Transport and communications reading list

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  • Bear, Laura

Lines of the nation : Indian railway workers, bureaucracy, and the intimate historical self. New York: Colombia University Press, 2007 (Cultures of history)

Built 1898-1900 as the main workshop for the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, Kharagpur was also a railway colony. This book is the result of several years’ ground research exploring the culture and ethnography of the (large) Anglo-Indian community that remains there. A 'must read' for Anglo-Indians with railway roots but uncomfortable in places (e.g. ch. 6 'Public Genealogies' which deals with attempts by the East Indian Railway in the wake of the 1923 Lee Commission to change the classification of its staff by race – European, East Indian, Indian – to one based on domicile – Asiatic, Non-Asiatic). (Reviewed by Hugh Wilding, FIBIS trustee)

  • Kerr, Ian J.

Building the railways of the Raj: 1850-1900. New ed. Oxford: OUP, 1998 (Themes in Indian history)

Focusing on the construction of the railways, this book is intended for students of modern Indian history, technology transfer, labour history and railway enthusiasts. Written by the academic authority on the subject of Indian railways the book is rather analytical. Nevertheless it will be very helpful to the family historian who is seeking to understand what an ancestor did to help build the railways, whether he was employed by the Public Works Department, a private contractor or fitted somewhere else in the complex hierarchy. The challenges of this major undertaking are well explained.

  • Kerr, Ian J.

Engines of change: the railroads that made India. Westport, CT; London: Praeger, 2006 (Moving through history: transportation and society)

Any book by Ian Kerr on railways in India comes highly recommended and Engines of change, his latest, looks set to become the standard primer on the subject, supplanting J N Westwood’s long out of print Railways of India.

Like Westwood, Kerr is succinct but always ready with detail, fact and insight. In only 8 chapters and 169 pages, he takes the reader from earliest beginnings shortly before 1850 through growth and development firmly tied to the needs of the Raj, then the trauma of Independence and Partition, before bringing the story right up to date with the completion of the Konkan line in 1998 and construction in the 21st century.

This is no Ian Allan guide and neither is it an apologia for the Raj – the author is at pains to point out the short-comings of the British and the inadequacy of the legacy left in 1947 as he considers the impact of the iron horse not just on the countryside but also on Indian politics, society, mores and culture. He also looks at the part it played in the awakening of an Indian national consciousness and it continues to play in shaping the modern nation.

Given the fact and detail that ooze from every page, it is reassuring that there are endnotes for each chapter, an exhaustive (11 page) bibliography and an index, although there is no listing by name of the 45 or so railway administrations (or groupings) that existed in the imperial period nor one of the 16 zones that currently make up Indian Railways. There is also scant coverage of the railways of the Princely States.

With the caveat that there is no personal or genealogical data covered, this is a compelling and enjoyable read, wholeheartedly recommended, but maybe a bit pricey in the UK. (The full review by Hugh Wilding, FIBIS Trustee, appears in FIBIS "Journal" no. 22 (Autumn 2009), pp. 54-56)

  • Stevenage, Patrick Hugh

A railway family in India : five generations of the Stevenages. London: BACSA, 2001

This is a book of two parts, either of which is interesting in its own right, well-written and with a considerable number of photographs, drawings and reproductions to illustrate both sections. Be aware though that despite the promise of the book’s title, there is only one railwayman by name of Stevenage!

The first part traces the history of the Stevenage family in India, from the arrival of John Stevenage in late 1778, a private in the East India Company’s Madras European Regiment, to the family’s exodus, four generations later, in the years after 1947 and in the wake of Indian Independence. The author has researched his ancestors in great detail, helped by the extinction outside India of all other branches of the Stevenage surname which, while unfortunate, has had the happy consequence that any bearer of the surname must be related! However, the sketchiest family tree, the paucity of footnotes and the lack of a bibliography will surely challenge future Stevenage researchers who turn to this book for enlightenment.

The second, and longer, part is the author’s personal story, beginning in Bangalore in 1922 and ending with early retirement circa 1983 in Haywards Heath. Along the way, the author chronicles childhood, schooling and higher education in the Anglo-Indian community around Madras, initial employment in a bank before becoming a Traffic Officer with the Madras & Southern Mahratta Railway, a position he held until his decision to quit India. A fascinating picture emerges of back office work in managing traffic in the days before computers; the author also had a front-row seat in 1948 for Operation Polo by which the supposedly independent state of Hyderabad was forcibly integrated into the Union of India. Once settled in England, he secured a clerical job with British Railways, retrained as an accountant and ended up supervising the investment budget of British Rail. In this section, the absence of a bibliography is barely noticed. (review by Hugh Wilding, FIBIS Trustee)

  • Wilding, Hugh

Research sources for Indian railways, 1845-1947. London: Families in British India Society, 2009 (FIBIS fact files; 4)

This is the latest in the series of handy guides to sources being produced by the Families in British India Society. Inspired by the discovery that a great grandfather had been an employee of the Indian Railways, the author has over the past fifteen years made himself thoroughly acquainted with all UK sources for researching ancestors connected with the Indian railway system. After an introduction which includes an article by Anthony West, another FIBIS researcher in this field, Wilding provides comprehensive lists of the relevant UK archives covering not only the India Office Records, but also The National Archives, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the Centre of South Asian Studies. There is also a very full book list, a glossary, and – something which has probably never before been attempted – a complete finding list of railways known to have operated in India between 1853 and 1947. (reviewed by David Blake, FIBIS Trustee)