Sentry Page Protection
Inland Vessels of the I.F.C.
Extracts from the Irrawaddy Magazine
Their special features and development during the past 60 years.
From a paper read at the University College, Rangoon, 23rd Nov. 1927
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April 1928 - Issue No. 3
A description of a concern such as the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in the time we have at our disposal to-night must necessarily be of a very sketchy nature. I do not intend to bore you with rows of statistical figures nor will I tell you how far they would stretch were all the steamers, launches, flats and cargo boats placed on end together. What I wish to do is to give you an idea of the expansion in numbers and improvement in the steamers of the Company during the last fifty odd years, with more particular reference to the engineering side, the side with which I am conversant.
The Company was formed in the early sixties, the first vessels being acquired from Government. Two of the earliest steamers of which we have any record as plying on the main river, were the “Colonel Fytche” and “Colonel Phayre,” in service about 1868, named after well-known men in the Burma of those days.
(The “Col. Phayre” was owned by a Chinese firm in Penang in 1886 – Ed.)
The “Col. Fytche” was a double decked iron vessel of 145’ x 22’ x 4’ 6” with engines of 30” and 30” cylinders x 3’ 6” stroke and a boiler working at 40lbs. pressure.
After these pioneers in the Company came the “Aloungpayah,” an iron double-decked steamer, built in 1871 by Duncan of Port Glasgow and engines by Rankin & Blackmore of Greenock, who also made the boiler. Dimensions of this vessels jumped to 220’ x 26’ x 7’ 6” with compound jet condensing engines and a boiler pressure of 70lbs.
The same ship builders and engine makers were concerned with the building of the “Ashley Eden,” “Irrawaddy,” “Yunan,” “Shwemyo,” “Talifoo,” “Chindwin,” and “Panthay” down to the “Shin Tsaw Boo” launched in 1876, all of which were iron vessels of 250’ x’28’ x 8’. With the “Tapaing” built in 1877, began the Company’s connection with Denny’s of Dumbarton, a connection which has continued to this day with satisfaction to all concerned.
The following year the “Yankeentoung” was built and engined by Denny’s. Dimensions increased to 250’ x 30’ x 9’ in this vessel and several more were built of the same size between it and the “Thooreah” launched in 1881. The latter vessel measured 260’ x 34’ x 9’ and was built of steel, a notable advance. The engines were diagonal, compound jet condensing with cylinders 34” and 59” x 4’ 6” stroke.
The “Yomah” and “Mindoon” were built in 1885 and for the first time a length of over 300’ was reached, the dimensions being 310’ x 40’ x 10’ 6” a noticeable increase in the beam and depth as well. The larger engines were still jet condensing with cylinders and stroke increased to 37 ½ “ and 65” x 6’ stroke. Steam was supplied by four boilers of the return tube Scotch type 11’ 9” diam. X 9’ 6” length of 90lbs. pressure. These with the “Dufferin” and “Beeloo” built in 1886-7 were the first of the larger mails steamers.
The boilers were placed two at each end of the engine room, with open stokeholds. This of course meant two funnels and gave the streamers a smart appearance. Indeed the two funnels became so well known a part of the I.F.C.’s steamers that when the “Hindustan” first appeared with one only funnel, the Burmese people thought the Company had made a sad retrograde move, that it could neither be as fast or as strong as the vessels with two smoke stacks.
The “China” was built in 1888 and the beam and depth were increased to 46’ and 11’, the length still being 310’. The engines and boilers were the same as in the “Dufferin” class and this was the last large steamer to be fitted with the jet condenser.
Between 1887 and 1888 the “Pekin” “Canton “ “Munepoor” “Ava" “Shan” and “Karenee” were launched and went into commission as cargo and oil-towing steamers. They were all 250’ x 35’ x 10’. The “Pekin” and “Canton” were noticeable for having tandem quadruple expansion engines and surface condensers with 4 boilers of 170lbs. pressure. The others had the same engines as the “Dufferin” and the “China.”
