Basel Mission

The Case of Mangalore Tiles in Karachi

Red clay tiles have been found at a bungalow (plot FT-2/13), opposite Old Race Course Ground, on McNeil Road, Railway Quarters, Karachi.

Bungalow at McNeil Road, Railway Quarters, Karachi

The front façade of bungalow FT-2/13| Copyright Marvi Mazhar & Associates

These red clay tiles have also been found at Jufel Hurst School at Shahani Street.

Jufel Hurst School at Shahani Road, Karachi

The front façade of Jufel Hurst School | Copyright Marvi Mazhar & Associates

Historical Background of tiles:

The red clay tiles found on site were famously known as Mangalorean tiles because they were native to the city of Mangalore in India. They were introduced to the region by a German missionary, George Plebst (1823-1888), who was specialized as a mechanic but later acquired prolific skills in firing and glazing. He found huge deposits of clay in Jeppo (near Mangalore) near the banks of the Gurupura (also known as Phalguni) and Nethravathi (also known as Bantwal) river and thus laid the foundation of Basel Mission Tile Factory in 1865. The tile factory was located on the bank of Nethravati River, near Morgan’s Gate, around 0.1 km away from Ullal Bridge. It was the first tile factory of India, which not only produced roof tiles that met the need of well-fitted roofing tiles during pre-partition era, but also produced floor and ceiling bricks, ornamental and artistic earthenware, quality slaked and unslaked lime. Initially hand presses and mills driven by bullocks were used but in 1874, mechanical establishment was opened in Mangalore and by 1881, steam engines were used to power the presses. Mangalore tiles were the only tiles that were preferred for Government buildings during the British rule and they were also famous in India, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylone), East Africa, Middle East, Europe and Australia. In order to meet the growing demands of the Mangalorean tiles, factories were established in Puthiyara (1873), Kudroli, Malpe, Codacal, Olavakkode and Feroke. After the First World War, the Basel Mission Industries was taken over by the British Government and a new company, The Commonwealth Trust was established in 1919. The management was then transferred to the Indians in 1977, giving rise to the Commonwealth Trust (India).

Basel Mission Tiles found at bungalow FT-2/13 | Copyright Marvi Mazhar & Associates

Due to the large deposit of clay, abundant supply of firewood from Western Ghat and cheap labor helped boost the tile industry in India and following the Basel Mission Tile Factory, in 1878, Alvarez & Co. was established by Mr. Simon Alvarez. Due to the high demand of the tiles form Bombay, Karachi, Jaffna, Colombo and East Coast of Africa, the old set up was sold and new buildings were erected over the area of three to four acres, in 1907. The buildings consisted of three drying and one machine shed, together with three oil engines, two coal kilns, go downs and offices. The machinery included nine tile presses with dies and two large double roller pug mills.

Alvarez & Co. tiles found at bungalow FT-2/13| Copyright Marvi Mazhar & Associates


The Mangalore tiles are made from hard laterine clay, weighing 2kg (4.4 lb.) to 3 kg (6.6 lb.) per tile. They attain their red color due to the high concentration of iron compound found in the clay. Due to the properties of clay, the tiles have a cooling effect which beats the heat of harsh summers. These tiles are also suitable for high rainfall regions since they drain easily and fast.


Mangalore tiles are popularly used in Goa, Canara, Kerala, and Konkan. They are especially made to be placed over kitchen and bathroom at an angle of forty five, for the smoke to escape. Timber rafters are required for the use of these tiles and since the cost of timber is high, this proves an expensive proposition. Many people opt for sloping concrete roofs over which Mangalorean tiles are laid, in order to retain the aesthetic charm.