WHEN BOMBAY MET CALCUTTA
Railways were established in India for various reasons. In some areas they started as famine works, in others as commercial enterprises and in some as ventures of enlightened rulers. A substantial growth in the network was via private companies incorporated in England. East Indian Railway (EIR) and Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIP) were two of them.
Though the credit for the first train in India goes to GIP (April 16, 1853), it was the EIR, which started the work of laying lines earlier, and grew faster in the Initial years.
Earlier Times: Major Highways in India had, for centuries radiated from the inland centres like Delhi, Lahore, Agra, Mirzapur etc. towards the established port towns. The process was reversed in regards to the railways. Bombay and Calcutta, places of no importance prior to the advent of the East India Company, became the points from where the railway network spread into mainland India. GIP started from Bombay and EIR from Calcutta, into the interior of the country.
Jabalpur is, in a way, the heart of India. About 50 kms from Jabalpur is the village Manohargaon in Katni district, which is the Geographical Centre point of India. Jabalpur was ruled by various Gond rulers and lastly by the Bhonsles of Nagpur, till it was annexed by the British in 1817. The traditional trade route from Nagpur to Mirzapur passed through Jabalpur. It was thus natural that the city figured in the plans of both GIP and EIR. EIR comes to Jabalpur: The distance from Jabalpur to Calcutta was 733 miles.
Railway had already reached Allahabad. Work on the Naini Jabalpur section was started in 1863-64 and completed in 1867. The line opened for general traffic on August 1, 1867- a distance of 222 miles. Its route closely followed the Mirzapur road.
The stations between Naini and Jabalpur were built by the EIR. Some structures with distinctive architectural features of EIR still remain. Jabalpur station building was constructed by EIR. It had a stone edifice with a beautiful fa?ade of arches
and a portico.
Jabalpur Station 1930
Much later, the station was expanded with a new ?frontage? that eclipsed the earlier features. It has been ?improved? and ?beautified? further with additions of the ubiquitous Kota stone, granite and modern signages. However, distinctive architectural features of the old structure do still manage to show through especially on Platform No 1.
Jules Verne: a Frenchman wrote the famous novel ?Around the World in Eighty days?. A part of this journey is in India, from Bombay to Calcutta by train. Here is an extract:
?Formerly one was obliged to travel in India by the old cumbrous methods of going on foot or on horseback, in palanquins or unwieldy coaches; now fast steamboats ply on the Indus and the Ganges, and a great railway, with branch lines joining the main line at many points on its route, traverses the peninsula from Bombay to Calcutta in three days??..
???.The train stopped, at eight o'clock, in the midst of a glade some fifteen miles beyond Rothal, where there were several bungalows, and workmen's cabins. The conductor, passing along the carriages, shouted, "Passengers will get out here!" ?
Phileas Fogg looked at Sir Francis Cromarty for an explanation; but the general could not tell what meant a halt in the midst of this forest of dates and acacias. ?? rushed out and speedily returned, crying: "Monsieur, no more railway! "What do you mean?" asked Sir Francis."I mean to say that the train isn't going on."
This is a work of fiction yet partly true. The book was published in 1873 though the two cites were linked in 1870. But a Frenchman could hardly be expected to be current about the railway network of another country in another continent.
William Henry Sleeman (1788-1856): is the man widely credited with having rid the region of the thugee menace. Jabalpur Mirzapur road was once the area of the notorious thugs who used to kill and rob the travellers.
Sleeman spent considerable part of his service in the region. In March 1828, he assumed the civil and executive charge of Jabalpur and in 1835, he was given the task of suppression of thugee He spent some time in unearthing their language and practices. More than 3000 thugs were convicted. Hundreds were hanged publicly and an alternate means of livelihood was provided to the survivors. A reformatory school at Jabalpur started by him taught occupational trades like brick making, building work, carpet weaving etc.