All the steamers I have mentioned down to the “Hindustan" and the “Burma” built shortly after, have passed from active service. The hulls of many of them, with decks intact, are still carrying on usefully as station flats and stores for cargos. The sunken hulls of others again are serving a useful purpose by training the river water into the desired channels during the low water season.
I think Kipling could make a tale out of them, brooding over their past glories when they too passed up and down, carrying their brightly clad passengers upwards with cargo from the West and downwards with the harvestings of Burma, the paddles beating out a song, merry or sad, to suit the mood of the hearer. We, who have served on the steamers, have heard that song and felt its influence.
The present class of mail and cargo steamers began with the “India” built in 1903 and followed by the “Siam” “Java” “Japan” “Ceylon” “Assam” and “Nepaul” mail steamers and the “Panthay” “Punjab””Mysore” “Mindoon” “Ananda” and “Talifoo” cargo steamers. The mail steamers, with the exception of the “India” which is 310’ in length are 326’ x 46’ x 11’ and all, have triple expansion, surface condensing engines and three boilers. The “India” “Siam” “Java” “Japan” and “Ceylon” have closed air-tight stokehold and air is supplied by a large fan operating from the back engine room platform. Double doors are fitted into the stokehold from the engine room to keep the stokeholds as air-tight as possible. The newer “Assam” and “Nepaul” and all the cargo steamers have a semi-instalment of Howden’s forced draught, that is Howden’s fronts, without the arrangement for utilising the heated air from the uptake. Air is supplied to the valves by to fans. The “Assam” and “Nepaul” have open stokeholds and the cargo steamers closed but not air-tight holds.
In the older mail steamers the feed water is supplied to the boiler by two plunger pumps worked from the main engines through a lever, which also operates the air bilge and sanitary pumps. In the newer steamers this arrangement is retained as a standby but Weirs Pumps are installed for supplying the boilers.
On the “Assam” “Nepaul” and “Ceylon” the cargo is lifted from the holds by electric lifts, supplied by power from the steamer’s electric installation. On the other mail and cargo steamers hydraulic hoists are fitted in each hold, eight in all, each capable of bringing up a tone weight of cargo each time. In a hot country hydraulic power is very suitable for working cargo hoists in steamers such as ours, the bug-bear of a cold climate, frost being absent.
The paddle wheels are the feathering type 18’ in diameter with floats 14’ x 3’ 6” x 3 ½” made of teakwood. Steel floats are common on steamers, similar in size in other lands, but when a steel float strikes an obstruction it may bend, but not break, and the shock is conveyed in a more pronounced manner throughout the whole wheel and through the paddle shaft to the engines. Whereas, when a log drifts into the wheels of our steamers, it smashes the first float it meets and as a rule passes on through the wheel, without doing any more damage.
The mail steamers carry 24 1st class passengers, the accommodation being forward with ample promenade space forward of that again. 24 2nd class passengers with accommodation aft on the passenger deck and 2,525 deck passengers. The cargo steamers have accommodation for 2,840 deck passengers.
On the upper reaches of the river, Myingyan to Bhamo, a smaller class of paddle steamer is of course necessary. The “Amherst” “Palow” “Thanbyadine and “Okpho” in the early days, were employed on the Mandalay-Bhamo service and when they were replaced by larger steamers, carried on the Mandalay-Myingyan ferry. The “Mogoung” “Mandalay” and “Irrawaddy” had their spell on the Bhamo run as cargo steamers and for a long period the “Momein” was the mail steamer.
This vessel, when it first went into commission, had three decks, but eventually she was brought into line with the double deckers. An observation bridge was mounted on the roof, instead of the third deck, and this was the vantage point for tourists viewing the defiles and the fine scenery on the upper reaches.
The steamers mentioned all had compound jet condensing engines, the “Amherst” class with one and the “Mandalay” with two boilers, return tube Scotch type.
