Edges of Empire

KNW 2399: Edges of Empire

A New Era of Transportation











This photo was taken in 1890 by Lala Deen Dayal and is part of a collection of photographs documenting the construction of the Bengal-Napur Railway between 1890-1899. This photograph is titled “Photograph No. 09.” Presented in the image are several men standing in front of the workings of a tunnel portion of the railway. The majority of the men are Indian. This is apparent due to the drastic contrast of their skin color in the photograph. In addition to the hint of their darker skin color, they are dressed in traditional Indian clothing, most notably being their headwear. Towards the front of them are presumed to be British men. The two of them are wearing more formal clothing and headwear distinct to British custom. It can be assumed that these British men are in charge of the Indian workers. I am not sure what their specific contribution to the building of the railroad is other then perhaps overseeing the Indian workers are doing what they are supposed to be. However, I do know the engineers of the railway are British and perhaps these two British men are engineers.

The location of the photograph is interesting; it seems to be at the bottom of a revine. This makes for a more dramatic photograph but also depicts the rigorous terrain and how hard it must have been to work in these conditions. It also happens to be at a tunnel portion meaning that they would have to blow through the mountainside using dynamite, making this quite a dangerous and difficult task. Also pictured are various bricks, tools, ladders and what not used by the Indian workers during construction.

This is the only photograph in the collection that I saw that is of a distinct group of people. So one of my questions is was this on purpose, in other words is this an important group of people? Or is this just to take a closer look at the inner workings of the construction? Also, are these British men engineers? If these British men are not engineers, then what role did they really play in relation to constructing the railway and in relation to the Indian workers?









This photo is titled “Ferrocarril Pachuca Zacualtipan y Tampico.” The photo was taken somewhere in Mexico in 1899 by Troncal. Pictured here is a steam-engine train going across a bridge. Although it is unclear, the train is transporting some sort of cargo. Below the bridge are several men. Although the figures are vague, there are some identifiable distinctions between the men. There are two men dressed in suits with what seems to be either cowboy or top hats. These men may either be British or American. The other men dressed in dark pants and white shirts are most likely Mexican workers and are wearing larger hats, typical of a sombrero. It seems that they are standing in an area that is usually covered in water, hence the bridge. There are also some large puddles as if the area has been dried up and perhaps usually acts as a river.

It seems that this is a recently built portion of the railroad. The bricks in the back look freshly paved and the pillars look new. I’m assuming that this is usually a river and they took advantage of a drought to build this bridge that would normally be covered in water and impossible to build otherwise with the technology at the time. I think the white men may be either British or American investors in the railroad.

I wonder what exactly is being transported on the train and where is it going? I also wonder what part of Mexico this picture is taken in since it is unclear. Another question, although I’ve made a guess, I wonder who the white men exactly are and what role they play whether it be investor, engineer or something else entirely?


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