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Extract from The Rangoon Times Christmas Number, 1912
The Port of Rangoon
George C. Buchanan, C.I.E., M. Inst. C.E.
Chairman & Engineer, Rangoon Port Commissioners
The Port of Rangoon
George C. Buchanan, C.I.E., M. Inst. C.E.
Chairman & Engineer, Rangoon Port Commissioners
The Port of Rangoon has no very ancient history and as a British Port this is but the 60th Anniversary of its existence.
The Province of Pegu became a British possession in 1852 and Rangoon the chief port of the new Province.
Little progress however was made until the unification in 1862 of the provinces of Pegu, Arakan and Tenasserim under the title of British Burma with Rangoon as the head of the local administration.
A lightship was placed at the mouth of the river in June 1852 and a timber wharf built opposite Barr Street in 1859.
The earliest statistics are for the year 1861-1862, when the receipts of the Rangoon Port Fund aggregated Rs. 60,072 and the expenditure Rs. 44,940, most of which was on account of establishments and stores.
The number of vessels which entered and cleared the Port in that year was 867 and a tonnage of 295,259.
The bulk of the trade was coasting, but few vessels entering direct from foreign countries and most of the goods were landed on the bank from cargo boats. The value of the imports was Rs. 123,86,600 and the exports Rs. 140,26,752.
The trade of the Port now began to increase steadily and wharf accommodation became a necessity. An iron wharf was commenced on the bank at the foot of Phayre Street in 1865 and completed in 1867 ; in 1871, 1873 and 1874 godowns were erected and in 1877 the wharf was lengthened from 150 to 200 feet.
Latter Street Wharf was erected in 1871 and extended and improved in 1875, the old timber wharf at Barr Street, having been burnt in 1871, a new iron wharf, 200 feet long and 48 feet broad, was built at Sule Pagoda Street and equipped with pucca godowns, tramway and other appliances.
Four small jetties for boat traffic were also provided at Keighly Street, Crisp Street, Barr Street and Lewis Street, respectively.
Briefly it may be stated that between 1867 and 1877 ten lakhs of rupees were spent on new works and in the latter year the number of vessels entering and clearing amounted to 1,687 with a tonnage of 984,095, the port income had increased to Rs. 2,56,203 and the value of the trade aggregated Rs. 859,92,023.
The Strand Bank lands belonging to the Government and extending from Monkey Point on the east to the Canal on the west yielded a rental, exclusive of wharves, of about Rs. 16,000 per annum. These lands were supervised by the Magistrate up to July 1874 and from that date to May 1876 by the President of the Municipality, but almost all the revenue derived for about 23 years was appropriated for the benefit of the town, a very small proportion having been expended on improving the Bank. In June 1876, the Bank, which had been reserved from Municipal limits under a special notification at the date of the inauguration of the Municipality, was placed under the management of a Committee appointed by the Chief Commissioner and consisting of the Master Attendant, the Collector of Customs and the Executive Engineer and all the revenue collected was expended on providing boat accommodation and improving the foreshore generally.
The Strand Bank Committee was, however, found an unsatisfactory method of managing the affairs of the Port. They were not recognised by law and although they spent large sums on the improvements of the Banks, they had no power to compel the ships to use the wharves, jetties and landing places, nor could they recover dues from persons who refused to pay, except by ordinary process of law ; moreover, the Port interests were divided, the control of the conservancy within the Port limits being under the Master Attendant.
Under these circumstances it was, in 1878, suggested that a great improvement would be effected by the creation of a Port Trust and appointment of Commissioners with powers similar to those conferred on the Calcutta Port Commissioners under Bengal Act V. of 1870.
To this proposal the Government of India gave their cordial approbation and Act XV of 1879, entitled the Rangoon Port Commissioners Act, received the consent of the Governor-General on 12th September 1879. Under this Act the Port limits were defined, the control and maintenance of the Port was handed over to the Trustees and the whole of the Government land on the Strand Bank, together with the Government land within the limits of the Port stretching 50 yards from high water mark, was, with certain exceptions, transferred to the Commissioners. The Act came into force on 1st January 1880 and when the Commissioners assumed charge of the Trust, the property was handed over to the Commissioners free of cost and unencumbered by debt ; they had also an assured income of approximately Rs.. 2,70,000 and a balance to their credit in the bank of Rs. 2,19,724.