In 1908 the “Taping” was built, and went into commission, first for a year on the Rangoon-Mandalay cargo service and then on the run she was built for, the Mandalay-Bhamo mail, the service on which she is employed today.
The steamers on the Bhamo bazaar service, the “Shwelan” built in 1917 and the “Shwemyo” in 1923, though smaller, resemble closely the “Taping” in general appearance and the saloon passenger accommodation, though on smaller scale, is in the same style. The engines, however, are a type we have not yet dealt with. They are compound surface condensing and are abreast of the boiler, the H.P. engine on one side and the L.P. on the other, so that engines and boiler are housed in the same hatch, thereby saving a certain amount of deck space.
The “Taping” “Shwelan” and “Shwemyo” are specially adapted for the large tourist traffic on these steamers in the cold season. The two bazaar steamers each tow a flat, fitted up as a travelling bazaar and the top decks, aft of the 1st class saloons on the steamers are also arranged for stall-holders. The mail steamer makes the trip to Bhamo and back each week and the bazaar steamers once a fortnight.
Oct. 1928 Issue No. 5 (con't.)
The present Bassein Express steamers have been evolved from the different types of creek steamers and they are well equipped in every way for the service on which they are employed. Dimensions are 115’ x 25’ x 7’ 6”, having engines of 13 ½” and 26” cylinders by 21” stroke, capable of developing 430 I.H.P. The boiler is 12’ x 10’ return Tubular type of 125lbs. pressure with forced draught.
Two De Laval Turbine electric generator sets are fitted for lights and fans and for the searchlight. The steamers carry 6 first class, 12 second class and 385 deck passengers. The journey to Bassein takes 20 hours, with halts at Shweloung, Wakema and Myaungmya en route. About 25 creek steamers leave Rangoon daily, some employed on services where they go out the one day and in the next: others are express ferries doing the return journey in one day.
They are all double-decked, ranging in length from 82’ 6” in the “Corso” class, built in 1902 to 115’ in the “Crodno” class built last year. They have twin screws, with surface condensing engines and return tube Scotch type boilers. This description holds good for most of the Creek steamers in the company. Similar services for the towns and villages throughout the Delta are based on Bassein, Bogale, Moulmeingyun, Wakema and Yandoon, to mention but a few, and the little steamers leave and arrive with the punctuality of home railway trains.
A fleet of 20 have their headquarters at Moulmein for the maintenance of the nine services, on the three rivers in that district, in all there are 103 creek steamers in active service to-day and there are not many of the navigable creeks in the Delta in which the black funnel with the red band is not seen at least once a day.
Of which there are 15 in commission at the present time, are single deck, single screw steamers, built principally as cargo carriers for the Delta. They are 100’ x 20’ x 8’ having ordinary compound engines with 10” and 20” cylinders x 14’ stroke and a return tube boiler. The engines and boilers are placed right aft, and forward of that is all cargo space. When light, the bow is right out of the water and the vessel comes to an even keel when loaded with bags or other cargo.
A regular service to Bassein, five days in the week and to other Delta towns and villages is maintained with this handy style of craft, each of which is capable of carrying over a thousand bags of rice in the holds and towing two cargo boats alongside. Superimposed in the roof at the after end is quarters and space for the crew.
Four larger vessels of the same class 132’ x 26’ x 7’6” are now in course of construction at Dalla Dockyard with heavier engines and boiler to suit and with capacity of about 2,000 bags of rice. The forward part of the vessel, over the holds, will be without roof, to permit handy landing and discharging cargo alongside deep sea steamers.
Flats and cargo boats
The number of cargo and oil flats belonging to the company is steadily increasing and to-day, including those in course of construction, amount to 120 all told. They range in size from 200’ x 27’ x 8’6” carrying 500 tons to 250’ x 34’ x 9’6” carrying 860 tons of cargo. The Rangoon – Mandalay mail and cargo steamers tow these flats one or two at a time as the traffic demands. When we consider that the extreme breadth of these steamers, outside the sponson posts, is 82’6” and that they have alongside two flats each of 34’ beam, a total width of 150’, we can understand that it requires a considerable amount of power to drive this mass upstream, against the current to be met with in this high water season. And equally, when coming down stream, with such flats deeply laden to get round some of the bends, requires all the helm that the 16” rudder of the steamer can give, even when assisted by the rudders of each flat.
