The Arrival of the Railways – Circa 1800

 The First Train Going to Bhopal

German East Africa (GEA) was far larger than Tanzania. It included present-day Barundi, Rwanda and the mainland of Tanzania. GEA’s was over 994,000 square kilometres, nearly three times the size of present-day Germany, and double the area of Germany then. Much like the East India Company, the German East Africa Company first took roots in the region and in the guise of expanding the German Empire in the Africa Great Lakes region, ostensibly to fight slavery and the slave trade. With this in mind the army was sent in to quell a revolt against the German East Africa Company in late 1880.  the German army was sent in to put down a revolt.

Slavery was never formally abolished, and most colonies preferred instead to curtail the production of new “recruits” and regulate the existing slaving business. It was a profitable venture and they would need fresh supply not just of slaves but also of white gold (ivory) and the immense minerals that lay in central Africa. Trade would benefit but only if they could get into the heart of Africa, to the great lakes, before the British. Gold mining in Tanzania dates back to the German colonial period, beginning with gold discoveries near Lake Victoria  in 1894. The Kironda-Goldminen-Gesellschaft established one of the first gold mines in the colony, theSekenke Gold Mine began operation in 1909 after the finding of gold there in 1907. The Germans knew that a railway was needed to feed the system.

It was around this time that the British too were planning to get to cut across inhospitable tribal lands and put a black snake through the very portals of Maasailand. They started to build the railroad from Mombasa, through Tsavo and up to Kisumu, on the banks of present day Lake Victoria. Whoever got to the great lake would control Central Africa and the German’s knew that.

GEA started the Usambara Railway in 1888 in the race to get to the heartland of Africa. The aim was to connect the Port of Tanga to Lake Victoria passing south of the Usambara Mountains. The 3 ft 3 38 inch gauge was chosen. Due to undercapitalization the company had to be taken over by the state in 1899. Thereafter the line was run by the Ostafrikanische Eisenbahngesellschaft (East African Railway Cooperation), a company which had been created to build and operate the Tanganyika Central Line from Dar-es-Salaam to Kigoma. The track reached Moshi on 26 September 1911 and traffic on the whole line commenced in October of  1911. The final link to the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika was completed in July 1914 and was cause for a huge and festive celebration in the capital. Within no time with absolute German precision, harbor facilities were built or improved with electrical cranes, with rail access and warehouses. Wharves were remodeled at Tanga, Bagamoyo, and Lindi.

Dar es Salaam became the showcase city of all of tropical Africa.

The Bhopal Station – Receiving the First Train on 18th of Nov. 1882

Meanwhile in Bhopal too, a railway was planned and implanted in the 1800’s.

Her Highness Qudsia Begum the Ruler of Bhopal (1819-37) negotiated a railway line through Bhopal in Central India and provided funds from her personal account as distinct from state funds for the construction of part of the railway.Her daughter HH Sikander Jehan Begum the Ruler of Bhopal (1847-68) took the idea forward, and conceived the building of a railway line that linked Bhopal to the national grid. Both the Begum’s had recognized the importance of the railway connection for their State and spent private sums of money to help build the railway. This was a far-sighted move, strongly supported by the Resident, Sir Henry Daly, as the railway junction was virtually a cross-road strategically placed in the center of an economically thriving colony. It would bring prosperity and importance to Bhopal. It would connect India from north to south and from east to west. Trade would flourish and it would ease the movement of troops. Sikander Jehan’s dream of a railway line in Bhopal was realized several years after her death and even Qudsia, the lean old dowager died two years before the first locomotive steamed into Bhopal on 18th November 1882, during the reign of Her Highness Begum Shahjehan the Ruler of Bhopal (1844-60 & 1868-1901).

The town of Bhopal expanded to receive the railway and became an important economic cross-road for India with the railway station becoming a hub of activity with engineers, maintenance crew, station masters and lines men, many of them Indian Christians, forming a colony of expatriates and adding color and variety to Bhopal’s ethnic and cultural kaleidoscope. Successive rulers of Bhopal enjoyed the privileges of the railways,

His Highness Hamidullah Khan the Nawab of Bhopal  (1894-1960) was provided with an additional compensation of Rs. five lakhs per annum from the Indian government to maintain his private train and the railway community in Bhopal.

As youngsters we would travel to Delhi in our train and at the wedding of my uncle, Nawab MAK Pataudi, part of the baraat, us included, stayed in the Bhopal train with its own kitchen and pantry and staff quarters. It was immensely luxurious and pleasurable.

To me it was fascinating to read the many challenges that the Railway faced in Tanzania and India. Both terrains were difficult, a vast wilderness filled with all kinds of predators took its toll yet in the end the need to connect the world of trade and to ensure quick transport of troops outweighed all other considerations and the railway was constructed with great speed.

Nawabzada Saad bin Jung