But a few decades before that, the voyage from Britain to India was still done in sail ships that took well over 150 days.
Around the year 1815, the British inhabitants of India entered into the scheme for establishing steam communication. Not aware of all the difficulties of the undertaking, they were blinded by the possibilities of conveying letters and passengers to and from England in the short space of two months, instead of five or six by sailing vessels,
Tait’s Edinburgh magazine ( pages 571 and 572), published in 1838, provides a fascinating description of how the first steam ship sailed to India, in 1825,through a combination of private enterprise and incentives.
For the last fifteen years, the British inhabitants of India have been making the most strenuous efforts to establish a communication with England by steam-vessels…. In the infancy of steam navigation, it was a bold design, and perhaps premature, to attempt to carry steamers half the circumference of the globe, when the practicability of steam navigation had been demonstrated only for coasting voyages, or short trips of a few days, in Europe and America.
To promote this object, it was considered that the best means would be to offer a handsome reward to those who should first accomplish the voyage to India by steam, leaving the parties at full liberty to make their own arrangements, and follow their own plans ; and a subscription was accordingly opened, to raise the sum of £10,000 to be given to the first steam-vessel that should arrive at Calcutta within the space of seventy days after leaving England.
Captain Johnston, who had assisted in the plan formed at Calcutta, proceeded to England with the view of engaging with parties there to fit out a steamer, and secure the prize offered. On his arrival, a society was formed and the Enterprise, a vessel of 470 tons, was purchased, and fitted out either for sailing or steaming, with engines of 120 horse power. She was loaded with coals for thirty-five or forty days' consumption, which is four times as much as she ought to have carried, and only one depot was provided—at the Cape of Good Hope—where she could obtain a further supply, during the whole voyage.
The consequence of these arrangements was, that, on leaving England, the Enterprise was brought so low in the water, that her progress was much retarded, and her coals were all expended long before she arrived at the Cape; the same thing happened again, on the passage from the Cape to the river Hooghly, where she arrived in December 1825, having been 113 days from England instead of 70. This was doing very little better than a sailing vessel ; but one great point had been established—that the passage between England and India was quite safe and practicable for steamers; and the arrival of the Enterprise was therefore hailed with delight.