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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

17 Comments on “The Indus Flotilla Company”

  1. khairsoomro says:
    October 2nd, 2009 11:18 am

    Very interesting. Not only the first sea terminal was built at Jhirk, But this little town claims another glory. The residents of Jhirk and a number of historian claim that Quaid -e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was born at Jhirk. Also he spent his early childhood there and got his first schooling there.

  2. Aamir Sajjad Gilani says:
    October 2nd, 2009 12:41 pm

    Very interesting. A nice and informative post. Is there any steamer service still going on in Pakistan?

  3. Owais Mughal says:
    October 2nd, 2009 12:42 pm

    Khair Soomro saheb, you are right about the town of Jhirk. I occassionally get to read the claims that M.A.Jinnah was born in Jhirk and not in Wazir Mansion.

    I’ve also read that Jhirk used to be a main commercial center in 1850s and earlier. So much so that Aga Khan the first built one of his palaces there (1840s). Aga Khan I lived in Jhirk after migrating to India from Iran and Afghanistan. One of the first British era schools in Sindh was also built in Jhirk. I don’t know the exact year but it was built before the famous Sind Madrassatul Islam of Karachi.

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    October 2nd, 2009 12:48 pm

    Aamir. the only steamer in Indus is now probably used to cross the river. It probably runs between Dera Ismail Khan and Darya Khan on opposite sides of Indus. This steamer was operational until few years ago. I don’t know its current status.

    Another steamer named the ‘Indus Queen’ was used to cross Indus near Dera Ghazi Khan – I’ve seen its photos of disrepair. Again I dont know if this steamer is currently in service or not.

  5. Owais Mughal says:
    October 2nd, 2009 2:37 pm

    Aamir, one reason that long distance upstream/downstream river transportation is not possible in Pakistan is because our rivers are heavily barraged and have dams built on them. Boats cannot pass across them. Water level downstream of barrages also becomes too shallow for any mid or large size river boat.

    Indus downstream of Kotri barrage is now a barren desert for most part of the year (except for few months in monsoons). Even fishing boats cannot ply downstream of Kotri Barrage/Jamshoro anymore. See this photo of dry river bed at Kotri Barrage from 2004.

    I have fond memories of taking boat rides in deep waters here during the childhood but now the river bed appears dry and silted.

    Also see this photo here which shows total desertificaion under the rail-road bridge at Indus downstream of Kotri Barrage.

  6. Majid says:
    October 2nd, 2009 2:44 pm

    wow, thats a great information. while standing on the bank of Rhine, watching heavy traffic passing through this magnificent river and wondering if we can use rivers in Pakistan for the same purpose Rhine is being used I was not aware that Indus has been used for the same purpose. I think still we can use indus and other rivers for travelling/ tourism/ commercial purposes.

  7. Owais Mughal says:
    October 2nd, 2009 3:00 pm

    Majid, see one of my earlier comments why i think long distance river transportation is not possible in Pakistan.

  8. khairsoomro says:
    October 2nd, 2009 3:03 pm

    Owais, you are right about the palace of Agha Khan. Adjunct to that palace, a small but dedicated Ismaili community used to live. Quaid’s father Jinnahbhai Poonja also lived there when he migrated from Kathiawar. It was there that Quaid was born and spent his early childhood. In fact a local teacher claims that he had seen the register of school in which Quaid’s name was also enrolled. I have myself seen an old Government text book in Sindhi which mentioned Quaid’s birth place as Jhirik. Some historian even claim that Wazir Mansion was even not built in 1876.

  9. Owais Mughal says:
    October 2nd, 2009 4:40 pm

    I’ve also heard that Mr, Jinnah’s grand father is buried in Jhirk. He had permanently moved to Jhirk to be able to live near Aga Khan I. I am not sure if his grave is marked in Jhirk or is there any record of it. May be our learned readers can shed some more light on it.

  10. Anwer says:
    October 2nd, 2009 5:24 pm

    >> See this photo of dry river bed at Kotri Barrage from 2004.
    >> Also see this photo here which shows total desertificaion
    >> under the rail-road bridge at Indus downstream of Kotri
    >>Barrage.

    The two pictures seem to support the stance taken by Sindh that building Kalabagh Dam will be ruinous for this part of Pakistan. Can some one do a detailed posting on this issue?

  11. Essler says:
    January 2nd, 2010 11:15 am

    Do anybody know, if the steamers had postal facilities onboard or are they used for postal transport ?

  12. Owais Mughal says:
    January 2nd, 2010 4:59 pm

    Essler, the Indus Flotilla steamers were used for postal transport only.

  13. James Bell says:
    August 6th, 2010 2:03 pm

    Hello
    Does anyone have any information, or pictures, of the steamer “Windsor Castle” shipped to Kurrachee, in 1861, for the Oriental Inland Steam Company?

    Thanks J.Bell

  14. MEHMOOD HUSSAIN says:
    October 2nd, 2010 1:37 am

    DEAR ALL MY PAKISTANI BROTHERS & SISTERS,
    MY BEST WISHES FOR YOU ALL,
    WHY THIS INDEPENDENT STATE PAKISTAN IS COME INTO STATE AFTER A SUPREME SACRIFICES OF ALL OUR
    ELDERS IN PAST WITHOUT DISTINCTION OF LANGUAGE
    OR CULTURE, THOUSANDS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE GIVEN THEIR BLOODS, SUPREME SACRIFICES WERE
    MADE FOR REASONS BELOW :
    1. AN INDEPENDENT ISLAMIC STATE FREE OF DISNTINCTION OF CAST AND CREED.
    2. GOLDEN ISLAMIC RULES TO BE IMPLEMENTED
    JUSTICE FOR ALL, EQUITY AMONG ALL SOURCES.
    3. NO DISTINCTION OF CLASS, CIVIL CLASS, MILITARY
    GENERALS CLASS, RICH SOCIETY CLASS.
    4. ACCOUNTABLE BEFORE ALL FOR ALL DEEDS,
    5. ALWAYS BE HONEST IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
    BUT ALAS, OUR RESPONSIBLE GOVT HIGH OFFICIALS,
    OTHER MEMBERS OF SOCIETY BETRYED THESE RULES
    AND MAKE MOTTO : MONEY IS EVERYTHING, NO FEAR OF ALLAH, DARKNESS OF GRAVE AND ACCOUNTABLITY BEFORE ALLAH ONE DAY
    WHERE WE STAND NOW, PLEASE THAINK OVER IT
    WE DEVIATE FROM OUR COMMITMENTS, PAKISTAN BECOME A COUNTY OF PROBLEMS,

    THANKS,

    MEHMOOD HUSSAIN,
    mehmoodfaiz@yahoo.com

  15. Mohammed Saleem Magsi says:
    April 23rd, 2011 1:39 pm

    I am trying to collect the detailed information about the construction from laying the first stone to inauguration of Kotri-Gidu(Hyderabad) railway bridge with the names of locomotive drivers, technicians participated in the construction work of the bridge and the name of the driver and fireman who drove the first test locomotive engine from the bridge. I seek your help please.

  16. Engr Basit Ahmad says:
    May 23rd, 2011 7:07 am

    salam
    i want to know about the stremer jhelum made by indus folltila can you help me in this

  17. 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.

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