Going upstream loaded with general cargo, as much of it as possible is stowed on the decks of the flats, for convenient transfer at stations. Coming down stream the loaded flats are picked up at the principal leading stations en route, such as Myingyan and Pakokku, usually with the holds well filled and the cargo from other stations is stowed on the decks of the flats and the holds of the steamer. Sometimes when the cargo is bales of cotton, the flat, on arrival in Rangoon, is placed alongside the deep sea steamers in the harbour and the cargo taken straight on board.
The cargo boats, including those under construction, will at the end of this year total about 162 in number. Some have a carrying capacity of 2,500 baskets of paddy, others, 10,000 baskets, but the majority which are 90’ x 18’7” in size, carry 5,000 baskets, or the equivalent weight in bags of rice.
Of handy size and shape, with flat bottoms, they can penetrate into the most narrow, shallow waterways and tidal creeks and lie alongside the bank at the place most convenient for the cultivator. When loaded they float down to the wider creeks and rivers to be towed to Rangoon by the tugs we have for that purpose and placed at the mills or alongside the steamers as best suits the cargo they are carrying.
In the days before the Burmah Oil Co. laid down their pipe-line from Yenangyoung to Rangoon, the crude oil yield from the wells was brought to Rangoon in I.F.C. flats towed by I.F.C. steamers. At one time ten to twelve paddle steamers were employed on this service. They went up with empty flats, except when pipes and machinery were going up to the fields and came down with the flats laden with crude oil to whatever draught there was water in the channels. Each of the larger size flats, islands they were called, carried over 903 tons, so that a full tow of the larger steamers meant close to 2,000 tons. It was a steady stream all the time, up and down, the trips generally taking about 10 days.
I can remember with what dismay we young Chief Engineers of that time, heard that he B.O.C. were putting down a pipe line, to bring their oil to Rangoon. In imagination we saw all these steamers laid up for want of work and promotion in a cul-de-sac. The pipe line was laid down and some of the steamers were laid up for a time but other cargo and other work came along and the young chiefs of those days are the senior chiefs of to-day in the larger steamers of the mail and cargo services.
Of the steamers on the oil-towing service in those days the “Prome” alone remains, and is still employed at the same work. The vessel was built in 1904 specially for oil-towing and has exactly the same engines and boilers as the mail steamer of to-day. The vessel has made 550 trips to the oil-fields during the 23 years in commission and last year when the railway was breached, went to Mandalay for the first and only time. The “Prome” is a towing vessel pure and simple, no passengers are carried and the part top deck contains the Commander’s and Engineer’s quarters and Mess room.
Crude oil for the Indo-Burmah Petroleum Co. and the British Burma Petroleum Co. is still carried down from the fields by our steamers. A new type of towing steamer has of recent years been put on this service and has proved particularly suitable and efficient. They are 175’ x 26’ x 6’ dimensions and the machinery is the same as that described in the “Mintha” class on the Prome-Yenangyoung ferry service. Indeed, it was the highly successful results from an efficiency and economical point of view obtained on this class of “S” steamers that decided the installation of the same machinery and boiler in the ”M” class. Results in the latter class proved the accuracy of this decision.
A new type of oil-carrier for one of the oil companies is at present in course of construction at Dalla Dockyard. This is a steam barge with twin screw engines and a return tubular boiler. The engines and boiler are placed right aft and the whole of the vessel forward of the machinery space is divided into compartments for the oil. In fact a tanker on a small scale.
