The following reports come from two different issues of Illustrated London News in spring 1855 (bibliographical details are given at the end). In these transcriptions of the Hathi Trust’s online versions, mistakes have been corrected, links added, and, where necessary, long paragraphs broken up for easier reading. Note the variety of motives cited by the British for linking these important cities, and the inaccessible areas en route, by rail. Note also that the schedule planned for the EIR (East India Railway) at this stage would be affected by the events of 1857: the line would not arrive in Delhi, crossing over the then newly constructed Yamuna Bridge), until 1866. In the following year, a branch line from Allahabad to Jabalpur was completed, linking up with and Great Indian Peninsula Railway, so that Calcutta was connected to Bombay as well (Vaidyanathan 6). As for Lahore, the situation changed: its fine fortress-like station would later become the headquarters of the North Western State Railway (Ker 139). — Jacqueline Banerjee

The Opening of the Calcutta, Delhi, and Lahore Railway, by the Governor-General of India

The train route on Google Maps today. Travel time has been roughly halved.

THE merited sarcasm of the illustrious Burke — that, were the British expelled from the wide-spreading empire of Hindostan, the only traces left of them, and their rule, after the lapse of a century, would be those of the vulture and the lion — has ceased to be true: this stigma on England's fame exists no longer. On the 3rd of February was officially inaugurated the partial opening of one of the most gigantic engineering works ever undertaken by man — a line of Railway, which, with 1350 miles of unbroken length, will bridge the sacred Ganges, the Soane, the Jumna, and the Sutlej; traverse the most fertile tracts of India; connect its most populous and ancient cities with the ocean; open out the inexhaustible wealth and resources of remote, and at present, for commercial purposes, inaccessible districts; ameliorate the condition, weaken the prejudices, and enlarge the minds of millions of the human race; consolidate our power in the East; and finally leave an imperishable monument to the end of time, of the energy and beneficent dominion of the adventurous Saxon.

At an early hour the Armenian Ghaut on the Calcutta side of the river, here about half a mile in width, and the Howrah terminus on the other, were thronged by masses of the native population, whose countenances evinced much pleasure and interest in the spectacle. It is said, that very rarely, except in their religious ceremonies, have they displayed so much gratification and curiosity on any public occasion. A long arcade, covered with flowers and foliage, led to the water's edge, where two steam-boats, engaged for the occasion, ferried over those having the privilege of admission to the other bank. As far as the eye could reach along the river, large Indiamen, with lofty spars, crowded merchant men of many nations, and native boats, lay moored in long lines up and down the stream. The steamers were adorned with branches, flowers, and flags; as was a leafy arcade, leading up to the station.

About nine o'clock the Marquis of Dalhousie, attended by his staff arrived, announced by a salute of nineteen guns. He was received by Mr. Rowland Macdonald Stephenson, and Mr. George Turnbull — the former, fourteen years since, the projector, and now Managing Director of the Railway; and the latter the Engineer-in-Chief. A prayer was now read by the venerable Bishop of Calcutta, together with appropriate selections from the Scriptures. The Governor-General remained till the departure of the first train, but ill-health prevented him from being present at the banquet. On the platform were to be seen most of the leading members of the Government and society in Calcutta. They were conveyed in two trains — the first leaving Howrah at twenty minutes to ten a.m., and arriving at Burdwan [Burdhaman], where the coal-fields commence, sixty-six miles from Calcutta, at half-past twelve o'clock. At Burdwan a long arcade of leaves, ornamented with flags, and affording a pleasing shelter from the mid-day sun, led to the spacious tents, where covers were laid for 700 persons.

Grace having been said by the Bishop of Calcutta, the company dispatched an excellent champagne breakfast; after which Mr. R. Macdonald Stephenson gave the following toasts:— “The Queen,” “Prince Albert and the Royal Family,” “the Governor-General,” “the East India Railway Company,” “the Engineers, Locomotive Superintendents, and Contractors of the Railway,” “the commercial interests of India,” “Dr. O'Shaugnessy and the Electric Telegraph,” “the Army and Navy.” The Chairman, in replying for the East Indian Railway Company, stated that, although fourteen years had elapsed since the subject came under semi-official consideration in England, it was but four years since the works were actually commenced. A line, exceeding in length either of the two great lines of England, had been completed and opened — under every disadvantage incident to the construction of works, in a country where a strange language, a trying climate, imperfect means of communication and transport, and other serious drawbacks, had been encountered and over come — within a considerably less period, and at less than one-fourth of the cost of the two great lines referred to - the London and Birmingham and Great Western railroads. 121 miles of the East Indian Railroad were then complete; 649 miles were under contract, to be completed by 1857; 200 miles were being constructed by the Railway Company; and 380 miles were being surveyed: making a total of 1350 miles.

The first return train started from Burdwan at twenty minutes to four p.m., and arrived at Howrah at twenty minutes to seven. The weather was perfectly fine throughout the day, and the arrangements admirable. At night the terminus and houses near the Ghauts were illuminated. [24 March 1855, p. 274]

The engraving accompanying this second, condensed account.

THE official inauguration of the opening of this gigantic line of railway (of which we gave a description in our publication of March 24th) took place on the 3rd of February. The building represented in the Engraving we have given is the Burdwan Station, sixty-six miles from Calcutta, at which place the Company gave a champagne breakfast on the day of opening to about 700 guests, including most of the leading men in Calcutta. From the station a leafy arcade, richly garlanded with flowers and banners, conducted across the Grand Trunk Road to an enclosure where the breakfast had been tastefully laid out in tents. The Maharajah of Burdwan had sent his mounted body guard, and a number of sepoys, in honour of the Governor-General's anticipated visit. He also kindly lent his magnificent shawl tents, with silver poles, for the accommodation of the principal guests. After an excellent breakfast, at which a number of loyal and appropriate toasts were given, the company returned to Calcutta at an early hour in the afternoon. [14 April 1855, p. 341]

Related Material


Source: Illustrated London News, Vol 26 (1855) January-June. Hathi Trust. Contributed by the University of California Library. Web. 30 August 2020.

Kerr, Ian. Engines of Change: The Railroads that Made India. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.

Vaidyanthan, K. R. 150 Glorious Years of Indian Railways. Mumbai: English Edition Publishers, 2003.

Created 31 August 2020