Our destination was to be Calcutta – I’ll use the names of each port as it was named in the 1960’s.
After sailing from Karachi our first destination was Kandla, which is in the Gulf of Kutch in the Gujarat State of India.
Gujarat is the red area
The pink dot is Kandla & the waterway to Kandla is the Gulf of Kutch.
This port was first considered by the British Royal Navy in 1851, but it was not surveyed as a suitable port un till 1922.
Kandla was created as a port in 1931 with a single pier and after partition, which created Pakistan in 1947, meant that the important port of Karachi was now in Pakistan.
India realised that that they required an additional port on the west coast to service the Persian Gulf, because Bombay had reached capacity.
The development of Kandla began in 1952 and by 1955 it had become a major port.
When I visited Kandla containerisation was in the future.
Kandla today, a very busy port.
Our next port of call was Bombay the Gateway of India.
In 1911 King George V, and Queen Mary, (our current King Charles, is King George’s great grandson), visited India for the Delhi Durbar, where they were proclaimed Emperor & Empress of India on December 12th, 1911.
King George was the first British monarch to visit India.
The Gateway to India commemorates King George’s & Queen Mary’s visit.
The foundation stone was laid in 1913 but work did not begin until 1915 and was completed in 1924 when it was opened to the public.
The last British troops to leave India after independence in 1948, (the Somerset Light Infantry) marched through the Gateway to India, which signalled the end of British rule.
As one might think of Paris and the Eiffel Tower
The Gate way of India in Bombay (now called Mumbai) brings to mind India.
but my visit in the 1960’s was not for seeing the sites, but for work.
The one place that we did not call at was Goa, which had been liberated (according to India), from the Portuguese in 1961, which was fourteen years after India had gained their independence from the British.
It would be 2016 before I eventually visited Goa.
Maureen & I where on a cruise from Singapore to Dubai via India, and one of the ports that we visited was Goa.
I enjoyed the quiet streets and the homes.
The small parks that I saw added coolness to a humid afternoon.
Back to the next port that I did visit in the 1960’s was Cochin. We sailed down the Malabar Coast to the small harbour of Cochin (now known as Kochi), and at that time Cochin was a quiet port that felt like a ‘back water’.
I found the above picture on the internet and as soon as I saw it, I remembered the small pier. The picture was taken from a ship which must have been alongside the pier.
From memory I think there was only room for one sea going vessel at a time to be alongside the small pier.
In 2016 Maureen and I were on a cruise and one of the ports that we visited was Cochin, which allowed me to bore her with ‘I remember’ . . .
Not sure what the top picture is but the one below is a hotel overlooking the harbour.
The port can be traced back to 1341 AD as a trading port well before the Europeans (Dutch, Portuguese and finally the British) arrived.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 created the requirement for an additional port on the west coast.
In 1920 the area was surveyed to expand the port. It was agreed that the port should be expanded, and it was opened in 1939.
During WW2 Cochin port was taken over by the Royal Navy as it was of strategic importance against the Japanese.
When the harbour was built they also created a railway terminus, which is no longer in use.
What it looked like in 2016 when I took the photograph.
What it used to look like.
The trains no longer run, the rail line is overgrown but the station and surrounding area has gained a second life because it is now used as a movie location.
Next stop was Tuticorin on the southern tip of India.
We arrived off Tuticorin in the late afternoon and anchored offshore and waited for barges to come out to us. Our visit was to be very short because we only had a very small amount of cargo to discharge, and I do not remember loading any cargo.
It was not until 1974 that the newly constructed port of Tuticorin was declared as India’s 10th major port.
In the early 1960’s most cargo vessels anchored offshore and worked cargo via barges.
In late evening we sailed for Madras in India. It looks like a short voyage, but we could not pass through the Palak Straits because of shallow water due to sand and rocks.
The green circle denotes the Palak Strait of water so we had to sail around Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) to make our way to Madras (now called Chennai).
