Keshavji Shamji Budhbhatti

In 2019, we discovered one of the lesser known stories of Tower Bridge – the story of Keshavji Shamji Budhbhatti, the Indian Engineer who worked on Tower Bridge. We were so excited by this discovery he was portrayed by a costumed actor as part of our 125th anniversary celebrations (above image). But what happened to him once he left England?

Keshavji Shamji Budhbhatti

In 1895 Keshavji Shamji Buddhbhati, Tower Bridge’s Indian engineer returned to his native Bhuj. He had left his home at the age of 23 years - we can only imagine what it felt like for him arriving in London in 1885, studying at the Royal Indian Engineering College near Windsor and then finding a house in Kentish Town. Or, from 1889, travelling daily from North London to the Bridge's construction site by the Tower of London. There must have been a mix of emotions on his return home after 10 years abroad

His family report that his mother was initially very concerned about him having turned into too much of an ‘Englishman’ and bringing back newfangled ideas and habits which were unfamiliar and unsuitable for the subcontinent. 

There is a striking hand-coloured photograph of him taken during the early years of the new century that shows him as a handsome man - composed and confident. He wears a Western style suit, combined with the Indian topi. This could be something of a statement, his outfit combining his Eastern roots and Western influences.

Image: Keshavji Shamji Budhbhatti (with kind permission of the family)

On his return to India, Keshavji quickly put his training and experience to good use. He found employment at the Public Works Department and took up practice once again as a civil engineer. Based in Bhuj, Keshavji was heavily involved with projects to improve the infrastructure of the area, including the railway linking Bhuj to the sea via Anjar, Kandla and Tuna. 

Today, Bhuj is a town of over 200,000 inhabitants and the district headquarter of the Katchh district of the Gujarat State located in the Northwest corner of India.

Map of Bhuj

He also worked on several bridges – not much of a surprise given his previous experience – such as the Krishna Bridge near Mahadev Corner in Bhuj and the bridge over the Rukmani River at Mandvi Port. 

Arguably his most important work (after Tower Bridge, of course) was his involvement in the development of the port of Karachi, which was completed around 1918. This included the East Wharf and the Napier Mole Boat Wharf, as well as a new bridge connecting Karachi with the Kiamari district. According to his descendants, there was a name plaque on the bridge that remembered his contribution to the project. 

His work didn’t go unnoticed, even back in England. Keshavji is mentioned in the proceedings of the Royal Society of Arts in 1909, with his then current residence: the Ranchhore Line (formerly Gazdarabad) in Karachi.

Later on in his career, his engineering expertise was sought by the government on the construction of the Sukkur (or Lloyd) Barrier, built between 1923 and 1932, in today’s central Pakistan. This barrage on the Indus river was constructed to control water flow and supply in the region – it’s still very important today. The Lloyd Barrage Museum – named after the then governor of Bombay/Mumbai Sir George Lloyd - displays historic photographs of the construction of its massive piers - similar to the ones lowered into the Thames to support Tower Bridge.

Keshavji Shamji Buddhbhati died in 1929 aged 68, well respected and with contacts even to the Royal family in Katchh. Amazingly, his engineering legacy has lived on through his descendants: his grandson and great-grandchildren have all been active as civil engineers to this day.