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Traveling from India to England, 1890
tj plotting
melannen wrote in little_details
I thought this would be easy to find, but it's not; the Transatlantic crossing, yes, but not India to England - I've tried searching terms from ranging from "steamship india victorian timetable" to "suez canal history", and even tried searching period novels on Google Books, and not found what I need. Help? What search string am I missing?

It's ~1890, exact date flexible. My characters transacted some business in Agra, and are fleeing India with trouble on their tails; I pick up the story just as they're about to board their ship home. Money isn't infinite but it's not a real limiting factor, and they aren't in a particular hurry to get back to England, they just want to get out of India, so they'll take the first ship they can get passage on that's heading in the right direction where a middle class European/American couple won't be terribly conspicuous.

My questions (and the answers to a) and b) probably affect the others greatly):

a) What port are they leaving from? Wherever they can get to fastest from Agra that has plenty of passenger traffic to/from England and with minimum stops in India after they board. It looks like either Karachi or Calcutta, but I can't tell which is more likely.
b) What sort of ship is it likely to be - i.e., just grabbing the first passage they can, is it more likely to be a large passenger liner, or can I reasonably have them on a ship with only a few dozen paying passengers and mostly cargo?
c) What port are they arriving in when they get to England?
d) Will they likely be making any stops along the way?
e) How long is the trip?

I'm assuming for daily shipboard life, I can carry over the stuff I've found about the Transatlantic crossing, but if I'm wrong about that or you have a good source, please do share!

I can't help you with specific details, but the main shipping line was P&O - try googling the history of the company and you may get a better idea of some of your points.

Oh, thank you: the sites I found that mentioned the P&O didn't really make it clear that it *was* the primary line I should be looking for, so having that confirmed will help a lot.

1) Most British families traveled on steam-powered passenger liners, accompanied by their Indian servants.
2) Most seamen had to shove coal into a funnel so as to power the ship, and according to some of them, the heat was unbearable.
3) In 1921, a voyage from Bombay to London took 22 days. The ship stopped in Saudi Arabia for fuel, then traveled down the Suez Canal. It then passed through Malta and Gibraltar. (The Suez Canal opened in 1869, according to Wikipedia.)

Thank you! That site looks great. (And so does Behramji Malabari's book, The Indian Eye on English Life, which is available in full-text online. \o/ Not that I needed another excuse to put off writing the thing.)

Seems that most outgoing ships to India left from London or Liverpool headed for Bombay, Calcutta or Madras. I'd guess the ships would just turn round and do the same, or a very similar route back. I used a shipping record website ( which is meant for tracing ancestors.

I have to say you could probably have them arriving into Southampton or Glasgow too without too many problems, since I've read various things about P&O liners shifting from London to being based out of Southampton. Glasgow seems to have been a base of the 'British India Steam Co' ( which also ran passenger services.

I've mostly googled things like 'glasgow shipping routes india', or 'port britain india passengers'. Although you might find more about the India to UK routes, I think you can probably assume that what is true in one direction will be largely true in the other.

Oh, thank you! (I don't actually care where they land in England, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing something blatantly wrong.)

And that website looks helpful, too.

There was a weekly service by the P & O line from London to Bombay via the Suez Canal in the 1890s. The voyage took 12½ days and cost £55 first class, around £35 second class.

Bombay was called the "Gateway to India" because it was the main arrival port for ships from England. It's also closer to Agra than Madras or Calcutta. In England, London and Southampton were both major ports of embarkation (Liverpool too, but for the transatlantic route). The ship would be likely to stop at Aden, Suez and/or Alexandria, maybe Brindisi en route, to refuel, collect mail, and let the passengers stretch their legs.

Edited at 2010-02-28 12:35 pm (UTC)

Oooh, you're good! *bookmarks site*

Oh, thank you, thank you! That was exactly what I wanted. (Care to share your search secrets? :D )

Care to share your search secrets?

I already knew that the P&O Line would be the most likely carrier, so I Googled p&o line timetable 1890, and then after I saw the results refined that to p&o line timetable 1890 India.

Heya. I just stumbled across this very same problem and your answer was mightily helpful. Thank you!

Thank you so much!


2015-06-07 10:39 am (UTC)

Same problem I had here. Thank you once again!


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