This film is held by the BFI (ID: 9607).


Amateur film showing the aftermath of the 1935 Quetta earthquake.

"The Quetta Earthquake. May 31st 1935. 3.3. A.M.". "Dawn: The Residency, Mastung". Panned shot right to left across rubble of the Residency, turbaned Indian visible in remaining doorway. Other ruined buildings. "A Cup of Tea". Two crouching Indians drinking tea, two men stood behind them. Crates are visible, possibly of retrieved possessions. Panned shot across ruined building. Indian men, crossing a field in front of a destroyed house, saved furniture from the building now situated outside. "Clearing a track for the Baby Austin through Mastung Bazaar". Turbaned Indian lifts rubble from tree-lined street, panned shot to two others who help. Footage of major building collapse. Family in front of building, featuring awnings around one remaining wall. "Culvert on Quetta Mastung road with Abutments Displaced". Bridge that just about stands, Baby Austin driven around it.

"Bruce Road, Quetta, at noon on May 31st. Indian troops on rescue duty". Looking down a ruined main street, many local men present as well as horse and cart. Troops also visible. More collapsed buildings. Troop carriers, bearing troops. Ruined shops. Indians among heavy rubble. "In Quetta's 'West End'". Street filled with debris, some people walk down it, one wheeling a bicycle. "The Treasury and Law Courts". Pan across ruins of official buildings, archways remain but roof gone. "The Residency". Baby Austin in driveway. Ruined wall. Soldiers present. "Bungalows of Civil Officials on Lytton Road". Bungalows completely flattened. "A week later. H. H. The Khan of Kalat inspecting the Field Hospital at Mastung". Cars and lorries parked in a field, military personnel present. Khan of Kalat's grand car, then footage of Khan himself accompanied by European. Locals in background. Impoverished woman and child. Khan walks to woman, who begs, he then pushes her away and she falls to the ground. 'In the Zenana Hospital, Shani Bagh, Mastung'. Khan with Indian and European doctors at outdoor hospital. European nurse working beneath a tree. Europeans and Indians all dressed in western clothing at hospital.

"Brahui Tribesmen of Kalat State fleeing southwards from the stricken area". Tribal people on road carrying possessions by camel. Their tents pitched at the base of mountains. "Dingra Village: 140 inhabitants 110 deaths". Panned shot across makeshift camp. "Mt. Chhiltan, 10,800 ft. Showing marks of rockfalls". Scarred mountains. Large military camp. "Four months later Bruce Road survivors salvaging their shops under supervision of claims officer". Streets still full of rubble. Locals rummaging for possessions. European official discussing with one of the Indians. Indians among rubble. Ruined shops and retrieved goods. "Indian Boy Scouts and Rovers from the Punjab at work in the City". European officer among rubble. Scouts find body among rubble and carry it away. Helpers clearing rocks. Officer instructing scouts. Another body found under corrugated iron. Bodies carried to back of small van. "At the Burning Ghats". Lorry load of soldiers. Two Indians among rubble, one with sack. "Funeral Rites according to the Sikh faith" . Sikhs building pyre overseen by European officer. Service is read. "Taking Quetta Away in lorries: A drag-line excavator at work". Large crane clearing rubble.



Quetta is the capital city of the Baluchistan province, formerly in India, but now part of Pakistan. It is located in the south-west of the country about fifty miles from the Afghanistan border. The state did not come under permanent British control until 1876. From this point onwards Quetta served the Raj primarily as a military garrison. Around 12,000 soldiers were stationed in and around the city, charged with the task of quelling disturbances with Afghan tribesmen (Gun, 2007, 340).

In the early morning hours of 31 May 1935 an earthquake with a magnitude of around 7.5 on the Richter scale struck the area. Quetta, which had had many high-rise buildings, was razed to the ground. In the British parliament the death toll was recorded as follows: ‘European casualties amount to about 190 killed and 240 injured. In Quetta itself, out of a population of 45,000, between 20,000 and 30,000 have been killed’ (‘India (Quetta Earthquake Disaster)’). The earthquake was at the time the deadliest in present-day Pakistan’s history (Carayannis).

The military responded to the situation both promptly and in force. Within three hours of the earthquake an operation was underway to help save the lives of the injured; to bury the dead according to religious custom; and to restore communications in the city (Gun, 2007, 341). By 2 June 1935 it was determined that there was no further hope of rescuing people alive (‘1st Queen’s at Quetta’). Consequently, the city was sealed under military guard. The military were trying to check the spread of disease from corpses that remained buried in the rubble. They were also protecting the city, which had begun to be targeted by looters from local tribes, and had orders to shoot on sight (‘1st Queen’s at Quetta’). These tribes had, however, also suffered in the earthquake. Villages throughout the surrounding area had been destroyed (Carayannis).

