Bhore Ghaut, Great India Peninsular Railway, Bombay
Watercolour on paper
Initialled and inscribed on frame
34.3 x 69.8 cm, 13 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.
India’s vast railway network is an enduring legacy of the British Raj. From the early 1840s, one of the biggest challenges facing it was how to cross the Western mountains between Mumbai and the fertile Deccan cotton-growing plains of Peninsular India – the most formidable section being the crucial 15 miles through the steep Bhore Ghat ('ghat' meaning steps). This short length of track crosses 8 viaducts and runs through 25 tunnels: it was an engineering triumph.
The Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company appointed James Berkely, one of the first graduates of the new Engineering Department of King's College, London, to do the job. It was initially thought that British
contractors would carry out all the work, but it was soon realised that an enormous amount of local labour was needed. Tens of thousands of Indian labourers worked on this incredibly dangerous project between 1856 and completion in 1863, and several thousand lost their lives. During this period, in 1857-8, unrest amongst the rural population of the North dissatisfied with British rule and ‘improvements’ created the conditions for India's First War of Independence.
This amateur water-colour was probably painted by a Briton connected to the railway. Ancient oxdrawn
carts are contrasted with the marvel of modern travel.