Between the years 1880 and 1900 very considerable improvements were made in the Port and 57 lakhs of rupees were expended on works. The wharves for seagoing steamers were extended, numerous floating pontoon landing stages for inland vessels were erected, godowns were built and moorings for steamers provided in the stream.
Growth and Trade
With the annexation of Upper Burma in 1886 Rangoon became the capital of the whole Province and an era of prosperity and rapid development of trade set in, the Port revenue advanced between 1880 and 1900 from 4 lakhs to 12 lakhs, the nett registered tonnage entering the Port from 600,000 tons to 1,450,000 tons and the value of the trade from 1,038 lakhs to 2,807 lakhs of rupees.
From the year 1900 to the present time the trade has (with temporary setbacks) increased steadily and for the year ending 31st March 1912, the nett registered tonnage of shipping entering the Port reached the very respectable total of 2,640,342, the ordinary Port revenue 36 lakhs and the value of the trade 4,806 lakhs of rupees.
The staple trade of Burma is rice and of this commodity Rangoon exports annually some 1 million tons or 53⅓ million bushels.
Teakwood is also associated with Burma and of this beautiful timber 100,000 to 150,000 tons are despatched annually to all parts of the world.
Machinery is fast superseding the elephant in the manipulation of the logs but the hathi can still be seen in several of the timber yards on the river to the everlasting joy of the snap-shooting tourist.
Petroleum oil is an export of recent years which has developed by leaps and bounds and from an export of 12,717,484 gallons in 1900-01 has increased to 113,190,419 gallons in 1911-12.
The imports to Rangoon consist of Manchester goods, hardware, provisions, salt, iron and steel and all the other articles required by an agricultural nation dependent on outside for luxuries and manufactured goods.
The Port Commissioners, 12 in number, are selected from the ablest of the mercantile community, along with a certain number of ex-officio Government officials. Their work is arduous, requiring a considerable sacrifice of personal time but they are supported in their labours by the traditions of their race and the British characteristic of trying to do something for the common good and the advancement of the Empire.
As a commercial undertaking the business is a large one and the work is divided amongst four departments. The Traffic Manager and staff control the workings of the wharves and jetties, godowns and warehouses and act as middlemen between the ship-owners and their customers the consignees.
The Marine Department, presided over by an officer of the Mercantile Marine, manages the Pilots and Harbour Masters’ services, the berthing and mooring of vessels and buoying and lighting of the river, the survey of the various channels and the upkeep of the Port Commissioners’ flotilla.
The Chief Accountant and staff are fully occupied in keeping the innumerable accounts with ship-owners and the general public and receiving cash. Whilst in such a rapidly growing Port the Resident Engineer and his assistants find their time fully occupied.
The Commissioners meet either in Committee or in General Meetings 3 to 5 times a month and are presided over by a whole-time Engineer Chairman who corresponds with a General Manager in British Ports.
The Port Works
In 1900 trade had increased to such an extent that it became apparent that to keep pace with the times new works on a large scale were imperative. Many schemes were mooted and finally, after taking the Chamber of Commerce into their confidence and discussing all the proposals, a policy was arrived at.
From time immemorial the export trade had been conducted in the stream – a convenient practice – as the mill owners all possessed a river frontage from where the rice was deposited in cargo boats to the seagoing steamers. The import trade on the other hand required deep water wharves along which vessels could lie and spacious sheds and warehouses into which goods could be landed and stored. In all seaports and in many river ports, docks have been constructed in which ships lie alongside the wharves either to take in or put out cargo, or to receive cargo from barges, an advantage of a dock being that loading or discharging is facilitated because the water is always at the same eve.
The Commissioners, however, wisely decided to avoid the great expense of a wet dock and by additional moorings and other improvements in the river and by the building of deep water wharves on the banks to make their fine river the equivalent of a dock. It was also considered that the magnificent fleet of inland steamers possessed by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company deserved better accommodation than had hitherto been bestowed on them and that a special length of foreshore should be set aside for these vessels, properly equipped with modern floating pontoon landing stages and goods sheds.
Plans and estimates were put in hand and an actual start made in 1903 and four sections were formerly opened by His Excellency Lord Minto on the 3rd January 1908. The works, which have cost 110 lakhs, are now complete and have effected a complete change in the river face.
