Sunday, 5 January 2014

Mulleer Viaduct carried away by storms in Sind in 1866

Mulleer Viaduct in Sind in 1866.
Note the windmill in the distance.
The original caption in pencil written beneath this photo in the album compiled by my great great grandfather Charles Barton, who was commanding a Royal Artillery battery stationed nearby at Karachi, read...
"Mukeer Viaduct Sind Railway carried away August by a heavy storm during which 40 inches of rain were reported to have been gauged in 30 hours."

He may not have remembered the name of the bridge correctly at the time at which he wrote the captions, which may not have occurred until many years later because it was actually called the Mulleer Viaduct in those days. Today this bridge is known as the Malir Bridge.

In the aftermath of these floods in 1866, which appear to have affected a very wide swath of India and not just Sind, the following two reports were published in the proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which explain the sheer power of the terrible flood that swept away this bridge and many villages as well.

"The rainfall of 1866 in Scinde, as also in Kattywar, will long be spoken of by the people of those provinces as a time to be remembered with dread. It is chronicled by whole villages overturned, fertile land devastated, roads rendered impassable   . The Mooktyear of Kurrachee has sent in a report of the destruction that has been ascertained, apparently from the flooding of the Mulleer alone.” ”Ninety human lives have been lost; 4,359 grazing stock, and 158 draught animals have been swept away." . . . ''The Mulleer Viaduct washed away is 12 miles from Kurrachee; the Bahrum about the same distance this side of Kotree." ..." The first breach is between Kurrachee and Landi, 9 1/2 miles from the former, and is 70 yards in width. At 12 1/2 miles from Kurrachee is Bolton Road crossing; and from this road down to the Mulleer River, about a mile, the line has been almost destroyed; two culverts only remain, with the bank immediately over and adjoining them." ..." At one place in this length the flood was strong enough to break the fish plates, and several rails have been carried 50 yards. The most important works that have suffered are the Mulleer Viaduct, the Joonshaie Bridge, and the Joolajee Bridge. Each of these will require six weeks to be repaired, provided no further rain occurs."—Scindian, Aug., 1866. [1]

The following is extracted from the Report made by Mr. McNeill, acting agent of the Scinde Railway:—

"The Mulleer Viaduct was 1,800 feet long, in twenty-one spans of 80 feet each, built on stone piers, each pier consisting of two upright pillars, sufficient only for a single line. The foundations were of three kinds. Piers 1, 2, 5, 6,7, and 8, built in brick wells; 3 and 4 in coffer-dams; the remainder had piles driven in the wells, and filled in with concrete. Two rivers meet the Mulleer above the viaduct, the Dumb about half a mile above, and the Sookhan quite close to the bridge. The sources of these streams are widely separated, and it would appear on the morning of the 5th, when the viaduct was carried away, that the streams were discharging themselves at different levels, causing great turbulence in the water passing under the viaduct."

"At daybreak on the morning of the 5th there was little or no water visible in the bed of the river, and at 8 A.M. it had almost reached rail level. At 9 A.M. the bridge was carried away. The water came down in a succession of bores, the largest of which, bringing down with it the ruins of a village about a mile and a half up the river, came down with immense force, rising above the level of the rails, and carrying away eleven spans of girders, with their piers, as if they had been straws. Some of the girders are within a few feet of the bridge, but two of them are at least half a mile down the stream; each span, with rails, etc, would weigh about 60 tons."

"The abutment at the Kurrachee side stood well."

"Mr. Newnham proposes to carry up the piers 6 feet higher than they are now, filling them up solid; and where the foundations are made, as in piers 3 and 4, for a double line, to build them up their full width, also solid." ..." The Joolajee Bridge carried away consisted of nine openings, 20 feet each, semicircular; bed of river to crown of arch, 20 feet. The water rose within 3 feet of the level of the rails or crown of arch."

"The Joongshaie Bridge consisted of six openings of 40 feet span each, semicircular arches. One pier has given way, and the bridge must come down, and the waterway he considerably increased. The water rose to crown of arches."

"I may say 60 miles of the line are useless for regular traffic until the diversions (temporary) are completed.

(Signed) 'David McNeill
Acting Agent.

The engineers writing after the event believed that between 1856 and 1860 the region had only had 4.82 inches of rain in total over the previous four years.  In this single event Karachi had 10.0 inches.
Towns further inland including Dorbajee and Joongshaie, had received 40.24 and 41.49 inches respectively.
The railway had  started to be built in 1857, when John Brunton Junior [1812-1899] had been appointed Chief Resident Engineer to the Sindh Railway, which was to run from Karachi to Kotri to the south bank of the Indus near the city of Hyderabad.

