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South East Asia.

Malay Archipelago (Maritime Southeast Asia): ° Bangladesh ° India ° Indonesia ° Malacca Strait ° Malaysia ° Maldives ° Myanmar (Burma) ° Pakistan ° Philippines ° Riau Islands ° Singapore ° Sri Lanka ° Thailand ° Timor

India's Maritime History

° Andaman and Nicobar Islands ° Bengal ° Bombay (Mumbai)  ° Calcutta  ° Cawnpore ° Delhi ° Gujarat ° Indore ° Jodhpur  ° The Konkan Coast (Goa) ° Madras (now Chennai)  ° Patna (Bihar) ° Tellicherry ° Varkala


India's maritime history predates the birth of western civilisation. The world's first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2300 BCE during the Harappan Civilisation, near the present day Mangrol harbor on the Gujarat coast.

The Rig Veda, written around 2000 BCE, credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes commonly used by ships and describes naval expeditions which used hundred-oared ships to subdue other kingdoms. There is a reference to Plava, the side wings of a vessel which give stability under storm conditions: perhaps the precursor of modern stabilisers. Similarly, the Atharva Veda mentions boats which were spacious, well constructed and comfortable.

The influence of the sea on Indian kingdoms continued to grow with the passage of time. North-west India came under the influence of Alexander the Great, who built a harbour at Patala where the Indus branches into two just before entering the Arabian Sea. His army returned to Mesopotamia in ships built in Sind. Records indicate that in the period after his conquest, Chandragupta Maurya established an Admiralty Division under a Superintendent of Ships as part of his war office, with a charter including responsibility for navigation on the seas, oceans, lakes and rivers. History records that Indian ships traded with countries as far as Java and Sumatra, and available evidence indicates that they were also trading with other countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Even before Alexander there were references to India in Greek works, and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. The Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantities of gold from Rome, in payment for much-sought exports such as precious stones, skins, clothes, spices, sandalwood, perfumes, herbs and indigo.India.Voyages in World History. Valerie Hansen, Author.

Trade of this volume could not have been conducted over the centuries without appropriate navigational skills.

Two Indian astronomers of repute, Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, having accurately mapped the positions of celestial bodies, developed a method of computing a ship's position from the stars. A crude forerunner of the modern magnetic compass was being used around the fourth or fifth century AD. Called Matsya Yantra, it comprised an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed North.

The decline of Indian maritime power commenced in the thirteenth century,and Indian sea power had almost disappeared when the Portuguese arrived in India. The latter imposed a system of licence for trade, and set upon all Asian vessels not holding permits from them. A Naval engagement in Bombay Harbour in 1529 resulted in Thana, Bandora and Karanja agreeing to pay tribute to the Portuguese, and a grand naval review was held by them in 1531. They took complete control of the harbour in 1534 and finally ceded it to the British in 1662, under a treaty of marriage between Charles II and Infanta Catherine of Braganza.

Despite the eclipse of Indian kingdoms with the advent of western domination, Indian shipbuilders continued to hold their own well into the nineteenth century. Ships displacing 800 to 1000 tons were built of teak at Daman and were superior to their British counterparts both in design and durability. This so agitated British shipbuilders on the River Thames that they protested against the use of Indian-built ships to carry trade from England. Consequently active measures were adopted to cripple the Indian industry. Nevertheless, many Indian ships were inducted into the Royal Navy, such as HMS Hindostan in 1795, the frigate Cornwallis in 1800, HMS Camel in 1806 and HMS Ceylon in 1808. HMS Asia carried the flag of Admiral Codrington at the Battle of Navarino in 1827 — the last major sea battle to be fought entirely under sail.

Source: IndianNavy.nic.in

British India

The history of British India began with the royal charter awarded to the East India Company in 1600. Despite early Portuguese opposition to its intrusion, and faced with Dutch hostility in the Spice Islands to the East, the Company focused on its India trade: textiles (calicos and muslins), silk, pepper from the Malabar Coast, saltpetre, etc.

At age 18, Robert Clive was sent out to Madras as a writer in the civil service of the East India Company. After a miserable beginning, Clive, became the first of a century's brilliant succession of those "soldier-politicals." Clive successively established British ascendancy against French influence in the three great provinces under the nawabs.

