Ardaseer Cursetjee

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Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia
Born October 6, 1808
Bombay, British India
Died November 16, 1877
Richmond, United Kingdom
Occupation Engineer

Ardaseer Cursetjee (Wadia) FRS (October 6, 1808 – November 16, 1877) was an Indian shipbuilder and engineer belonging to the Wadia ship building family.

He is noted for having been the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He is also recorded as having introduced several (at the time) novel technologies to the city of Bombay (now Mumbai), including gas lighting, the sewing machine, steam pump-driven irrigation and electro-plating.


Ardaseer Cursetjee was the son of Cursetjee Rustomjee, scion of the Wadia family of shipbuilders and naval architects, and master builder at the Bombay Dockyard (today, Mumbai's Naval Dockyard).

In 1822, aged 14, Ardaseer joined his father at the dockyards. He is described to have been particularly interested in steam engines.

In 1833, aged 25, he launched a small 60 ton ocean-going ship of his design. This ship, the Indus, would subsequently warrant a mention in his nomination for the Royal Society.

On March 10, 1834, in the presence of the Governor of Bombay, he had his house and gardens at Mazgaon lit using gas lighting.

In 1837, he was elected a non-resident member of the Royal Asiatic Society.

In 1839, at the age of 31, he traveled overland to England to further his studies of marine steam power on behalf of the East India Company. He recounted his journey in The Diary of an Overland Journey from Bombay to England, which was published in London in 1840. While in England, he constructed a steam engine, which he then had shipped to India for installation on the Indus.

On May 27, 1841, Cursetjee was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. The nomination, made by Spencer Compton, Marquess of Northampton, the then President of the Society, describes him as a "gentleman well versed in the theory and practice of naval architecture and devoted to scientific pursuits." It credits him with both the introduction of gas lighting to Bombay, as well as having "built a [sea-going] vessel of 60 tons to which he adapted a Steam Engine."

In 1855 he was elected a Justice of the Peace.

Ardaseer Cursetjee remained Chief Engineer until August 1, 1857, when he retired. He returned to England, where he settled.[1]

In 1858, on his last trip to London, England, Ardaseer set up home with an English woman named Marian Barber.[2] While the couple did not marry, they had children and their lineage continues to live in the United Kingdom to date. One of his descendants Blair Southerden has written books, including A gentle lion and other ancestors (2013) tracing back his lineage, profiling the Parsi community and their interests in ship building.[3]

He died, aged 69, on November 16, 1877[4] in Richmond.

On May 27, 1969, the Indian Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in recognition of his contributions as "pioneer and innovator."

His children continued for some time to carry his name. St. Mathias church in Surrey records that in 1879, one of children Gustasp Ardaseer married Florence Neal.[5]

Family and Children[edit]

Though they never married, Ardaseer set up home with Marian Barber (1817-1899) in England, and together the couple had a number of children. Marian was a British woman, from Tower Hamlets whose brother worked as a clerk in the docks of London. Ardaseer and Marian had a long drawn relationship, and though they never married, they had their first child Lowjee Annie in Bombay in December 1853.[6] Her second child Gustasp Ardaseer was born in Bombay in 1856. The couple subsequently returned to UK as the Parsi community in India did not accept their marriage.[7]

Ardaseer also had a wife in India, Awahbai, who he left back in India when he migrated to UK. His children from Awahbai and his children from Marian continued to maintain relations, sometimes intermarrying amongst themselves.[8]

For example, Cursetjee Rustomjee (1855-1941), the grandson of Awahbai and Ardaseer was sent to England to study for the Indian civil service examination and stayed with his grandfather in Richmond. There, he met Ardaseer and Marian's daughter Lowjee Annie. In 1880, he married his aunt Lowjee Annie (1853-1894). While their three children were all born in India, their father returned to England soon after retirement in 1911. He died in Matlock, Derbyshire in 1941.[9]


  1. ^ "[iv] Obituary of Ardaseer Cursetjee, Proceedings of the Society of Civil Engineers, 51 (1878), p. 271.". 
  2. ^ "Ardaseer Cursetjee - a case study on innovation and steam power". University College of London. Retrieved 13 May 2016.  External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ Southerden, Blair (2013). A Gentle Lion and other ancestors. 
  4. ^ "[i] Westleton Parish Register FFC63/D1/6 fiche 9 of 18". 
  5. ^ "Case study - Ardaseer Cursetjee" (PDF). UCL London. Retrieved 13 May 2016.  External link in |website= (help)
  6. ^ "Bombay Calendar 1854, transcribed by Families in British India Society". 
  7. ^ "Reports of cases heard and determined by the Judicial Committee, 6:8, p.376. This case came before the Privy Council in 1856 on appeal from the Supreme Court. The findings that it was impossible to apply the law of the Diocese of London, a Christian law to persons professing the Zoroastrian religion were to be much quoted in future cases". UCL London. Retrieved 13 May 2016.  External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ ‘Ardaseer Cursetjee’. p. 46.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  9. ^ "East India Company at Home, 1757-1857". University College of London.