Digboi, the place to witness the first brush with Oil in pre- independent India is nestled in the hills of the North East
The Digboi Centenary Museum located near the Digboi Oil Field houses the equipments and machines which were used after Oil was discovered in the vicinity and an Oil refinery was set up.
As you walk up to the entrance, you will see an air raid shelter which was constructed during the World War. Such things reminds us of the Colonial past of Digboi.
As you walk past the entrance, you will be greeted with machines being operated by mannequins. You will have a fair glimpse of the working environment which was prevalent during early times.
One of the important sights to behold is the Well No. 1 which was the first commercially viable well in India. It is also known as Discovery well and was first successfully drilled in 1889 and in 1901 the first modern refinery was built in Digboi.
Discovery Well No1
The museum park is scattered with vintage equipments which helped start the oil Industry. The filter press which was used during the early days in the Wax Extraction Unit is displayed along with Clarke’s compressor which reads ‘people from different parts of India and abroad have worked with me’ emphasizing its importance.
The main attraction is the replica of a BOC petrol station along with a European couple curious about the mysterious land. A Ford Perfect car which produces a tiny 30bhp is tiny by today’s standards but was a pioneer for the automobile industry’s leader Ford during those times.
A boat used to ward off malaria and a couple of vespa scooters used by the local people of Digboi along with other machineries are also on display.
The museum also houses an indoor display. Upon entering you will be greeted with a mural depicting the formation of crude oil. A large exhibition of how Mr Goodenough started the first systematic drilling at Nahorpung, thirty miles south east of Digboi is displayed right around the corner. As you follow the trail, you will see the line up of machines used in the Digboi Refinery over the years. Generators, pumps, drill bits, lawn mowers etc are exhibited with photos depicting their operators.
Oil was discovered during the Colonial rule in India and Digboi had its fair share of British Imperialism. European officers were often called ‘sahebs’ and an interesting story of how Indian assistants came to be known as Kala sahebs is put up on the wall. An exhibit showing the cooperation between the Indian assistants and their European sahebs is on display as well. A Union Jack besides the European Officer shows the impact the British had in nurturing the oil industry in Digboi. A Wall clock ticking along brings you back from the time as you get lost in the past days when the oil industry in Digboi was starting to flourish.
As we move forward, the machines used to relax and play music are on display. Gramophones, record changers, turn tables used to inform the people through the Welfare Office under the then Industrial Relations Department.
Taking the flight of stairs you reach the uppermost section of the museum. Magneto telephones were quite common during those days and they had a long life span. Communication was an important factor to make sure that the work is on time everytime. Office equipments like tea mugs, paper cutters, fans that could run even in the stickiest and humid of weather are still being operated in many offices in Digboi.
A model of the Hydro Treater Unit(HDTU) along with other models along the aisle show the complexities in refining and distributing petroleum products.
Cans and gallons used to carry petroleum products along with the manufacturers insignia are on display. The finished products had to undergo distillation and a the apparatuses used during this process come up next. It was used to assess the volatility of petroleum and its products.
Petroleum is highly inflammable and to counter any fire breakout, the fire service division of the Assam Oil Company was set up in 1930-31. The basic equipments used to dispense fire like fire pumps and delivery hoses are on display. Safety equipments like helmets, uniforms show the preparedness the fire brigade had during those times. The fire service was renamed AOC fire brigade and earned quite a few laurels.
Oil lamps, room heaters, wall telephones bring us to the end of the upper section of the museum.
Coming downstairs, there is a small room which houses the photographs of Digboi refinery in its early stages, the people who played a crucial role in its set up and the dignitaries who paid a visit.
A revolving exhibit of the various petroleum products produced in the Digboi refinery are also on display.
Museums are never supposed to end, they carry vintage and antique pieces of machinery which take us back in time and the Centenary Museum of Digboi is no different.