“Let there be light…”

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Ever wondered why Bangalore has several firsts to its credit? Be it industrialisation, automation, machine-tools, aviation, aerospace-research, advanced studies, information technology, the city has been the Mecca for trying out developmental projects. It sure speaks of the progressive nature of its people and their innovative spirit. In a series of articles, Citizen Matters will try to cover the various innovations that the city has pioneered through recent history.

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Recg station, mg rd

Receiving Station, MG Road (pic: Gopal MS)

Ask the citizens of Bangalore to name the city’s biggest problem and they are sure to say either traffic and/or power cuts. They will surely be taken aback to discover that Bangalore was the first city in Asia to be electrified!

Thanks to the Maharajas of Mysore for being visionaries and putting Mysore state in the forefront of the industrialisation era which was soon to envelop the whole of India. It was their initiative to harness the state’s own electricity by setting up the continent’s first hydel power station at the foot of the Shivanasamudra falls near Kollegal in the present Chamarajanagar district.

The city owes much to its proximity to the erstwhile Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), a.k.a Robertsonpet (named after a British officer in the mines), and the ensuing gold rush which prompted the establishment of power projects in Bangalore.

The Cauvery Power Scheme was initiated in 1900 under K Seshadri Iyer, the then Diwan of Mysore. In 1894, Edmund Carrington, an electric engineer applied for concessions to tap the water power at Shivanasamudra. He, along with Holmes from Madras and Colonel Henderson, a British resident in Mysore who took keen interest in the scheme, recognised that long distance transmission of power might be possible.

 

As per The Karnataka State Gazette, Mandya District, the Mysore Government decided to investigate the practicality of generating power at Shivanasamudram falls site and enlisted the services of Colonel Campbell, the Chief Engineer at Madras for the same with the cooperation of the Madras Government. The Chief Engineer took a very favourable view of the potential of the project. In June 1899, the Deputy Chief Engineer of Mysore, after studying the details of the power installation at the Niagara Falls (in North America), was convinced of the idea of working the machinery at the Kolar Gold Fields with the electricity generated by the Cauvery falls, and the scheme received the hearty support of Seshadri Iyer and Colonel Campbell. M/S John Taylor & Sons of London, who had the general control on KGF also supported the scheme. The government decided to utilise the head of the falls for hydro-electric power and its transmission for the service of industrial undertaking in the state of Mysore, inclusive of KGF, in 1899.

East Parade Church

East Parade Church on MG Road (pic: Anita Bora)

In embarking upon this great undertaking, the government was influenced by the consideration that the supply of cheap motive power of its kind and on the scale proposed, was likely to foster industrial enterprises throughout the state and, thus, indirectly increase the wealth and general prosperity of the country. The Deputy Chief Engineer was deputed to Europe and America to examine the projects in consultation with the experts there. The Mysore government acquired from the government of Madras the right to utilise the whole of the water power at the head of the falls. The sanction of the government of India for various details such as the concession from the government of Madras, the agreement with M/S John Taylor & Sons and the industrial miners, the contract with the General Electric Company of USA and M/S Escher Wyss & Co, Zurich was received in March 1900. In June 1900 the agreement with M/S John Taylor & Sons was signed. Arrangements were made with the General Electric Company of New York for the electric plant and M/S Escher Wyss & Co for hydraulic plant, the former for taking the entire responsibility for installing the plant and working at the spot for period of one year. The works were completed by 1902 and on 30th June of the same year, the generated power (30000 volts) was transmitted to KGF.

The power developed by the first installation was 6000 HP, but owing to the increased demand at the gold fields, Bangalore and Mysore for both power and light, the generating station was extended by the second installation in 1903.

Trivia: When you stroll by on MG Road next time, do try to spot the power transmission unit which is opposite Raheja Towers – it still wears the colonial architecture look. Also, the East Parade Church right next to it was the first building to get electricity from this unit.


