Indian Steamship Ventures, 1836-1910 :Darmanathan Prouchandy of Pondicherry, First Steam Navigator from South India, 1891, 1900, LPMS, Pondicherry, 2013, Rs. 150

Indian steamship coverIn this book, More writes about the early history of steam navigation in the Indian sub-continent since 1836 up to 1910. Dwarkanath Tagore of Bengal was the pioneer in Indian Steam Navigation. He indulged in the steam navigation business since 1836. But he passed away in 1846. Later in the 1880s, his grandson, Jyotindranath Tagore ventured into the steam navigation business in Bengal. But in south India, Darmanathan Prouchandy of Pondicherry was the first Tamilian to own and run steamers. He had migrated to French Indochina in the year 1870 from Pondicherry. He very soon became wealthy by indulging in business and floated a steam navigation line of his own in Indochina in 1891. He faced stiff competition from the French-owned Messageries Fluviales. He owned two steamers ‘Alexandre’ and ‘Prouchandy’ which plied passengers, goods and mail up and down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to Cochinchina and the South China Sea.

     Darmanathan Prouchandy was the first Indian and Tamilian to attempt to run a passenger line by sea in the South China Sea from Saigon to Thailand since 1893. But permission was denied to him by the French colonial authorities of Saigon, Indochina to exploit this line, as they favoured the Messageries Fluviales. Tata had started a steamer line from Bombay to East Asia in 1895, which survived hardly for a year. But Darmanathan Prouchandy’s line withstood pressure, discrimination and competition from the French. He ran his steamers successfully for about a decade when he was forced to close down due to unfair competition.

     Later we have the Si.Va. Company of Tuticorin which plied steamers from Tuticorin to Colombo since April 1906. It was forced to close down due to stiff competition from the British Indian Steam Navigation Company. Very soon in October 1906, a Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company was registered to ply steamers between Tuticorin and Colombo. This Company came into existence due to the efforts of V.O. Chidambaram, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Company. Haji Fakir Mohammad Sait and Sons alone held 8000 shares of the Company out of the total of 40000 shares. However the Company’s steamers started running only from May 1907. Within two years the Company was closed down due to stiff and unfair competition from the British India Steam Navigation Company. As the major share-holder, Haji Fakir Mohammad and Sons incurred the heaviest loss.

     As far as south India is concerned, Darmanathan Prouchandy of Pondicherry was the first Tamilian to indulge in steam navigation business on his own. He was also the first Indian to attempt to run a passenger line by sea since 1893.