He secured 96 acres of land from the government to settle landless farmers. The village was named Sleemanabad. The police station building designed by him was constructed in 1843. Trials of thugs took place here. Nearby were the structures where they were hanged. These can be seen from the Sleemanabad Road station.
The GIP line: towards Jabalpur was built at a feverish pace. It reached Itarsi on January 1 1870, Sohagpur (30.69 miles) on February 1 1870 and Sohagpur to Jabalpur (121.36 miles) on March 8 1870.
One of the largest works encountered in the Jabalpur Itarsi line was the bridge over the mighty Narmada. The Gazetteer, quoting the report of the administration of the Central provinces mentions that large quantities of building material came by exhuming the remains of temple edifices and ancient cities found in shapeless masses covered with earth that had accumulated over the centuries.
The engineers involved in the construction of the line faced numerous problems. Not only were there difficulties in the supply of girders and sleepers of good quality, there were difficulties of inhospitable terrain and thick jungles infested with mosquitoes. There were outbreaks of epidemics like cholera and small pox that caused large number of deaths of the construction labour. The executive officer-in-charge Mr Smith was carried off by cholera and the Inspector of Works Mr Boast died of Small Pox.
Mr R.M.Brereton, the Chief Engineer in his letter No 5562 of 1869 dated August 14,1869 to the Agent, said that severity of cholera and small pox had kept a large number of the usual hands from upper India away from work and as a consequence labour had to be imported from Poona and Deccan districts. He records that ? I am satisfied that but for the extraordinary exertions of the engineers and the contractors, it would not have been possible to have had the through line to Jubbulpore before the cold season of 1870-71?.
East Indian Railway: Henry Peveril LeMesurier (1828-1889) was the Chief Engineer for the ?Jubbulpore? project. In 1854 he joined EIR as an Assistant Engineer and rose rapidly. He worked on surveys and construction of the EIR main line and in 1859,he was appointed CE for the Jubbulpore extension and remained so till 1868.
By October 1869,he was the Agent of GIP. In February 1877, he left India to become a member, and later President of the Board of Administration of the Egyptian railways. He was a representative of a group of British railway engineers who went to India early in their careers, made a name for themselves and then went on to achieve a greater distinction elsewhere.
Charles Innes Spencer was LeMesurier?s second in command while the contractors? chief agent was Mark W Carr. Carr had served apprenticeship in Robert Stevenson?s firm and had great experience of railways in Britain. After this project, he built a railway in Hungary. Later he branched off to mining in Spain and Mexico.
Waring Brothers & Hunt were the contractors for this project. Warring Brothers were the sons of John Waring, a well-known public works contractor in England who undertook major railway contracts throughout the world. James Hunt, who had successfully carried out some EIR work in the past, was their link with India.
Richard Shaw Brundell and John M Easton were two trained engineers employed by the contractors to execute the Jubbulpore project. After this project was complete, they formed their own contracting firm based in Jabalpur. The first contract they secured was to maintain the Jubbulpore line for two years and to complete extensions and additions to the stations.
Great Indian Peninsula Railway: R.M.Brereton was the Chief Engineer of the North East Division to Jabalpur while Mr Jeoff Wright was the Resident Engineer and T.N.Pearson, the Special Engineer.
Mr Brereton executed his work brilliantly and earned good name for his effectiveness, but had none too good relations with the Agent. In a letter of 24.10.1868, the Agent has adversely commented upon the action of Mr Brereton in ordering a special train for himself to go to Jabalpur.
Ian J Kerr, notes that by this time a pool of men experienced in railway engineering in India had come into existence and they, moving sequentially from project to project and from railway companies to contractors, provided the engineering and organisational expertise which was often lacking in the 1850s.
An interesting feature of the railway line in Jabalpur city is the four underbridges that were built in the initial stages of the construction of the track. The location of the main station and the decision for these under bridges was taken with the active involvement of Col. M.P.Rickets who was the Deputy Commissioner at that time. Girders were placed on embankments with the help of trained elephants, which were being used to load timber in the wagons. The city of Jabalpur still refers to these bridges while giving directions. Zonal headquarters office of WCR, for instance, is near the first bridge!