In 1746, Madras was attacked by French Forces. After several days of bombardment the English forces surrendered and the French entered the city. It was originally planned that the town would be restored to the British after negotiation but this was opposed by Dupleix, then the head of the French settlements in India. The prolonged negotiations led Clive and others to make their escape to Fort St David, some twenty miles to the south. For his part in this, Clive was given an ensign's commission. The siege was eventually lifted when Mughal troops arrived to relieve the city. In the conflict, Clive's bravery had been noted by Major Stringer Lawrence, the commander of the British troops. However, the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 forced him to return to civil duties for a short time. A bout of depression caused him to leave his duties for a short break, in the Bengal area. Historian Macaulay wrote: " . . . the commander who had to conduct the defence . . . was a young man of five and twenty, who had been bred as a book-keeper . . . Clive . . . had made his arrangements, and, exhausted by fatigue, had thrown himself on his bed. He was awakened by the alarm, and was instantly at his post . . . After three desperate onsets, the besiegers retired behind the ditch. The struggle lasted about an hour . . . the garrison lost only five or six men."


Early in the 18th century, Company ships began to sail onward to Canton and the trade in tea ('cha') and porcelain ('China ware') began. From this time on the East India Company became more of a ruling power than a trading company in India, with the increasing involvement of the British government. A period of progressive domination and annexation followed so that, by 1858, when the East India Company was dissolved and the administration of India was taken over by the Crown, Britain controlled India, Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The East India Company employed junior servants, known as "writers," to record all aspects of its business operations: director's decisions, accounting details, minutes of meetings, information from ships' log books.

Until the end of the 18th Century, India was a maritime nation, making her own ships, manned by Indian crews, carrying the trade of Indian merchants.

During the early 19th century, trade with the West became a monopoly of the East India Company: ships trading with England were liable to forfeiture under an Act of 1814, unless their captain and 75% of the crew were British, which would have been impossible for an Indian company to accomplish. The British claimed that the "native sailors of India are to the disgrace of our national morals, on their arrival here led into scenes which soon divest them of the respect and awe they had entertained in India for the European character."

The Earl of Balcarras,
a Frigate of the
Honourable East India Company

By the second half of the nineteenth century all of India was under the control of the British Empire. Queen Victoria was proclaimed "Empress of India" in 1876 by the British Prime Minister of the day Benjamin Disraeli. Britain was at the height of the industrial revolution and its trade with India, particularly in cotton, was powering this success. No-one, be they Muslim or Christian was going to be allowed to interfere with this arrangement.

December 9, 1899, Sausalito News, Sausalito, California, U.S.A.

Vast Coal Deposits in India.

India has immense coal deposits, from which the output in 1896 was 3,537,820 tons. In the Bengal district alone the Ranigurg and Baraker collieries are estimated to contain 14,000,000 tons; the Karampara colleries, 8,800,000 tons; the Bokara collieries, 1,500,000 tons, and the Djherria colleries, 405,000 tons.

The Middle East as a gateway to India via land or sea was a very important region of the world for Britain.

Fortunes were made in the East Indian and Spice Island trade, since precious spices brought huge rewards to successful importers. The glittering wealth of the Portuguese and Spanish courts, of Italian port cities, Dutch trading firms, German bankers and British speculators was followed by the extraordinarily successful entry in 1672 of the United States into the spice trade. Competitive sailing boats helped make Salem, Massachusetts the capital of spices in the first half of the 19th century.

Elihu Yale, born in 1649 in Boston, Massachusetts made his fortune as a spice merchant in India; he received support from his family home in Wales to help build up the institution that was to become Yale University.

Other desirable spices sought in trade with India were black pepper (which dates back to pre-history), fenugreek, coriander, tilak, and turmeric. India produces almost all of the tumeric in the world and uses 80% of it.



Pamela Gladding

Turmeric has been grown in India since ancient times. It reached China by 700 AD, East Africa by 800 AD and West Africa by 1200. It was introduced to Jamaica in the 18th Century. Turmeric was probably cultivated at first as a dye, and then became valued as a condiment as well as for cosmetic purposes. In the 13th century Marco Polo wrote of this spice, marvelling at a vegetable which exhibited qualities so similar to saffron. It has always been considered an auspicious material in the sub-continent. Turmeric's common name in the north, haldi, derives from the Sanskrit haridra, and in the south it is called manjal, a word that is frequently used in ancient Tamil literature.

Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use in South Asia, cited in Sanskrit medical treatises and widely used in Ayurvedic and Unani systems. Susruta's Ayurvedic Compendium, dating to 250 BC, recommends an ointment containing turmeric to relieve the effects of poisoned food.


The history of the city is as old as the Mahabharata. The town was known as Indraprastha, home to Pandavas. Eventually eight more cities came alive adjacent to Indraprastha: Lal Kot, Siri, Dinpanah, Quila Rai Pithora, Ferozabad, Jahanpanah, Tughlakabad and Shahjahanabad.

