Edges of Empire

KNW 2399: Edges of Empire

Railroads of Colonial India in 1890


The creator of this 1890 photo titles Bengal -Nagpur railroad construction no.43 is unknown. This photo is part of a 45-piece album of albumen prints. This album contains photos of the landscape and hidden tunnels of the Bengal- Nigar Railroad, British engineers, and the landscapes of Bengal. In the photo, the viewer sees boys of all ages posing in front a construction sight for a railroad tunnel. In the foreground, there are some tools lying in a pile of rubble. In the sides of the photo, there are piles of bricks lying ready to be used. All but one man in the photo is wearing rugged clothes. The man in the nicer white suit looks to have not done any work building the tunnel. This uniform disparity might have had to do with the different roles that each worker played working the different jobs on the railroad. There are not any British men in the photo; they are probably relaxing at home out of the heat leaving the work to the lower income men. At the time, British engineers hired the Indian men in white to supervise over the various Indian workers. I presume that many of the younger Indian boys were most likely used to squeeze through small crevices and tunnels; whereas the older men on the crew directed the younger boys where to go and how to position themselves safely within the railroad construction tunnels to get the job done most efficiently. I deduce that the working conditions consisted of a dry atmosphere and had little support from nearby water supplies or stores. The conditions were less than acceptable and appear dry and dirty due to the environmental conditions of the area. There is a visible glare seen on the photograph, which implies that it was not only sunny, but that the workers did not have any shade to escape to due to the lack of trees I the immediate vicinity. The labor was rigorous as many of the workers created tunnels that bore through large mountains, which is seen as a difficult task. I wonder what types of tools the men used in order to make the tunnel? The utensils seen in the picture includes bowls, ladders, and other support systems that are depicted in the photo to show the viewer that they had limited supplies to create this immense project.

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