The whole of the import trade can now be conducted alongside modern wharves lighted by electricity and quipped with hydraulic cranes and spacious sheds – the tout ensemble comprising a wharfage installation second to none in the east. At the same time the mooring accommodation in the river has been doubled and a very fine depot built for the inland vessels trade.
River Training Works
A full sized mattress in position and about to be sunk through 60 feet of water. The barges alongside carry 300 tons of granite and at a given signal the coolies begin loading the mattress in the middle. The mattress is tied to the barges and when it is so loaded as to be completely submerged the coolies retire and the ropes are let go.
The pipe line through which the material dredged by the “Pelican” sand pump dredger is pumped. The pipes are 42"diameter and 60' long and are carried on steel pontoons 26' in diameter. The pontoons float on the surface of the river and are anchored at intervals. A footpath extends the whole length of the pipe line.
The mattresses are made on special slipways constructed for the purpose and are floated off a high tide. A full sized mattress is 120 feet long, 80 feet broad, 3 feet thick and contains 22,000 bundles of brushwood. The whole is tied together with cord and wire and the coolies became so expert in their manufacture that they could make a mattress in six hours.
This is a view of the “Pelican” suction pump dredger which is employed in cutting the new channel through the Ahlon Shoal and depositing it inside the wall. She can lift 4,000 tons of sand and silt per hour from a depth of 55' and deliver it through a pipe line 3,000' long and the total quantity to be removed is 150 million cubic feet.
There are few ports that have not some special problem to solve or work to undertake involving a large non-revenue producing expenditure.
In ports on the sea coast expensive breakwaters have often to be built, whilst riverine ports, although sheltered, have as a rule, bars to dredge and channels to maintain. In the case of Rangoon the particular difficulty is the vagaries indulged in by the river immediately above Rangoon. Once upon a time the river was a well trained river and from below Kemmendine followed a direct course to Rangoon, but some 50 perhaps 60 years ago, (there are no records to show when deviation from the straight path began) the river took into its head to try and avoid Rangoon and take a short cut to the sea through the paddy fields. It could not go very far because there were miles of paddy fields to cut through, but it has managed to erode half a mile of the right bank and to establish the deep water channel above Rangoon on the opposite side to the town whilst concurrently a large sandbank has grown out opposite Ahlon.
For some years past the Port Commissioners have regarded the matter very seriously, more especially as experts, who notoriously disagree, were unanimous in expressing the opinion that unless the erosion of the bank could be stopped the deep water channel on the right bank would, in the course of a few years, extend to below Rangoon, the sandbank at Ahlon would simultaneously extend and Rangoon would be left nigh and dry. At length, after much making of plans and writing of reports, it was decided to try and force the river back to the position it presumably held 50 years ago and to effect this purpose it was proposed to build a training wall 2 miles long extending across the new deep water channel. The work was novel in its inception, unprecedented in magnitude and as an insurance policy shockingly expensive, but as no alternative presented itself the Port Commissioner took the view that it was their duty to face the work and the accompanying expense.
Every large engineering project may be divided into three periods:-
No. 1. The general discussion on the pros and cons of the project and the ways and means both financial and practical of carrying it out.
No. 2. The making of the arrangements for the materialisation of the paper plans, the raising of funds, the purchase of plant, the collection of staff, the letting of contracts and settling of the innumerable details.
No. 3. The actual execution of the work.
In the case of the river training works No. 1. took from 1898 to 1907, No. 2. from the middle of 1907 to the end of 1909 and it is hoped the work will be completed by the middle of 1915.
Before proceeding further a brief description of the training wall being executed is desirable.
The works consist of a training wall about ten thousand feet long, extending from Seikgyi to the neighbourhood of Mower’s point, and the dredging of a channel in front of the wall through the shoal to accommodate the diverted current. The wall is constructed of rubble stone dumped from hoppers or deposited from barges on a foundation of brushwood mattresses overlaid with rubble uniformly distributed. The greatest depth of water on the site of the foundation before work was begun was 40 feet at low water spring tides and the least depth was about four feet. The top of the wall is 95 feet above the datum of the Port of Rangoon and coincides approximately with low water of neap tides.
The wall at Seikgyi is tangential to high water mark and the wall sweeps southward and eastward in a curve of 6,000 feet radius for a distance of 8,500 feet, after which it takes a straight course approximately parallel to the bank of the river. The direction of the straight portion is so aligned as to cut through Mower’s point in line with the right bank of the river opposite Rangoon, so that if and when the point is ultimately removed there will be a straight channel of uniform width opposite the town. The high water area of the portion of the river bed between the present right bank and the wall is about 300 acres. [In] this area it is intended to fill up as far as possible by depositing the material dredged from the channel in front of the wall.
