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The Last of the Indian Troopships, HM Indian Troopship Malabar, 1881

Oil on canvas by Charles Parsons Knight (1829-1897), 1881.

The 'Malabar' was one of five purpose-built troopships paid for by the Indian Government and launched in 1866. Although built in different yards, the 'Malabar' and her sister-ships, the 'Crocodile', 'Euphrates', 'Jumna' and 'Serapis', were all of the same design, tonnage and dimensions. The five vessels were each distinguished by a different coloured riband around the hull, which, in the case of the 'Malabar' was black, and all carried the 'Star of India' on their bows. Each ship could transport a full battalion of infantry with its married families, or about 1,200 people.

The 'Malabar' initially ran from the Isthmus of Suez in north-eastern Egypt to Bombay but, when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, she undertook the round trip from Portsmouth to Bombay and back again in 70 days. She remained in service longer than any of her sisters and was only finally withdrawn in 1897 when she became a base ship at Bermuda. Renamed 'Terror' in 1901, she was placed on the disposal list in 1914 and sold in 1918.

Familiar to all those who travelled out to India in the late nineteenth century, the 'Malabar' and the 'Jumna' were in the thoughts of soldiers keen to get home in Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'Troopin' (our army in the east)':-

'The Malabar's in 'arbour with the Jumner at 'er tail,
An' the time-expired's waitin' of 'is orders for to sail.
Ho! the weary waitin' when on Khyber 'ills we lay,
But the time-expired's waitin' of 'is orders 'ome to-day.

NAM Accession Number

NAM. 1965-05-73-1


National Army Museum, Out of Copyright


National Army Museum Sandhurst, Indian Army Memorial Room

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