Inside the Main Entrance of the Purana Qila, Delhi.
1823. Robert Smith.

India.Purana Qila, Delha, 1823.

The massive gateway and walls of Purana Qila, the oldest structure in Delhi, was built by Humayun more than 5,000 years ago. The foundation was then laid for the new capital, Dinpanah. The work was carried forward by Sher Shah Suri, who displaced Humayun. The thick ramparts crowned by merlons have three gateways provided with bastions on either side. The fort is made from red sandstone with marbles on the walls for a contrast. The walls rise to a height of almost 60 feet and it has defended the fort well.

Three gates Bada Darwaza (Big Door), Talaqi Darwaza (Forbidden Door) and Humayun Darwaza (Humayun’s Door) allowed entry into the fort. All three gates are double storied and are built entirely from red sandstone like the fort itself. When the fort was in use, the Bada Darwaza and the Humayun Darwaza were used to enter the fort. The Talaqi Darwaza, the northern entrance, was always closed.

Delhi has been a witness to the political turmoil for over five centuries. It was ruled by the Mughals in succession to Khiljis and Tughlaqs.

The Contest for India. 1800s.

In 1192 the legions of the Afghan warrior Muhammad of Ghori captured the Rajput town, and the Delhi Sultanate was established (1206). The invasion of Delhi by Timur in 1398 put an end to the sultanate; the Lodis, last of the Delhi sultans, gave way to Babur, who, after the battle of Panipat in 1526, founded the Mughal Empire. The early Mughal emperors favoured Agra as their capital; Delhi became permanent only after Shah Jahan built (1638) the walls of Old Delhi. From Hindu Kings to Muslim Sultans, the reins of the city kept shifting from one ruler to another.

In the year 1803 AD, the city came under the British rule. In 1911, British shifted their capital from Calcutta to Delhi. It again became the center of all the governing activities until the British were overthrown and India became free.

October 21, 1857, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


From a lengthy article in the Courrier des Etats Unis, the Washington Union translates the following interesting passages:

According to the census of 1845-6, the population of Delhi was 137,977 inhabitants, of which 71,530 were Hindoos, 66,120 Musselmans, and 327 Christians. To these figures must be added 22,000 inhabitants of the suburbs, which would give an aggregate population of about 160,000 souls. The commerce of Delhi is quite active. During the year 1851, there entered the city more than 180,000 horses, or beats of burden, carrying merchandise and 65,000 vehicles. The trade consists in the exchange of horses, fruits, cashmeres, previous stones and jewelry, to which are to be added the costly production, of local industry, such as shawls, tissues of cotton, indigo, etc. (Right: Aurangzeb's Mosque, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Thomas Daniell.)

"Delhi has always been considered one of the most remarkable cities of India. Besides the Gazette of Delhi, published in English, there are eight journals published in the native tongue, Hondostanese. Schools are also numerous. The principal establishment of public instruction is the College of Ghazziddin-Khan, founded in 1692, and reorganized by the British in 1829. The course of instruction comprises four chief divisions -- the Sancrit, Persian, Arabic, and English. The number of pupils, in 1851, was 333, of which 206 were Mussulmans, 105 Hindoos, and 22 Europeans.

"The City is the chief central point of Hindostan, and the great master stroke, in every effort to shake off the yoke of Britain, is to obtain possession of Delhi, as a first triumph -- not, of course, decisive, but highly important from the decided impression it will produce on the minds of the natives.

It is known that the insurgents are now driven within its walls, and that the city is invested by the British troops."


Early Views of India. India.The East India Company purchased Madras in 1639 and established a fort and trading post at the small fishing village of Chennai. It is the capital city of Tamilnadu state. This coastal center of trade has drawn traffic from all over the world for centuries; it later became the main base of the Company and developed into a modern city under the Company. Masras is the gateway to Southern India and the largest city in southern India located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal.

The Fort is a stronghold with six-meter high walls that withstood a number of assaults in the 18th century. It briefly passed into the possession of the French from 1746 to 1749, but was restored to Great Britain under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of the Austrian Succession.


Patna, the provincial capital of Bihar, was early named Patliputra and later on Kusumpura. The city was visited by Lord Buddha in the 6th century B.C. Patliputra, in the time of Ashoka became the centre from where messengers of peace and international understanding were sent to all over India and beyond.