The question of letting the whole work by contract was considered but it was decided that there was so much uncertainty and risk involved in the execution that it would be better to carry it out departmentally. The engineers had therefore personally to supervise and execute all the preliminary arrangements involving, amongst other things, the purchase of 5 million bundles of brushwood and 50,000 bundles of stakes for the mattresses and the quarrying and transport of 1,400,000 tons of granite stone. The bulk of the stone is being procured from a granite hill situated on what was an uninhabited Island off the coast of Tenasserim and here a very large quarry has been established.
The making of this quarry was no mean feat ; in the first instance the engineers were without any regular communication with the outside world and the whole Island was covered with dense tropical jungle. There were of course no facilities for landing plant and vessels had to dump machinery, materials and men on the sea-shore where to the uninitiated confusion prevailed. To add to the difficulties 260 inches of rain fell between the months of May and November and epidemics of fever paralysed the labour. From all these troubles the engineers in charge emerged triumphant and in due course the quarry had been opened out and arrangements made for transporting to Rangoon 1,000 tons a day.
The contingent works necessary for the accomplishment of the main object were innumerable, quarters for the European staff and about 1,000 native employees had to be built and arrangements made for their food and the provision of pure water. A well equipped hospital was a necessity and a military police station for the preservation of law and order. A Post Office was established ; also a Telegraph Office, a cable being laid to the mainland, and to keep up the spirits and health of the staff a small club house, equipped with billiard table and tennis court, was provided.
For the quarrying of the stone the most modern system of rock drills operated by air pressure has been installed and for removing the earth or overburden at the top of the quarry face hydraulic monitors pumping 2,000 gallons per minute to a 200 foot head are used with great effect. The stone is conveyed to the steam barges which lie at a pier in the deep water channel by two Lidgerwood cableways, a radial travelling cable being used on the land and a fixed cable to the pier where the stone is dumped automatically into the steamers. The skips carry 7 tons each of stone and a steamer can be loaded with 1,000 tons in about 10 hours. Three steam hopper barges are employed in carrying the stone from Kalagouk to Rangoon. They are seagoing vessels classed A-1 at Lloyd’s and specially built for the work by Messrs. Simons & Co. of Renfrew. The average time of the passage is 14 hours but during the monsoon when cyclonic storms and very heavy seas occur the time is increased and occasionally doubled.
A steamer on arrival at Rangoon proceeds to the site of the work and after taking on board one of the Civil Engineers manoeuvres until it is over the exact position where the stone is required when at a signal the doors in the bottom are opened and the whole 1,000 tons dumped in position.
The whole of the brushwood for the mattresses was provided under contract by the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation. Brushwood was brought from all parts f the province and it was largely due to the expeditious way in which the contract was executed that there was no hitch in sinking the mattresses.
An important part of plant is the large suction pump dredger which has been built by Simons & Co. specially to dredge the new channel the river is to take when the training wall is completed. This dredger is one of the most powerful in the world and is capable of removing 4,000 tons of sand and silt per hour from a depth of 55 feet and discharging the material through a pipe line 3,000 feet long to the area to be reclaimed inside the wall. The pipes, which are 42 inches diameter, rest on floating pontoons 26 feet diameter and 60 pontoons with their pipes resemble a huge snake on the surface of the water.
The headquarters of the river training works are at Seikgyi where the wall begins and here also a considerable amount of time and money had to be expended on preliminary operations. A suitable piece of land was acquired and reclaimed to above high water mark, quarters were built for the Executive and Assistant Engineers, Surveyors, Office staff and workmen. Engineering and General offices were erected, storage room was arranged for brushwood and slipways were built on which the mattresses could be constructed.
It was also decided soon after the starting of the work to obtain, from quarries situated on the line of the Pegu-Moulmein Railway, the stone which had to be hand placed, thus leaving the Kalagouk steamers free for continual dumping, and a railway siding was built on the Rangoon side of the river and arrangements made for the reception of the stone trains.
This concludes the description of the preliminary arrangements and their magnitude will be realised by the statement that 24½ lakhs of rupees were expended before it as possible to being the construction of the wall.
