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The Indus Flotilla Company

Posted on October 2, 2009
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, History, Railways
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Owais Mughal

Indus Flotilla was the name of a company which was established in 1859 and used steamers and barges to run cargo through the Rivers of present day Pakistan. In the absence of decent roads and railway, the rivers of Pakistan provided a means of transportation all the way from Arabian Sea to Northern Punjab city of Makhad (District Attock).
The First Steamers in Indus:

The first ever steam boat that sailed in the River Indus was in the year 1835 and it was named as ‘Indus’ . In 1843, two more steamers were used and their names were Planet and Satellite and they took part in the British Military Operations associated with the conquest of Sindh province. After the occupation of Sindh was complete, a small flotilla was maintained at Kotri under the command of an officer of Indian Navy.



Postal Mail Via River Indus:

From 1852 onwards a fortnightly postal mail service was started between Karachi and Multan using the above mentioned flotilla boats.

Oriental Inland Steam Company:

In 1856 – three before Indus Flotilla was established – another company called the Oriental Inland Steam Company obtained a yealry subsidy of Rs 50,000 annually from the Government. It started its business in 1858 with a capital of 250000 British Pounds for the purpose of navigating main rivers of India with “steam Trains” consisting of trains of barges drawn by powerful steamers but this company collapsed due to mismanagement and all of its fleet was sold by 1869. It is said that river currents in Indus also proved too strong for the lighghtly built steamers of Oriental Inland Steam Company and played a role in its fast demise.

Indus Steam Flotilla:

In 1859, another flotilla was organized which later became to be known as Indus Steam Flotilla. Its charter was to cooperate with the Railways which at that time was under construction between Karachi and Kotri.

The Terminal at Jhirk:

As depth of water channel was quite shallow in Indus Delta, the terminal of Indus Flotilla was stationed at a small city called ‘Jhirk’. This city is now a small blip on Pakistan’s national highway N5 but in the days of Indus Flotilla Company, it was the most modern river navigation terminal of the day. Click on the map below to see the larger image and note the location of Jhirk (spelled as Jerruck) on the banks of River Indus.

How did Indus Flotilla Moved Cargo:

Cargo coming into Indian subcontinent was first unloaded at Karachi’s kimari harbor and then loaded onto small boats. These boats then used to take a circuitous route through several channels of Indus River Delta to Jhirk terminal on the banks of Indus.

At Jhirk, cargo was transported to Indus Flotilla steamers, which took it upstream to Multan and Kalabagh in Northern Punjab/NWFP.

In 1859, a Railway Line was opened from Karachi harbor to present day Gizri Creek and it reduced the cargo journey of small boats by several kilometers.

The map above shows the location of Kimari harobr (then spelled as keamaree) and the railway route to Gizri Dockyard (then spelled as Ghizree). This Gizri dockyard was located at present day Marina CLub in Defense, Karachi.

Hassan Ali Effendi’s Work at Indus Flotilla

While we may be digressing a bit from topic, it may still be worthwile to mention that for years the famous Sindhi educationist, Hassan Ali Effendi was employed at Indus Flotilla Company in Jhirk. Hassan Ali Effendi’s job description included keeping track of incoming and outgoing boats as well as accounting for the firewood used by the boats. Firewood was used by the Indus Flotilla as a fuel for the steamers. In later years Hassan Eli Effendi founded the famous Sind Madrassa-tul-Islam in Karachi, where father of the Nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah became a student in 1880s.

In 1861, after the Karachi-Kotri railway link opened, cargo was shipped by train to the banks of Indus at Kotri. The steamer terminal at Jhirk lost its importance as all the major cargo was shipped to transferred to Indus Flotilla at Kotri and this saved almost 250 km of river travel.

By 1862, Indus Flotilla Steamers were running all the upto Makhad (A city downstream of Attock) in Indus and their Punjab operation was called Punjab Flotilla for a while.

Around same year, the Indus Navy was abolished and its 2 steamers were handed over to the Indus Flotilla Company

By 1865, Railway Line had connected Multan with Delhi via Lahore and Amritsar. Look at the map below. The reason I want to share this map here is to show how the cargo was moved from Karachi to Delhi via rail and river. Trains brought cargo from Karachi (kimari) to Kotri. From Kotri, steamers took cargo to the banks of River Chenab near Multan and from there Railways took it all the way up to Delhi and the rest of India.

This was however a very inefficient way of transporting cargo, as it used to take 40 days to cover a distance of 945 km between Karachi and Multan via river Indus. The river boat company that moved this cargo was called the Indus flotilla. Indus flotilla used boats built in Birkenhead and London and was run by an Englishman named John Brunton. Brunton later became the Chief Engineer of Karachi-Kotri railway line project too. He also got heavily involved with Karachi Tramway Project.

In 1870, The Indus Flotilla Company was amalgamated with the Railways and its management was transfered to Lahore

The Final Demise of Indus Flotilla

In 1878, Karachi was connected to Lahore via railways and Indus Flotilla lost its importance as the essantial means of coummunication. The railway-flotilla was abolished in 1882-83 but the steamers of Indus Flotilla continued to work for many years after that with diminshed business.

The 1907 Gazetteer of Sindh Province sates that:

The remains of old Indus Steam Flotilla….are kept at Kotri, with other vessels required for operations connected with the Kotri Bridge etc

References:

1. Gazetteer of the province of Sind by E.H.Aitken, 1907
2. Copulings to the Khyber, P.S.A. Berridge – 1962

23 comments posted

Comment Pages: [3] 2 1 » Show All

  1. Muhammad Iqbal says:
    June 7th, 2013 9:39 am

    Very nice

  2. Farooq says:
    December 2nd, 2012 4:27 pm

    Dear Tim Wilsey ,

    I am from Dera Ismail Khan , the city where you must have seen “Jhelum”, unfortunately the Steamer was lost to river on 25th of July 1995 after a wind storm . I am from Dera Ismail Khan and would like to have photos of this steamer , could you kindly send these to me on my email address farooq.miana@gmail.com

    Thanks

  3. Tim Wilsey says:
    November 19th, 2012 9:55 pm

    I recall going aboard a wonderful old iron paddle steamer moored on the banks of the Indus in January 1994. It was Glasgow built and named the “Jhelum”. According to Glasgow records the original PS Jhelum was built in 1862 but that boat was 240 feet long whereas the one at Dera Ismail Khan was just over 100 feet in length. According to Isobel Shaw’s tourist guide to Pakistan this paddle steamer was built in 1917 in Glasgow and used during the Mesopotamia Campaign in the First World War. I therefore think it is more likely that it was originally the PT2, PT3 or PT4 which were 110 feet long and built specifically for that campaign. Alternatively our steamer could be one of the vessels requisitioned from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in Burma. It must have steamed up the Indus before the completion of the Lloyd Barrage at Sukkur in 1932. I have some photos of this vessel if anyone is interested.

  4. Alistair Deayton says:
    January 31st, 2012 10:19 pm

    Windsor Castle left for India under sail and was wrecked on the island of Sanda off the south of the Mull of Kintyre on 27 September 1960.
    A new hull was built for her engines, which had already been sent to India, and was named INDUS. Imagine that Kurrachee is an old rendering of Karachi. http://www.clydesite.co.uk/clydebuilt/viewship.asp?id=14962 gives more details on her
    WINDSOR CASTLE was one of the first Clyde steamers with a steel hull

  5. Andreas von Mach says:
    January 25th, 2012 9:15 pm

    I have found another JEHLUM iron paddle steamer in 1868
    reported 3 years an 8 months in service
    1862 built Henderson Coulborn & Co, Renfrew #43
    Oriental Inland Steam Company
    473grt 312nrt 245x24x8ft3in (depth) x 3ft4in(draught)
    diagional engines 150nhp 46″x5′ 25lbs
    2 double berthed cabins
    1869 sold to Hajee Mohamedan & Joseph Shepherd, Bombay and Hugh Dunsmuir, Glasgow
    Foundered – 7/6/1869 off Gulf of Cambay (between Gogs and Bohocanuggar?)

  6. Adreas von Mach says:
    January 25th, 2012 8:35 pm

    stremer jhelum

    499bm 145x27x7ft (depth)
    Machinery 60nhp/180ihp by Maudslay , Sons & Filed
    2 guns
    Crew:42
    Designed by Ditchburn & Mare to be re-assembled at Bombay
    Bombay Naval Yard

    CHENAUB (Launched 13.9.51)
    JHELUM (Launched 31.5.51)

  7. Dr Clive Dewey says:
    December 9th, 2011 10:33 pm

    Oxford University Press (Delhi) have just accepted a book of mine for publication – it’s called Steamboats on the Indus – and I would like to include your photograph of the ’Indus Flotilla steamer moored at Kotri’ as an illustration. Basically, I need a high-definition scan of the photograph. Could you help me trace the original photograph? I should be most grateful.

Comment Pages: [3] 2 1 » Show All



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