The first Diana was constructed at Messrs Kyds & Co. Dockyard in Kidderpore, near Calcutta. Launched on 12 July 1823, it was the first steamer to be built in India and the first steamer to be used to ferry passengers there. As it was assembled right after the invention of steam navigation, it was also among the first steamers to be used for warfare by the British. Diana was involved in the Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) during which it was sent to the Irrawaddy River in 1825. Following the end of the war, the Diana saw service in the Tenasserim region of Burma before eventually being sent back to Calcutta in 1835 to be broken up. The second Diana was built by J. A. Currie & Co. at Sulkea, near Calcutta. Launched in October 1836, the new Diana arrived in Singapore on 2 March 1837. The history of the latter Diana is closely linked to its shipmaster, Captain Samuel Congalton, who was instrumental in the fight against rampant piracy in the waters off Singapore during the 1830s.
In June 1822, a pair of 16-horsepower engines was brought to Calcutta. They were equipped with a copper boiler and other requisites for a fast vessel of about 110 tons fitted with an English oak frame. The ship was offered up for sale to the government of India for Rs 65,000. However, they declined the offer, so the ship was bought over by a group of merchants instead. After replacing its English oak frame with teak at a cost of Rs 10,000, the ship was named Diana and launched on 12 July 1823 at Kyds Dock, Kidderpore. Shortly before the Anglo-Burmese War, the British government on April 1824 purchased the ship for Rs 80,000. It had a tonnage of 160 and a speed of five knots. It became one of the first steam vessels to participate in warfare. Diana continued its passage down the ports along the Tenasserim coast during the southwest monsoon in the days leading to the war. Though it was not built to be a sea-going ship, these successful excursions found the ship to be sea-worthy.
Diana was first used to ferry passengers in India in 1823. In 1825, the vessel was sent 500 miles up along the Irrawaddy River during the Anglo-Burmese War. Although Diana was basically a 32-horsepower river paddle steamer, it could tow a men-of-war vessel up the Irrawaddy River. During the war, Diana once chased a fleet of oar-driven Burmese imperial boats and destroyed them with its guns.
Following the end of the war, Diana was sent to the Burmese city of Moulmein for alterations and repairs before being deployed off the Tenasserim coast of Burma until 1831, when it was sent back to Calcutta for a complete overhaul. Despite calls for the vessel to be subsequently stationed in the Singapore and Malacca Straits, Diana returned to service in the Tenasserim region before eventually being sent back to Calcutta in 1835 to be broken up. The engines of the Diana were salvaged and fitted into a new vessel of the same name and dimensions that was built by J. A. Currie & Co. at Sulkea, near Calcutta. The new vessel was launched in October 1836 and arrived in Singapore on 2 March 1837. The vessel was advertised for sale by Johnston & Co. and eventually came under the care of Captain Samuel Congalton of the East India Company. Diana carried the Captain, two European officers and thirty Malays as crew. Besides policing against pirates, Diana also took the Recorder, who was the maker and keeper of official records, on a survey around the waters off Singapore.
Encounter with the pirates
In Charles Buckley’s book An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, the author recounted Diana’s first encounter with pirates in 1837 where it was aided by a sailing vessel, HMS Wolf. Pirates in six large prahus were attacking a Chinese junk when the steamer approached. Thinking that it was a sailing ship on fire and thus an easy prey, they turned to fire at it. Much to their horror, the Diana sailed against the wind and continued to advance towards them before firing at each of their prahu.
Captain Congalton was born in Leith on 23 March 1796. His love for adventure and the sea was evident since his youth. His first attempt to run away in a collier failed when his brother found and brought him back. However, Congalton succeeded in his second attempt when he secured a position as a gunner on a ship bound for India. In Calcutta, the ship that he was in was sold off, so he boarded a country ship for the Straits Settlements and eventually arrived in Penang.
Congalton was known to be a man of high principles who was blunt and honest in his ways. He was most remembered for his efforts in eradicating piracy in the Straits. When the East India Company's steamer Hooghly arrived in Singapore on 2 January 1846 to relieve Diana, Congalton declined the command of the larger steamer and chose to remain in the Straits. His salary was advanced to Rs 500 from Rs 350. In all, he dedicated 28-and-a-half years of service to the company, which included political missions to the native states.
Congalton worked with J. T. Thompson to create a chart of the Singapore Straits. Those who knew him spoke highly of him. He paved the way for future colonial administrators like Sir James Brooke and Sir Henry Keppel to continue the battle in suppressing piracy. Congalton proved to be a resourceful and dedicated captain who knew the pirates's haunts. Congalton had a strong work ethic; he was seldom absent from work, or on sick or personal leave until he was struck down with an illness several months before his death. He died in Penang in April 1850. Many people attended his funeral, and the flags were hoisted at half-mast.
John Crawfurd was the first Resident to travel up river by the steamer. In his journal, he recalled that a large crowd turned up to watch the Diana depart. The vessel had such an excellent record during the Burmese war that it was designated for his personal use. James Meldrum, who was known as Dato Meldrum of Johore, arrived in Singapore from Calcutta on a steamer called Eliza Penelope on 27 May 1848. It was actually the Diana under a new name. The other passenger of the Eliza Penelope was E. A. Blundell, who had been appointed as Resident Councillor of Malacca. On 1 June 1848, the steamer transported Blundell from Calcutta to Singapore, before leaving for Malacca for his swearing-in ceremony.
Marsita Omar and Kartini Saparudin
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The information in this article is valid as at 2007 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.