The life and times on Dufferin

The life and times on Dufferin

While no ship lasts forever, it can exist in the hearts of those who were aboard. Like the life of the famous ship Dufferin, which no longer lives on in steel and timbre, but lives on in the memories of the cadets who served and trained aboard the ship. Mumbai-based Kapildev Behl, an ex-cadet, has celebrated the ship as a life-changing institution that claimed many lives even after it ceased to exist. In a newly launched book on the history of Dufferin, an alumnus of the 1969-71 batch has showcased the memories of 40-odd Indian sailors who cherished the lessons learned onboard.

He plans to add memories of former cadets from other nationalities in the second edition.

Dufferin is a relatively well-known story, as personal narratives from former cadets are available online. But Behl has devotedly stitched together the scattered versions. The 300-page patchwork of memoirs, published by the Innersearch Foundation, is a labor of love for the alma mater. It looks like a self-published book could do better with tighter copy editing, and safer marketing and distribution. But, it is a good resource on the contribution of a great ship to the maritime industry of India.

The Dufferin was built in 1904 in Barrow-in-Furness, England. It was taken over by the Government of India for troopship duties between Burma, Malaya, Hong Kong and Africa. photos/

Behl designed the training institute, the first of its kind in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, which inspired many illustrious careers – Admirals, Chiefs of Naval Staff, Maritime Advisers and Merchant Marines. The book is full of examples of naval officers who showed exemplary courage in times of crisis. The cadets (and their families) credit Dufferin with his rare maritime understanding and values ​​education, which equipped sailors for higher achievements in life.

Behl’s identification with Dufferin runs deep; This is reflected in the chapters when Dufferin speaks in the first person. He has also turned some real-life incidents into conversations with batch-mates. “It is an attempt to recreate a record of life aboard ship, by weaving everyday rhythms into a story … and hopefully, into a moving emotional and inspirational narrative. I trust that the memories that come to the surface, They impress the reader…”

Dufferin’s history is a brief account of the ship’s known milestones – built in England in 1904, named after the Viceroy of India, strong role played in the Royal Navy as a troopship until 1925, in a conversion is included. Training ship (1927 to 1972) and cremated at Darukhana Ship Breaking Yard, Mumbai in 1976. Indian Navy and Shipping Industry. Dufferin’s momentous life runs parallel to smaller victories such as the establishment of India’s first Merchant Marine Committee (1923), the construction of India’s first ship Jal Usha (1948), and the enactment of the Merchant Shipping Act (1958), which provided for the first time For the registration of what may be called an Indian ship.

Interestingly, training at Dufferin’s facility was not an easy process. This came about after much persuasion from a reluctant foreign power. Sir PS Sivaswami Iyer’s motion in the Central Legislative Assembly (1922) called for the formation of a Merchant Marine Committee to look into all aspects of the promotion of Indian shipping. It stated the need for “a maritime college in Indian waters”. Later, the Indian Mercantile Marine Committee recommended the establishment of a training school for deck and engine-room staff and the conversion of the Royal Indian Marine Troopship Dufferin for the purpose. While Dufferin was eventually permitted as a training platform, the British had previously alleged that “the Indian youth had no aptitude for a maritime career”; That is why the annual admission was restricted to 30 boys only. Behl says: “Nothing could be further from the truth and the allegation was almost blasphemous. The authorities conveniently overlooked the fact that by the end of World War I, some 3,400 Indian sailors had given their lives defending the independence of the Empire.” 77 boys appeared for the first Dufferin entrance examination, which only proved that Indians were keen enough for the mentally-physically challenging profession, waiting for the British to leave and make room for the domestic merchant marine.

As Behl refers to archaeological and historical texts, the Dufferin has become a tool to appreciate India’s maritime tradition from around 2500–1700 BCE. For example, the Administrative History of India (1834 to 1947) honors Dufferin’s role in the blockade of the Makran Coast. Blockade duty was an extremely hot and unpleasant one as the officers had to wear the number 10 uniform all day, regardless of the nature or temperature of the work. For dinner the mess kit was worn with a stiff shirt. Another episode adds a new dimension to Dufferin’s resilience: the ship’s crew was very skilled at landing troops and mules on open beaches using lifeboats that had gear and oars for the purpose. As a result of daily practice, Dufferin has been known to board 100 mules in a swift operation of half an hour. Behl’s book explains, “The mules were trained to jump off the boat and back to the boat on the beach.”

The Mumbai-connect is a major chapter of Dufferin. The ship was moored at Mazagon Pier from where the cadets boarded/disembarked the ship. As the book rightly states, the strategic jetty ceased to exist after Dufferin was decommissioned. It has deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and upkeep. Dufferin also had a strong link with the Prince of Wales Seaman’s Club (located close to the dock) where many Dufferin cadets stayed during exams and sign-on.

The April 1944 Bombay Dock explosion shook Dufferin physically as well. That fateful day was a Friday and an examination was going on. As the vessel vibrated, the ink bottles turned over. Some cadets, who were not sure of their performance, tried to spill ink on the written sheet so that their answers would be blank. But the teachers immediately identified the culprits.

Behl also packs the book with light and serious exchanges that reflect the texture of life at sea—the cadets’ breakfast gossip, shore politics, clean-ship duties, swimming and signal test clearances, boxing spectacles, Weekly disembarkation at the Gateway of India, film screening nights on the quarterdeck, ragging culture and Court of Honor unofficial trials. The world inside the ship inspires respect for the regime. Dufferin’s sea experience became a national resource, not only giving the trainees a “feel for ocean waves and wind velocities”, but also adding to India’s maritime prowess. The author regrets that Dufferin could not be preserved as a museum based on the beach. According to the magazine of The Company of Master Mariners of India, the conversion of the Dufferin into a museum was economically unviable, which meant that the valuable asset could not find a later life.

Behl says Dufferin inspired him to work tirelessly throughout his life, as reflected in his current works. He wrote this book during the lockdown of 2020. “For me, the pandemic has demonstrated, without doubt, that the merchant marine is an essential service and seafarers remain its most essential element,”
completing the timeless equation between mankind and the sea,” says Behl, who credits Dufferin for much of his energy at age 71.

In 2016, Bahl survived a near-death experience; He was paralyzed and only one author had little hope of somehow getting the book written. But, to his own surprise, he regained his mobility and not only finished the book, but continues to wear many hats today. He is the President of the Maritime Mumbai Museum Society, President of the Nautical Institute of India; He is on the advisory body of the Center of Excellence in Maritime Studies, University of Mumbai, besides being the director of the Center for Climate and Social Impacts Research. He is also the president of the Dufferin Ex-Cadets Association, and heads the umbrella body of ex-cadets of two other training ships – Rajendra and Chanakya. He has been active in several reunions of ex-cadets.

Dufferin’s jubilee years have been marked by the presence of Prime Ministers of India – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru presided over the 1952 Silver Jubilee celebrations; Late Morarji Desai presided over the Golden Jubilee in 1977.

Behl likes to plan far ahead. Currently, she is setting the pace and the stage for the 100th anniversary of the Dufferin training ship in 2027. He says: “I know that five years from now; But you know time flies, just like aboard the Dufferin!”

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of subtext. You can contact him at



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