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INDIA (now PAKISTAN)  : River Indus
After the British captured Karachi in 1839 and the rest of the Sind in 1843, the main objective was to forge a new route into northern India, to Amritsar and ultimately, Delhi.  Karachi was seen as a particularly fine harbour, the closest on the sub-continent to Europe and likely to grow to be the largest port for importing and exporting.  Unlike other major rivers such as the Ganges and the Irrawaddy in Burma, the era of paddle steamer operations on the Indus was short and the number of vessels employed limited. The river proved difficult to navigate but the main contributing factor was the comparatively early development of a railway along the same route.  

The first steam navigation of part of the river is attributed to the paddler Indus in 1835, captained by John Wood. A small flotilla (the Indus Flotilla) was based at Kotri on the opposite bank of the river to the Sindh capital of Hyderabad which was effectively the lower limit of navigation for larger vessels due to the problems navigating the strands of the Indus delta. The flotilla fulfilled a number of roles, including military, for which they were fitted with cannons.  The steamers were owned by the East India Company, who in effect managed the Indian territories of the British Empire, and sailed from Karachi to Multan but rarely any further upstream. Transit times were around 12 days downstream and 25 days upstream. 

Steamships required to be of a very shallow draught to be able to navigate the shallows and shifting snads of the Indus. William Laird and son John of Wallasey and later Birkenhead became specialists in this type of vessel and were the primary supplier to the East India Company. 

The construction of a railway from Karachi to Kotri was authorised by the East India Company in 1855 and this would considerably improve transportation time on the Indus route by eliminating the tortuous paths through the Indus Delta which could only be transited by small local sailing boats which had to trans-ship their goods at Kotri.
The 700-mile up-river haul to Multan which was the most easily navigable part of the entire route and for which the Indus Steam Flotilla was established in association with the Scinde Railway and the Punjab Railway (which was constructing the onward route from Multan).

The railway link from Karachi to Kotri was opened in 1861. 

One consequence of the rebellion was the removal of the East India Company from its quasi-independent administrative role following criticism of its handling of affairs in the area, the reduction of the number of vessels staioned at Kotri and disbandment of the entire fleet by 1861, and the vesting of the remaining vessels in the new Indus Steam Flotilla.

In 1869 the Indus Steam Flotilla became officially part of the newly amalgamated Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railway, shortly after the railway reached Multan. With the railway reaching Lahore by 1878, river paddle steamers were all but redundant, limited to providing a river crossing on the Lahore leg which did not receive the necessary bridge for a further ten years.

The Oriental Inland Steam Navigation Company had been established in 1856 by John Wood, the pioneer navigator from 1835, to provide a freight and passenger service on the Indus (and other rivers in British India) but without success especially after the railway to Kotri was opened. It could not compete with the Indus Flotilla, attempted to come into som accommodation with it but went into liquidation in 1867.

Names for the early Indus vessels appear to have been as shown below and were mostly built by Laird at Wallasey and shipped out in kit form for reassembly at Bombay
350 ton vessels


200 ton vessels

Satellite (II)

500 ton vessels

Indus (II) (1851)
Jhelum (1851)
Chenab (1851)

600 ton vessels built at Laird's new Birkenhead yard which were still being reconstructed in Bombay when the Mutiny erupted

Frere (1856)
Havelock (1856)
Outram (1856)
Sir Henry Lawrence (1856)

It is not known what subsequent paddle steamers were built for service on the Indus. William Andrew, first chairman of the Scinde Railway, proposed fifteen new paddle steamers in 1856, with five being delivered per year along with the associated dumb barges for cargo.  The British Governement created a commission to investigate suitable designs for developing trade and moving troops along the Indus, taking advice from established shipbuilders and engineers. 

The Indus Steam Flotilla definitely took delivery of a new vessel designed and built by John Scott Russell engineer and shipyard owner at Millwall, London.  The yard had recently completed construction of the Great Eastern designed by IK Brunel, the largest paddle stemer ever built. It is believed to have been 200 ft long and known as Pioneer. There is one representation of  what is believed to be Pioneer which is published on-line showing her in operation for the Indus Steam Flotilla (see below) from a contemporary report in the Illustrated London News.

Although not of the scale of Great Eastern, the commission was to be the promoter of an experimental new design of shallow-draught river steamer which was to be the longest paddle stemer ever built by a British yard. Designed by TB Winter, Talpore was built in Stockton, dismantled and rebuilt to undertake trials on the Thames off Gravesend and dismantled once more for shipment to Bombay. This and the vessel itself is described in detail in a report in the Illustrated London News in 1861. Exactly what happened after that is unclear. Conflicting reports show her as having broken her back on the sea voyage from Bombay to Karachi. Another has her serving on the Indus for around twenty years.

There is only one artistic representation of Talpore which is publicly available (see below, from the Illustrsated London News) although there is also one model of her in the Preston Hall museum in Stockton. The background is clearly not the Thames but the ILN article appeared some time before she would have been reconstructed for use on the Indus.

Built by Matthew Pease & Lockwood at Stockton-on-Tees with engines by James Watt & Co of Birmingham (Horizontal 55 x 72 in).
377 x 42 ft : 739 GRT
Draught 2 ft
Dismantled and rebuilt before she underwent trials on the Thames at Gravesend in 1861 before being dismantled once more and shipped to Bombay
Designed to carry eight hundred troops plus officers in cabins or 3000 troops otherwise
Special strengthening (hogging) trusses were provided to strengthen the long but extremely shallow-draughted vessel
Fresh moist air was pumped to the cabins by a steam pump
The handrails were tubular, designed to operate a speaking tubes for communication with the engine room

For commercial service it appears that there were further deliveries of up to six (with attendant dumb barges) from Richardson, Duck of Stockton-on-Tees.

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