Two Men and a Railway Line


This is an essay inspired in many ways by a lecture Amitav Ghosh gave in Singapore, (Nov 2012). He spoke on China and its relations/links with India and the role of opium from the late 18th century. I was hoping to look at the development of the railways in (east) India and how it was linked, covertly and otherwise, to the opium trade.  


Two Men and a Railway Line

Steam Power, the Opium Trade, and Calcutta of the 1840s

by Anuradha Kumar, 2013

In the 1840s, as the opium trade flourished in its secrecy, and with its unprecedented successes, two men had ambitions of building India’s first railway line. The railway line running north-eastwards from Calcutta was envisaged earlier than the one from Bombay and those who spoke for it were two men with distinctly opposite backgrounds. Dwarkanath Tagore, Calcutta’s merchant prince and Rowland Macdonald Stephenson, engineer and railway enthusiast par excellence who were drawn together in circumstances unique to that period. It was a time when the idea of empire and the relation a colony bore to the former was still being debated, a period when other freedoms, especially that of trade were passionately championed. This is the story of two men, born in an age of apparent freedoms, with unparalleled opportunities; men who were as much victims of their age, just as they constituted in several ways its great success stories.

Read on at the IRFCA website 


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