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The glamorous maritime machinery of empire

The Fabulous Flotilla: Scotland's Adventure on the Rivers of Burma, by Paul Strachan

book_The Fabulous Flotilla_web.jpgThis book covers the history of what was once the largest privately-owned fleet of ships in the world – a business that might have been an adventure for Scottish shipping entrepreneurs in Burma, but which is remembered less fondly in modern-day Myanmar due to its British colonial connections.

The first half of the book deals with the evolution of The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC), a Scottish-owned passenger and cargo ferry company which operated services on the tricky waters of the Irrawaddy River in Burma from 1865 to 1948, when the company was nationalised in the newly independent country.

IFC was an entirely Scottish enterprise, with nearly all its investors, management and ship’s officers drawn from Scotland. Over 1,200 mainly Scottish-built ships carried the population of Burma on the country's river network, as well as attracting tourists, royalty and celebrities of the day. The flotilla began as a naval task force in the 1820s, was commandeered in five wars, and was to end its life with the British evacuation of Burma in 1942.

The second half of the book takes shape as a memoir of the author's journeys in Burma exploring 1,000 miles upriver.

Liberally illustrated with photographs, maps and paintings, The Fabulous Flotilla may be problematic in some ways, but from a river cruise perspective provides a fascinating insight on how paddle steamers evolved over a hundred years into 'riverine versions of luxurious ocean liners'.

The Fabulous Flotilla: Scotland's Adventure on the Rivers of Burma
By Paul Strachan
Whittles Publishing, £18.99
ISBN: 978 18499 55324

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