The International Steam Pages

Irrawaddy Steamers, 2005 - 2007

If you are looking for up-to-date information on River Steamers you are in the wrong place and I don't believe there are any true Irrawaddy Steamers in one piece, let alone operating today. The nearest you can get is the MV Pandaw - Yarrow built in 1947 and a lovely classic colonial vessel, but diesel powered from the start - see Definitely a step up from the 1995 Chinese ferry we used on the upper part of the river in 2006. These days the epithet is best reserved for the steam engines in the rice mills of Burma's Irrawaddy Division. I have already shown a couple of these in my report of the Last Pilgrimage. This page highlights the variety of steam power to be seen in the southern part of the Division, the pictures were taken in 2005 and 2006 - we did not go to this area on our 2007 trip. Of course the 2008 cyclone devastated this area, I originally feared that many of the mills featured would have been destroyed and many of the lovely people in them killed or injured. We revisited Bogalay in late 2009 I now know that while there was a lot of damage to property in the towns and villages with rice mills, the majority of the enormous number of casualties came among those who lived along the sea shore and in open areas.

[I wrote this before I knew of the continued existence of another boat also built at Yarrow in 1947. As a friend in Yangon told me subsequently:
"There is only one surviving and working steam powered paddler and that is the Myat-yadanar formerly called the Mingyi and built by Yarrow of Glasgow in 1947 for the IFC and subsequently taken over by the IWT on the IFC's nationalisation in 1948 which was also the year of delivery. This vessel was well preserved as it was used only by the then Party Chairman. It was then laid up at Sinmalike Dockyard until around 1998 when it was bought by U Khin Maung Maung of Pagan. The hull was re-plated and steam power restored. The vessel currently sits at Pagan but is rarely used as she runs on FO which is very expensive and the consumption is incredible. Unfortunately the present owner has run out of cash and done the ship up in a rather gaudy manner."
I believe he has now sold on the ship (it has been renamed Empress Manisandar) and while the steam engines survive intact and near serviceable, the ship also has at least one diesel engine. It has not moved under its own power for some time.]

The two largest suppliers of engines to Burma are Tangye and Marshall. This is one of the oldest Tangyes we have ever seen, unfortunately no serial number is discernible, the "+" on the valve chest cover is very distinctive and it has a Tangye governor:

Running the clock forward, this standard 12" engine carries the number 12387 which is one of the highest we have seen.

This is about as small as it gets for a Marshall:

This is a typical larger Burmese Marshall which has lost one eccentric and its Hartnell governor:

Whereas this one is more or less intact:

The following three builders are also well represented. Firstly Robey with both medium (1903 vintage) and large sized (vintage 1910, probably exported second hand) examples:

Old Ruston Proctor engines have a certain elegance, I am not sure why this one is missing the 'Proctor':

About half the engines from T. Shore of Stoke are so marked, the others, like this, tend to be badged for the agents Cowies of Glasgow:

There follow a number of other engines whose builders are known. This is a small Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies engine which is from a former portable:

This is an old Davey Paxman:

Moving north of the border we have this from Douglas and Grant (it is almost the same as the first rice mill steam engine I ever saw):

There are a number of 'girder engines' whose manufacturer is unknown because they carry only agents names such as this one for 'Garrett and Taylor', I now suspect that this is a Tangye in disguise but I have to go back and look closely.

The Burmese use the generic term "MacDonald Engine" to describe a common type of old engine (only one of which we have seen with such a name). Most likely if there is any name at all on the engine it will that of an agent, who made these (and how many manufacturers are represented) is a mystery. This first engine bears no marks at all:

A common name is "Alexander Young, Engineers, London and Glasgow", other names have a local flavour:

To break the British monopoly, there are some American engines, this Struthers, Wells is one:

This small (French) engine carries "Societé Centrale Pantin":

These are the individual pages from the 2007 trip:

Read more about our travels in:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson