When the Philatelist meets the Rail Enthusiast: 19th century stamps on the Indian Railways

Following the development of Indian Railways through the eyes of a philatelist.

First day cover on the occasion of hundred years of railways in the Doon ValleyHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

For more than a century after the start of the railways in India, the main prime movers for the trains were steam powered locomotives.The engine for the first steam locomotive was brought from England in 1851. From then on, the number of steam locomotives grew at a phenomenal rate and at the height of the steam era in the early 1960s, more than 10,000 steam locomotives operated on the Indian Railways.

United Nations Postal Administration stamp featuring the Darjeeling Himalayan RailwayOriginal Source: United Nations Postal Administration's 2021 WORLD HERITAGE – Bridges, Waterways, & Railways

On 25th August 2021, the United Nations Postal Administration unveiled a stamp series featuring the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in India. The stamp on DHR features a steam locomotive at the “Ghum” station - which is at the highest altitude in the route commanding a fascinating panorama of the Himalayan mountain range.

A valuable philatelic collector’s item, this is accompanied by stamps on select Bridges, Waterways, & Railways that have World Heritage Site status. The stamp series was designed by Sergio Baradat of the United Nations Postal Administration.

Follow this exhibit to learn more about the Indian Railways, its highlights, and commemoration in postal history.

A stamp showing one of the first steam locomotives of IndiaHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

 The first two railway companies, the East Indian Railway (EIR) and the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIP) were pioneers in the development of steam locomotives in India. The first engines ordered by GIP were eight tender engines from the Vulcan foundry, a British locomotive builder, in Lancashire, U.K, in 1853.

Byculla railway stationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

On 31st October 1850, the ceremony of turning the first sod for the GIP from Bombay to Kalyan was performed by Mr. J.P. Willoughby, Chief Justice of Bombay, at a place near Sion. On 18th February 1852, the first locomotive was witnessed shunting near Byculla flats in Bombay.

The locomotive was later named 'Falkland' after Lord Falkland (1848-53). On 18th November 1852, the Company's directors, with some of their friends, traveled in the first train from Bombay to Thane. The formal inaugural run happened later on 16th April 1853.

IR centenary celebrationsHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

On the eastern side, two of the earliest engines ordered by EIR were 12-inch diameter, outside cylinder tank locomotives from Kittson, Hewitson and Thomson of Leeds in 1853. Of these two, the “Express” (the left one on the stamp) survives even today.

This locomotive was displayed for more than half a century in front of the Offices of the Jamalpur Locomotive Workshop and later at the Rail Museum, Howrah. It is currently at Chennai and has been restored to be in working order.

The Fairy QueenHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The sister locomotive of the Express, named “Fairy Queen” is today the world's oldest working locomotive. A stamp depicting this locomotive was released on 7th October 1996 during the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the National Rail Museum (NRM) at New Delhi.

The stamp features a second locomotive as well. This is a Ramgotty built by Anjubault of Paris in 1862 and initially working on Nalhati-Azimganj light railways. Both these locomotives can be seen at NRM even today.

First Day Cover showcasing the first Jodhpur Railway LocomotiveHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

F-734Heritage Directorate, Indian Railways

This stamp was released on 15th May 1976, featuring the first fully Indian built locomotive, F-734. After being delivered by the Ajmer workshop in 1895, this locomotive worked initially on Rajputana Malwa Railway and can be seen today at the National Rail Museum.

Kalka-Shimla Railways' KC 520 locomotiveHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

A stamp released on the 9th November 2003, on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Kalka Shimla Railway shows locomotive No. KC 520, still in working condition.

Locomotive B 777 of the DHR on another stamp issued on 16th April 1993Heritage Directorate, Indian Railways

B-777. a Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Locomotive, was featured on a stamp issued on 16th April 1993, the 140th anniversary of the Indian railways.

Centenary celebrations of the DHRHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Another stamp with the a B class locomotive was issued in 1982 on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of DHR.

Matheran Light RailwayHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Another railway system, the Matheran Light Railway, employed engines built by Orenstein and Koppel. Four such locomotives worked on this line till diesel took over.

The first of these locomotives, No. ML 738, was featured on a stamp issued on 16th April 1993.

Mayurbhanj State Railway lineHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

One such locomotive (ML-691 built in 1903) featured on a stamp issued on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of South Eastern Railway on 28th March 1987. When Mayurbhanj State Railway was converted to diesel, the four steam locomotives were transferred to Naupada-Parlakimedi Railway and were renamed PL class. Locomotive PL-691 is now exhibited outside the General Manager's office in Chennai.

Centenary celebrations of South Eastern Railway, From the collection of: Heritage Directorate, Indian Railways
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A stamp showing one of the first steam locomotives of India, From the collection of: Heritage Directorate, Indian Railways
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IR centenary celebrations, From the collection of: Heritage Directorate, Indian Railways
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The centenary of Postal TransportationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Mode of Transportations

Centenary Celebration of Postal Dept. of India. The Locomotive featured is a AWD Class or American War Design.

Credits: Story

Heritage Directorate, Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, Govt. of India & Dept. of Posts, Govt. of India

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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