Clarmont Percival Skrine, who shot this footage of the earthquake, was stationed in Mastung, a town situated to the south of Quetta. Mastung was also severely damaged during the earthquake. Skrine, who held the post of political agent in the Balauchistan administration, was sleeping in ‘the Residency’, which collapsed around him (Skrine, 1936, 414-15). The palace of the local princely ruler, the Khan of Kalat, was also severely damaged. The death toll for the town was reported as being over 1,700 (Carayannis). Skrine quickly involved himself in the rescue operations. Accompanied by his Indian servants he travelled to Quetta to get aid. However, on witnessing the devastation in that city, he returned to Mastung and worked to restore order there. As a result of his relief work he was awarded with an O.B.E (Stewart, 1989, 172).

The Quetta earthquake prompted a new wave of architectural design in India. In earthquake-prone areas new buildings were constructed using reinforced concrete (Gun, 2007, 341). In Quetta itself new buildings were also generally built as single-storey dwellings (Brown).



Skrine’s footage begins on the morning of the earthquake, shortly before he headed out for aid. He later recalled that before setting off to Quetta: ‘I “shot” the ruined Residency and other scenes with my cine-camera, which to my great joy I had discovered undamaged in the porch, with nearly 50 feet of unexposed film’ (Skrine, 1936, 417). His footage records his journey to the capital city, the devastation he witnessed there, and the scenes of Mastung upon his return. It then goes on to record later stages of the relief operation, culminating with scenes in Quetta four months after the earthquake.

Skrine manages to capture a wide range of material. He shows the damage wrought on a variety of buildings, including government homes, law courts and the shopping district. He also shows the earthquake’s effect on the physical environment, filming the scars caused by rock fall on Mount Chiltan. There is also much human interest footage. He films Indians drinking a comforting cup of tea among the ruins of their destroyed home; he records shopkeepers rummaging for possessions among their ruined stores; and there is footage of Sikhs constructing a pyre for the cremation of their dead. There is also some disturbing material. Indian boy scouts and rovers can be seen retrieving crushed bodies from the debris. And then there is a scene in which an impoverished local approaches the Khan of Khat; as she begs before him he pushes her aside, and as a consequence she falls to the ground.

Skrine’s film is more sympathetic towards the local people. Although in his recollections of the earthquake he talks of ‘marauding bands which roamed around the countryside’ (Skrine, 1936, 420), in the film itself, where he features tribesmen, his title card states only that they are ‘fleeing southwards from the stricken area’. He also films a tribal village. Here a title card starkly records: ‘Dingra Village: 140 inhabitants 110 deaths’.

Skrine’s film of the Quetta Earthquake provides valuable documentation. Unfortunately, he is an unskilled camera operator. It is to be expected that his camerawork would be a little haphazard on the morning of the earthquake; nevertheless, throughout the film his control of the camera remains unsteady. He also frames things poorly and pans too quickly across the material that he wishes to capture. As a result there is little sense of focus in his scenes. The footage also generally begins and ends too abruptly. The film is in its original, apparently unedited, chronological order, which Skrine punctuates with the use of title cards. These do describe what is taking place on screen, but he fails to disclose any personal involvement in the footage that is taking place. The title cards would have been more effective if we had learned that the ruined Residency is where he had been staying; that the track in Mastung is being cleared so that he can get to Quetta for aid; that the scene of the damaged culvert forms part of his journey; and so on. To be best appreciated the film needs to be viewed in conjunction with Skrine’s recollections of the event in the Geographical Journal.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Brown, Glynn, The Great Quetta Earthquake 31st May 1935, http://www.warlinks.com/memories/brown_john/The%20Great%20Quetta1.htm.

Carayannis, George Pararas, The Earthquake of May 30, 1935 in Quetta, Balochistan http://www.drgeorgepc.com/Earthquake1935PakistanQuetta.html.

‘1st Queen’s as Quetta – The Earthquake’, http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/reg_in_india/india43_1.html.

Gun, Angus M., Encyclopedia of Disasters: Environmental Catastrophes and Human Tragedies (Greenwood, 2007).

‘India (Quetta Earthquake Disaster)’ (17 June 1935),


Skrine, C. P., ‘The Quetta Eearthquake: A paper read at the Evening Meeting of the Society on 8 June 1936’, The Geographical Journal, 88/5 (November 1936), 414-428.

Stewart, John, Envoy of the Raj: The Career of Sir Clarmont Skrine, Indian Political Service (Maidenheand: Porpoise, 1989).



  • QUETTA EARTHQUAKE, MAY 31ST 1935 (Archive)

Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
263 ft

Production Credits

SKRINE, Clarmont