The Harbour That Gave the Name 'Bombay' to Mumbai

August 5,2008

Pictures by: Deepak D’Souza

Mumbai harbour has been the gateway to the world for commerce and travel since the British took control of the island city from the Portuguese in 1660s. However, the group of seven islands acquired the name ‘Bombay’ from the Portuguese, the first Europeans to set their foot on these islands.

In 1508, the Portuguese explorer and trader, Francis Almeida’s ship sailed into the deep natural harbour of the island. Being impressed by favourable geographical and oceanographic conditions, the Portuguese called it Bom Bahia (Good Bay). Thus, the city of ‘Bombay’ got its name from this natural harobour.

The harbour and the city of Mumbai acquired its international status since the British established their settlement during the last quarter of the seventeenth century.

Mumbai is a natural harbour with three enclosed wet docks: The Princess Dock built in the year 1885, the Victoria Dock (1891) and the Alexandra Dock (Indira Dock) which was completed in 1914. These docks handle the cargo meant for export and imported goods from abroad.

Mazgaon Dock is a dry dock attached to the Mumbai harbour. The activities at the Mazgaon Dock include ship-building, repairs to ships and fabrication of off-shore structures. The yard has a capability to build warships, submarines and merchant ships. It also constructs Off-shore Patrol Vessels for the Indian Coast Guard. These are multipurpose ships meant for patrolling, policing and search and rescue operations in the Exclusive Economic Zone of India. Besides these, the Mazgaon Dock also fabricates off-shore platforms and jack up rigs for oil exploration.

The small community of the Parsis had played an important role in the development of the city of Mumbai in general and the shipping industry in particular. One of the Parsi families, the Wadias was instrumental in developing the docks at Mumbai. Realizing the enterprise and integrity of the Wadias, the British had persuaded them to move from Surat to Mumbai.

The pioneer ship-builder of the Parsi family, Lovji Nusserwanji Wadia was well-known among the foreign traders for his high standard and fine workmanship in ship building. The British East India Company secured the services of Lovji for building docks and ships in Mumbai in 1736. The Mumbai dry dock, the first dry dock in Asia, was built by Lovji and his brother Sorabji in 1750.

Lovji Nusserwanji Wadia has been called the ‘Father of the shipping industry in Mumbai’. After his death in 1774, his sons Maneckji and Bomanji continued the tradition of their father.

Seven generations of Wadia master ship-builders have constructed ships in Mumbai that have plied the seven seas of the world. Between 1735 and 1863, the Wadia Master Ship-builders constructed 170 war-ships for the East India Company, 34 battle-ships for the British Navy, 87 merchant vessels for private firms, and three vessels for the Queen of Muscat.

The ‘Star Spangled Banner’, the national anthem of the United States, was written in 1812 on a Wadia built British Navy ship, the ‘HMS Minden’.

In order to promote shipping activities in the Mumbai harbour, the British established the Bombay Port Trust in 1870. In 1872, Jamshedji Wadia, a Parsi master ship-builder constructed the "Cornwallis", a frigate with 50 guns for the East India Company, a success which led to several orders from the British Navy.

The historical island of Elephanta is one of the six islands that lie in the Mumbai harbour. Other islands include Butcher Island (Jawahar Dweep), Cross Island, Oyster Rock, Middle Ground and Salsette Island. Jawaharlal Nehru Port and Navi Mumbai are situated to the east of the Mumbai harbour on the mainland.

The Gateway of India facing the sea with the famous Taj Mahal Hotel in the background is one of the important landmarks of the city of Mumbai. It is a tourist attraction for both foreign and India tourists. A number of tourists make it a point to take a round of the harbour in launches and other mechanized boats.

The Mumbai harbour is also the home for a number of exquisite migratory sea-birds which is an added attraction to the tourists.

Presently, Mumbai is one of the busiest harbours on the west coast of India. It is also the headquarters of the Western Naval Command of Indian Navy.

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Dr Eugene D’Souza, Mumbai
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Comment on this article

  • Patti Brandt, USA

    Sat, Aug 09 2008

    I truly enjoyed this article about , not previously knowing the history of Mumbai Harbour. The photographs are very nice. Thanks for educating me.

  • Mr Augustine Daniel DSouza, Udupi/Vasai Virar/STATE OF KUWAIT

    Wed, Aug 06 2008

    Thanks Dr. Eugene DSouza for your beautiful photographs of BOMBAY

  • Ronald Prabhu, Mangalore

    Wed, Aug 06 2008

    Even though Bombay has been changed to Mumbai - people continue to use the name Bombay. It is unfortunate a few politicians get to do what they think is right. All the names should be changed right back to what they were. Chennai > Madras, Kolkatta > Calcutta and Bengaluru to Bangalore.

  • Santosh , Kulshekar

    Wed, Aug 06 2008

    Thanks Eugene your articlel indeed gives a glance in History as well as it shows how our past has been fruitful in bringing up the nation. Thank you

  • Charles D'Mello, Pangala

    Tue, Aug 05 2008

    It is sad that "Bombay" had been named "Mumbai" without any history. It is not a simple task to change the name of a city. It involves billions of rupees to change all the boards of establishments, Stations, Government offices and also the official papers etc. etc But who cares??!!!

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