John Brunton was one of six sons of William Brunton Senior [1777-1851] who followed their father into civil engineering and who all became members of the Institute of Civil Engineers. [3]

William Senior had been very active in developing early horse drawn railways and inclined plains used in the Swansea area to work coal mines and copper foundries, and then extended his activities  up the Tawe Valley towards Brecon.  He was one of the first people to work out how convert railways to steam, and went on to develop many patents.

His son John had been sent aged 20 in 1832 to Ynysgedwyn in Wales to survey and build railways forming the new Brecon Forest Tramway. Although, he was not to know it at the time, this was going to be quite the best possible preparation and training for his later work in Sindh.

He has left highly entertaining accounts of his difficulties as an Englishman having to work amongst the hostile local Welshmen in the valleys with whom he had a very difficult time until he was able to learn to speak Welsh. He had to learn to deal with hostile and obstructive villagers, who resented his involvement in a wider scheme to take over the local common land, with the workmen who stole his washing, and was attacked on a lonely track by robbers who tried to steal his £400 payroll.

He went on to work in Northamptonshire on the Kilsby Tunnel section of the London to Birmingham Railway for Robert Stephenson, which was one of the epic jobs in the early railway mania period.

By 1855 he was one of a number of railway contractors who went out to the Crimean War to try to build infrastructure for the army.  His project at Renkioi in Turkey involved building a 3,000 bed army hospital in an attempt to rectify the enormous number of deaths in the Army, that had been highlighted by Florence Nightingale.  This hospital was prefabricated in Britain, using techniques following the work of Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition.

He must have been a very capable man, and was highly experienced by the time he arrived in Sindh, where conditions were going to be extremely challenging.  He was following his elder brother William who had been appointed at Chief Engineer on the Punjab Railway from Multan to Lahore.
The Sindh Railway from Karachi to Kotri 1861.
[4] Please click on image for larger image.
During the construction of the railway, he wore a brace of pistols and a sword.  The local contractor, absconded without paying the workforce of 12,000 for a year.
On Saturday  the 22nd of September 1860, readers in London of the Morning Post will have read the following, as part of a fascinating, and much longer article. This is probably referring to progress reports sent in March 1860.

The ninth report of the directors of this company, to be submitted to the half-yearly general meeting, on the 25th inst., states that : " In March last the proprietors were informed that considerable progress had been made in the works along the line ; that the railway was expected to be opened for traffic about the end of the present year ; that above 50,000 tons of materials and machinery had been landed at Kurrachee without accident ; that the commerce of the port and the internal traffic of the country were rapidly progressing ; and that the sum of 500,000l. of additional capital was required to complete the railway. The directors have now to state that all the permanent way material, rolling stock, and machinery required for the construction and working of the line, have been shipped from this country for Kurrachee with the exception of iron girders required for the harbour works in connexion with the railway, which are now being prepared. By recent advices, the board are informed that the works generally along the line are proceeding in a highly satisfactory manner. The cuttings and embankments are all in a very forward state, and the masonry is being rapidly proceeded with. "The chief engineer reports that 'the cast-iron bed plates are being fitted upon the piers of the Mulleer Viaduct which are finished. Until after the rains nothing further can be done as to fixing the girders; but they are all being sorted, scraped, and painted.' The works on the Bahrun viaduct, Mr. Brunton states, are 'progressing very satisfactorily. Five arches are keyed, and the centres for "the tenth arch are in place.' ' There is now no fear that the completion of the Bahrun viaduct will delay the opening of the line. All the works connected with it are in a very forward state.' Although the viaducts have occupied the special attention of the engineers, the smaller bridges and culverts have not been forgotten. We are assured that when the viaducts are finished the force that can be put upon the smaller works will speedily complete them; and such arrangements are in contemplation that the opening of the line will not be delayed on their account."

The bridge at Mulleer was 14 miles inland from Karachi, and was critical to the success of the Sindh Railway which was being used to open up the Indus Valley for trade.  The importance of the site is set out in the following extract from a much longer article in the London Daily News, published on Thursday the 26th March 1863.