The preliminary works were all concluded about the end of the year 1909 and the first mattress was sunk on the 13th November 1909. The reason for the mattress work was to form a carpet or temporary foundation, 230 feet wide extending the whole length of the wall, on which stone forming the apron and wall could be evenly distributed. Without this carpet each load of stone deposited would have sunk into the silt forming the river bed, heaps would have been formed causing eddies, and the stone have been deposited in pockets of varying depths, which process would have been continued until the maximum depth of scour had been reached and by that time the total quantity of stone required would probably have been doubled or trebled. The reason for the great width of carpet (230 feet) is that when covered with 5 feet of stone it should form a protective apron against the main wall undermined by scour. Great scour round the bend is certain to take place and it is anticipated the apron will fall to the maximum scour level and automatically rivet the new slope, thus preventing the main wall being affected. Each mattress was 125 feet long and either 75 or 80 feet broad and 3 feet thick and contained 20,000 to 22,000 bundles of brushwood. The mattresses were built on specially constructed slipways from which they were launched at high water and so expert did the coolies become that a mattress could be made and launched in six hours. The mattresses were constructed to combine strength with great flexibility and in that respect answered their purpose admirably.
When a mattress was launched it was towed to its site by a steam tug and placed into a position previously marked out by four circular pontoons to which it was securely tied. Another tug meanwhile came alongside with four barges each containing 75 tons of granite and these were also tied to the mattress. When all was ready the coolies on the barges each with a stone on his head ran rapidly along planks onto the mattresses and deposited stone beginning at the middle and working outwards. When the mattress was totally submerge and was in fact being held up by the ropes a signal was made and all the ropes loosened simultaneously and the mattress sunk and at the same time barges in pairs were pulled backwards and forwards across the mattress while the collies deposited stone as fast as possible.
The mattresses were always sunk at high water and at slack water, the greatest depth of water being about 60 feet. The average weight required to sink a mattress was about 80 tons, but 300 tons was always deposited at the time of sinking and the average time required to sink a mattress and cover it with 300 tons of stone was 20 minutes. Sinking mattresses was anxious and arduous work for all concerned. They were unwieldy to tow and if moved too soon before slack water were apt to take charge of the tug and if moved too late after slack water were liable to be caught by the ebb and overturned whilst sinking. Then during the monsoon they were in danger of being caught by freshnets and the brushwood got so sodden that the mattresses were water-logged, whilst in the dry weather there was the constant danger of a fire wiping out the whole of the stock of brushwood.
To minimise all these troubles it was decided to rush the work ; more plant was obtained and more men put on and the whole of the mattress sinking was completed by August 1911 or a year before the specified time and without a single serious accident.
To mark the line of the wall and assist in fixing the position for the mattresses, dumping stone from hoppers and surveying and sounding, timber dolphins or small piers were erected 500 feet apart along the back of the mattress course. In the first instance a local timber was used which had a reputation for resisting the ravages of the sea-worm, but either the reputation rested on very feeble premises or the sea-worm in the Rangoon river was peculiarly voracious as all the first set of dolphins consisting of solid timber 14 inches square began to collapse after four months, the piles below low water being eaten right through. They were rebuilt with the same class of timber, but the precaution was taken of sheathing the sides of the piles with zinc.
The present position of the works is that the foundation course is finished and stone is being dumped and placed by hand along the whole length of the wall, whilst the dredger is pounding away at the new channel. This will go on until the time comes when the wall is so high and the new channel so deep that it is hoped the river will, although reluctantly, resume the course abandoned 50 or 60 years ago, and the land so long submerged will then again come to the surface.
In all engineering works and especially in those connected with rivers and seas there is an element of uncertainty and whilst it is believed these works will be a success no definite pronouncement can be made until they are un fait accompli.
In this article an attempt has been made to describe the Port of Rangoon, its works and its great development from an obscure Burmese riverside station to the position of third port of the Indian Empire. Its development in the past however, is probably small compared to the development that must take place in the future when the vast potentialities of this wonderful province are realised and systematically encouraged and fostered.
The aim of any Port Authority should be to keep efficient and up to date and to show sufficient foresight in the provision of works and appliances to prevent the arrest of trade development. It is, however, often difficult to maintain the via media and it is not unlikely that the Port Authorities of the future will marvel at the puny efforts and lack of foresight of the engineers and administrators of the present day.