In the decades before the demolition of the Fort ramparts in the 1860s, the present site of Central Railway’s Victoria
Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and its environs was quite different from what it is today - the bustling and noisy hub of jostling pedestrian commuters rushing to and back from work and the snarl of traffic that seemingly gets worse day by day.
Two of the Fort’s Bazaar Gates were once located near the present Nagar Chowk Gardens. Beyond the Gates was an extensive tank, known as Fansi Talao or ‘Gallow’s Tank’. In earlier times, murderers were hanged near this spot with the gallows standing in full view of the public. At a pillory on the site, offenders were, in the words of the 19th century diarist, K. N. Kabraji, “subjected by the populace to raillery and at times to the indignity of rotten eggs, old shoes, mud and brickbats being thrown at them.” The tank was filled in during the 1850s and the gruesome spectacles ceased.
Meanwhile, the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIP) Compnay was incorporated in England on 1 August, 1894. Four years later, the first railway line was inaugurated on 16 April, 1853 and ran the distance of 21 miles from the make-shift terminus at Bori Bunder in Bombay to Thane, accompanied by bands and considerable pomp and pageantry. According to Kabraji, the Bori Bunder station, located behing Dhobi Ghat, was "a miserable wooden structure which did duty as terminal station until it was replaced by the magnificient Victoria Terminus."
Until the construction of Victoria Terminus, the adminstrative office of the GIP Railway had been located in various parts of the city. Initially it was located near Bombay Green, then moved to Victoria Hall, a bungalow in Mazgaon. In 1863 the office was moved again to a lane off Grant Road and three years later to Byculla Villa. Similarly, the Agent’s and Accountants’ offices had been located in Shankarshett’s bungalow in Byculla and the Chief Engineer’s Office was housed in 1869 in a house on Churchgate Street. In 1870, all the offices were moved to Remington & Company’s Building in Elphinstone Circle (now Horniman Circle).
While the construction of a new central terminus and passenger station for the GIP was under consideration, A. S.
Ayrton, secretary of the GIP Company had proposed a site at Mody Bay - a proposal that was acceptable to the Government of Bombay as well as the Board of Directors in London. The Directors in Bombay, however, countered the proposal and alternatively suggested a temporary goods and passenger station at Bori Bunder, which could gradually be enlarged with additions from the Esplanade and land reclaimed from the harbour side.
The land required for the station and terminus was estimated to be about 80 acres. In 1861 the Bombay Government entered into an agreement with the Elphinstone Land & Press Company to reclaim two-thirds of Mody Bay, of which 100 acres were to be given to the Government for the construction of the terminus. Work on the terminus was eventually begun in May 1878 and took 10 years to complete at a cost of Rs 16,35,562 for the offices and Rs 10,40,248 for the
The planning and construction of the terminus had a long and chequered history. Having failed to obtain suitable designs from England, the GIP Directors selected as their architect Frederick William Stevens from the Public Works Department with the approval of the Government and commissioned him as a salaried officer to design the new Terminus at Bori Bunder. In 1877 his services were placed at the disposal of the GIP. The work extended over ten years and on its completion, the Directors of the Company, with the approval of the Government of India, presented him with a bonus of Rs 5000 in appreciation of the eminent services rendered by him.
Stevens’ design for the Terminus was also accorded the honour of being selected for exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, in 1881. F. W. Stevens had a distinguished professional record. Born at Bath, he was articled in March, 1862 for five years to Charles E. Davis, FSA, Architectural and Civil Engineer & City Superintendent of Works to the Corporation of Bath. In 1867, Stevens passed a competitive examination at the India Office and was appointed to the Engineering Branch of the PWD as Assistant Engineer. He arrived in India in the same year and proceeded to Poona to work under Colonel Mellis, RE.
He was appointed Assistant Engineer of the third grade in the following December and a month later was transferred to Bombay and attached to the office of the Architect to the Government, General Fuller of the Royal Engineers. At the end of the year he was promoted to the second grade and transferred to the Office of the Architectural Executive Engineer & Surveyor. Various promotions followed and by the end of 1876, he was appointed Government examiner to the Bombay School of Art. In 1878, a year after his appointment to the GIP, he returned to Europe on furlough for ten months. Back in Bombay, he took charge of the office of the Executive Engineer at the railway terminus, to superintend the buildings he had designed. During his years in Bombay, Stevens was responsible for the design of many other public buildings, including the Royal Alfred Sailor’s Home, the Municipal Buildings and the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway Administrative Offices. Stevens slightly enlarged upon his original plans for the terminus and station buildings, thus necessitating the acquisition of more municipal land.
The consent from the Town Council and Corporation took a little time, the monsoon set in and the work had to be postponed. During the first half of 1879, the foundations for the booking and administrative offices were laid and the erection of the passenger shed made good progress.
Detailed estimates for the project were sent to the Government of India for approval and sanction. Very little progress was made, however, in the latter half of the year due to lack of funds. Sanction finally came for the completion of the first storey, following which the building was to be roofed over with corrugated iron and left unfinished until further orders were received from the Government of India. By late 1879 the structure had risen to 3 feet and construction of the booking offices for 3rd and 4th class passengers made commendable progress. The station proper, erected under the supervision of District Engineer, T. W. Pearson, was then known as the Bombay Passenger Station and was opened for traffic on 1st January, 1882.