13 Comments

  1. Amazing! the details you have collected. I was just trying to collect data for an assignment for my son in 4th grade. One of the questions was the first hydel plant in India. Being an electrical engineer by training I thought I would expose him to some interesting data on electric generation as it first happened in Buffalo, New York. Having lived in Ohio for a few years near an area which had many world firsts including first Rubber Tyre manufacturing, Vacuum cleaners, Ball Bearings, Steel manufacturing, Knock Down furniture etc. I had a friend who supplied workmen safety gear to many industries in that part of US and happened to visit many pioneering industries of the world with him.
    It turns out that I was mistaken. The history of technology it seems to be very complex and happened at a very rapid pace in multiple locations in the world in a very compressed time span. A simple search for first hydel electric power plant comes up with lots of data with qualifiers. Eg. First hydel power plant which supplied electricity to the public. First hydel plant power plant generating DC power. First hydel power plant with AC generation. First commercial power generation plant. First power plant to supply power to factories. First Dyanmo which supplied power to 14 homes near Niagara Falls Which by the way was before the (the current search winner) the Edison Illuminating company of New York city which was in 1882.
    1879: Dolgeville Dynamo This power station built at the Dolgeville Mill in Dolgeville, NY supplied power for industrial purposes.
    1881: Niagara Falls, New York -A small dynamo supplied a few stores in in Niagara Falls with power for lighting. AC power came to this area 14 years later.
    1882: Appleton Wisconsin, US DC power, 12.5 kW. This was the first Edison hydroelectric station.
    1882: Miesbach to Munich, Germany- longest DC transmission to this date: 1400 volts 57 km distance built by Marcel Deprez. HVDC
    1882: New York City- Edison Illuminating Company builds New York’s first power plant at the Pearl Street Station. The DC station lit up to 400 lights and served 85 customers at first.
    Transmission length: several blocks downtown

    Which gives rise to the question were the dynamos which powered in 1879 were situated in a place with abundant water resources and a hub for manufacturing which used water mills for industrial use. Were they Hydel powered or steam powered like the many electric powered street lighting projects in europe around the same time. There was also a steam power street lighting in Brisbane Australia and a Hydro electric power plant in San Jose, Costa Rica.
    Clearly in just a couple of years time the technology of generating electric power had exploded at a rapid pace and reached almost every where in the globe. I also read for the first time about the “war of currents” in US ie the war between Edison’s DC generation which he believed safe and Westinghouse which preferred(or as Edison claimed to get around his patents) AC generation based on Tesla’s patents.
    By 1887 there were dozen or more companies in US, probably a similar number in Europe. Westinghouse had 88 AC power plants and Edison 112 DC plants, Thompson-Houston Electric of Massachusetts eventually merged with Edison which became The General Electric company in a short while. Edison was eased out of the company. The AC generation and transmission so opposed by Edison eventually prevailed because of lower costs.
    Probably by 1899 there was an a very large body of experts and technical people around the world to tap into for the Mysore state to bring power generation to Mysore State.
    Thanks to you and Raj I am also getting acquainted by the fascinating history of the Shiv Samudram plant.

  2. Mr. Raj Chandra, thanks a lot for your excellent contribution. I get to wonder how people get to gather so much information.

  3. Thank you Arun for your kind words of encouragement. My late midnight effort was worth it after all !

  4. Raj, that is so truly insightful.
    Spoken truly like a historian … thank you for those pointers..

  5. contd…

    A second installation of additional 2000 H.P of power was undertaken in 1903. a 57 mile double circuit 35,000 V , 3 Phase transmission line was constructed to transmit power to Bangalore and service was started on 5-8-1905 with the opening ceremony conducted by Sir. John Hewett, member of the Viceregal Council. similarly a 37 mile double circuit , 3 Phase, 22000V transmission line was erected to Mysore City and the inauguration was done by the Maharaja Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV during Dasara on 26-9-1908 after ascending the throne at Jagan Mohan Palace (old palace was destroyed in afire and the Royal family had temporarily sifted to this Palace). Bangalore was the first city in Asia to get electricity and the transmission line to Kolar was the longest of that period.

    This is the story of the glorious period when the Dewans like Sir Seshadri Iyer (1883-1901), P.NKrishna Murthy (1901-1906) under the progressive rulers of Mysore during the Regency of Maharani vani Vilas Sannidhana (1894-1902) and her son Nalvadi K.R.Wadiyar (1902-1940) made this epoch making event possible. I have highlighted the dates just to show the remarkable speed of decision making and execution which is hard to match even in today’s Modern time of communication and transport system. It was around the same time even IISC was started by the House of Tata by the Royal Patronage. Alas! The giants involved in these Historic events are unheard and unsung by the Mysoreans in particular and Indians in general.

