James John Berkley

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James John Berkley
Chief Engineer of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway(GIPR) from 1850 to 1856.
The account below extracted from Grace’s Guide [1].


At the end of 1849, on the strong recommendation of Robert Stephenson, the London Based GIPR Consulting Engineer and supported by Brunel, Cubitt, Rennie, Bidder and other eminent engineers, Berkley was appointed chief resident engineer of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway(GIPR), and in this capacity he constructed the first line of railway that was opened in India.

A Tender from two Engineers, Henry Fowler andWilliam Frederick Faviell, had been accepted by the GIPR for the construction of thev section from Bombay to Tanna. Fowler left for Bombay in December, 1850, and after collecting materials and assistants for the work. Faviell followed in February, 1851. Fowler’s health failed after a few months’ exposure to the climate of India, and compelled his return to England. The execution of the contract then devolved entirely upon Faviell, and was completed to the satisfaction of the Company, the line being opened for traffic on the 16 April, 1853. [2]. They worked under the direction of the GIPR Chief Engineer

Railway Achievements in India

  • 1849; Great Indian Peninsula Railway Appointed Chief Resident Engineer. The Court of Directors of the East India Company appointed James John Berkeley as Chief Resident Engineer with Charles Buchanan Ker and Robert W Graham as his assistants [3].
  • 1850 January; he left England for India. Having first decided on a scheme for the construction of a short line of thirty-three miles from Bombay to Callian, he turned his attention to the extensions of the railway, and especially to the great work involved in carrying the line over the Western Ghâts Mountains, and designed two great inclines ascending mountains more than 2,000 feet high — the Bhore Ghat and the Thul Ghat.
  • 1852; the surveys were begun, and four years were spent in surveying the Bhore Ghat.
  • 1853; the first twenty miles of the line from Bombay to Tanna were opened for public traffic, thus initiating the Indian railway system.
  • 1856; the north-eastern line by the Thul Ghat was sanctioned by the Indian government, thus completing the Great Indian Peninsula system projected by Berkley, comprising a total length of 1,237 miles, and forming a grand trunk communication by the north-eastern line between Bombay, Calcutta, and the north-west, and by the south-eastern line between Bombay and Madras, including also an important line to Nagpore.
  • In all these operations Berkley evinced the highest technical skill, firmness, and tact. He was a zealous advocate of the contract system, then regarded with some suspicion by the government, and he was strongly in favour of the employment of native agency. This gained him great popularity with the natives of Bombay.
  • 1855 he became a magistrate; in 1857 a commissioner of the Bombay Municipal Board, and in 1858 a member of the Senate of Bombay University.
  • 1856; with his health failing, Berkley returned to England, but revisited India to see his cherished work on the Bhore Ghat fully developed. Compelled, however, by ill-health to leave India, he returned to England in April 1861, but his constitution was undermined by hard work in a tropical climate, and he died in 1862 at the comparatively early age of 42.
  • Berkley remained as Chief Engineer, up to 1862 and during his leadership GIP lines were extended to Jalgaon in Northeast and Sholapur in the Southeast direction.

Historical books online