Madras Railway and Other News, 1856

Extracts from Australian newspapers

Made available by the National Library of Australia. Edited by R Sivaramakrishnan. Posted to IRFCA on: January 17, 2010.

The following are extracts from the news pertaining to the railways of India that appeared in the Australian newspapers in the later half of 1856.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 19 August 1856, p. 3

A bullock train has lately been established on the Hindostan and Thibet road. The rates are fixed at twelve annas a maund, and the carts are to be specially constructed for. the service. This road is said to be a triumph of engineering skill. According to the Lahore Chronicle, a man of moderately firm nerves may now drive a gig from Kalka to Simla.....

The Delhi Gazette mentions that the Court of Directors have sanctioned a line of railway from Candeish to Mirzapore. It will traverse the valley of the Nerbudda, and open up one of the richest and least known territories in India.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 1 October 1856, p. 3

The Oriental News gives the following summary of news for the week ending 13th July:-

The general news throughout India during the week has been of the most barren description! The opening of sixty-five miles of Madras railway is the only item of intelligence worth mentioning! The inauguration, according to the journals, appears to have been a complete failure. The speeches were wretched; and, except for the privileged few, neither accommodation nor refreshment was to be had.


A storm at Calcutta recently seems to have been ... very violent where it prevailed and while it lasted ... the loss entailed on the East India Railway Company alone, is estimated at a lakh and fifty thousand rupees. ...


It has been determined to commence the construction of the railway from Agra to Delhi in October next. Mr. Purser, the chief engineer, recommended that the distance should be divided between five contractors, each taking a section of about thirty miles. This has been approved, but the deputy consulting engineer to the Government of the north-western provinces, in forwarding Mr. Purser's communication, thought it a matter of the greatest importance that the time for commencing the construction of the line should be accurately fixed with reference to the probable supply of rolling stock, and permanent way materials which would be forthcoming, and ready at hand when the line should have been completed. The line when once commenced, it was represented, could be finished, with the exception of the Jumna viaduct, in eighteen months, so that by the end of 1857, or the spring of 1858 at the furthest, a total amount of 25,000 tons of iron work would have to be conveyed to Agra.

The Hobarton Mercury (Tas. ), Friday 10 October 1856, p. 3

Accident at a Railway Terminus.-The Calcutta Englishman of July the 9th, has the following paragraph :- A serious accident, we are informed by the Pheonix, happened at the Howrah Railway Terminus on the 25th June. A portion of the roof of the extensive store room fell in about nine o'clock, with a crash; six native servants of the Railway Company were buried in the ruins, and many others more or less hurt, besides four persons stated to be missing. A good deal of property was also destroyed by the accident, to say nothing of the building itself, the construction of which cost, we believe, about a lakh of rupees. There should be a strict examination made by experienced professional men as to the real cause of the downfall, whether it was owing to any imperfection in the site or foundation, detect in the execution of the work, or fault in the principle on which the iron roof was put up.

The Courier (Hobart, Tas. ), Wednesday 15 October 1856, p. 2


(From the Friend of India, May 22)

PUBLIC works throughout India have been stopped... The Government has committed so much wasteful extravagance. Works commenced are to proceed, hut no new works whatever costing more than £10,000 rupees are to he undertaken for the present.... The Governor-General is determined to place our financial arrangements on a sounder basis, ....

It is now nearly three years since the home authorities, urged forward by a pressure from without, and perhaps overruling their available resources, abandoned their previously cautious policy. Orders were transmitted to India to expend seven millions sterling upon Public Works. Lord Dalhousie, though indignant at what he considered a rash concession to a momentary mania, could not contend at once with public opinion, and his official superiors. He gave way to the stream, and endeavoured lo render it beneficial. For the moment, however, it carried every thing before it. Undertakings were pursued in each presidency, which would have been rational if that presidency alone had engrossed the attention of the Central Government. Almost every proposition was sanctioned, sometimes in unavoidable ignorance, both of its extent and utility. With the new facility of Government came a new inventiveness in its officers. Every kind of project received a new impetus, and in a very few months the Government stood pledged to works involving sums to the full amount of the original limitation. Meanwhile the delusion which lies at the bottom of our balance sheets had become partially apparent. The balances melted rapidly away, The Government was compelled on a sudden to derange the market by a demand for money made at the worst time, in the worst manner, and under pretexts as unnecessary as they were unsound. Even the imminent danger then escaped did not, however, avail to check the tendency to philanthropic extravagance.... In the midst, therefore, of prosperity, we have an enormous apparent deficit ... and the people of England believe that the Indian Empire is on the verge of bankruptcy...

It is impossible that such a confusion should endure...

Throughout this argument we have scrupulously excepted one class of public works from the general postponement. We allude to railways, and other means of rapid communication. They exercise a social influence at least equal to their positive result. They are moreover essential to the organisation of the Empire. Until the network of railways is complete, we cannot hope for a thorough centralisation. The minor Presidencies cannot be abolished, the Army cannot be materially reduced. The returns are so rapid, and so certain, that the expense is a matter of secondary importance, and above all in this and this alone can we obtain the full benefit of private enterprise. The absolute necessity of advance in this direction is, however, only a new reason for caution in the general movement. This one undertaking, the great triangular railway, will of itself absorb some thirty million sterling. Every year's delay costs more than a lavish expenditure for speed. Are we prepared, simultaneously with this great demand, to press forward other works, involving equal sums, but producing, if equal, at least mare tardy returns? We are not prepared to assert that such an experiment must be inevitably fatal. Rash as it appears, it may possibly succeed. But we may at least pause, and consider the real extent of our operations, and the end which we are striving to attain. For such a pause the Government, wisely as we believe, has afforded a breathing time?

The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 2 December 1856, p. 5

The Bombay, Baroda, and Central, India Railway Company, whose line can scarcely be said to be commenced, have decided on the form of a fourth class railway carriage. According to the [Bombay] Gazette, it will have two stories. Each story will be about the height of an ordinary omnibus. There will not, however, be room to stand up, and the natives are expected to squat down "according to their habits." The "upper half of the side panelling will be left open to insure an ample supply of air."

The original source material used on this page is believed to be out of copyright, and/or these extracts are believed to be fall within the scope of fair use under copyright law. Material selection and editing by R Sivaramakrishnan, 2010.