Dumra, British India Steam Navigation Company, Extra

Robin Knox-Johnston served as 3rd officer on ‘Dumra departing Bombay, rising South West Monsoon’ so commissioned this painting by way of remembering his first ship.

Robin Knox-Johnston
Robin Knox-Johnston commissioned this painting of Dumra

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British India Steam Navigation company, B I to it’s friends, was the largest fleet under the red ensign, yet paintings of B.I. ships are very rare. This is a scene which was never photographed.

Most of the ships B I were  built in Britain then sailed for India for a long career, never to return.

Robin’s painting is already an historic document being rich in detail & atmosphere.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

served aboard “Dumra” as 3rd Officer so as an eye witness from April 1963 until the following March, knew the ship and her ports while Dumra was running from Bombay to Basra.

Robin during this period in his life built himself his first yacht, “Suhali” while with B.I.

Another painting by Gordon FrickersRoaring Forties” shows “Suhali” about to be swamped by an 80 foot wave, an incident from Robin’s most epic voyage, the first nonstop single handed circumnavigation.

Robin added, “I served aboard Dumra as 3rd Officer from April 1963 until the following March, running from Bombay to Basra, with Karachi, Gwadur or Pasni, Muscat, Dubai, Umm Said, Bahrain, Bushire, Kuwait, Khorromshahr in between, and very occasionally we called at Bandar Abbas.

Our sister ship the Dara was set on fire in autumn 1961 and sank near Dubai, the explosion caused by land mines being either smuggled into Muscat or deliberately to damage the ship. Some 400 died. I was on Dwarka at the time.”


On the 19th April 1973  the “Dumra” transferred from British India to P & O ownership all be it still on charter.

This remarkable painting commemorates a way of life that was ending a mere 42 years ago yet now seems to belong to another age.


Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

while preparing his catamaran “British Airways“, an entry at Queen Anne’s Battery Marina Plymouth for the 1986 Two Handed Transatlantic race, noticed the painting by Gordon Frickers of the British India liner “Uganda entering Falmouth to lay up” after the Falklands war.

An unusual painting, the paint is vigorously and confidently handled while the subject has the feel of a first hand experience.

My paintings caught his interest.

Robin asked to meet the artist.

A friendship soon led to the creation of the spectacular and famous “Roaring Forties” painting which shows another incident from Robin’s remarkable life.

Dumra departing Bombay” started as an idea of Robin’s.

It was researched by me Gordon Frickers including at the P & O archives with the help of Stephen Rabson, the World Ship Society and also at Bombay with particular thanks to my friend “AP” Singh.

While I prefer to work on location, as with most of my marine commissions, the images are patiently built up from many sources including rare photographs, charts & of course in this instance, Sir Robin’s personal recollections.

Principal sources

  • P. & O. Archives,
  • B.I. The British Steam Navigation Company Ltd , W. A. Laxton & F. W. Perry.
    ISBN 0 90561765 7
  • World Ship Society, (Merchant Ships 1931 to 1954)
  • Background from photos collected by Gordon Frickers and A.P. Singh

Dumra (III)

The name “Dumra” is associated with waterfalls & rapids in Bengal & is now more usually spelt Dhamra.
There is also a small port in Orissa & a village in Kathiawar bearing the name.

Photographs are courtesy of P&O Group librarian Stephen Rabson & A. P. Singh of Bombay also the Gordon Frickers Collection.

The ship

Built 1946, completed December, Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow
T 4,867g
Dimensions: 398.7oa
Engine: Barclay, Curle & Co, single screw, 5 cylinder Doxford 2S SA, 4,200BHP at 125rpm.
Service speed 14 Knots.

Passengers: 13 1st class, 41 2nd class, 1,537 unberthed

Crew: 130

Maiden voyage: 15th Jan 1947, Bombay to Persian Gulf ports

1952 – berthed accommodation increased to 20 1st, 30 2nd.

1955 – the passenger fleet colour scheme changed and were given white hulls with a black band.

June 1972 – end of her service for British India to bareboat charter for Damodar Bulk Carriers Ltd, a P&O Associated company.

19th April 1973 – transferred to P&O ownership, still on charter.

7th April 1976 – Damodar became owners & renamed her “Daman“.

May 1978 – laid up at Bombay

February 1979 – broken up at Bombay.

Source: Merchant Fleets, British India Steam Navigation Company by Duncan Haws.

Service History

Dumra was built to replace the pre First World War B & V class ships operated in the Persian Gulf Dumra was the first of 4 ships sturdy “mini liners” which retained many characteristic features while introducing a new silhouette & new standards.

The Bombay – Karachi refugee Run, 1946 / 7

As a result of the Muslim pressures for a partition of India, in September 1946 the ship took part in the Calcutta Chittagong transfers, especially between Bombay & Karachi. Hindus fled from Pakistan & Moslems fled from India. At times this degenerated into chaotic full scale evacuation with ships sailing with complete disregard of loading quotas with as many people as could be stuffed into them. A progressive breakdown of law & order reached a climax on Independence Day on 15th August 1947. Operations were hampered by a lack of fuel, water & stores which unobtainable at either end often necessitated a diversion to more peaceful ports to replenish.

An estimated 200,000 people were carried as refugees on the BI ships at this time. This was a considerable and humane feat now largely forgotten. By February 1948 most of the BI fleet was back on station.

The whole episode seems to have been regarded as a huge embarrassment by the Governments, and few records remain. Ship’s staff often working in appalling conditions, said to be worse than the Singapore & Burma evacuations of 1942 & typically for the British merchant marine, received no official thanks.

Service in the Gulf

Dumra served without incident in the Gulf. When it became politically correct, an Indian partner was introduced to the trade & she was bare boat chartered. Her legal ownership passed to P&O SN Co on the 19th of April 1973. She was eventually scrapped at Bombay by Ghaziram Gokulchand & Co commencing in February 1979.

Her sisters were Dwarka (the longest lived so probably the best known), Dara and Daressa.

Dwarka was also the subject of a short film of one of her last voyages, like most old films, occasional shown on TV.
For further information on Dumra and her sister ships visit the BI site.

About The British India Steam Navigation Company

During the first half of the 20th century this was the largest fleet under the British flag. It had grown out of a business formed in 1847 at Cossipore, by a pair of Scots from Campbeltown, William Mackinnon & Robert Mackenzie who had been quick to exploit the advantages of a new type of steam engine technology.

They had developed wide trading interests, BI being what we would now call one of their group activities. The company, under Lord Inchcape was on the 1st October 1914 amalgamated with & was gradually absorbed by its more vigorous partner, P & O., the process completing in 1971.

I am not sure I would agree that P&O was more vigorous than BI, better known perhaps, which was a marketing decision, otherwise excellent“, RKJ.

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Gordon Frickers © updated 18.12.2021

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