History of 12th July – India’s First Steamship

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12th July

Today’s episode discusses the history of  12th July which includes Pennsylvania’s independence, 1st manned flight by gas balloon, Mormon leader Joseph Smith saying God allows polygamy, and many more. The feature story is about the first steamship built in India ‘Diana’ in the year 1823.   

History of 12th July shows us that it was this day when Citizens of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, pass a symbolic declaration of independence in the year 1774. This day also marks the anniversary of the 1st manned flight by gas balloon in the Netherlands in the year 1785. Again the history of 12th July takes us to the year 1843 when Mormon leader Joseph Smith says God allows polygamy. Besides, this is also the day when, following the Study Group report, Surgeon General Leroy Burney released a statement on July 12, 1957, that “the Public Health Service feels the weight of the evidence is increasingly pointing in one direction: that excessive cigarette smoking is one of the causative factors in lung cancer.”

Back in India, the history of 12th July takes us to the year 1960 when Bhagalpur and Ranchi Universities were established. Moreover, on this day India and Bangladesh ‘Maitri’ bus service between Agartala and Dhaka started in the year 2001.

With this, I come to the feature story from the history of 12th July.

The first steamship built in India ‘Diana’  

My feature story from the history of 12th July debunks the lie of ‘Make India’ as a new practice. I shared with you the history of 24th June which was the day when the supersonic fighter aircraft named H-24 was successfully launched making it the first ‘Make In Independent India’ way back in the year 1961. Today I share with you yet another ‘Make In India’ from the year 1823.

On this day, the first steamship built in India, named Diana, was unveiled in the bustling city of Calcutta. This event marked a remarkable achievement in the country’s industrial development and its growing prowess in shipbuilding.

The first Diana was launched on July 12, 1823, at Messrs Kyds & Co. Dockyard in Kidderpore, near Calcutta, India. During the Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26), it was deployed to the Irrawaddy River in 1825. After the war, the Diana served in Burma’s Tenasserim region before being returned to Calcutta in 1835 to be dismantled. The second Diana, constructed by J. A. Currie & Co. at Sulkea near Calcutta, was launched in October 1836 and arrived in Singapore on March 2, 1837. This Diana’s history is closely connected to its shipmaster, Captain Samuel Congalton, who played a crucial role in combating piracy in Singapore’s waters during the 1830s.

Origins

In June 1822, two 16-horsepower engines were brought to Calcutta. These engines, along with a copper boiler, were intended for a swift vessel weighing approximately 110 tonnes with an English oak frame. The ship was initially offered to the Indian government for Rs 65,000, but they declined. Instead, a group of merchants purchased the ship. After replacing the English oak frame with teak, at a cost of Rs 10,000, the ship was named Diana and launched on July 12, 1823, at Kyds Dock, Kidderpore. In April 1824, shortly before the start of the Anglo-Burmese War, the British government acquired the ship for Rs 80,000. It had a tonnage of 160 and a speed of five knots, making Diana one of the first steam vessels used in warfare.

Service in the Far East

Following the conclusion of the Anglo-Burmese War, Diana was sent to the Burmese city of Moulmein for alterations and repairs before being deployed off the Tenasserim coast of Burma. In 1831, it returned to Calcutta for a complete overhaul. Despite suggestions to station the vessel in the straits of Singapore and Malacca, Diana was redeployed to the Tenasserim region and eventually sent back to Calcutta in 1835 to be decommissioned.

The engines of Diana were salvaged and installed in a new vessel of the same name and dimensions, built by J. A. Currie & Co. at Sulkea near Calcutta. Launched in October 1836, the new Diana arrived in Singapore on March 2, 1837. The ship was put up for sale by Johnston & Co. and eventually came under the command of Captain Samuel Congalton of the British East India Company. Diana, under Congalton’s leadership, carried two European officers, and 30 Malays as crew, and played a significant role in combating piracy in the waters off Singapore. Additionally, Diana facilitated a survey around the Singapore waters by transporting the Recorder, the official records’ maker and keeper.

Encounter with Pirates

In Charles Buckley’s book, “An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore,” it is recounted that Diana’s first encounter with pirates occurred in 1837. The steamer received assistance from a sailing vessel named HMS Wolf during this incident. When pirates in six large prahus attacked a Chinese junk, Diana approached the scene. The pirates, mistaking Diana for a sailing ship on fire and an easy target, turned their attention toward it. However, Diana sailed against the wind, continued to advance, and fired upon each of the pirates’ prahu.

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2nd July

Captain Congalton

Captain Samuel Congalton, born on March 23, 1796, in Leith, Scotland, displayed a love for adventure and the sea from an early age. After his first unsuccessful attempt to run away on a collier, he succeeded on his second try by securing a position as a gunner on a ship bound for India. In Calcutta, his original ship was sold, so he boarded a country ship heading to the Straits Settlements and eventually arrived in Penang.

Congalton was known for his high principles, directness, and honesty. He is particularly remembered for his efforts in eradicating piracy in the Straits. His actions paved the way for future colonial administrators such as James Brooke and Henry Keppel to continue the battle against piracy. Congalton also collaborated with government surveyor John T. Thomson to create a chart of the Singapore Strait. In January 1846, when the East India Company’s steamer Hooghly arrived in Singapore to relieve Diana, Congalton declined command of the larger vessel and chose to remain in the Straits. His salary was increased to Rs 500 from Rs 350. He dedicated a total of 28 and a half years of service to the company, which included political missions to the native states. Congalton passed away in Penang in April 1850, and his funeral was attended by many people, with flags hoisted at half-mast.

Famous Passengers

James Meldrum, also known as Dato Meldrum of Johore, arrived in Singapore from Calcutta on a steamer named Eliza Penelope on May 27, 1848. In reality, the steamer was the Diana, operating under a new name. Another passenger aboard the Eliza Penelope was E. A. Blundell, who had been appointed as the Resident Councillor of Malacca. On June 1, 1848, the steamer transported Blundell from Calcutta to Singapore before he continued his journey to Malacca for his swearing-in ceremony.

That brings us to the end of the history of 12th June.

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