Bengal Pilot Service
The Bengal Pilot Service was responsible for guiding shipping along the Hooghly River between Calcutta and the Bay of Bengal and was part of Bengal Marine
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.
Amongst other contributions, this article contains extracts from FIBIS member Sage's unpublished manuscript of records for Genealogists interested in India.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 History of the Bengal Pilot Service
- 3 Composition of the Pilot Service
- 4 Records
- 5 Index of Pilots
- 6 Published works
- 7 External Links
- 8 References
According to Massey,
"THE UNITED SERVICE CLUBWas formerly styled the Bengal Military Club, the members of which were limited to the I.C.S. and military services. As time, however, moved on and things changed they found that this particular form of exclusiveness was rather an expensive luxury, and very wisely threw open wide the heavenly portals and admitted within their celestial and sacred precincts members of other government services, save and except those of the Bengal pilots. Why the club ever made this invidious distinction, of course I cannot say, but at a later period, recognising possibly the injustice of their action, they rescinded their prohibition, and now the pilots sit in the seats of the mighty amongst the members of the other services."
History of the Bengal Pilot Service
[1669 ...] This year also were received orders from home, to institute a pilot establishment at Hoogly, to build a pinnace to be manned with intelligent seamen from the Indiamen, to take charge of the shipping up and down. Thus originated the Bengal Pilot Service.
The Bengal Pilot Service was abolished on the 15th May, 1948.
Composition of the Pilot Service
This table shows the number of pilots of each rank in the service in 1853.
|Senior Branch Pilot||1|
|Senior 2d Mate||12|
|Junior 2d Mate||12|
National Maritime Museum (Greenwich)
THS 12 The History of the Bengal Pilot Service by Brice & Labey
This is a unique unpublished history of the Bengal Pilot Service in the Historical Manuscripts Collection of the National Maritime Museum. It covers a wide range of aspects to do with the service and its employee's e.g. Appendix G ‘Obituaries’ comprises information from various sources for men of the Pilot service and their families. Chapters1-5 are available online.
The Percy-Smith Collection (MS 88/006)
The Percy-Smith Collection is not held in the main Caird Library of the Museum - access to the items must be requested a week or so in advance of a visit.
- Item (18) - Bengal Marine ‘Particulars of certificates granted by the Government of Calcutta up to December 1902 to Masters, Mates and Engineers in Mercantile Marine’. These records are of particular interest to persons looking for River Pilots who were born in India who were in service in the 1890’s and at the turn of the twentieth century. The entries include the person’s name, date and place of birth , class of certificate, certificate number and its date of granting.
- These records divide into:
- Colonial Certificates of competency; Local (Foreign Trade) Certificates of competency; Local (Home Trade) Certificates of competency; Local Certificates of Service; Local (Inland) Certificates of Service; Local (Inland) Certificates of Competency
- Item (29) - Index Cards : Bengal Medical (1740-1914, surnames A-H only); Bengal Orphans (1780-1840); Bengal Marine and Bengal Pilots (1700-1914). This link, from Len Barnett’s page Bengal Marine. (see below) shows the information available on one of the Bengal Marine index cards. Note that there are index cards about other topics in the Percy Smith collection at the Society of Genealogists
Asia, Pacific & Africa Collection, British Library (India Office)
There are many records of the India Office at the British Library that pertain to the Bengal Marine and Bengal Pilot Service.
Records marked (#) should appear on LDS microfilms: 2028922 - 25; 2029155.
|L/AG/20 & 21||1814 - Post 1947||Includes records of leave and service pensions|
|L/AG/21/9/151-157||1920-1968||Bengal Pilot Fund pensions paid in UK|
|L/E/6-7||1880-1924||Pilot service recruitment information for this period contained within these papers.|
|L/MAR/8/1-20||1793-1880||Various lists of employees and volunteers in the Bengal Marine and Pilot Service|
|L/MAR/C/689||1794-1830||Appointments to Bengal Pilot Service|
|L/MAR/C/704 #||1858-61||Indian Navy, Bengal pilots|
|L/MAR/C/755-756 #||1848-60||Europeans in the service of the Bengal marine|
|L/MAR/C/760-761 #||1824-64||Bengal marine civil and marine casualties|
|L/MAR/C/762-763||Bengal Marine records of service|
|L/MAR/C/855 #||1821||Seamen in the Bengal marine who have claims on the company for wages, see L/E/6-7 for later recruitment’s|
|V/12||1896-1926||Covenanted pilots are included in the Bengal Histories of Service.|
Most of these records have been microfilmed. The originals are fragile and slowly detoriating so viewing of the microfilms is recommended both for ease of use (especially making printed copies) and for conservation. Note that the hard copy microfilm index file on display at the British Library uses the old L/MAR/C numbering for these records and a translation has to be made using the concordance tables at the back of the L/MAR index file. For example, L/MAR/8/3 used to be L/MAR/C/768 and the microfilm index tells us that L/MAR/C/768 is on IOR NEG 35431. The new numbering is in a different order to the original. Some records are split across two films, for example L/MAR/8/2 is on IOR NEG 35430 and 35431. The following table provides a direct lookup of the film numbers.