The link is established: A galaxy of eminent persons were present a Jabalpur on Monday, March 8,1870. The occasion was graced by The Duke of Edinburgh, who arrived from Allahabad and the Viceroy Lord Mayo, who arrived from Bombay with the Governor of Bombay Sir Seymour Fitzgerald. Among other dignitaries present were the Commander in Chief, Resident at Hyderabad, Maharajas of Rewa, Holkar, Panna, and the Raja of Maihar.
The train carrying the Viceroy left Bori Bunder on Sunday at 9.15 A.M. and arrived in Jabalpur at about 7 P.M. the following day. The train took about 2 hours extra due to running of two special trains before that of the Viceroy and to the fact that the Viceroy?s train was longer as the Governor of Bombay?s train was added to it. The engines were new and there were festivities en route.
Immediately on reaching the station there was a general rush to the place where the rails of GIP and EIR were to be joined. The Viceroy received the silver plated hammer from Mr Le Messurier and having struck the silver key that connected the two rails handed the hammer to His Royal Highness, who also gave the key a stroke after which the Viceroy said- ?the communication between Bombay and Calcutta is now open!?.
There was an elegant Banquet in the night hosted by the GIP attended by the high and mighty of the region and the country. Lord Mayo?s speech on the occasion said ? In a generation we have placed in India as great results of British enterprise as exist in any other part of the world and those gigantic monuments of early rule will, for ages, remain as lasting memorials of the good we have done and, of the benefits we have conferred on the people of this country.?
The place where EIR and GIP joined is on Platform 1, where two electric poles of EIR still stand, unknown to all.It is a matter of time before they too are uprooted in yet another round of station beautification.
Educational Facilities: Mr G.P.Thomas, the then Resident Engineer wrote to the East Indian Railway Board of Agency that ? there are no schools in Jubbulpore, where the company?s employees? children can go, except the school in the barracks, which is at too great a distance. I would solicit the favour of a little assistance in the way of funds for the purpose of furnishing a school room.?
Half a bungalow at Jabalpur was permitted by the EIR for being given rent free for the proposed school with a monthly grant of Rs.20. A school opened on June 1 1870 with Rev. W.B.Drawbridge, the Chaplain of the Christ Church near the Railway station as its founder. It further got a grant-in-aid of Rs 50 from the government in 1872.
The letter dated June 5, 1872 from the Inspector General of Education, Central Provinces, Nagpur, to Rev. W.B.Drawbridge said ? I have much pleasure in informing you that the Chief Commissioner has been pleased to sanction a grant-in-aid of Rs.50 p.m. to the Jabalpur School for railway employees from April 1, 1872??..?
Bombay Howrah Mail Approaching Gurrah Station
Steam Engine hauling a passenger train
The school was conducted according to the principles of the Church of England, for the education of the European and Anglo Indian children. GIPR had a representative in the school committee, as did EIR. Extracts of the minute books dated April 4, 1903 read thus- ? the Hon Secy having drawn the attention of Mr Reston, Resident Engineer GIPR that he had not attended any of the committee?s meetings, Mr Reston replied that ? I have no recollection of receiving notice from you of any such meeting? The Hon Secy showed three envelopes in which notices had been circulated, signed by Mr Reston himself.
As late as 1922, there were 110 boys on roll of which 60 percent were of parents employed or connected with the railways. GIPR contributed Rs 2500 p.a while EIR made grant of Rs 3 p.m of parents employed in the railways.
Today, Christ Church Schools (separate for boys and girls) are one of the best schools in Jabalpur. The railways give no grant anymore and the committee has no railway representative. Children of many railway officers and children study here, though they are now a very small number. It is noteworthy to mention here that the present Principal of the boys? school, Mr Ladlie Mathews, served the railways for a short stint before entering the far more satisfying field of education.
