“Rajula” an introduction
No ship gave longer service to the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd (British India Line) than the Rajula.
Rajula was a Clyde built Ship.
“Rajula” was licensed when new, for the enormous total of over 5000 deck passengers.
This original number was easily the largest number of passengers in a single hull under the British flag.
Passengers carried: 30 1st, 30 2nd, 92 3rd, 5113 (later 3622) deck.
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“Rajula” was a most remarkable British India Steam Navigation Company ship, surprising and long lived ship with a very worthwhile career and an excellent reputation.
Built 1926 at Glasgow for the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd, BI formed in 1856 was one of the largest companies in the British mercantile marine.
Her route was usually Madras (Chennai) – Negapatam (Nagapattinam) – Penang – Port Swettenham (Port Klang) (Westbound Only) – Singapore.
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Her accommodation was not of comparable quality to most other ocean liners however the demands of the passengers crossing from India to Malaya and back were not complicated; a few square feet of deck space was all that was expected.
The Rajula meanwhile was one of the first ships requisitioned at the time of the Munich crisis in September 1938 and became permanently a troop ship from May 1940.
In 1940 Rajula trooped mainly from Bombay to Suez.
From December 1941 Rajula carried Indian troops to Singapore for its defence returning on homeward voyages loaded with evacuees until the Island finally fell to the Japanese on the 15th February 1942.
In July 1942 Rajula carried the 6th Australian Division from Colombo to Australia for their redeployment to New Guinea.
She also attended the successful Allied landings at Syracuse, Augusta and Anzio in 1943. In 1944 she carried troops out and acting as an ambulance, wounded back at the Burma assaults.
The following year she trooped Calcutta to Malaysia and Rangoon for their reoccupation.
Rajula, after a refit in Great Britain returned to the Far East and her normal peacetime duties.
This brief visit to GB was her only return to the country of her building.
In 1955 along with all the other British India passenger ships her hull was painted white with a blank ribband and bunks were fitted for most of her Deck passengers.
Aged 35 Rajula was still considered sufficiently important to be sent to Japan, to the Mitsubishi yard in Kobe for an extensive overhaul in February 1962.
Rajula emerged with her double banked boats replaced by larger fibreglass boats on gravity davits and her heavy lift derrick removed.
Rajula ran into a tropical cyclone on the 3rd November 1966 whilst on passage from Nagapatam to Madras.
She was driven for thirty miles along the coast in screaming winds and huge steep seas.
Rajula was eventually driven hard astern with her engines running full power.
Shemanaged to rescue herself from shipwreck by sailing at full speed backwards!
Sadly, seven other ships were not so fortuitous and were driven ashore and wrecked.
This dramatically further proved her amazing seaworthiness.
The following afternoon she berthed safely at Madras with little damage.
It is said, Rajula‘s Indian passengers were so relieved that they held a Thanksgiving Service on the jetty for their stately but dependable old Rajula.
As part of the Group rationalisation, the Rajula was transferred to the formal ownership of P&O Line on the 19th April 1973.
Although comparatively unknown outside Eastern waters no ship gave longer service to the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd (British India Line) than the Rajula.
Few ships can have carried as many passengers safely over the oceans and few enjoyed greater affection and respect.
After a very worthwhile career in peace and war, and with an excellent reputation, just short of her 48th birthday, she was stripped of all her contents and fittings and delivered for breaking up at Bombay.
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“The remarque on the print that I have with me now is very impressive ” – Mohamed Ashraf Mohamad Yoonus – 14.08.12
Rajula was fitted with early examples of mechanical ventilation and enjoyed the then unheard of luxury of an engineer’s lift.
For working general cargo at either end of her route, and the onion cargoes which came on board from lighters in the roads at Negapatam, she had a powerful set of derricks plus a heavy lift derrick fitted to her foremast.
Rajula was an attractive looking ship with well-raked masts and funnel; the latter set off by a naval style cowl top.
Rajula‘s engines were built for reliability rather than latest developments in machinery so were reciprocating steam engines not steam turbines.
The steam ship Rajula had triple expansion machinery of a slightly higher power and correspondingly higher trials speed than her sister “Rhona“.
A steady twelve knots was the normal service speed.
In 1973 Rajula was sold to Shipping Corporation of India, renamed RANGAT, 1974 laid up, 1974 scrapped.
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Rajula and the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd (British India Line) and their “Straits” service
BI was formed in 1856 and remained one of the largest companies in the British mercantile marine until it was finally entirely merged into the Peninsular and Orient Line, P&O in 1972.
BI ships were built in Britain and usually sailed for the Far East and not seen again in European waters, consequently although the fleet was massive, it is not well known in Europe or the America’s.
There is a story of a convoy in world war one arriving at Marsailles, France, of 200 ships and to the astonishment of the French, every single ship was a BI ship.
Rajula’s primary routes were towards Madras (Chennai) – Negapatam (Nagapattinam) – Penang – Port Swettenham (Port Klang) (Westbound Only) – Singapore.
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People write to us…
From: Mohamed Ashraf Mohamad Yoonus.
“I chanced upon your website through a Google search as I was trying to
find information on S. S. Rajula. I am an Assistant Curator of the Indian
Heritage Centre (IHC) in Singapore. IHC is a government funded, small scale,
museum standard heritage institution that will highlight the interactions
between South Asia and Southeast Asia, particularly Malaya-Singapore.
Although my research into S. S. Rajula began as a professional pursuit, I
found out soon enough that my maternal great grandfather, paternal
grandfather, my father, and his siblings had all traveled aboard S. S.
Rajula. With such connections binding my personal history to this remarkable
steam ship, I wanted to possess a painting or a print of the ship. Thus the
purchase. Would have opted to get the bigger print, but alas, this is my
very first job and finances are tight. You website has been well put
together in terms of providing a wealth of information and would certainly
resonate with those who had traveled aboard the ships and even those
genuinely love maritime history“.
Each print of this Rajula edition, is individually made to order, a time limited edition, supervised and signed by the artist.
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Other useful links
B.I. The British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd (British India Line), W.A. Laxon & F.W.Perry, published by the World Ship Society, ISBN 0 905617 65 7
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Gordon Frickers © 08.12.2006, updated 14,01,16, 27.01.16
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