City Landmarks – Karachi Drainage System


“I have found a tower from where they used to blow the siren in case of an air attack”, a friend called me on the phone

“That must be something”, I said, not knowing what awaited me there.

I drove there on a Sunday. I picked up my friend near Dow Hospital and he showed me the way. We were near KMC Football ground when he pointed to a chimney from a distance.

“It seems too narrow to have a staircase and why would they want to go up to blow the hooter”, I said suspiciously

“Obviously to make sure that the sound reaches far”, He did not like the tone of disbelief

The main gate was locked up. He went inside a near by house to inquire. He had some friends there who showed us another way. After a little jumping and climbing we were in front of a huge stone structure which was in shambles.

“This looks too grand just for blowing a hooter”, I said

“Wait till we get inside”, he insisted

“Watch your head when we get inside”, his friend warned me

But couple of plaques attracted my interest. They were installed over a small platform. We climbed up to see it from up close.

It reads on the first line: “Karachi Municipal Drainage Works Opened by His Excellency the right honorable lord Harris C.C.I.E, Governor of Bombay on December 1894”.

It also mentioned a name which is quite familiar to a Karachi Walla. James Strachan. A famous Municipal Engineer who left his mark on the landscape of Karachi in an impeccable way. Edulji Dinshaw Dispensary, Denso Hall, Merewether Tower are few of his masterpieces. There was another plaque commemorating extension of the same drainage system, however by another engineer named J. Forrest Brunton.

I did not say anything to my friend who had realized his mistake by now. We walked inside through a narrow entry. There was a cow standing in middle, blocking our way.

“We have been making some use of this place”, his friend told me

We avoided that entrance and the cow and took a detour. We entered a large compound which had a network of tunnels with heavy machinery installed at the top. We found a place to climb up on the upper part which was in desolate condition broken here and there. The roof is all gone except at the far end. There was a huge wheel installed in the middle. It looked like the underground tunnels were used to generate steam which moved the wheel which in turn played some role in the drainage system.

“So what is the chimney for?”, my friend accepted the defeat

“Let’s find out”, his friend led the way towards it

There was a narrow gully leading to the chimney. We walked towards it carefully stepping on the bricks which have fallen from the roof. We reached the chimney which had a tiny hole as an entry, probably connected with the tunnels ages ago.

“It could have been used to release the used steam”, his friends connected the dots

Ardeshir Cowasjee, in his columns for Dawn has touched upon the topic of Cholera outbreaks in the city which ravaged the city towards the end of nineteenth century. Therefore Karachi Municipality assigned James Strachan to install a drainage system which was later extended to install ejector-pumps which facilitated the gravity flow from all over the town.

So probably it is that drainage system. The pumps were imported from Fraser and Chalmers from England. The system was inspired by a similar model implemented successfully in Rangoon. Isaac Shone, who was a professor of Town-sewage drainage has documented his exchange with Karachi Municipality in his book on “The evolution of greater Britain’s antiseptic house & town sewage-drainage systems of the twentieth century and after”

“The preliminary drawings, relating to the first Karachi installation were taken in hand in 1890, but the works, which included six separate ejector stations, were not completed till the beginning of 1895, the Engineer being Mr. James Strachan, CLE., M.Inst. C.E., who prepared an interesting paper descriptive of the works for the Institution of Civil Engineers, which was published in Vol. CXXXV. of the “Proceedings.” Mr. Strachan designed a second installation on the system before he left Karachi, but as he did not return there, his successor, Mr. James Forrest Brunton, M.Inst.C.E., designed and carried out new extension works on lines similar to those which Mr. Strachan before he left thought were suited to the growing wants of Karachi.

Mr. Brunton also prepared a paper headed ” Notes on the Working of the Shone System of Sewerage at Karachi,” which was read and discussed at the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 24th January, 1905, which appears in Vol. CLX. of the “Proceedings’* of the Institution, and which elicited highly interesting and instructive discussions and
correspondence. Mr. Strachan in his written communication commenting on the paper complimented its author as follows :
‘*Mr. Brunton was deserving of the thanks of all sanitary engineers who wished to understand hoth the practical and
the scientific aspect of the Shone System.” And the report of the introductory remarks in Mr. Strachan’s communication were especially gratifying to me personally, as they read as follows : —

Mr. James Strachan stated that the efficiency-tests which he had Mr. Straclian. caused to be made when he was the Municipal Engineer of Karachi had been very carefully conducted, and that to the best of his knowledge the results were correct. Before advising the adoption of the Shone System in Karachi he had made numerous inquiries as to its
mechanical and sanitary efficiency ; and this at a time when, as he believed, its merits for water-borne sewerage on sanitary principles were largely under-estimated, and when sanitary engineers who had no practical knowledge or experience of the working of the system alleged that the mechanical efficiencies of the ejector apparatus and their accessories were absurdly low compared with high-class pumping machinery. Then, as now, some engineers were in favour of substituting hydraulic, electric or vacuum power for town and district sectional sewerage works, adhering, however, to the Shone automatic principle. But he had believed then, and still did so, that the compressed-air method, as utilized in the Shone System, if only the works were correctly designed and properly executed and maintained, would always prove to be more economical and better adapted for the automatic and sanitary collection and ejection of sewage within flat or low-lying districts than any of the other systems named”

I believe they are speaking of the same system which is biting dust and rust now. Opposite KMC ground. Near Eid Ghah of Nishter road.



2: The evolution of greater Britain’s antiseptic house & town sewage-drainage sysems of the twentieth century and after”




















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Categories: City Landmarks

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