RAIL BORNE TRADE: Before the opening of the railway, the trade was carried on by the Banjaras and others by means of pack-bullocks. Construction of the lines to Calcutta and Bombay led a very large rise in the prices of agricultural produce and gave the greatest stimulus to the district trade. Murwara (near Katni) became a major exporter of limestone. Paint prepared from iron ore by one Mr. Olpherts, which was used for painting ships and railway wagons was another important export.
With the passage of time, change in policies and industrialization, the traffic pattern also changed. A comparison of a few stations over 100 years is quite revealing. The stations of yesteryears have gradually gone down in loading for various reasons.
TABLE: Exports of certain key stations 1904 and 2004
The Imperial Gazetteer of India (1908) records that wheat, gram, pulses and oilseeds (sesame, rapeseed, mustard) are the principal exports. Hemp is sent to both Calcutta and Bombay for export to England. Considerable quantities of ghee and forest produce (lac, mahuva ) are despatched from Jubbulpore, but most of this comes from Seoni and Mandla. Hides and horns, bones and dried beef are also largely exported. Other exports were limestone, bauxite, cement, and porcelain.
Salt came from Sambhar lake, Bombay & Gujarat. Sugar from Mauritius and gur from Bihar. Kerosene oil was universally used for lighting. Cotton cloth was imported from Ahmedabad and also from the Berar & Nagpur Mills. Synthetic indigo had begun to find a market within the last few years. Transparent glass bangles were now brought in large numbers from Germany. Other imports were coal, coke, wrought iron and steel products.
The firm of Ralli Brothers dealt in oilseeds, wheat and hides and had most of the export trade in 1905. Bhatias from Bombay and Cutchi Mohammedons managed the rest of the traffic. Marwaris acted only as local brokers, and did not export grain by rail. A Khoja agent of Graham & Co. managed the trade in kerosene oil.
Commercial Issues: In 1892, an agreement was made between EIR & GIP & IMR (Indian Midland railway- later taken over by GIP). Under this agreement, the EIR were allowed a lien, via Jabalpur on the Kanpur-Bombay traffic to GIPR stations for which IMR offered the shortest route. The route from Kanpur via Jabalpur was 152 kiles longer than via Itarsi, Bhopal and Jhansi.
Due to increased competition GIP gave notice in 1897 to cancel this agreement. The settlement was thus again made the same year with EIR offering certain concessions to GIP & IMR. There were that GIP would get to quote the same mileage rates to Howrah and other stations on EIR and that EIR were not to reduce their rates to Howrah after the GIP had once quoted. It also permitted IMR a share in traffic to Allahabad & Howrah.
However, the agreement was cancelled in 1905 at the instance of EIR when it realized that more traffic was going to Bombay port than to Calcutta. During the first half of 1904, the weight of gram and seeds sent from Kanpur to Calcutta was 36,400 quintals while that to Bombay was 2,17,600 quintals, despite the cost of haualage to Calcutta being lower.
Subsequently, consolidations and acquisitions took place with the GIP acquiring IMR in 1900 and Naini ?Jabalpur section from EIR from 1.10.1925.This section remained with GIP?s successor, Jabalpur Division of Central railway till March 31,2003. After the reorganisation of railway zones, it is now a part of North Central railway, which incidentally covers the Allahabad-Mirzapur-Mughalsarai route. The wheel has indeed come full circle!
Karl Marx: wrote in 1853 that England has to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating- the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia.
The day is not far off when, by a combination of railways and steam vessels, the distance between England and India measured by time, will be shortened to eight days, and when that fabulous country will thus be actually annexed to the Western world. Modern Industry, resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labour, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power.
Epilogue: The British have long gone and so has Marx. The railway network is the gift they bestowed on this country. Many of the observations though, be it of Marx or Mayo, remain valid to this day. In this era of the communications revolution, journey time is no longer measured in days.
Bombay met Calcutta long back but the affair still continues in modern independent India!
(The writer is an IRPS officer and was posted as CPO/West Central Railway and is presently working as?CPO/S.C.RLY. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)