In the execution of his designs, F. W. Stevens was ably assisted in the gargantuan task by Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya, Assistant Engineer and M. M. Janardhan, Supervisor. While the ground floor of the structures was partly constructed departmentally and partly by various contractors, the upper floors were built primarily by the firm Burjorji Rustomji Mistri & Company. All the models for embellishments on the building were undertaken by Mr Gomez and students of the J.J. School of Art under the supervision of the Principal, J. Griffiths and were executed by local carvers.
The painted decorations of the waiting hall and refreshment room were by Signor Gibello, the handsome
marble work was by Ms Muraglia of Apollo Bunder, while the plumbing and sanitary arrangements were undertaken by the Company’s plumber, M. Smith, assisted by local plumbers. In December 1885, the interiors were almost ready for occupation and the offices from Elphinstone Circle were moved to the new premises. By 1887, only the dome, the central staircase and the fixing of the sculptures remained to be completed. The waiting and refreshment rooms, however, could also not be opened to the public as connections were yet to be made with the city’s sewerage system
Describing the new but still to be completed building, Maclean’s Guide to Bombay recorded, “The best point of view
from which to gain an idea of the great work is from the junction of Cruickshank and Market Roads. Standing where the tramway lines diverge, the eye takes in at first with mingled amazement and admiration the lofty and gigantic pile of solid masonry; then ranging from one extremity to the other along the ornate outlines directly before it, resting upon the gabled ends, with their tall cutstone spires, the graceful domes above the rounded angles of the quadrangle, distinguishing the rich ornament dimly perceivable all over the exterior from porch to summit, one’s vision is finally carried far upwards of a quarter of a mile along the elegant facade which screens the iron structure of the adjoining station in the direction of the Crawford Markets.”
Finally, on Jubilee Day, 1887, the terminus was named after the Queen Empress. The architect, F. W. Stevens, died within three years of malarial fever and was buried with due honour at the Sewri Cemetery. In an eulogy in The Times of India on Stevens’ death, a close friend wrote: ‘The city of Bombay has lost by the death of Mr Stevens a man who did infinitely more for its embellishment than any other of our generation… Mr Stevens was an artist in the true sense of the term. His profession was not merely the labour, it was also the delight of his life. Even on his holidays he was never happy unless his drawing board accompanied him. The mental recreation which other men find in reading or in conversation was found most of all by him in the intellectual absorption of designing... Few people know that the whole of the ornamentative detail of the V.T. was drawn by his own hand.
In most architects’ offices the minor details are marked out by the assistants, but Mr Stevens took the whole labour upon himself. Of the architectural works which he has left to us, this magnificent station with its blocks of offices will probably be ranked as the most impressive.’
In time, Victoria Terminus came to be considered one of the finest stations in the world and, next to the Taj Mahal at Agra, the most photographed monument in the country at that time. An English traveller, G. A. Mathews, described it in Diary of an Indian Tour, 1906, as “the most beautifully designed and the most elaborately ornamented railway building I have ever seen. The style is Italian Gothic, with certain Oriental modifications in the domes. It is said to have cost the G.I.P. 300,000 pounds and is certainly the finest railway station in India, if not in any country.”
Designed with a frontage of over 1500 feet on the main road, Victoria Terminus displays exquisite ornamentation and
embellishment on the facade and the beautifully executed panels, dados and friezes adorning the walls and the many loggias, buttresses, arches and windows complement the magnificent exteriors. The majestic dome is surmounted by a colossal figure representing ‘Progress’ whereas each of the main gables carries a distinctive sculpture - one representing Engineering, another Commerce, and a third, Agriculture.
The west front, approached by a grand gateway and sculptures of a lion and tiger couchant (representing England and India) forms three sides of a square with a courtyard between the two wings. Inside the crowded booking office is a wealth of choice Italian marble, polished Indian blue stone and elaborate stone arches covered with carved foliage and grotesques. Other features here include a tessellated floor, dados of glazed tiles, stained glass windows, galleries of highly ornamented iron work executed by students of the J. J. School of Art and long counters made of cleverly blended wood - ebony, teak and sewan. The groined roof of the booking office was originally painted in a shade of azure with gold stars (it gladly survives).
Striking features in the main entrance include ornate wooden doors spaced between impressively crafted marble columns and a grand cantilevered staircase that loftily skirts the walls with eight and a half feet wide overhanging slabs of blue stone, beautiful wrought iron railing and rich Sienna marble wall. Between each of the eight ribs of the dome are long, stained glass windows decorated with the GIP monogram and arms and foliage.
In 1896, the lighting by kerosene oil at Victoria Terminus was changed to gaslight with incandescent burners, although electricity was considered as an alternative. The next important modifications came in 1929 when the remodelled V.T. was opened on 27 March, 1929 by the Governor, Sir Frederick Sykes.
The new buildings also contained refreshment rooms, bed- and dressing rooms and bathrooms for various communities. The former station, which adjoined it, was reserved for suburban traffic. The new wing had 13 platforms, the last five being exclusively used for through trains to and from various parts of India. An extensive car park was also provided for the convenience of passengers. Over the following decades, more additions and modifications were carried out to the original buildings.