The glories of the city revived with the rise of the Gupta Empire in the early 4th century A.D. Chandragupta I, who was the first emperor of the Gupta dynasty, had his capital here. India.World Drug Trade. Muslim King Sher Shah Suri (1488 - 1545), the Afghan emperor, revived his capital and constructed a fort at Patna on a strategic location and put a boundary around Patna. Later the Mughals acknowledged the importance of Patna when Humayun (1508 1556) the eldest son of the Emperor Babar, who succeeded his father to the throne in 1530, defeated the Suri dynasty and became the emperor of Hindustan. Subsequently, Akbar (1542 1605) the Mughal emperor of India who established a tolerant policy of cooperation with the Hindu population, and whose reign saw the zenith of Mughal power brought Patna into his own kingdom. The city was extended and beautified by different Mughal Governors, who built a large number of buildings for religious as well as administrative and public purposes.

India. India.

In July 1855, San Francisco's Daily Alta California Opium Report was Malwa $320@322 per chest. Patna New $266 do. The deliveries during the month have been very considerable and sales readily effected, but at daily declining rates, owing to large stocks and supplies. Present stocks, exclusive of Iona's cargo Malva, 2850 chests; Patna 1230 do.

In November 1855, British papers reported that "Patna opium had gone up from $290 to $325, and a stock of 300 chests only on hand."

Patna played an important part when Mir Qasim Ali Khan, enthroned in 1760, tried to throw off the yoke of the British. But in November 1763 Patna was captured by the British troops and Mir Qasim fled to Oudh. In 1764, in the famous battle of Boxer, Mir Qasim was defeated along with his allies by the British and he had to escape. He died, in 1777, in exile.

In 1824, the British started residing in posh part of Patna. Metcalfe, the Commissioner of Patna, constructed the Lawn in the town, which is now known as Gandhi Maidan.

Tellicherry (Thalaserry)

The roots of the name can probably be traced back to the Chera dynasty that ruled Kerala from 9th century A.D., declining by the beginning of 12th century A.D. After the decline of Cheras, the kingdom broke into smaller regions under local chieftains. This led to the formation of provincial states. Venadu, Kolathunadu, Kochi and Kozhikode were prominent among them. Thalassery was the northernmost place in Kolathunadu. Due to this fact, the area was called "Thalakkathe" (for Northernmost or Topmost in Malayalam language) "Cheri" (for Place) which later was abbreviated to Thalassery. Tellicherry is the anglicized form of the name Thalassery.

Tellicherry was developed by the British East India Company in 1682 to export pepper and cardamom. The small fort they built in 1708 on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea survived a siege by Haider Ali, and is gradually being restored. A church was built beneath the walls of the fort, with the funds left by the master attendant, Edward Brennen, and a high school started to impart English education. The British established their presence in Kerala in 1682, when they obtained permission from the Vadakkilamkur Prince of Kolattunad, to settle at Thalassery. In the following years, the British presence in the state of Kerala strengthened.

Tellicherry on the Coast of Malabar
Baron De Montalemert


Thalassery is at times referred to as the city of cricket, cakes and circus. Cricket was played in Thalassery much before it was introduced in Calcutta in 1860. The Thalassery Municipal Cricket Ground hosts the Ranji Trophy cricket matches; on this ground, the first ball was bowled in the early 1800s, thanks to Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who brought the game to this Malabar town.

Thalassery is considered to be the birth place of Indian circus. Keeleri Kunhikannan is a legend in the history of circus. Vishnupant Chatre's circus visited the city of Thalassery (Tellicherry) where he met Keeleri Kunhikannan (1858-1939), a martial arts teacher, who also taught gymnastics in Hermann Gundert s Basel Evangelical Mission School. Chatre was aware that acrobats were slowly taking preeminence over equestrians in European and American circuses, thus Chatre asked Kunhikannan, who showed a keen interest in the circus, to train acrobats for his Great Indian Circus which Kunhikannan began to do in 1888 at a kalari (Indian martial-arts facility) in the village of Pulambil. In 1901, Kunhikannan opened a circus school in Chirakkara, a village near the city of Kollam. In 1904, one of Kunhikannan s students, Pariyali Kannan, created his own company, the Grand Malabar Circus, whose life lasted only two years.

Kerala would be known as the Cradle of the Indian Circus. Over the years, Chirakkara's school gave birth to such companies as the Whiteway Circus (created in 1922 by Kunikhannan's nephew, K. N. Kunikhannan), the Great Rayman Circus (created in 1924 by another disciple of Kunikhannan, Kallan Gopalan), the Great Lion Circus (also founded by K. N. Kunikhannan), the Fairy Circus, the Eastern Circus, the Oriental Circus, the Gemini Circus, and the Great Bombay Circus.


