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Created on Jul 21, 1995; last modified Feb 4, 1999.

Index to page

  1. The Taming of the Sea
    1. The Great Fire
    2. The Fall of the Marathas
    3. The Causeways
    4. The Railways
    5. The Lakes
    6. The First War of Independence
  2. Urbs Prima in Indis
    1. The Cotton Mills
    2. The Walls Come Down
    3. The Plague Years
    4. The Suburbs

Related Images

  1. Mumbai map, 1846: 59 Kb
  2. View of Bombay, 1895: 67 Kb

The Nineteenth Century

The Taming of the Sea

The modern city of Bombay took shape in the 19th century. The city was built by the joining together of many islands, a process that was more or less completed by the first half of the century. Reclamations were then started, a process that continues till today. During the latter half of this century, the importance of Bombay as a centre of cotton trade, specially during the American Civil War (1861-65), created a pool of wealth, not only among the British, but also among Indians. Much of this money was channelled into rebuilding the core of the town into a grand showpiece. The First Indian War of Independence, in 1857, makes a convenient watershed between these two streams of development. Before the War of Independence, India was governed by the East India Company; after the war it reverted to the Crown.

The Great Fire

A crowded town had grown up north of the walled fort and the eastern port district of the British town. In 1803 a fire raged through the Indian part of the town, razing many localities. The tragedy was to have a positive effect in that the town could be built anew, to a better plan. Already residents were paying taxes to the civil authorities for the upkeep and cleaning of streets. In 1812 an Ordinance was promulgated which, among other things, set out the possibility of demolition of encroachments.

The Hornby Vellard had already been built towards the end of the 18th Century. By joining together Bombay and Mahim, it began the process that was to be completed in this century. The next step was the completion of the Sion Causeway in 1803.

The Fall of the Marathas

The Maratha empire under the Peshwas fell to the machinations of the East India Company at the beginning of the century. The decisive battle was at Kirki in November 1817. Montstuart Elphinstone was then made Commissioner of the Deccan in 1818. With the opening of the Deccan to the British power, improved communications between Bombay and its hinterland was to become necessary. The existence of such communication, in turn, fed commerce through the port of Bombay.

Elphinstone was the Governor of Bombay between 1819 and 1827. He was the first person to build a bungalow for himself on Malabar Hill. This began the process of wealthy residents moving out of the central fort area.

The Causeways

This process accelerated with the completion of the Colaba Causeway in 1838. Even before the island was joined to Bombay, it was a cantonment area; it remains so even now. The Cotton Exchange was established in Colaba in 1844, establishing this newly opened up section as an important commercial area.

The Mahim Causeway was not built by the government. Avabai, Lady Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy donated the entire sum of money required to join Mahim to Sion by a causeway. This work was completed in 1845, but the development of Mahim and Bandra had to wait another half a century.

The Railways

The physical setting of the modern city was almost complete by now. A new development took place with the opening of railways in India. In 1849 the Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) Railways was incorporated by an Act of the British Parliament. It immediately entered into an agreement with the East India Company. Under this agreement, the first rails were laid for a 21 mile stretch between Thane and Bombay. The line was inaugurated on April 6, 1853.

The Governor of Bombay at this time was John, Lord Elphinstone. He was the first to realise that the Fort walls were now superfluous, since all the enemy powers were now subjugated. He suggested the removal of the fortifications. However, the population of Bombay was not yet psychologically prepared for this step. There was strong opposition to this move, and the walls were not removed.

The Lakes

Vihar water works.

The First War of Independence

1857 marks a watershed in Indian history. The first War of Independence broke out this year. Under the leadership of several Princes, the Sepoys in the Company militia revolted. The revolutionaries were brutally suppressed; but the Company was accused of mismanagement. India reverted to the British Crown. Bombay was hardly affected. By the time the newspapers had confirmed news of the war, it was over. The police commissioner, Charles Forjett arrested large numbers of Indians, and claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy to blow up the town during the festival of Diwali. Nothing happenned, but Forjett had the alleged ring-leaders blown from cannon on that day. A commemorative tablet in the gardens of the Afghan Church record about 30 British deaths, several from outside of the city.

Urbs Prima In Indis

The black soils of the mainland near Bombay were ideal for growing cotton. This had long been a mainstay of Bombay's commerce. From 1857, with the opening of Bombay's first cotton mill, it was to become an important part of the city's industry.

The Cotton Mills

When cotton exports from the USA were interrupted by the Civil War, Bombay gained paramount importance in the world cotton trade. There was a rapid increase in the number of mills. The labour force was constituted mainly of Marathi speaking migrants from the ghats, adding yet another flavour to Bombay's ethnic soup. However, this economic boom was at the base of one of the major problems of the developing city.

Most often, the mill workers were men whose families stayed back in their villages. To begin with, employers accommodated these workers in specially constructed chawls near the mills. Modelled after army barracks, each building had three floors. Every floor contained rooms, each given over to one person, and a common toilet. Sometimes, several such chawls would border a common enclosed space. Such a group of chawls was called a wadi. With the rapid increase in the number of mills, the rooms were often occupied by several people. Eventually, families of workers began to migrate to Bombay, and each room in a chawl would have to accommodate the whole family. Later, even this became impossible, and slums developed around the mills and the harbour.

The Walls Come Down

In the meanwhile, Sir Bartle Frere became the Governor of Bombay, and in 1864 had the walls of the fort removed. The old wall can now only be seen as part of the boundary wall of St. George Hospital, near the Victoria Terminus. This act allowed a rebuilding of the core area of the city with the money that the cotton boom was bringing in.

Constructions. VT, university, BMC, town hall, etc. Victorian Gothic revival. The Asiatic Society.

The Plague Years

The plague and the Haffkine Institute.

The Suburbs

The founding of the CIT and the new suburbs.