L/MAR/8/1-3 provide the most detailed information about volunteers (new recruits). Note that where films are available they are not on the open shelves and have to be ordered using the online system.
|Description||Date||IOR Shelf Mark||IOR Film Ref.||LDS Film Ref.|
|Appointment, baptismal and other certificates of volunteers||1818-1844||L/MAR/8/1||IOR NEG 35410||FHL BRITISH Film 2028926 Item 2|
|Certificates of volunteers||1844-1858||L/MAR/8/2||IOR NEG 35430/1||VAULT BRITISH Film 2028996|
|Certificates of volunteers||1858-1861||L/MAR/8/3||IOR NEG 35431||VAULT BRITISH Film 2028997|
|List of ranks of volunteers||1838-1861||L/MAR/8/5|
|Lists of pilots giving dates of promotion etc., A-M||1796-1858||L/MAR/8/6?||IOR NEG 35408||FHL BRITISH Film 2028925 Items 7-8|
|List of pilots, N-Z||1796-1858||L/MAR/8/7?||IOR NEG 35408||FHL BRITISH Film 2028926 Item 1|
|Certificates and lists of European employees||1793-1852||FHL BRITISH Film 2028998|
|European employees||1852-1869||FHL BRITISH Film 2028999|
|European employees||1869-1880||FHL BRITISH Film 2029000 Item 1|
|Quarterly Returns of Europeans in their Order of Station in the Pilot Establishment||1836-1853||L/MAR/8/8||IOR NEG 35432/3|
|Quarterly Returns||1853-1862||L/MAR/8/9||IOR NEG 35433|
|Quarterly Returns||1862-1880||L/MAR/8/10||IOR NEG 35433|
|Quarterly Returns||1793-1833||L/MAR/8/11||IOR NEG 35432|
|L/MAR/8/12||IOR NEG 35405|
|L/MAR/8/13||IOR NEG 35456|
|L/MAR/8/14||IOR NEG 35405|
|L/MAR/8/15||IOR NEG 35405|
|L/MAR/8/16||IOR NEG 35408|
|L/MAR/8/17||IOR NEG 35408|
|L/MAR/8/18||IOR NEG 35408|
|L/MAR/8/19||IOR NEG 35406/7|
|L/MAR/8/20||IOR NEG 35406/7|
|Printed rules & Regulations||1827||L/MAR/8/21|
Society of Genealogists
Information available at the Society of Genealogists:
Bullock’s Directory of Non Official Europeans in India (1780-1820) – lists of Europeans and Anglo-Indians not in the King’s Service. The information extracted from the East India Register and similar publications for Bengal.. Includes a number of Free Mariners/ Country Traders/ Free Merchants, Indigo Planters and River Pilots. However persons in many other professions are included, also some women and children.
Index of Pilots
- Appendices From M.H. Beattie on FIBIS Search (see details below)
- Index to L/MAR/8/1 (in preparation)
- Pilots and pilot vessels contained in the Marine lists in civil publications such as the East India Register, see the list of Directories
On The Hooghly by Malcolm H Beattie (1935) is a personal account of the Hooghly Pilot Service, in which the author served 1878-1913. Of particular interest to family Historians are the appendices:
- Appendix A comprises a list of serving Branch Pilots (1847-1888)
- Appendix B comprises a list of men joining the Service as Licensed Pilot or Covenanted Pilots (1858-1876) and men who joined the service as recruits from the training ships Worcester and Conway (1877-1893)
- Appendix C comprises a list of men joining the Service (1893-1916)
This book is available as a pdf download, refer below.
- British Maritime History - Realistic genealogical guides to surviving records and more, Len Barnett’s site, has a section on Bengal Marine.
- "An Unqualified Pilot" by Rudyard Kipling. An interesting and informative short story for younger readers depicting the work of a pilot on the Hooghly. The story was first published in 1895 and set in a time 'a good many years ago'
- Notes from the Kipling Society.
- Read about the Bengal Pilot Service in September 1800, Pilot Mr Parry, the perils of shifting sand in the river, with numerous sharks and alligators Part 10, page 41 from Cursory Remarks, on board the ship Friendship by Mary Anne Reid, continues part 11 Google Books
- The Bengal Pilot Service in 1859. The author was aboard HMS Retribution Memories of the Sea, page 151 by Admiral Penrose Fitzgerald 1913 Archive.org
- Photographs from the Smithsonian Institution , possibly c 1863. Click to enlarge
- Arthur David Linklater, Master Mariner - Duncan Linklater's excellent site contains information on shipping and navigation in the early twentieth century, including details of Linklater's employment by the Calcutta Port Commission. With scans and transcripts of many original documents, exploring the site is recommended, but pages of particular general interest include:
- On the River Hooghly by Khwaja Sayeed Shahabuddin (born 1923). He was a Leadsmen Apprentice with the Bengal Pilot Service for one year in 1946-1947, until he needed to wear glasses, which was not allowed.
Historical books online
- On The Hooghly by M H Beattie 1935. Pdf download, Digital Library of India. Archive.org mirror version.
- Recollections of Calcutta for over Half a Century by Montague Massey
- Labey, Capt G.T. and Brice, Capt R.K.H. (1970), The Bengal Pilot Service. National Maritime Museum, Ref. THS/12/1-9. Chapters 1-5 are available online.
- Prinsep, James (1836). Useful Tables, Forming an Appendix to The Journal Of The Asiatic Society. Part the Second. Chronological and Genealogical Tables, page 160. Google Books
- The index is arranged alphabetically by name of orphan, with details such as date of birth, baptised, name of father and occasionally more details such as where apprenticed, etc. A cross reference card at the front of the index reads 'see also Alipore schools', which may possibly refer to further material in one of the Percy- Smith collections held in other institutions . "Four Orphan Schools in Calcutta and the Lawrence Military Asylum, Sanawar, Part II" FIBIS Journal No 23, Spring 2010, by Maureen Evers, page 14