THOMAS FLETCHER WAGHORN1800 -1850 Mr. Waghorns Route To India "Give me your mail," he told England, "and I’ll deliver it to India in 90 days."
Waghorn entered the Royal Navy at Chatham and servedfrom 1812 until 1817 when the Navy was much reduced atthe end of the Napoleonic War. He continued in theMerchant Navy and became a pilot in the Bengal PilotService in 1820. He developed an interest in early attemptsat establishing a steamship route from England to India andthe East and in 1828 undertook investigations into a routefrom the Cape of Good Hope and then through Egypt toIndia. With the expansion of Britains empire in the East fromIndia to Australia Waghorn saw the need for fastercommunications from Britain and that the new steamshipscould bring this about.His attempts to introduce such a system with the authoritiesboth in India and Britain tell a sad tale of apathy, duplicityand betrayal.
He set up in London a business for conveying people and mails to India via Egypt, easing the way for 275 passengers in 1835, and becoming Deputy Consul in Egypt two years later.He had tremendous energy, courage, a stubborn honesty of purpose and inhis own words "I am a plain blunt fellow" - which was probably the cause ofhis falling-out with his superiors. By 1835 Waghorns service had become soefficient that the English Post Office was obliged officially to recognise it asthe fastest and safest way to send mail to India. On 7March, 1835, Waghorns Overland Route was authorised to handle theEnglish mails.
Waghorn travelled constantly from England to India and back, inspectingsteamships and rest stations. By 1835 the journey to England, for either mail orpassengers, took 90 days, involving sailing by felucca and riding donkeys with 80miles of sandy, desolate desert covered on camels or sand carts: Waghornreduced it to between 35 and 40 days. But the passengers had an extra concern that the mails took precedence; and their faster journey by horse could mean that the mails reached Suez well ahead of the passengers. Once the mails had arrived the ship would wait only a limited time for the passengers to catch up: if for some unfortunate reason they were delayed the ship left without them.
He set up a regular caravan service and built eight stoppingstations, along the 80 miles from Cairo and Suez, for changes of horsesteams and for the provision of meals for passengers. Waghorn
His friendship with the Pasha and hisservices had made the journey safeand dependable. In time, three hotelswere built to service the passengerroute. Mohammed Ali opened ahouse of agency (outpost) inSuez, Waghorn built one at Cairo andanother was built at Alexandria forreceiving the mails. By the time Waghorn left Egypt, in 1841, he had organised a service using English carriages, vans and horses to transport travellers and had placed small English steamers on the Nile and the canal of Alexandria.
Interview With Mehmet Ali in His Palace at AlexandriaFrom "Egypt And Nubia" by David Roberts (1796-1864)[Lieutenant Waghorm is seated between the two men on the far right.]Whilst in Alexandria, May 12, 1839, "says Mr. Roberts, I received from Colonel Campbell an invitationto breakfast and afterwards to accompany him to an interview with the Pasha, which had beenarranged for that day. Our party started for the Arsenal, where Mehemet Ali was ready to receive us.After passing through numerous guards we were ushered into the presence-chamber, which, fromthe window, commanded a magnificent view of the harbour. The fleet, consisting of about twentysail of the line fully equipped, the Arsenal, the dockyards, and numerous batteries- displaying apower created by his own forethought and energies, lay before us, a glorious scene. The room wasspacious and lofty, and crowded with officers in rich uniforms, many of them wearing theirdecorations. The Pasha was in simple costume, without any mark of distinction upon him whichNature had not stamped.""Colonel Campbell was busy explaining to the Pasha the enthusiastic Lieutenant Waghorns idea ofthe overland rail route to India. And from memory. Roberts made a drawing of the scene; thelithograph, though rather stiff, has historical interest. It is filled with portraits, including his own.Old Bogosh Bey, the Armenian chief minister and most trusted servant, stands behind the Pasha.Colonel Campbell, Waghorn, M. Linanr, the Venerable Dr Tattam, Mr Pell, and other Englishmen areseated on a long divan in a balconied room against a wide background of the Pashas fleet atanchor in the harbour. Roberts depicted himself, eagerly leaning forward slightly, as if to captureon his retina every possible detail not only of the Pashas face but of the entire scene. It is, if notartistic, at least a graphic tour deforce." David Roberts R.A. 1796-1864 - A Biography by KatharineSim, Quartet Books, London 1984 p.203
On November 4, 1838, a young lady in New York wroteexciting news to her sister in India. There was a newservice that promised to deliver letters from London toIndia in 90 days, she wrote. "I believe it is called theOverland Route. A man named Waghorn is running it."The young lady was quite right. Not long after, a letterstamped "Overland Route c/o Mr. Waghorn" sped out toIndia in the promised three months time. For thesisters, who had previously had to wait up to two years formail, it was almost as if they were holding hands. For theman named Waghorn it was the climax of a struggle thatwould eventually break his heart.
Unfortunately Waghorns successes were his undoing, as others saw thebusiness potential and in 1840 the P&O company set up in competition withhim, backed by the British Government. As so often, it was not the pioneer whoreaped the rewards but those with the finance and contacts with the rightpeople. He first merged his business with his rivals J.R.Hill and Raven to form J.R. Hill and Co., which in turn was taken over by Muhammad Ali to form theEgyptian Transit Company.Waghorn died soon after at home in England a broken man and it was not untilsome time after was his contributions recognized.
"Overland Routes to India andChina," steel engraving by JohnTallis, published 1851;
Baron de Lesseps(Nov. 19, 1805–Dec. 7, 1894), the builder of theSuez Canal, nearly twenty yearsafter Waghorns death, said of himin a speech at a Paris celebrationof the completion of his canal:"He it was who first conceived theidea; it was his indomitablecourage and greatperseverance, which led him onto prove its practicability ... but hewas in advance of his age, andthe very plans that were scoffedat when first mooted were thosewhich, in my position as engineerof the works, have enabled me tocarry them through."
The de Lesseps StatueOn November 20, 1859 Ferdinand deLesseps erected a bronze bust ofWaghorn overlooking the mouth of theSuez Canal at the port of Tewfik.Created by the French sculptor VitalDubray. On the base, he inscribed thesewords of admiration:"In homage to the memory of a generousthough unfortunate man, who alone,without any help, by a long series oflabours and heroic efforts, practicallydemonstrated and determined theadoption of the postal route throughEgypt, and the communication betweenthe East and the West of the world; andthis was the originator and pioneer of thegreat Egyptian maritime commercecompleted by the canal of the two seas."
The monument was destroyed during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
The Chatham Memorial Statue Located: Chatham Erected 1888, J. Moore, founder. Limestone, ashlar and bronze; square battered plinth with cast panels showing a map of the route and inscribed THOMAS F WAGHORN LIEUTENANT R N, PIONEER AND FOUNDER OF THE OVERLAND ROUTE BORN AT CHATHAM 1800 DIED JANUARY 7 1850. On top, a standing figure in a coat holding a map points to his ‘Overland Route’.