Coal and wood have of course been the principal fuels used in the company’s steamers, but, at one time Astatki was largely used. Twenty odd years ago nearly all our mail steamers and the steamers towing crude oil from the oil fields, burnt this form of fuel oil. Indeed the I.F.C. steamers must have been using fuel oil long before many of the shipping firms had made a start with it. Astatki is a Russian word for refuse. In those days the oil companies at their refineries did not extract quite so much from their crude oil as they do to-day and this Astatki was what was left when the refineries were finished with it. When cold it turned solid with something of the consistency of tallow and of course had to be heated to keep it in a liquid state. Small cooper pipes were fitted throughout the tanks and supplied with live steam from the boilers for that purpose. It had a high flash point, good calorific value and was very safe to use. It was stored in tanks in the holds of the steamers, pumped from there to two service tanks on the deck and flowed from there to the burners at the furnaces. Steam was the atomising agent, river steamers with a plentiful supply of fresh water, being able to take advantage of this comparatively simple method. We used it with equal success in the closed stoke holds of our mail steamers and in the open stoke holds of the older jet condensing units.
As the years went on and they removed more by products from the crude oil, supplies of this fuel dwindled and ceased altogether in 1924. It was a useful fuel, clean and handy to use and there was no trouble with steam, no matter how great the demand or how long the run.
During the war years and in 1919-1920 when coal was scarce, we burned extra large quantities of wood fuel on our main large river steamers. This wood was procured in the Delta, roundabout the Wakema district. It was brought into Rangoon in our own cargo boats (old paddy cargo boats) towed by our own launches. It was expensive but the calorific value for firewood was high, about 135 c.f. being equal to a ton of coal and coal at that time was not only scarce but of very poor quality. During the rainy season great difficulty was experienced getting it from the woods to the banks of the creeks and it was wet and sodden when we got it. The further it was away from the waterways the more expensive it became and when supplies of coal became normal we ceased using it.
Another fuel we used in those lean years was oilcake. There was difficulty in exporting this perfectly god foodstuff for horses and cattle and it made a welcome addition to our fuel supply when mixed with a little coal and firewood. The cockroaches, however, found out its value as a foodstuff, for after it had been stowed in the bunkers for a week, the walls became a moving mass of these pests. From the bunkers they began to wander over the steamers and though to an old stager in the country, a cockroach is but another of the many forms of insect life, to a lady tourist from home it was something very different. And as coal was getting more plentiful by that time, this form of fuel was discontinued.
On the steamers of the Chindwin, Bhamo and Moulmein services wood fuel is used almost exclusively. On the two former services, the wood is brought in from the cutting areas and stacked at the different calling stations. This forms a very convenient method of fueling, especially on the Chindwin in the low water season, when for light draught purposes only a very small quantity of fuel can be carried at one time on the stern-wheelers.
On the lower reaches of the main river and in the Delta, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a decent quantity of wood fuel. The cutting areas are getting further and further back from the banks of the river and costs tend to rise for all concerned with the greater distance it has to be brought to eh steamers. The wood contractor’s method of stacking in these parts are not such as tend to amicable relations with the Chief Engineer’s of the steamers and many and hot are the arguments as to what really constitutes 90 c.f. of firewood. The time, trouble and pains that the average contractor will take to get the maximum amount of air space and the minimum amount of billets into a stack, is worthy of a better course. A stack when an expert contractor is finished with it, resembles the finest filigree work, thin tracing of wood surrounded by large open air spaces. Strange to say the stacks on which he exercises the greatest care and attention are never the stacks to which he draws the attention of the unappreciative, cold calculating Chief Engineer.
Saw mill cuttings are used on the Moulmein fleet and on the creek steamers sailing out of Rangoon. In Rangoon the contractor loads up his large sampans at the different saw mills and takes advantage of the tide to drift alongside the jetties where the creek steamers arrive. The sampans go right alongside the steamers and the short handy cuttings are thrown on to the deck and stowed away in the bunkers and stockhold in a very expedition manner.
