Even though Calcutta is a 170 km (100 miles) from the sea the river Hooghly is large and deep enough for deep sea ships to sail to Calcutta to load and discharge.
The Company that I worked for began life in Calcutta in 1856 so it was not a surprise to see other BISNC (British India Steam Nav Co) vessels working cargo and waiting for the schedule time to go alongside to processing passengers as Chakdara approached lock gates of our berth. The white vessel in the above photo is a BISNC a passenger ship.
The distinctive black funnel with two white bands has had connections with Calcutta for over a hundred years.
Until 1911 Calcutta was the capital of India and an extremally import city and ‘the’ place in which to do business.
The founders of the Company were two Scottish partners William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie and according to legend they wanted a house flag for their new company.
Being Scottish they wanted a blue Scottish flag, but to differentiate it from the national flag of Scotland they wanted a triangle cut from the fly. An outline of the new flag was drawn for the flag maker.
Instead of using the Scottish flag as his guide the flag maker used a St Patrick of Ireland flag as a guide
and produced a white flag with the triangle cut from the wrong flag. The partners were not happy, but being penny wise they kept the incorrect flag which over time became famous from London to Shanghai as the BISNC flag.
Remember cigarette cards and how children would collect them . .
perhaps when the children grew a little older, they took advantage of sailing in the school ship Dunera. The above badge would have been given to each child that sailed in Dunera.
Dunera was originally a troopship but when trooping by sea ceased, she was converted back to being a school ship, at which she was very popular with students.
The British India Company grew to become one of the largest shipping companies in the world.
In the 1940’s the rail network of the UK was controlled by four major companies. One of the Big Four was the Southern Railway and they decided to create a Merchant Navy Class of steam locomotives.
In 1945 locomotive 35018 was completed and was named British India Line.
Unlike BISNC, 35018 aka British India Line is still in service pulling coaches full of holiday makers around the UK – the smell of a steam engine never to be forgotten.
The partners of the new Company had their eyes on the future and as such in 1856 they bought their first vessel,
Cape of Good Hope
500 gt – single screw, tw0 cylinder, 120 HP, 9 kts.
On her arrival in Calcutta, she was used by the Indian Government as a troopship during the Indian Mutiny. She carried troops from Trincomalee (Ceylon) to Bombay & Calcutta in India.
Governments had a habit of requisitioning passenger ships for trooping requirement during times of war.
BISNC vessels were no exception and to use Dunera as an example she was built in 1937 and served as a passenger ship and a school ship until the outbreak of the Second World War.
She carried New Zealand troops to Egypt, she carried deported aliens from the UK to Australia, which history has shown was a very a controversial voyage.
She took part in the invasion of Madagascar with another company vessel Karanja in which my father served during the invasion.
She took part in the Sicily landings and was used as the headquarters for the US 7th Army for the invasion of the South of France.
She carried occupation troops to Japan, took part in the reoccupation of Rangoon in Burma and the landings to recover Malaya from the Japanese.
Later she trooped wherever she was required until in 1960 when the British Government decided that trooping by sea was no longer required because they would be using aircraft to deploy troops.
In 1961 she was refitted as a school ship once again, twenty-two years after her first voyages as a school ship, and in 1965 I sailed in her as a cadet.
In 1967 Dunera was sold to Revalorizacion de Materiales SA of Bilbao, Spain and scrapped.
Back to Chakdara 1964 –
We berthed alongside in Kidderpore Docks.
Once alongside we began to work cargo. The problem was the monsoon season. We had to contend with heavy rain that stopped after about an hour allowing work to resume, and then perhaps half an hour later the rain would start again. We had a system of tarpaulin tents attached to the ship’s derricks and as soon as the rain started the tent was hauled up to cover each of the hatches to protect the cargo. Our time in Calcutta should have been for a few days, but turned in to more like a fortnight, all due to the monsoons. Even visiting Calcutta, itself was no longer a pleasure, due to flooding and heavy rain.
and the locals thought it was all just too much . . .
Due to our inability to keep dry, when out and about, we entertained ourselves onboard, and of course the entertainment revolved around beer.
Each evening around 10.00 pm one of the cadets would go ashore and buy curried suppers for those involved in the entertainment.
We used to toss a coin for the first and second nights and after that took it in turns.
I lost the toss on the first night and trudged ashore to the local street stall just outside the dock gates. The food, various curries and rice, was packed in banana leaves, and tied with strong cotton. I hurried back with my load and handed the parcels around and sat to enjoy my own with another cold beer.
Unthinkingly I used the banana leaf as a vegetable. I thought the leaf was edible, forgetting that it was in place of a newspaper wrapping that we used in the UK for fish and chips.
Fortunately, I did not finish too much of the leaf, just enough for me to realise my mistake, but enough to keep me ‘regular’ for the next two days.
Of course, the others noticed me eating the leaf, but didn’t say anything – friendship?
Finally I don’t wish to bore you but . . .
at certain times of the year the Hooghly River becomes a dangerous ‘beast’ particularly when the bore runs.
Vessels anchored or moored in the river working cargo must make special arrangements to protect the vessel during the bore. The Bore is strong enough to damage ships or cause them to be washed ashore if the captain has not made the correct arrangements.
Certain ‘Calcutta’ bores have been given a special name called The Baan after a German motorway ( Autobahn ) because The Baan is twice as fast as a normal bore. This Bore has become a challenge to certain people.
Don’t forget that Calcutta is 170 km (100 miles) from the sea.