Maritime Service

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The East India Company Maritime Services could be divided into three main categories:

  • EIC Mercantile Marine. The Mercantile Marine was the principal merchant shipping service supporting the company's trade with India and the Far East. It was in operation from 1600 to 1834.
  • Bombay Marine. The Bombay Marine was the fighting navy of the EIC. In the later nineteenth century and twentieth century it was renamed several times, ultimately becoming the Royal Indian Navy in 1935.
  • Bengal Marine. The best known part was the Bengal Pilot Service which was responsible for guiding shipping along the Hooghly River between Calcutta and the Bay of Bengal. The river could only be navigated by day on account of the many dangerous banks and shoals.[1] Bengal Marine also included War Steamers, also called Sea Steamers, which were ships fitted with guns, and river boats which were used to transport troops and other passengers, and cargo. In (at least) the 1840s-1850s the river boats were part of Inland Steam, or the Inland Steam Service and were described as Iron Steam Vessels appropriated to Inland Navigation, consisting of Steamers, Accomodation Boats and Cargo Boats. It seems likely that once private riverboat companies were established they took over the services of Inland Steam.

In 1877 the Bombay Marine and the Bengal Marine were combined to form HM Indian Marine, which became the Royal Indian Marine in 1892 and the Royal Indian Navy in 1935.

Old postcard showing shipping on the River Hooghly, Calcutta

FIBIS Resources

FIBIS Research Guide No. 2 An Introduction to British Ships in Indian Waters : Their Owners, Crew and Passengers by Richard Morgan with a Foreword by Lawrie Butler, 68 pages, published 2012, with Bibliography and Index

  • Part I – the East India Company’s Maritime Service
  • Part II – Country Ships
  • Part III – A note on Interlopers
  • Part IV – The Marine Service
  • Part V – Independently owned commercial (steam) Ships
  • Appendix 1: Summary of information on Free Mariners and Passengers in Directories
  • Appendix 2: The Indian Marine Service in the IOR L/F/10 and other Series.

Available from the FIBIS Shop

For updates to the first edition, see British Ships in Indian Waters.

"HEIC Maritime Holdings at the National Maritime Museum", an article by Geraldine Charles, can be found in the FIBIS Journal.

  • "Part 1" FIBIS Journal Number 4 (Autumn 2000)
  • "Part 2" FIBIS Journal Number 6 (Autumn 2001)

"Gahan, Eaton & Co" by Nigel Penny FIBIS Journal Number 21 (Spring 2009) pages 11-19. A family history of sea Captains, Master Attendants and Merchants.

"Wrecked or Captured, the East India Company Ships that Failed to Arrive", a fascinating talk given by Andrea Cordani, writer and researcher on East India Company Ships, at FIBIS's Spring lecture meeting in May 2009, is available on FIBIS youtube channel. The presentation that accompanied this talk and a book list for further reading can be found in the FIBIS Social Network

An edited edition of this talk is available in FIBIS Journal, No 22 (Autumn 2009), page 15. This edition also contains an article "The Loss of an East Indiaman in 1807 : account by Samuel Rolleston" on page 23. For details of how to access these articles, see FIBIS Journals.

The FIBIS Database has

Other related articles

Records at the British Library

  • IOR/L/MAR Marine Department Records.

There are three main series: L/MAR/A Ships' Journals 1605-1705; L/MAR/B Ships' Journals 1702-1856; L/MAR/C Marine Miscellaneous Records 1600-1879.

British Library records on findmypast

The India Office Records on the pay site findmypast are

  • IOR/L/MAR/C/688 Lists of appointments to Bombay Marine and Pilot Service, 1822-1832.
  • IOR/L/MAR/C/710-714 Volunteers (cadets) for the Indian Navy, 1838-1859
  • IOR/L/MAR/C/785-788 Poplar pensioners, with particulars, 1809-1821
  • IOR/L/MAR/C/789-840 Poplar: petitions with certificates and other documents attached for pensions, compensations etc, 1809-1838

British Library records on FamilySearch (LDS) microfilms

Search the FamilySearch Library Catalogue using keywords India Office Marine Department. (Ordering microfilms)


See also, Ships and sailing reading list.

A biographical index of East India Company Maritime Service officers, 1600-1834, by Anthony Farrington London: British Library, 1999
A companion volume to the "Catalogue", see below, the biographical index provides summaries of the sea careers of some 12,000 individuals who made the voyage to Asia as commanders, mates, surgeons, or pursers in the service of the EIC. The information has been compiled from the surviving ships' journals, logs, paying-off books and associated sources in the Company's archives at the British Library. Available at the British Library.

Malim Sahib's Hindustani

A Malim Sahib was a ship’s officer. There was a specialised nautical, bazaar baht or bat, vocabulary spoken by Indian crews. A dictionary was published in 1920, The Malim Sahib's Hindustani [2], which became a required text book for all Cadets, Officers, Radio Officers and Engineers, on joining the British India Steam Navigation Company.[3] The language was a mixture of Hindustani-Gujarati-Marathi-Konkani (Ratnagiri), a little Urdu..... a pot pourri of words, but simple and effective.[4] The vocabulary was considered similar to a dialect, in that a European who had learnt this vocabulary was said to speak Malim Sahib's (Sahibs) Hindustani.

The officers' titles were: Captain - Captain sahib; C/O - Burra malim sahib; 2/O - Majla Malim sahib; 3/O - Sajla Malim sahib; 4/O - or other Junior - Chota malim sahib.[4]

External links

British India Steam Navigation Company from the Ships’ List
A History of the British India Steam Navigation Company Limited html version, pdf Includes a list of ships, with details.
‘Chota Sahib’ by Captain John de Barr. The Coast Men of British India’s fleet. In BI the Coast referred to the Coast of India., now archived.
Troopships and Trooping by R G Robertson, now archived, Includes mention of troopships to India. link.
The trooping season between India and the United Kingdom lasted for about seven months each year. The gap, April-October/November in India was the same each year – to avoid the worst of the heat in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Historical books online

A Handbook to the Ports on the Coast of India between Calcutta and Bombay, including the Island of Ceylon by Herbert Samuel Brown, Lieutenant, R.N.R., Port and Customs Officer, Mangalore. 1897. British Library Digital Collection.


  1. Henry Alfred Coggan’s Diary 1865. London to Calcutta. The author, aged 19, worked his passage to India as a crew member on board the Staffordshire.
  2. The Malim Sahib's Hindustani: for use both ashore and afloat in connection with Lascars and all other low-caste natives of India who speak the bazaar "bat” by C T Willson, Bombay Pilot Service. “For ship's officers who wish to acquire a working knowledge of low Hindustani spoken by native crews, coolies, servants and longstoreman generally. All nautical terms and words in common use both ashore and afloat are included"
  3. Feltham, John. Sea Cunny Rootsweb India Mailing List 24 October 2002. Retrieved 4 December 2015
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The Maalim Saabs Hindustani" Part 1, Part 2 Mariner’s Nostalgia website. Mandatory for British Officers on B I Ships.
  5. Some entries are listed in the India List post Maritime cemetery entries from National Maritime Museum website. The correct Notes and Queries reference for the Karachi burials mentioned is either Vol 170/171 1936 or Vol 176 1939.
  6. India-British-Raj List post Maritime Resources 'Articles of Agreement' by Chris Wood dated 30 August 2013
  7. India List thread