Hornby Vellard Reclamation Project

Located on the west coast of India, Mumbai is the capital city of the state of Maharashtra and the most populous city in India.

What we know as Mumbai today was once made up of seven separate islands that appear to have been inhabited since the Stone Age, and that for centuries formed part of a variety of communities, dynasties and empires. In 1662 the seven islands got to the hands of King Charles II of England, who in turn relegated their administration to the British East India Company. The Company rapidly exerted their colonialist vision of transforming the Bombay area into a modern city directly inspired by British cultural and sociopolitical elements. In 1782, William Hornby, then Governor of Mumbai, started the first reclamation project to build a causeway between two of the islands, which would give rise to a series of subsequent reclamation projects whose end product was the unification of all seven islands by 1845.

This process of artificial geographic unification would set the ground for the rapid industrialization of the city and its rise in the global economic arena, but also for the marginalization of Bombay’s original communities and poorly managed, ever-growing amounts of immigration that have since contributed to a major overpopulation issue for the city.

In this exhibit and the Neatline Timeline that accompanies it, I review the history of Bombay’s seven islands and the impact of their unification on the inhabitants, urban heritage, and economic prospects of the city. I conclude with the outline of some of the challenges that Mumbai still faces today to extend a similar process of “unification” to many other aspects of the city, from the place of the original Mumbai communities in the city’s urban heritage, to the gross disparities between rich and poor, to the improvement of the public transportation system that actually brings the different corners of the city together.


Constanza M. Vidal Bustamante