Wadias: Built Oldest Surviving UK Warship

India has been shamed in front of the world, thanks to crumbling bridges and cracking ceilings at the Common Wealth village. But, about 200 years ago the same Indian hands built for the British empire a warship which still stands tall.

By Ashish Vashi / Times News Network

The oldest surviving British warship — HMS Trincomalee— was built by Surti boat builders, the Wadia family, in Mumbai.

Earlier this week, the warship was incorporated into the new National Museum of the Royal Navy of

United Kingdom. Built in 1817, HMS Trincomalee was brought to Hartlepool in 1987, where it took more than 10 years to restore it. It is now the main attraction at Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience and attracts 54,000 visitors a year.

"In 1816, work began on HMS Trincomalee at the Wadia Shipyards at Bombay, near the teak forests of Malabar. Master shipbuilder Jamsetjee Bomanjee Waed dia supervised the construction — one of 14 ships he would build for the Royal Navy during his life. In accordance with Zoroastrian tradition, an engraved silver nail was hammered into the keel to ensure the vessel’s wellbeing. Little did they know how well it would work," according to details provided by the HMS Trincomalee Trust.

The ship was built at the cost of £23,000. The Wadia family migrated from Surat at the behest of the East India Company as it wanted to develop Bombay as its main business hub. If Mumbai emerged as a strategic port for the British, much of the credit goes to Wadia family. Lowjee Nusserwanjee Wadia, a skilled ship builder from Surat, was roped in for the assignment and was made master shipbuilder of Bombay in 1736.

Along with his brother Sorabji, Lowjee built India’s first dry dock at Mumbai in 1750. "In 1735, master builder Lowjee Nassawanjee Wadia came over from Surat and founded this government dockyard. He was made a master shipbuilder and ever since that date the appointment has been in the Wadia family, descending regularly from father to son. The salary is Rs 700 a month besides perquisites," reads one historical account.

  • rustom jamasji

    Parsis to the rescue again…!! One wonders if the Govt would ever be interested in the real minority in contrast to the ‘claimed minorities’ that have the numbers to overthrow the govts…
    In any case I would be interested in the note ‘In accordance with Zoroastrian tradition, an engraved silver nail was hammered into the keel to ensure the vessel’s wellbeing. Little did they know how well it would work,” according to details provided by the HMS Trincomalee Trust.’

    If someone can highlight the relevance of the zoroastrian traditionan engraved silver nail…..

  • Delnavaz

    Thanks Parsi Khabar for this great story. The Wadia family was truly amazing. They were great entrepreneurs, yet humble, benevolent & God fearing.
    As posted by RJ, even I want to know the relevance of the Zoroastrian tradition……- “an engraved silver nail was hammered into the keel to ensure the vessel’s wellbeing”


  • zubinwadia

    Did some quick research and yes, it is a Parsi ceremony and it seems like the Wadia’s did it for every major ship they built whether the Brits found it ‘suspicious’ or not 🙂 Here’s an excerpt from the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register of British India:


    Driving The Silver Nail.—Bombay.

    The ceremony of driving the silver nail into the keel of the new 80-gun ship, took place, in the presence of the Honorable the Governor, His Excellency the Naval Commander-in-Chief, the Superintendent of the H. C. Marine, and their respective suites. They were received by the builders in their robes of ceremony, and a new hammer being presented to the Honorable the Governor, he gave the first stroke and was followed by the Admiral and Superintendent, and the final stroke having been given by our venerable Architect, Jamsetjee liomanjee, the party separated. The ceremony of driving the silver nail is as follows : when the keel is laid, the stern post up, and the stem ready to be fixed, the ceremony is performed. The day being appointed, the stem is suspended ready to be put in the mortice, the parties attend, the owner with his friends, and sometimes the Governor and a party of ladies are invited, they are received in the dock-yard by the builders in their robes of ceremony, and a Farsee priest attends who has the nail in his possession, which he constantly keeps holding over a pot of frankincense. The nail is six or seven inches in length and is in value about 10 or 15 Rupees: a certain quantity of sugar, sweetmeats and rose water having been provided for the occasion, the owner of the ship, preceded by the builders, approach the keel and the ceremony begins by an invocation (Sulec)—from the Bunder Lascars, or, perhaps, from a few Arabs, who volunteer on the occasion—to God and Mahomed ; some verses from the Koran are also recited. The nail is then produced with a blessing from the Parsee priest, is put into the hole and driven down to the head by the hand, perhaps, of some fair lady ; a piece of wood is put on the nail, the stem is put into its mortice and firmly secured, when another invocation from the Lascars and crowd, announces the stem to be fixed. The owner, the governor, or some lady, as may have been previously agreed on, now presents the shawls, six in number, to the builders, by putting them over their necks. A sprinkling of rose water next is given to all the party, and the most distinguished of the visitors arc marked on the forehead with a little red paint; the sugar and sweetmeats are distributed to the people of the yard ; the party separate amidst compliments and congratulations ; and the remainder of the day is enjoyed as a holiday by everybody concerned.


    (This ceremony was done on two of the greatest ships built by the Wadia family: HMS Minden and the HMS Trincomalee)

    The Wadia family, in 1736, gave birth to modern entrepreneurship to India, by moving to Bombay, negotiating contracts with the Brits and opening up new avenues of trade, technology exchange and infrastructure modernization in India.

  • Blair Southerden

    One error in the original story deserves correction. HMS Trincomalee is not the oldest surviving ship in Britain, HMS Victory is some fifty years older. But this frigate is the oldest surviving ship still afloat in Britain, and I believe the second oldest in the world still afloat. The Victory which is in Portsmouth dockyard is in a dry dock.