    Sorry for the long post !!!

  6. Contd..

    Government of India approved the project on 27-3-1900.Soon a Ten year agreement of the use of 4000Hp power between Mysore Government and the Various mines under M/s John Taylor & Sons were also concluded. With the project taking definite shape Capt. A.C.J. De Lotbiniere left for London a second time on 28-7-1900 to finalize the orders on suppliers. But there was a delicate issue to be settled. sivasamudram island was a Jahgir. Part of the falls area was under Madras Presidency. Madras Presidency played taciturn and wanted its pound of flesh without spending a penny ! An agreement was reached after much deliberation with Government of India by July 1900. Work got underway by X-mas of 1900 with the arrival of General Electric Engineers and support staff. Plant work was completed by June 1902 ! On 30-6-1902, the then British Resident in Mysore Col. Donald Robertson inaugurated the project with his wife closing the switch! Commercial service soon started on 15-7-1902. Total cost of the project after completion was around 340,100 pounds. Plant was managed by General electric till March 1903 and later transferred to the Mysore Government control. Mr. Harry Parker Gibbs of the General electric was appointed as the First Chief Electrical Engineer of Mysore.

  7. contd..

    The Author has not named the Dy. Chief Engineer in 1899. He was none other than Capt. A.C.J. De Lotbiniere R.E. (Later Retd. Maj. Gen.). He was undoubtedly one of the architects of the Cauvery Power Scheme. Again Col.McNeil Campbell was actually the Chief Engineer of Mysore not Madras! He was greatly helped by a report submitted around the same time by Prof. Forbes to the Madras Presidency about the feasibly of Transmitting power from Periyar Lake! Mysore Government promptly deputed Capt. A.C.J. De Lotbiniere to London and America at a daily allowance of one pound ! Accordingly he left India on 12-8-1899 ! At London he formed refeence committe consisting of Prof. Forbes – Electrical Expert, Prof. W.C.Unwin – Hydraulic Expert and Capt. Jocelyn Thomson – then chief Inspector of Explosives,Home office as secretary to the Committee. He also met the Directors of M/s John Taylor & Sons and obtained assurances. He invited tenders from General Electric- America & Berlin , Westinghouse -both England and America, Brown Boverie -Swiss, Oerlikon -Swiss for supply of machinery to the proposed plant. He left London for America/ Canada on 28-9-1899 and visited major plants at the Falls of Montomarenci near Quebec, Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence (Montreal), Niagara Falls at Schenectady, Cripple Creek and Salt Lake City in Utah. He also visited the factory of General Electric and Westinghouse. He returned to London to finalize the Tenders. After much deliberation it went in favor of General Electric for 111,301 pounds for Power Generation & Distribution Plant and 53,000 pounds for Distribution system! Hydraulic work contract was given in favor of M/s Escher, Wyss & Co for 25,690 pounds. Capt. A.C.J. De Lotbiniere returned to India on 12-2-1900.

  8. Very good article. Here are some additions and corrections!

    It was Edmund Charington who intended to form his company called cauvery Falls Co. Though he was associated with Mr. Holmes- one of the pioneers of the Electric Lighting in India, proposal fell thro’ as it did not embody definite information.

    Col. Henderson was not a resident of Mysore in the ordinary connotation of the word but he was the then British Resident at Mysore Court.

    Services of Col.Pennyeuick R.E, the then Chief engineer of Madras PWD was used in preparing a favorable view of the immense potential of the falls at Sivasmudram. Actual flow of water on the southern of the river were carried out in 1895 by erecting gauge dams under the direction of Col. Bowen, the then Chief Engineer of Mysore. However as the results were confusing and incomplete nothing much happened till 1899.

  9. Nice article. It may be mentioned that the frequency was 25 HZ. When we set up an experiment in KGF in the 1960s we had to build special electronic units

  10. This article is quite interesting and informative. Please keep posting such articles. The photos are quite a contrast to the hustle bustle MG road. The premises in and out of the building in the pictures look like they have a decade difference between them.

    Great Job.

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