel Parayankarimpil Johnson was an Indian PhD student at Queen Mary College in the 1930s. From Kottayam, India, John had previously studied Botany at the Presidency College, Madras (now known as Chennai) in India receiving a Master of Arts in 1932. She was also one of the earliest women to complete their postgraduate degrees in Botany at the Madras University Botanical Laboratory receiving a Master of Sciences in 1936. Johnson was a researcher and botanist at the University Botanical Library (UBL) in Madras. Her work was published in the Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences (Section B) in the 1950s. She was one of the earliest women at the UBL to complete a postgraduate thesis. 

The Director of the UBL laboratory, Mandayam O. P. Iyengar, had completed his PhD at East London College in 1930 with Professor Felix Fritsch. This may be one reason John joined Queen Mary College (formerly known as East London College) in October 1937 to conduct research in Botany for a PhD also supervised by Professor Fritsch. She was a member of the Natural History Society at the College during her studies; this was a student society founded in 1935. Her thesis was “An Ecological and Taxonomic Study of the Algae of British Soils”. She was awarded her PhD in September 1940. She then became a researcher at the University of Lucknow, India, by the 1950s where she published papers on Indian aquatic fungi and became a professor by 1962. 

Shih-I Hsiung  

Shih-I Hsiung was a Chinese student who pursued his PhD at Queen Mary College in 1933. Hsiung’s translation of the traditional Chinese story by Wang Baochuan, ‘Lady Precious Stream’ was made into a theatrical production debuted in the West End and Broadway. He became the first ever Chinese person to direct a West End production and was hailed as the ‘Chinese Shakespeare’ by the New York Times. Hsiung later went on to work for BBC Asia as a correspondent where he prepared news reports in both English and Chinese. Hsiung has been the subject of much research and interest, you can find more about his life in the biography Shih-I Hsiung A Glorious Showman by Professor Da Zheng.  

Yana Shidachi  

Yana Shidachi was a Japanese student from Tokyo, who came to Westfield in the late 1910s. She studied for a Bachelor of Science and was a member of the Westfield Science Club. Her writings about the Science Club have been featured in Hermes, the student paper at Westfield College. Y. Shidachi went on to become a lecturer at Kobe College in Japan. She had a daughter and three grandchildren. Later in life, she traveled abroad frequently with her husband who was the 1973 Vice President of Rotary International and Chairman of the Board of the YMCA in Asia.

Y. Shidachi 1922, far right.  

Tayo Shidachi 

Tayo Shidachi, younger relative of Yana Shidachi, enrolled at Westfield College in 1921. T. Shidachi later went on to work as staff for the Secretariat of the League of Nations.  

Hameeda Jamil 

Hameeda Jamil was an Indian research student pursuing an MSc in Botany at Westfield College in the 1940s.  She completed her studies at Osmania University and was a Government of Hyderabad Scholar. She achieved a First in Botany and received a recommendation by the Secretary of State School Committee. During her time at Westfield, she was a Member of the Senior Common Room. In a letter from the Vice Principal of Osmania University, he described Jamil; “...as a student and as a lecturer her character was highly satisfactory, and I am sure she will be an asset to the college on her return from abroad.” 


Zheng, Da. “Shih-i Hsiung on the Air: A Chinese Pioneer at the BBC during World War II.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 38, no. 1 (December 14, 2016): 163–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/01439685.2016.1258843

Nair, Savithri Preetha. Chromosome woman, Nomad scientist: E.K. Janaki ammal, a life 1897-1984. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2023. 


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