Open main menu

Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia FRS (6 October 1808 – 16 November 1877) born Parsi, an Indian shipbuilder and engineer belonging to the Wadia ship building family.[1]

Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia
Ardaseer Cursetjee 1969 stamp of India.jpg
Born6 October 1808
Bombay, British India
Died16 November 1877(1877-11-16) (aged 69)
Richmond, United Kingdom

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.[2]



Ardaseer Cursetjee was the son of Cursetjee Rustomjee, a scion of the wealthy Wadia family of shipbuilders and naval architects, who was a ship 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 designed and launched a small 60 ton ocean-going ship called Indus. This ship would subsequently warrant a mention in his nomination for the Royal Society. In 1834, in the presence of the Governor of Bombay, he had his house and gardens at Mazgaon lit using gas lighting. He married a Parsi girl, Avabai, and the couple had several children who subsequently became the initial members of the wealthy Wadia business family of India.[3]

In 1837, Ardaseer was elected a non-resident member of the Royal Asiatic Society In 1839, at the age of 31, he travelled 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.[4][5]

On 27 May 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.[6]

Ardaseer Cursetjee remained Chief Engineer at the Bombay Docks until 1 August 1857, when he retired. He returned to England, where he settled.[7]

In 1858, Ardaseer made his last trip to London and decided to permanently live in the UK with his mistress, an English woman named Marian Barber.[8] 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.[9]

He died, aged 69, on 16 November 1877 in Richmond, London.[10]

On 27 May 1969, the Indian Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in recognition of his contributions as "pioneer and innovator."[10]

His children in the UK continued to carry his name for some time. St. Mathias church in Surrey records that in 1879, one of children Gustasp Ardaseer married Florence Neal.[11]


Cursetjee set up home with Marian Barber (1817–1899) in England, living together although they never formally married. Marian was a British woman, from Tower Hamlets whose brother worked as a clerk in the docks of London. Together the couple had a number of children, the first of which, Lowjee Annie, was born in Bombay in December 1853.[12] 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.[13][clarification needed]

Ardaseer had a wife in India, Avabai, who he left there when he migrated to UK. His children from Avabai and his children from Marian continued to maintain relations, sometimes intermarrying amongst themselves.[14]

For example, Cursetjee Rustomjee (1855–1941), the grandson of Avabai and Ardaseer was sent to England to study for the Indian Civil Service examination and stayed with his grandfather in Richmond. There, he met Lowjee Annie, his aunt and the daughter of Ardaseer and Marian. He married her in 1880. 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.[15]


  1. ^ "Ardaseer Cursetjee (Wadia), F.R.S". Nature. 153 (3893): 706. 10 June 1944. doi:10.1038/153706d0. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  2. ^ Wadia, D.F. (1912). History of the Lodge Rising Star of Western India.
  3. ^ "ARDASEER CURSETJEE WADIA, FIRST INDIAN ELECTED to ROYAL SOCIETY". Australian postal history and philately. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  4. ^ "List of members". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 15 April 1865.
  5. ^ Cursetjee, Ardaseer (1840). The Diary of an Overland Journey from Bombay to England. London: Henington & Galabin.
  6. ^ Gupta, Arvind. Ardaseer Cursetjee (PDF). INSA – Indian national science academy. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Obituary of Ardaseer Cursetjee", Proceedings of the Society of Civil Engineers, 51 (1878), p. 271.
  8. ^ "Ardaseer Cursetjee – a case study on innovation and steam power". University College of London. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  9. ^ Southerden, Blair (2013). A Gentle Lion and other ancestors.
  10. ^ a b Indian Postal Service. "Ardaseer Cursetji Wadia amid Ships". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Case study – Ardaseer Cursetjee" (PDF). UCL London. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  12. ^ Bombay Calendar 1854, transcribed by Families in British India Society
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ Kochhar, Rajesh K. (January 1993). "Ardaseer Cursetjee (1808–1877), the First Indian Fellow of the Royal Society of London". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 47 (1): 33–47. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1993.0004.
  15. ^ Finn, Margot; Smith, Kate, eds. (2018). East India Company at Home, 1757–1857. University College of London. ISBN 9781787350267.

Further readingEdit