By Anas Khwaja Feb 14 2012
The Dhaka Nawab Estate in her heyday had a number of boats. There was variety in makes such as steamer, barge, houseboat, flat & budgerow (Bajra). These boats had wide ranging usage. They were used for communication, recreation, hunting, relief and military transportation. Most of them were moored at the Nawabbari ghat (dockyard) in the Buriganga River near Ahsan Manzil. To name a few, paddle boat “Dolphin”, steamer “Ada”, steamer ” Star of Dacca”, barge “Track”, steamer “Dacca”, steamer “Bornapore” and steam launch “Jamoreky”. K.M.Halim, a senior Dhaka Nawab Family member, recalls Paragreen, Diamond, Turag, Isla, Afghan & a house boat named Mary Anderson also owned by Dhaka Nawab Estate.
Background: Dhaka Nawab estate had zamindari land spread over 26 sub-circles, of which 11 were in Bakerganj, 4 in Tripura, 4 in West Mymensingh and Pabna, 3 in East Mymensingh and Sylhet and 4 in Dhaka. Each circle had a Kachhari, which required supervision from time to time. In absence of railway from Dhaka, which started only in 1885, these remote places were accessible only by inland waterways. Membership of Bengal Legislative Assembly and Governor General’s Legislative Council also required Nawab’s frequent visit to Kolkata. Private steamer service from Dhaka was provided by India General Steam Navigation Company as early as 1860. However, the nawab’s probably felt to have their own fleet. It is likely that boats were purchased from the Government. A tangible property list of the Dhaka Nawab Estate dated 1895 includes- ten green boats at fair market value (FMV) of Rs 10,000 , one ship at FMV of Rs 20,000, one freight at FMV of Rs 10,000 and one mechanized boat at FMV of Rs 5,000. (1)
Military expedition, relief work & public works: The following excerpts are from an incomplete list of contribution of the Dhaka Nawab family until 1899. This particular selection shows the extent of help Nawab Family provided to the Indian Government with their naval vessels.
On 21st November 1857 government authorities requisitioned Nawab Sir Abdul Ghani‘s paddle steamer Dolphin. This was to take a detachment of the Naval Brigade to Daudkandi Comilla, in order to intercept a body of the rebel sepoys from Chittagong who were supposed to be marching upon Dhaka.
In 1862 Nawab Abdul Ghani’s steamer was used to send a detachment of East India Regiment to Sylhet to quell Khasia rebellion in Jaintia. As per R. Abercrombie commissioner of Dhaka, this steamer was sufficient to tow four boats of about 250 maunds each, in which thirty men could be accommodated.(2)
In 1860-1863 during the Kuki raid in Hill Tripura (Tippera), Nawab Sir Ahsanullah placed his streamer “The Star of Dacca” to take reinforcement to the front. During the Lushai war (1871-1872 in Mizoram India and Burma), Sir Abdul Ghani lent his steamer “Ada” to take some troops to Sylhet. In the 2nd Lushai Campaign (1889-1890) Sir Ahsanullah lent 300 country boats with 6 elephants to carry military baggage and stores. He lent his steam launch “Jamroky” to Mr. J.F. Brocklehurst.
After the great earthquake of 1897, he placed his steamer “Dacca” at the disposal of the Telegraph authorities to enable them to repair the cable at Boid’s Bazaar. Also he lent his steamer “Peri” to Mr. Pitman, for urgent work in connection with the Government Telegraph Department.
Nawab Estate dispatched steamer “Star of Dacca” for famine relief work at Barisal (1876?). Steamer “Bornapore” was placed at the disposal of the authorities at Chittagong to carry grain to the sufferer after the big cyclone. Steamer “Star of Dacca” was placed at the disposal of Mr. F.H. Pellew commissioner of Dhaka for 1881 famine relief work. During the great famine of 1874, steamer “Star of Dacca” served at Rajshahi where she was very employed for some four months.
In 1875, Nawab of Dhaka placed his barge “Track” at the disposal of Mr. Preastage for the use of H.R.H the Prince of Wales Albert Edward at Goalundo. There a pig-sticking was organized for his royal highness. (3)
Dhaka Nawab Estate also furnished their fleet to local British government officers and distinguished visitors for their personal use such as hunting on numerous occasions. Magistrate of Dhaka Arthur Lloyd Clay recalls in his memoir, a picnic was held in Munshiganj on the deck of Star of Dacca on 23rd November of 1867. (4)The Bishop of Calcutta Edward Ralph Johnson visited Comilla in March on a steam yacht loaned by Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah. (5)
An imperial welcome: Nawab Bari Ghat, Sudder Ghaut and Buckland promenade by the river Buriganga was bustling at the end of the 18th century. From a report of Bengal Times we can get a glimpse of how grandiose reception bestowed upon the Nawab at the ghat. In 1876 when Nawab Khwaja Ghani was returning from Kolkata to Dhaka on steamer “Princess Alice” the newspaper wrote-
“Early last Monday grand preparations were being made at the palace and the river-side, and all was bustle and confusion, for the reception of Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani, C.S.I. on his returns from the visit to Calcutta, during H.R.H. the Prince of Wales Albert Edward’s arrival. All along the river banks there were flags flying, while at the palace hundreds of them could be seen gaily waving; there were imitation canons of sola placed along the banks and raised poles were adorned with flowers. The town band was also in attendance, and played several lively tunes. Hundreds of spectators, friends and relatives stood anxiously waiting to catch the first glimpse of the steamer, when a little after midday, the “Princess Alice” was sighted at Fatullah. As she gradually approached the mills, guns were fired to signal her arrival and several balloons floated in the air. The crowd of natives was simply suffocating besides the noise of the rushing up and down of the ticca gharries. As soon as the steamer reached the ghaut opposite the palace, more guns were fired: and the bandsman who were on board, landed and struck up some grand marches. At about 2 o’clock the Nawab accompanied by his [son] Khwaja Ahsanullah Khan Bahadur, the rest of his family and suite landed and was greeted by numerous Salams from the assembled multitude. He then proceeded to his palace, accompanied by some influential Mohamedan gentlemen, the crowd dispersing as he went. Forgot to mention that some nautch girls beautifully dressed and with most valuable jewels on, were present at the landing, and danced several dances. Altogether the scene was very grand, and well worth seeing.” (6)
Cannon on steamer Dacca? Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah expressed his desire to equip his steam launch “Dacca” with cannon. Lt Governor of Bengal did not consent to his request. However the bureaucrats were well aware of his dignity and influence in eastern Bengal. They did not want to displease him. They kept lobbying and Governor General in Council finally gave permission to buy cannon. Nawab Ahsanullah was authorized to buy twenty two inches long 1 3/8 bore cannon. He was informed of the surplus cannons at the government’s repository from where he could purchase inexpensive silver made one. However It is unknown whether Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah bought the canon or not. (7)
Nawab’s final moment on the estate barge: Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah breathed his last at the estate barge (Bajra) at 7.30 pm on Monday December 16th 1901. Earlier he had been sick for several days and after iftaar he complained of chest pain. Why did Nawab spend his final days in the estate barge instead of Ahsan Manzil palace? Was he merely looking for fresh air or was it his intimacy with the vessel? (8)
From the collection of the Dhaka Nawab Estate the lone survivor is luxury yacht Mary Anderson. Mary Anderson has been turned into a first class floating restaurant & hotel by Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation at Pagla Ghat. Rooms are also available for overnight stay at around Tk.3000/ (US$50) with reservation by calling 067171288.