There were Chinese seamen on British ships from the 18th century.
Throughout the 19th century they were accepted as just one of the many nationalities that crewed the ever expanding merchant fleet that kept the trade of the British Empire flowing.
At the turn of the 20th century things began to change, especially following scandals involving underpaid Chinese labour in the South African gold mines.
Added to this there was a rising mood of Anti-Chinese feeling as a consequence of the Boxer rebellion against Western interests in China.
The British & Foreign Sailors Hostel was opened in 1901 just as these tensions were developing and in the area of the East India Docks there were increasingly violent attempts to exclude Chinese crews from British ships.