As far as the large steamers are concerned coal is always the principal fuel and as of recent years the price has become a little easier and the quality better, we are using it in greater quantities. The coal (Bengal) is shipped over from Calcutta at regular intervals and flats and cargo boats go alongside to receive it. While the coal is afloat in the cargo boats as many steamers as possible are supplied from them and the rest put ashore in our coal depots at the Dalla side of the Rangoon river. The flats, holding five or six hundred tons are towed upcountry to the different agencies and the coal issued to such steamers and launches as are based on these agencies.
Mark Twain in his “Life on the Mississippi,” describing a race between two of the great beam engined steamers on that river, tells how one of them, when it ran short of fuel, gathered hams from the cargo and used them in the furnaces to get the better of the other boat. Even in our time of greater scarcity during and after the war, we were never reduced to such straits as that.
Pilots and Buoying
Soundings are taken and the channels marked with buoys all the way up the river from Donabyu to Bhamo, a distance of about 875 miles. The buoys are made of strong bamboos varying in length from 15ft. for shallow water and 30ft. for deep water and the high water season. They are anchored to the bed of the river with sand bags. They are painted white for the starboard side and red for the port side when upward bound and of course the opposite holds good when the vessel is downward bound. Little pieces of tin are loosely fixed on the top of the white buoys and when the sunshine on them in the daytime and the searchlight is set on them at night, they attract the eye in a wonderful manner.
A fleet of little single-deck screw launches are kept busy throughout the low water season taking soundings and marking the channels and crossings. Each launch carries a stock of buoys slung alongside and as the channel alters or a buoy breaks adrift, a new one is put down in the correct position. Each launch has its own beat and as the pilots report an alteration in the course of the river, away goes the launch to make the necessary alterations in the position of the buoy. A large staff of pilots, Burmans and Chittagonians are employed all the year round, so many to each section. Donabyu to Henzada, Henzada to Myanaung, Myanaung to Prome and so on right to Bhamo. Each pilot on his journey up and down the river over his own particular beat, gets acquainted with each turn and crossing and so can advise the Commander of the vessel he is piloting. In charge of this particular part of the Company’s work is the Superintendent of Pilots. From October to May he patrols the river in his steamer the “Lanpya,” a comfortable fast twin screw vessel. On this he lives, moves and has his happy being during the low water season, supervising the soundings and marking the channels and fixing new ghats for the steamers to go alongside, when, as frequently happens, a former good ghat is left high and dry.
Employed in the work of keeping the channels clear are two vessels the “Rescue” and “Pounder.” The “Rescue” as the names implies, is a salvage vessel fitted with appliances for lifting sunken launches, pumping out damaged vessels and lifting tree snags. Powerful pumps are installed, capable of handling a large volume of water, one set being portable. In the bow is a very strong derrick, built into the fabric of the vessel, for taking heavy lifts. The vessel is kept busy for a large part of the low water season, clearing and lifting tree snags from the river, especially on the stretch between Mandalay and Bhamo.
The “Pounder” is a stern-wheel steamer, fitted with a strongly built arrangement forward, resembling a pile driver and this carries a heavy ram, with hard steel points for smashing rocks. At several sections of the river between Mandalay and Pakokku and on the Chindwin during low water season the channel runs over rocky bottoms and as the river falls, points of these rocks rise to dangerous levels. When this happens the “Pounder,” which normally is based at Mandalay, is despatched to the spot to clear away the projections. Anchors are laid out in such a fashion that the vessel can be warped over the rocks or hauled clear of the channel when other steamers pass up or down. The ram, worked by a steam winch, pounds the rocks until a safe margin of water is again available in the channel. The displaced rock is lifted with grabs on to the deck and when a full load has accumulated, the vessel steams to some place, well clear of the steamers route and the spoil is dumped. A heavy sand pump is also fitted for use when a sand bar forms across a channel. The suction pipe is hung on a crane and having the flexible joint coupling can be lowered to the required depth. A steel rake can be used in conjunction with the sand pump, it is lowered over the bow and towed as the steamer goes astern.
