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Royal Commonwealth Society : Sukkur Bridge

Royal Commonwealth Society

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This album was created to celebrate the opening of the Lansdowne Bridge, which spans part of the Indus River between Sukkur and Rohri in the Sindh province of Pakistan. During the British colonial era, the North Western Railway had been extended to Sukkur by 1879, but relied upon a steam ferry to cross the river between Rohri and Sukkur, which was limited, slow and unwieldy. The Indus was bridged at Attock in 1887, enabling trains to run from the Khyber Pass in the West to Calcutta, but an additional bridge crossing the river between Rohri and Sukkur was considered essential to link Lahore with the major port of Karachi on the Arabian Sea. The section of the Indus where it was divided by the island of Bukkur was chosen as the best site for a bridge. Crossing the smaller Sukkur channel was straightforward, since its rocky bottom provided a solid foundation for masonry piers, and this was bridged in 1885 (Y30244A/2-6). Building a bridge over the wider Rohri channel was a more challenging task, since its silty bottom would not allow pillars to be employed.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Between 1872 and 1882 various designs were considered, before one by the British civil engineer Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel (1829-1918) was accepted. Rendel had been appointed consulting engineer to the East Indian Railway during the late 1850s. He went on to enjoy a successful career in India, distinguished by several other major bridging projects, including the Upper Son Bridge of Patna, the Alexandra Bridge over the Chenab, the Hardinge Bridge over the Ganges, and the Empress Bridge over the Sutlej. Rendel's design featured two anchored cantilevers, each 310 feet long, carrying a suspended span of 200 feet in the middle. The girder contract was awarded to Westwood, Baillie & Co. of London, who assembled the 170 feet tall cantilevers in their yard, amazing spectators, before shipping the parts to India. When completed in 1889, the Lansdowne Bridge became the longest 'rigid' girder bridge span in the world. Sadly six workers died during construction: four from falls and two from tools falling upon them. In monetary terms, the total cost was roughly 2.7 million rupees. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The construction of the bridge was supervised by civil engineer Frederick Ewart Robertson (1847-1912), who appears in Y30224A/63 and several other photographs. After articling with a British railway engineer, Robertson had joined the Indian Public Works Department in 1868, working on the construction of the North Western State Railway (and the Sukkur Ferry). He was appointed Chief Engineer of the East Indian Railway from 1890, before joining Rendel's firm as a partner in 1894. He also served as President of the Egyptian Railway Board and on the Council of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He was created a Companion of the Indian Empire in recognition of the arduous task of completing the bridge. He was assisted during the project by M.S.N. Hecquet (Y30244A/63), and by A.D. Hecquet, who acted as Overseer. Faiz Mahomed served as Sub-Overseer and assistant engineers included P. Duncan, R. Egerton and J. Adam, who may also appear in the photographs. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The bridge was formally opened by Lord Reay, the Governor of Bombay, who deputised for the Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, after whom the bridge was named. Reay unlocked an ornamental padlock, designed by J. L. Kipling, Principal of the Mayo School of Art (and father of the famous writer Rudyard Kipling), releasing the iron gates which restricted access to the bridge. Y30244A/63 must have been taken immediately after, for Reay can be seen holding the padlock while Robertson holds the key.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The album was commissioned to commemorate the opening of the bridge, probably by the North Western Railway. Virtually every stage of its construction is recorded, beginning with a printed site plan. The vast majority of photographs were the work of G.W. Woodcroft of Bangalore and bear catalogue numbers and dates. It is very likely that the few unsigned images are also by Woodcroft. This copy was presented by Robertson to a G. Riley as indicated by a manuscript dedication, 'in recognition of the assistance received from him.' It has proved impossible as yet to trace Riley, who may have been a private contractor, perhaps employed by Westwood, Baillie & Co. The album contains two loose mounted photographs taken by C.S. Brayson of Karachi, showing North Western Railway steamers (Y30244A/66-67), which operated between Sukkur and Rohri before the construction of the bridge.</p>

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