A Glimpse into the State-Of-The-Art Railways & Fire Fighting Systems of the Nizams

The Asaf Jah dynasty ruled Hyderabad state from 1724 to 1948. The state had its own army, airline, telecommunications system, postal system, railway network, currency, and radio broadcasting service. In addition, the Nizams introduced the Nizam's Guaranteed State Railway, and even a fire engine and fire tending vehicle.

The Asaf Jah dynasty ruled Hyderabad state from 1724 to 1948. The state had its own army, airline, telecommunications system, postal system, railway network, currency, and radio broadcasting service. In addition, the Nizams introduced the Nizam’s Guaranteed State Railway, and even a fire engine and fire tending vehicle.

The Nizams of the Asaf Jah dynasty ruled Hyderabad state from 1724, right up to 1948, when the state finally joined the Indian Union. The Nizam-ul-Mulk, meaning Administrator of the Realm, was the title given to the monarch, who was generally called the Nizam. The erstwhile Hyderabad state is now divided between Andhra, Telangana, Karnataka, and the Marathwada region of Maharashtra.

Mir Qamar-ud-din-Siddiqi was the Viceroy of the Deccan under the Mughal Empire. After the death of Aurangzeb, he intermittently ruled the Deccan region.

Asaf Jah I, Nizam of Hyderabad
Asaf Jah I, Nizam of Hyderabad
Source: Wikipedia

In 1724, when the Mughal control collapsed, he declared himself independent, giving birth to a dynasty that prosperously ruled the people of the region.

In 1947, at the time of partition of India and Pakistan, all the little princely states in the country were given the option of either acceding to India or to Pakistan. At that point, Hyderabad was the largest princely state in the heart of India and the Nizam decided to remain independent.

“Hyderabad state was extremely prosperous during the reign of the Asaf Jah dynasty. With each of the seven Nizams doing his best to improve facilities for the people of the state, it was one of those regions where the people were happy with their monarchs. Hyderabad State had its own army, airline, telecommunications system, railway network, postal system, currency, and radio broadcasting service,” says Ms Anuradha Reddy, the INTACH convenor of Andhra and Telangana states.

A little after 1850, the British decided to set up the railways in India, not only to connect the various port cities to one another but also to ferry their army to various parts of the region, as and when the Indians revolted against them. The first train journey from Bombay to Thane took place in 1853, and after that the railway network only increased.

As the rail routes kept expanding, the British found it necessary to connect the port cities with the princely states, and that is when the first proposal for a railway link into the Nizam’s territory was sent to Nasir ad-Dowlah Fakhundah Ali, Asaf Jah IV. However, it was during the reign of Mahbub Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VI that this link was realised. It was finally taken ahead and improved by Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII.

Though the initial proposal came from the British, the Nizams owned their own railway system in the state of Hyderabad, much to the dismay of the British Empire.

A locomotive at the Secunderabad Station (circa 1928)
A locomotive at the Secunderabad Station (circa 1928)
Source: Wikimedia 

In 1873, the Nizam’s Guaranteed State Railway Company (NGSR) was set up in London, with a major share being held by the Nizam himself. The first railway line was built in 1874, between Secunderabad junction and Wadi. Over time, the NGSR built more and more rail lines and tried to connect every part of Hyderabad state by rail.

The Asaf Jahis surely thought ahead of their times. The railway network is one of the legacies that they left behind. The local MMTS (Multi-Modal Transport System) service today, which ferries passengers between the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, still uses these tracks and stations.

The seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Ali Jah VII, realised the importance of modern technology in fighting fire.

In his endeavour to improve various facilities in Hyderabad, he invested in the first fire engine, the Morris, built by John Morris and Sons Ltd. of Salford, Manchester, in 1914.

Of the numerous fire engines built by this company, only two are still in existence. What the Nizam owned is now the prized possession of the National Rail Museum in New Delhi. It is still intact, with all the original parts, and in working condition. The other one is preserved by the Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust, London; however, it had to have the tyres replaced in 1929.

“For many years after its purchase, the Morris fire engine was in active service in the Lallaguda Carriage and Wagon Workshops at Secundrabad. It was used to put out fires in railway equipment and also used by the Municipal Fire Station to subdue fires in various parts of the city,” adds Ms Anuradha Reddy.

John Morris is a 500 gallon water-cooled 4-cylinder motor fire engine of 80 HP make. It bears a gear box of 4 forward speeds and 1 reverse speed and the transmission consists of chain drive from gear box to each of the rear wheels separately. The fire engine can attain a top speed of 40 miles per hour and holds firefighting equipment that can deliver 500 gallons of water per minute.

John Morris is the only vehicle in the world fitted with the original Shrewsbury and Challinner solid tyres and still retains all the original parts.

fire engine
‘John Morris’ Fire Engine

In 1942, when the first fire tender vehicle with a ladder was made, the Nizam was one of the first to purchase it. This fire tender vehicle was built by the Merry Weather & Sons Company, London. It was basically built to rescue people trapped in high rise buildings. The manually driven vehicle has a 50 foot high ladder, with two large detachable wheels.

“These two fire service vehicles owned by the Nizam became a part of the Nizam’s Guaranteed State Railway, and later the Nizam’s State Railway, because only the railways had the infrastructure to maintain these vehicles,” continues Ms. Reddy.

In 1960, the fire engine was retired from active service and in 1975 it was chosen as a prized exhibit of the National Rail Museum. The vehicle is a regular feature at most vintage car rallies in New Delhi.

Fire tender vehicle
Fire tender vehicle built by the Merry Weather & Sons Company, London

The fire tender vehicle, which bears the registration number APT 847, was functional with the Fire and Emergency Service Department of the Andhra Pradesh government till 1988, when it had to be retired from active service. In 2009, it was donated to the Salarjung Museum and presently it is displayed right in front of the museum.

The Nizams did indeed leave behind a lot, for not only the people of the state of Hyderabad, but also for the people of India and the world to cherish.

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About the author: Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveler, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.
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