During the rainy season, when the river is gradually rising, the navigation of the steamers is not quite so arduous. The high water channels are, as a rule, fairly well defined and the shorter routes the steamers can take, in a measure, compensate for the extra current to be contended with on the upward journey. But in September and October or even earlier in some instances, care has to be exercised for signs of a fall in the gauge and this more especially on the Mandalay-Bhamo service.
The “Taping” in 1912 and the “Momein” in 1919 to take two of the more recent instances, were caught and stranded by a falling river and left high and dry for long periods. The “Taping” went aground in a fog on October 17th 1912 and did not come afloat again until July 5th 1913, nearly nine months. The “Momein” had even a longer spell out of the water, grounding on July 20th 1919 and remained there until June 30th 1920, fully eleven months. The “Taping” had just completed the yearly overhaul prior to the beginning of the tourist season when the grounding occurred. In some instances the steamer goes ashore on the edge of the bank and when that happens the problem becomes more difficult. Where the hull of the steamer over-hangs or is not sitting evenly on the sand, blocking up with wood and sand bags has to be put in hand. As happened in one instance, the water had been abnormally high and the sand bank on which the steamer grounded was well above the average high water level. It was feared that the rise, when it did come, next high water season, might not be sufficient to float the vessel and so it was decided to lower it. The sand was cut away in sections and wood blocks fitted in with wedges on the top. When the weight of the vessel was resting on the blocks and the sand was cut away at other sections and the process of gradual lowering continued in the same manner. The vessel was eventually lowered 8ft. by this method. Then the day arrives when the river comes down in flood, swirling and tearing at the edge of the sandbank on which the steamer rests. Were the river to rise gradually and evenly over the bank, all would be well but the danger lied in sudden erosion and falling in of the sand – loosely formed sand as a rule – and perhaps leaving the vessel half on and half off the bank. At the first sign of the rise that is likely to float the vessel, a full powered steamer is kept in readiness near the spot. As the water creeps up the bank the wire hawsers are made fast and at the critical moment the strain is put on. All being well the vessel slips into its proper element with good water beneath again instead of sand.
During the war a large number of the Company’s craft was impressed by Government service in Mesopotamia. Sixteen paddle steamers, ten stern-wheelers, six creek steamers, five twin screw tugs, six steam barges , six pilot launches, thirty-four flats and six cargo boats left Rangoon to be employed in the transport of troops and stores on the inland waters of Mespot. Some of them steamed over but most were towed. One of the paddlers, while steaming, foundered after passing Port Blair. Three of the stern-wheelers and one steam barge were lost when under tow. Considering the light scantlings of the vessels the casualties were comparatively few. They were of course stiffened considerably by extra brackets, deck beam knees and lattice work in the holds and on the decks and they were boarded up wherever possible. Two of them had a four foot steel plate bulwark built right round with slots cut for rifle fire. One cargo boat broke adrift when under tow between Rangoon and Colombo and vanished, but was unexpectedly discovered later on the coast of Ceylon, not much the worse for its solitary cruise.
Construction and Erecting
The steamers of our fleet, with a few exceptions in the early days and during the war, have been built in Denny’s of Dumbarton. Their method of construction is to build the hulls in an open space adjacent to, or in, the yard, there being no necessity to have them near the water, as there is of course no launching to be done. The fabric is built up in the ordinary fashion, frames and floors set and plates fitted, but only fixed together with service bolts. When completed, all parts are carefully marked and dismantled and sent from the yard to a galvanizing works in Glasgow, for the hulls and decks of all our main river and creek steamers are galvanized when new. When in the yard and completed as far as the builders are concerned, the vessels have a comparatively bare and uninteresting appearance, just the bare hull and stanchions with little resemblance to a steamer and with scarcely any resemblance at all to the finished article plying in Burmese waters. Indeed, in my young days in Denny’s the site where they were built was known to Dumbartonians as the “Barge Park.”