The report of the directors to the meeting on Monday next has been issued. It states that at the Mc Leod Rd station at Kurachee, sore than 100 waggons, conveying 600 tons of merchandise, are unloaded daily, and additional sidings are being laid. The buildings at Joongshlee, the central station on the line, have been finished. At each of the smaller stations a loop-line and sidings, and a platform 300 feet long, have been provided. At Kotree, the upper terminus, the subsidence of the lndus has shown the soundness of the works it the low-water wharf. The length of the river frontage now available for boats, flats, and steamers is 2,000 feet; and the agent has directed the attention of the government to the necessity for bringing all be craft resorting to it under proper regulations: this is rendered necessary to prevent obstructions, and admit of ready access to the railway. The higher-level lines have been laid for the convenience of  the Indus Steam Flotilla and the Commissariat Department and the station has been brought up to the level of the rails, affording great facilities to the through traffic. A plot of land has been made over to the flotilla, and the flotilla has accommodated the railway, in return, with buildings required for their servants. The progress in the workshops is creditable to the department. The stock of locomotives is 20, and of passenger carriages 27. There were according to last half-year's report, 227 waggons of different sorts; there are now 372. Additional iron work has been provided for the waggons to be made up in India, and iron framework for others of greater carrying power than those now in use; as well as a supply of water tanks and ammunition waggons. Five additional goods engines have been sanctioned and are under construction. The traffic manager's report is very gratifying, particularly as regards the evidence which it contains of the rapid development of a cotton trade. Four through trains each way have for some time been running. This has told on the accumulation of goods at Kotree, most of the traffic being laden direct from the boats on to the trucks. 60,710 bales, containing 17,138,960 lbs. of cotton, were conveyed during the year 1862 from Kotree to Kurrachee by the Scinde Railway; and it is estimated that 150,000 bales will be exported during the current year. Samples of cotton grown in Scinde, on the banks of the Mulleer River, about 14 miles from Kurrachee, were sent by the late Mr. Bethcome for inspection of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, it order to compete for the prizes offered last year by the government; and the following is the judgment pronounced by the chamber:-" The cotton submitted by Mr. Bethcome is in every respect quite unexceptionable and capable of competing successfully with the best qualities of the American and Egyptian varieties. With the exception of Sea Island, it is the best that has been submitted to the chamber 'for many a year."

 The Morning Post contained a report of the directors for the Sindh Railway on Friday 17th December 1869.
"The directors regret to state that a heavy flood, which occurred on the 13th September, destroyed a portion of the viaduct across the river Mulleer. A proposal to carry the line across the bed of the river on piles about six feet above the ground, in such a manner as to allow the free passage of a body of water, has been recommended by the consulting engineer as an economical and effective method of preventing such an occurrence in future. This proposal is now under consideration, and in the meanwhile the rails have been laid across the bed of the Mulleer, which is perfectly dry at this season."  
I have no idea if Charles had taken the picture, or if he is in it. Was this just a visit to witness the aftermath of the terrible flood, or was he in some way involved in trying to secure the crossing?

In this year he had been promoted on the26 April 1866 from 1stCaptain to Lieutenant Colonel.

The loss of the railway with its rapid connections to garrisons up the Indus Valley must have been a major concern, quite apart from the obvious economic damage it would have caused.

Malir Bridge from Google Earth.

The windmill in the background of the original photo is interesting. By chance in some of my other research into the history of Fort St David and Cuddalore, I have found earlier evidence from the from the 1730's of windmills being built by the EIC in India.  See
I am unsure if there were many others built in India, but here at Mukeer there is obviously another example of a windmill.

Did John Brunton build it as part of his construction camp?  With 12,000 men working on this railway for the contractors, he must have needed a very efficient supply system, just to have kept them fed.

Or could this windmill be connected with Mr Bethcome's cotton plantations? Perhaps it was intended to pump water from the river into the new plantations. Is you come from the area around this bridge, or know the answers to these questions, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted on
I would like to acknowledge the help that I have received from Google Earth, and the British Library Newspaper website in putting together this blog.

[1] Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers; with Abstracts ...
 By Edited By James Forrest, Assoc. Inst. C.E., Secretary, The Institution of Civil Engineers

[2] Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers; with Abstracts ...
 By Edited By James Forrest, Assoc. Inst. C.E., Secretary, The Institution of Civil Engineers

[3] The Archaeology of an Early Railway System: The Brecon Forest Tramroads by Stephen Hughes, published 1990. Pages  116 to 127.

[4] From which is part of an excellent article posted to this website on early Indian Railways, by Owais Mughal, September 2009

1 comment:

Lorax Heisenberg said...

Dear Mr. Balmer,

Thank you for sharing this interesting story and picture. Out of sheer armchair archaeology, I am investigating the life and times of a certain Mr. John Edward Hartley, born in Wakefield 1831 and deceased in Laguna, Brazil in 1883 during the construction of the Theresa Christina Railway.

Last June I visited the Laguna City Museum and I have found an Anglican cross in Catholic land with the inscription “Affectionate memory of John Edward Hartley who died on 3rd August 1883 deeply regretted”. The museum had little information about the origins of the object.

Thus far I've found his obituary, where it is stated that he arrived in Karachi (Kurrachee) in 1856 and returned to London in 1862 after being responsible for the construction of the Mulleer Viaduct.

I just discovered your blog, and I am reading its entries with interest. I would appreciate deeply if you would let me know whether you have any further information about Mr. Hartley.

Looking forward to hearing from you,