Pictured at Chalna in 1968 by Mike Ledger the paddle steamer Chinsura steams along the Pussur River in Bangladesh.
Chinsura was one of six pretty much identical paddlers built for the India General Navigation and Railway Company in the late 1920s. The first four, the Hazara, Ghilzai, Galla and Galiana were built by Denny of Dumbarton and shipped out between early August and late November 1927. The second pair the Chinsura and Chunar were built locally in Calcutta but with triple expansion engines supplied by Denny the following July and November. The steamers were 240ft long with a breadth of 32ft and had one fire-tube boiler working at a pressure of 180psi.
Ordered for the Cachar to Sunderbunds service these paddle steamers were designed to be capable of towing two loaded barges of 460 tons deadweight on a draught of 6ft at a speed of around 11 knots and were intended to spend at least 60% of their time towing with the remainder running freely. The first two cost £20,391 each to build and the second two very slightly less at £40,644 the pair.
In 1997 The Times reported that a number of paddle steamers were still in service in Bangladesh where they were much favoured by the captains not only for their shallow draught but also because of the watertight integrity of their hulls. Conventional propeller driven ships have a tendency to leak through their stern glands which, being beneath the waterline, need regular re-packing and other attention to keep them watertight. Paddle shafts, on the other hand, pass through the hull above the water and so are not much prone to leakage which is a welcome bonus in a country where new packing supplies and/or dry-docking facilities may sometimes be in short supply.
With more than 5,000 miles of navigable rivers, travel by water remains a major method of transportation in Bangladesh today and it is still possible to sail between Dhaka and Khulna aboard one of the so-called “Rocket” passenger paddle steamers like the Mahsud. She was another product of the Denny yard and, along with her sister the Ostrich, was shipped out for passenger, mail and cargo service on the Pudda River in 1929.
Navigating the the Bangladesh waterways is notoriously difficult and, sadly, there have been several accidents in recent years. Most recently, twelve passengers died in a collision between two ferries near Barisal in February and more than four hundred were thought to have drowned last July when a passenger vessel was sucked into a whirlpool near Chandpur.