From the galvanizing works the plates and angles are sent to the Queen’s Dock and shipped to Rangoon in P. Henderson steamers. The engines also, with a few exceptions, are built at Denny’s and they again, are made and erected in the engine shop in the usual manner, all parts carefully marked, dismantled and shipped to Rangoon in cases. The boilers are sent our complete, except for the smoke-box and mountings, after being tested and passed by a Board of Trade Surveyor. The same process is gone through with the paddle wheels, if the vessel is a paddle steamer, and the parts are sent out in handy sections.
When the hull and machinery eventually arrive at Dalla Dockyard rapid progress is made with the assembling and erecting. The hull is put together and riveted and the short period that elapses between the laying and fixing of the first keel plate and the day the vessel goes into the water would surprise the average man in the street.
Dates are so arranged that the hull is despatched from home and arrives in Rangoon in time to be completed before the boiler and engines arrive in a later steamer. The hull is towed alongside the home steamer while it lies alongside the wharf and the boiler lowered into place with the extra heavy derrick fitted in P. Henderson steamers for such purpose. The hull then goes back to Dalla alongside their fitting out wharf and the heavy parts of the engines put on board by the crane, after which the vessel, by this time becoming more like a steamer, is taken up on the slip and the work completed. We must remember that it is only then that the engines and boilers have become acquainted with the hull: the lining up and setting of the engines till then, having been purely on paper; but as a rule everything fits in with little trouble. The vessel is put through a series of severe tests by the dockyard staff, culminating in the official trials of speed and efficiency on the measured mile, before the vessel is handed over to the Company, and thus another unit is added to the fleet.
There were four notable exceptions to this method of building our steamers. The “Pago” and “Manwyne” paddle steamers and the “Naikban” and “Syriam” twin screw steamers, having at different periods been completed in Denny’s were sent out to Rangoon under their own steam. The vessels were boarded up and stiffened with wooden beams on the decks in the best possible fashion, but even then it must have been an exciting trip for each vessel. The paddlers were 250’ x 35’ x 10’ and the screw steamers 165’ x 27’ x 9’6” and all the parts of comparatively light scantlings. When the “Syriam” was making Port Said, after a stormy passage through the Mediterranean, a large French cruiser was also nearing that harbour. The sea was very rough and the little “Syriam” making very heavy weather of it, was lost to sight most of the time, down in the trough of the sea. The Captain, however, must have been a fellow of infinite jest, for when the “Syriam” did eventually cock itself for a brief space on the top of a wave, she was seen to have signals flying, asking if she could render any assistance to the cruiser. There is no record of what signals the French Captain hoisted in reply. The International Code being probably not equal to the demand for suitable language. Nor have we any record of what McAndrew, the Chief Engineer, had to say regarding such levity on the part of the Captain, he had probably used up all the suitable language between the Rock of Dumbarton and the Rock of Gibraltar, while hanging on to his levers in the engine room. One of the four steamers had to put into a port in Portugal for repairs but they all eventually reached Rangoon in safety and did good service for many years. Indeed, the “Naikban” and “Syriam” are still carrying on at towing and odd jobs, but the “Pago” and “Manwyne” have long since gone the way of all our jet condensing steamers.
During the war when the ship building yards at home were engaged on work of national necessity and the needs if commercial concerns had to take a very secondary place, four stern-wheelers were built for our Company in Yarrow’s yard in British Columbia. These were to replace the stern-wheel steamers requisitioned by Government and sent over to Mesopotamia for transport of troops and stores on the Tigris. Galvanizing was out of the question in that yard and the steamers for once, as far as our Company is concerned, were built of black plates and angles. The vessels are now employed on the Chindwin and Katha-Bhamo service and at each docking in Dalla every second year, any defective plates are replaced with galvanized parts. So that gradually the vessels which began with a black hull and deck will become galvanized and into line with the other units of the fleet.
The Fleet of propelling and non propelling craft total 546 vessels of all kinds. During last year 8,145,000 passengers were carried and this without accident to a passenger through any fault of the Company’s vessels or personnel. Nothing could be more eloquent than the figures I have just quoted.