Karachi’s importance as a natural harbour at the mouth of the Indus was not lost on the British, but being isolated by vast areas of desert clearly stunted the imaginations of earlier rulers. It was a neglected possession of the Khan of Kalat until 1789, when it was ceded to the Talpurs of Balochistan.
The Talpurs erected a mud fort, yet Karachi remained a small fishing village until 1839, when the British started showing an interest in Sindh. Sir Charles (later Lord) Napier sent HMS Wellesley to Karachi. On its approach the Talpur rulers ordered a display of cannon fire for the visitors. This possibly misinterpreted welcome brought about the capture of the town without bloodshed. Four years later, with Karachi as their naval base, the British had annexed all of Sindh and shifted the capital here from Hyderabad, with Napier as the first governor.
By 1847 Karachi’s population was 50,000 and construction took on a rapid pace. Streets were laid, highways and railways constructed, port facilities improved and Gothic and Victorian buildings erected. Prominent examples include Frere Hall, the Sindh High Court, the Sindh Assembly Building, St Andrew’s Church, St Patrick’s Cathedral and Empress Market. From the mid-19th century, Karachi overshadowed Hyderabad as the commercial, educational and administrative centre of Sindh. Karachi was Pakistan’s capital from 1947 until the new city of Islamabad was designated capital in 1959.