The old town has remained a Hindu pilgrimage center since the 12th century. This 924 foot tunnel was under construction by the British for nearly 14 years in the cliffs adjacent to the Arabian Sea; the work started in 1869 and was completed in 1870. The tunnel was part of a canal used to carry goods and people between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. Once a civil engineering marvel, trade routes and commerce through this area are virtually forgotten and the tunnel is no longer used for commercial purposes.

October 21, 1890, London and China Telegraph, London, England


The Netherlands India Government have decided to recognise no concessions made to others than Netherlanders, or Residents in Netherlands India.

The Taking of the Kent. Robvert Surcouf (1736-1827). Gulf of Bengal.

Another little war has come suddenly upon the military authorities in Netherlands India. It has broken out in districts to the North East of the Padang highlands in West Sumatra, where the Battaks, a half-civilised inland tribe, have been making raids into Netherlands territory. Peaceable means having failed, forcible measures have been resorted to, and one hundred soldiers are under orders for the seat of disturbance.

The coolie question remains a source of trouble and difficulty in Delhi, and the Courant would fain see the business of recruiting in China put into European hands. At present, in that portion of the empire which furnishes coolie supplies to the East Coast of Sumatra, the latter country stands in evil repute as a place where labourers are brought under slavery. The idea seems to be that with Chinese official countenance once made sure of, the prejudice against Delhi among the coolie class in China would soon die away.

The Water Palace, Mandu. Jahaz Mahal - 1858

The Jahaz Mahal is situated between two artificial lakes; the name is derived from the reflection of the palace on the lakes, which lends it the appearance of a ship. Built by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji, it served as a harem for the sultan. It is a major tourist attraction and presents many scenic views and photographic opportunities.

Royal Enclave. Mandu, Madhya, Pradesh State, India.

The History of the Indian Navy (1613-1863) History of the Indian Navy. 1613-1863.
(Cambridge Library Collection - Naval and Military History) (Volume 1)
Charles Rathbone Low (1837–1918) was a lieutenant in the Indian Navy and author of popular books on military history and nautical exploration, including Soldiers of the Victorian Age and Maritime Discovery. This work, first published in 1877, comprehensively covers the history of the British Indian Navy, from its origins as the Bombay Marine to its abolition in 1863. It is an exceptionally detailed historical source, containing indexes of the ships and officers of the Indian Navy, and as such, it is a work of great importance to those interested in the history of the Indian Navy or the people that came into contact with it. Volume 1 begins with the early voyages of the East India Company's ships and includes a chapter on the relationship between the Bombay Marine and the Joasmi pirates. It concludes with the Bombay Marine becoming the Indian Navy in 1830.

Empire of the Sikhs.Empire of the Sikhs. Empire of the Sikhs: The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit SinghMaharaja Ranjit Singh.
Patwant Singh
Ranjit Singh was one of the most powerful and charismatic Indian rulers of his age, but has been largely forgotten by recent Western historians. Yet his achievements have had a lasting impact. He unified the warring chiefdoms of the Punjab in a northern Empire of the Sikhs, built up a formidable modern army, kept the British in check to the south, and closed the Khyber Pass through which plunderers had for centuries poured into India. He was also humane and just in his victories, giving employment to defeated foes, and honored religious faiths other than his own. This biography uses a variety of eye-witness accounts from Indian and European sources to chronicle his life and the controversial period of the Anglo-Sikh Wars following his death.

India.India. Storm and Conquest 
The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809
Stephen Taylor
The Indian Ocean was the final battleground for Nelson’s navy and France. At stake was Britain’s commercial lifeline to India and its strategic capacity to wage war in Europe. In one fatal season, the natural order of maritime power since Trafalgar was destroyed. In bringing home Bengali saltpeter for the Peninsular campaign with military and civilian passengers, Britain lost fourteen of her great Indiamen, either sunk or taken by enemy frigates. Many hundreds of lives were lost, and the East India Company was shaken to its foundations. The focus of these disasters, military and meteorological, was a tiny French outpost in mid-ocean the island known as Mauritius. This is the story of that season. It brings together the terrifying ordeal of men, women, and children caught at sea in hurricanes, and those who survived to take up the battle to drive the French from the Eastern seas. Mauritius must be taken at any cost.

RGVEDA SAMHITA: Rig Veda in 4 Volumes (Sanskrit Text, English Translation and Notes)

The Rig Veda.
Edited by Ravi Prakash Ayra and K. L. Joshi. Translated by H. H. Wilson and Bhasya of Sayanacarya (Author).

The Complete Rig Veda (Sanskrit Text, English Translation and Explanation) - 12 VolumesThe Complete Rig Veda. 12 Volumes.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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