SS Vaitarna

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SS Vaitarna in Grangemouth Docks (Accession No P09431).png
SS Vaitarna in Grangemouth Docks, 1885
 British India
Name: SS Vaitarna
Owner: Shepherd & Co, Bombay[1]
Operator: Bombay Steamer Navigation Company
Port of registry: Glasgow[1]
Route: MandviBombay
Builder: Grangemouth Dockyard Co. Ltd.[1]
Yard number: 86
Laid down: 1882
Launched: 1885
Identification: Official Number 90062[1]
Nickname(s): Vijli
Fate: Missing after 8 November 1888 and presumed sunk
General characteristics
Type: Schooner
Tonnage: 292 GRT, 63 NRT, 258 under deck[1][2]
Length: 170.1 ft (51.85 m)[2]
Beam: 26.5 ft (8.08 m)[2]
Depth: 9.9 ft (3.02 m)[2]
Installed power: 73 hp
Propulsion: Steam propulsion
Speed: 13 knots
Notes: as per Lloyd's Register of Shipping[2]

SS Vaitarna, popularly known as Vijli or Haji Kasam ni Vijli, was a steamship owned by A J Shepherd & Co, Bombay that disappeared on 8 November 1888 off the coast of Saurashtra region of Gujarat in cyclonic storm during a crossing from Mandvi to Bombay. More than 740 people on board went missing in the disaster. The incident resulted in the creation of nautical lores and songs.


She was named Vaitarna after Vaitarna river of Bombay Presidency. She was nicknamed Vijli, literally electricity, as the ship was lit with electric bulbs.[3] The ship is often dubbed as the "Titanic of Gujarat" even though RMS Titanic sank 24 years later.[4][5][6][7][8]


SS Vaitarna was the first steamship built by Grangemouth Dockyard Co. Ltd., Grangemouth and launched in 1885. She was schooner made of steel and took three years to complete. This screw steamer had three floors and twenty five cabins. She had a single funnel, two masts and a fore-and-aft rigged sail furled against the forward mast.[9] Her register tonnage were 292 GRT, 63 NRT, and 258 under deck. Her compound steam engines had two cylinders with 21" diameter and had stroke of 42" and 30" generating 73 Horsepower. These engines were built by Dunsmuir & Jackson, Glasgow. She was owned by A J Shepherd & Co, Bombay and was registered in Glasgow. She was 170.1 feet long, 26.5 feet broad and 9.9 feet deep.[1][2][10][11] It was brought to Karachi by traveling around Africa for a maiden trip to Bombay.[3]

Career and disappearance

Haji Kasam, Captain of SS Vaitarna

She traded between Mandvi, Cutch State and Bombay ferrying passengers and goods. She took 30 hours to travel from Mandvi to Bombay at a fare of Rs 8.[5] The ships of the region were not designed to mitigate storms as they generally travel along the coast from port to port during calm seasons and were laid up in harbor during stormy monsoon sea.[12][13]

SS Vaitarna was anchored on Mandvi port on 8 November 1888, Thursday (Vikram Samvat 1945 Kartik Sud Pancham), at noon and she left for Dwarka after taking 520 passengers on board. She reached Dwarka and had some more passengers on board, reaching 703 in number. She left for Porbandar. Though according to lores, Porbandar port administrator Lelie told the Captain not to venture into the sea, but later research did not supported the claim. Due to bad weather she did not stop at Porbandar and directly headed for Bombay. At evening, she was seen off the coast of Mangrol, and later at night some people claimed that she was seen wrecking near Madhavpur (Ghed) amid severe storm. The next day she was declared missing.[3][5][6][10][11]


No bodies or debris of ship was found. She was assumed to be wrecked in a cyclonic storm in the Arabian Sea.[14][15] Though the folklores states casualty of 1300 people,[3] there were 746 people (703 passengers and 43 crew members) on board who went missing in the disaster.[5][7][10][16][17] The other numbers reported are 798,[18] 741 (38 crew member and 703 passengers)[19] and 744.[8] There were thirteen wedding parties and several students who headed for Bombay to appear in the matriculation examination of Bombay University in December.[5][6]

Kasam Ibrahim or Haji Kasam was the captain of the ship. He was an aristocrat from Kutch holding tracts of land between in Borivali and Dahisar in Bombay. He had his office at Abdul Rehman Street and he lived at Malabar Hill. It is also believed that he was blessed by Fakir that he will own 99 ships and Vijli was his last. Haji Kasam Chawl in Bombay Central is named after him.[3][6][7][18]


Following the disappearance of the ship, the Bombay Presidency formed a committee, Marine Court of Inquiry, to probe the matter.[7] It pointed out that Vaitarna was ill-equipped with safety measures. It did not have enough lifeboats and life jackets on ship. She was overwhelmed by the heavy storm. The aneroids used on board the other steamers of the line of the ships to which Vaitarna belonged were checked and found erroneous.[20][21] Bombay Presidency and Shipping companies sent steamers to find the shipwreck but were unsuccessful.[5]