A pleasant scene of Madras in the early 1960’s.
In August of 1639 Francis Day gained a land grant on behalf of the East India Company from the local ruler Damarla Venkatadri Nayakadu and which consisted of a three-mile strip of land and a fishing village called Madraspatnam. Copies of the arrangement still exist.
In February of 1620 the British began to build a ‘factory’ as a trading post was called at that time.
On the land was founded a fortified settlement called Fort St George and the area was shortened to Madras.
A plan of Fort St George in 1726.
In 1645 a new grant was signed with the area ruler that allowed Fort St George to operate under English Common Law amongst the British and Civil Law when dealing with other Europeans.
Fort St George – today it is a museum.
Madras was an important port for British India Steam Nav Co (my employer) because they operated a passenger service from Singapore to Madras. They had two vessels on the route Rohna & Rajula in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
SS Rhona – 8,602 gt. 30 1st class, 92 2nd class, 5,064 Deck passengers.
Both vessels were used during WW 2 as troop ships and other duties.
In 1943 Rhona was carrying troops from Oran in N Africa via Suez to Bombay in India.
The convoy was attacked off Algeria and SS Rhona was hit by a HS-293, which at that time was a radio controlled ‘glide’ bomb the first of what we now know as a guided missile.
It changed direction as required and it hit Rhona at the waterline opening the hull on both sides.
Overall, 1115 troops and crew members died in the attack. All of the troops were American, and it was not until 1995 that family members were told the truth about the ‘smart’ bomb.
Rhona’s sister ship SS Rajula was also part of the convoy, but she survived.
SS Rajula in Singapore.
Built by Barkly Curl of Scotland – Launched in 1926 – 8,478 gt – 37 1st class passengers and 4,300 deck passengers – the most she carried was 5,113 deck passenger and her regular route was Madras – Penang- Singapore and return.
During WW2 she trooped Bombay-Suez, repatriated 6th Australian Division Ceylon – Australia, took part in the Sicily landings, hospital ship for the Burma landings, trooped Malaya – Calcutta in 1945 & resumed her passenger life in 1946. She was sold in 1973 to Shipping Corp of India, 47 years old.
She was broken up in 1974.
As Rajula sailed from Singapore on her final voyage for the Company, the vessel received a cable from HM the Queen who was in Britannia during her Majesty’s official visit to Singapore
“To the most elegant old lady under the British flag, Bon Voyage!”
Rajula leaving Singapore in 1969.
My final Indian port is Calcutta (now Kolkata) and it is not long ago since I wrote about this port so will not repeat myself.
If you are interested go to the post of 2022 October, which also contains details of surfing the Hooghly Bore.
6 thoughts on “The ports of India”
KGV is HM’s Great Grandfather. His GF was KGVI
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Hi Peter – thanks for the feedback missed out ‘great’ :- o)
Geoff, really enjoy your blogs and look forward to hearing about your past and present exploits. So please excuse my pointing out that Madras was an important port for BI not as you described it. Cheers, Dave Donaldson 58/60
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Afternoon Dave, Thanks for the compliment that you enjoyed the various posts -as for Madras I didn’t mind the place even though it wasn’t the fun city of India, plus on one visit my ship sailed early and it was a mad scrabble to chase the ship in a rowing boat, and then to be told by the Captain that I should have known they were sailing early . . . . if I could see in to the future I would have picked horse racing as a career,
Interesting – I only ever called into India once during my seagoing days and that was on a tanker as mate hence did not get ashore- too busy with discharge . Much preferred my days on the Aussie coast with Jardines as 3rd & 2nd mate
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Morning Mike, my first ship was a tanker and the glorious Persian Gulf. I managed to combine India (Calcutta) and Oz & NZ coast when as cadet & 3rd Mate – also Oz coast & the Persian Gulf (frozen meat) although we were not a freezer ship, just had a few freezer chambers. Dubai was not a holiday spot then . . 😮 )