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Monday, February 2, 2015

remembering those who stream-rolled British on High seas ~ great martyrs of land

I had proudly posted about the great person who launched two vessels against the British Imperialists with the support of Tilakar.  In Nov 1906, steamships ‘S.S.Gaelia’ and ‘S.S.Lawoe’, were launched which I thought, ought to be viewed as the foundation of shipping industry of the Nation.   Till it was challenged thus,  shipping was  a  monopoly enjoyed by the British India Steam Navigation Company. The wily British reportedly slashed the fare per trip to Re.1 (16 annas) per head.  Later the  British company went further by offering a free trip to the passengers plus a free umbrella, which had ‘S.S.Gaelia’ and ‘S.S.Lawoe’ running nearly empty.  The restrictive trade practices coupled by the political actions taken against  the pioneer and other freedom fighters pushed the company towards bankruptcy is the sad history.   The  exemplary fighting qualities made Sri V.O. Chidambaram Pillai [fondly VOC – Kappal Ottiya Thamizhan] establish the “Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company” during Nov 1906

The British India Steam Navigation Company  had earlier been  formed in 1856 as the ‘Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company’. The company had been formed out of Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co, a trading partnership of the Scots William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie, to carry mail between Calcutta and Rangoon. Under the hand of Lord Inchcape (James Lyle Mackay) who had become chairman in 1913, the company became part of the P&O group of companies in 1914 through a complex amalgamation, but continued with its own identity and organisation for another nearly 60 years until 1972, when it was entirely absorbed into P&O.

As one of the largest shipowners of all time, the company owned more than 500 ships and managed 150 more for other owners. At its height in 1922, BI had more than 160 ships in the fleet, many built on Clydeside, Scotland.
Then there was the  Scindia Steam Navigation Company,  one of the oldest Indian shipping companies that was founded in 1919, envisioned by Walchand Hirachand.  It was a joint venture of Walchand along with Narottam Morarjee, Kilachand Devchand and Lallubhai Samaldas all of them businessman hailing from Gujarat. It was the first large scale Indian owned shipping company and started an India — Europe service with the Loyalty (ex-RMS Empress of India), but was forced to sign a 10 year agreement with British companies and its shipping route was restricted to the Indian coastal shipping trade for this period.

In Oct 2013, there was this article in Times of India ‘They steamrolled British on high seas in 1800s’ – which makes a very interesting reading – bringing forth, hitherto unknown facts.  Here is the same reproduced :

An unexplored chapter in Indian history has come to light with Paris based academic J B P More’s latest work about the early history of steam navigation in India from 1836 to 1910 — the story of the Indians who defied the British and operated their own fleets of steamships, which often sank due to pressure from the colonial rulers.   More, who’s in Chennai to deliver a lecture, writes about an episode rarely touched upon by historians. Dwarkanath Tagore and Jyotirindranath Tagore of today’s West Bengal, Dharmanathan Prouchandy of Puducherry, Jamsetji Tata of Maharashtra, and V O Chidambaram Pillai (aka VOC) of Tamil Nadu are among the businessmen who dared to run fleets to oppose the British monopoly of sea routes.

Dwarkanath Tagore, said More, was the first Indian to launch steam navigation in the Hooghly in Bengal. “He couldn’t withstand the cutthroat competition from the British. In 1891, Prouchandy of Pondicherry launched a steam navigation line in the Mekong delta of French Indochina. Due to obstruction by the French colonial authorities, he soon wound up his business. Even though industrialist Jamsetji Tata started the Tata Line to transport goods in 1894, it too closed down in a year due to pressure from British,” said More, whose book ‘Indian Steamship Ventures, 1836-1910’ explores the hidden history of Indian steam navigation.

Steam navigation ventures were also started in south India at the same time. In 1906, two navigation companies were launched in Tamil Nadu. “Si. Va. Company was the first Indian and Tamil company to ply steamers between Tuticorin and Colombo. They had a steamer called ‘Chusan’, but unable to bear the competition from the British India Steam Navigation Company, they had to wind up. The failure of Si. Va prompted VOC to mobilise funds and launch the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company in 1906. Even this company came under attack from the British and was finally closed. The British literally shattered the dreams of Indians in steam navigation,” said More, who teaches at INSEEC, Paris.

Although Dwarkanath Tagore was the pioneer of Indian steam navigation, Prouchandy, a Tamilian from Puducherry, was the first to establish steam navigation on his own in 1891. Prouchandy ran his firm for a decade “Prouchandy ran his first two steamers between Cambodia and Cochinchina [a region in Vietnam] in 1891. He is the first Indian and Tamilian who founded a successful steam navigation line that transported passengers, goods and postal items in French Indochina. He is the first Indian to attempt to run a passenger steamer line in 1895 in the South China Sea,” he said.      Though Prouchandy succumbed to the British tactics, he ran his company for almost a decade. “He was most successful in withstanding pressure from the British. Even poet Subramania Bharati, who was involved in promoting VOC’s venture, was unaware of the exploits of Prouchandy,” said More.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
30th Jan 2015.

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