The Bengal Shipping Company on the Rangoon-Chittagong Line (1905-1933)

By Hoque, Mohammad Mahbubul | Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Bengal Shipping Company on the Rangoon-Chittagong Line (1905-1933)


Hoque, Mohammad Mahbubul, Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society


During the British rule the sea routes were used as the main passage of communications between Burma (Myanmar) and India. The shipping companies in this sector were owned by the British and they had a monopoly over the marine transportation business. Taking advantage of this opportunity, they started the practice of imposing extra fare, behaving inhumanely with the native passengers, being indifferent to their wellbeing and comfort. As a remedial measure for this situation, some well-to-do Bengali businessmen of Chittagong especially the expatriate Bengalis of Rangoon, established a native steamer company and started participating in the marine shipping business on the Rangoon-Chittagong passage. For nearly three decades (1905-1933), this business was run in three stages.1 After a lot of adversities, its managing responsibilities were handed over to another native company the Scindia Steam Navigation Company2 which survived until 1951.

From the second decade of the 19th century, along with the people of different nations the Bengali people started moving to the erstwhile Colonial Burma. Apart from the demand of the British Colonial Rule, the Bengalis migrated in great numbers to Burma in search of a better way of life, as job opportunities there were copious in different sectors e.g. agriculture, industry, trade and commerce etc. In Burma, many of the expatriate Bengalis reached to high positions in the various government jobs, as well. However, the Bengali businessmen in Rangoon did hit the jack-pot there.3 The money sent back to Bengal by these migrants had profound impact on not only its economy, but on its culture and literature as well. However, the growth of violent nationalism of the Burmese from the third decade of the 20th century, and finally disruption caused by the World War II, the expatriate life of the Bengalis began to come to an end.

Many famous Bengali writers have focussed on the life of the Bengali people in Rangoon in their works which resulted in innumerable popular songs and rhymes.4 The expatriate Bengalis also published periodicals in their native tongue. As far as has been known, the Sammiloni (1924-28) edited by Mohammad Abdul Monem was the first Bengali newspaper published in Rangoon.5 In preserving the interests of the Bengali passengers and forming a strong opinion as regards to establishing the native steamer company, this periodical played a significant part.

The Bengal Steam Navigation Company

During the British Colonial period, two British-owned companies, namely the 'Asiatic Steam Navigation Company' and the 'British India Steam Navigation Company' had an undisputed sway over the marine transportation business between Burma and India. As stated earlier, taking advantage of this monopoly, they used to treat the native labourers and passengers inhumanely and also charged them with excessive fares at their will. They also increased the fares three-fold, for goods weighing 10/12 kg they charged 8/10 Tk." They did not seem to bother or care about the comfort of the passengers as well.7

. Inspired by national stirrings and attractive economic opportunities, some Bengali merchants of Chittagong, especially the Bengali expatriates of Rangoon took the first initiative to establish a shipping company on the Rangoon-Chittagong passage as a means of countering the domination of the British companies. In July 1905, they formed the 'Bengal Steam Navigation Company' with 100,000 Tk. as capital money. The Managing Director of this company was Munshi Mohammad Kala Mia." It started transporting passengers and goods at relatively low fares while giving more and better facilities. In the first year, it sold shares worth 2,60,000 Tk. and also bought two more ships named S.S. Tagung and S.S. Paknam. In spite of hard competition with the two well-established foreign firms, in 1909, the company managed to provide its shareholders 7.50% of its profits.9

Understandably, the English companies wanted to destroy this native organization and, to do that, they resorted to various dishonest ploys. …

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