Cultural influence

The incident resulted in formation of many nautical lores, myths, legends and songs over the years and became popular in folklore of Gujarat. The ship was popularly referred to as Vijli in folklore and is chiefly associated with its captain Kasam Ibrahim. There was also Haji Kasam Noor Mohammed, a booking agent of Shepherd at Porbandar.[5][6]

After the disappearance of the ship, a poet from Jamnagar, Durlabhrai V. Shyamji Dhruv published a collection of songs titled Vijli Vilap. Bhikharam Savji Joshi also published another collection in the same name. Jhaverchand Meghani collected and published one of such songs in his folksong collection, Radhiyali Raat, titled "Haji Kasam, Tari Vijli Re Madhdariye Veran Thai" (Gujarati: "હાજી કાસમ, તારી વીજળી રે મધદરિયે વેરણ થઈ"). Gujarati author Gunvantrai Acharya wrote a fiction titled, Haji Kasam Tari Vijli (1954) based on the incident.[6][10][22]

Y. M. Chitalwala, a researcher based in Dhoraji researched the incident and documented it in Vijli Haji Kasamni published by Darshak Itihas Nidhi in 2010.[5][7][10]

Further reading

  • India. Native Passenger Ships Commission (1891). Report of the Native Passenger Ships Commission: Appointed in November 1890, Under the Orders of His Excellency the Governor General in Council : with Proceedings and Appendices. Office of the Superintendent of Government Print., India.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Vaitarna SS (+1888) document". Wrecksite. 1888.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Lloyd's Register of Shipping". Internet Archive. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Ved, Mahendra (23 April 2012). "India, too, had sinking of `Vilji' 124 years ago". New Straits Times  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Vignettes of maritime history Ancient sea route maps, sketches of coastlines, architecture, textiles and rare pictures of legendary vessels are lined up for public viewing at an exhibition called 'Gujarat and the sea' at NID. The exhibition, which will be open on Saturday and Sunday, was inaugurated on Friday. One of the major attractions is a photo of the legendary vessel built in 1885 called Vaitarna or popularly known as Vijli because of its electric lights which was a rare sight those days. It capsized on November 8, 1888, drowning 1,300 people". November 20, 2010. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Vashi, Ashish (6 May 2010). "Gujarat saw a Titanic in 1888". The Times of India. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "ગુજરાતની ટાઈટેનિક એટલે 'હાજી કાસમની વીજળી (Vijli was the Titanic of Gujarat)". (in Gujarati). 2011-04-14. Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  7. ^ a b c d e Khambhayata, Lalit (2012-04-03). "સવાસો વર્ષ પહેલાં ડૂબેલી ગુજરાતી 'ટાઈટેનિક'હાજી કાસમની વીજળી!". Sandesh Gujarati Newspaper (in Gujarati). Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  8. ^ a b "હાજી કાસમની વીજળીના બે નામ હતા". Gujarat Samachar (in Gujarati). Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  9. ^ "SS Vaitarna". Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d e Ramavat, Shishir (13 November 2013). "ટેક ઓફ : હાજી કાસમ તારી વીજળી વેરણ થઈ". Sandesh (Ardhsaptahik) (in Gujarati). Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  11. ^ a b "હાજી કાસમની વીજળી... - ઝવેરચંદ મેઘાણી, ગુણવંતરાય આચાર્ય, રાજેન્દ્ર દવે". (in Gujarati). 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  12. ^ "Vaitarna SS (+1888) document". Wrecksite. 1888.
  13. ^ Bombay Chamber of Commerce (1915). Report of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce. p. 556.
  14. ^ "Hand-Book of Cyclonic Storms in the Bay of Bengal: For the Use of Sailors". Forgotten Books. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  15. ^ India. Meteorological Dept (1890). Report on the Meteorology of India. Office of the Superintendent of Government, India. p. 103.
  16. ^ Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Edward Stanford. 1892. p. 228.
  17. ^ Pathak, Maulik (2012-08-13). "Old man and the sea". Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  18. ^ a b "Freedom fighter's kin keen on making Indian Titanic". mid-day. 15 August 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  19. ^ "Otago Daily Times - 10 April 1889 - SHIPPING". Papers Past. Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  20. ^ "Hand-book of cyclonic storms in the Bay of Bengal. For the use of sailors ." Internet Archive. p. 34. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  21. ^ Sir John Eliot (1900). Hand-book of Cyclonic Storms in the Bay of Bengal: For the Use of Sailors. superintendent of government printing, India.
  22. ^ Shah, Praful. "આ જહાજ નથી, દરિયામાં તરતું લોઢાનું ગામ છે ગામ". Mumbai Samachar (in Gujarati). Retrieved 2015-06-05.

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