Two forms of water-transport competed for supremacy on the Indus and its tributaries in the middle of the nineteenth century: the local country boats and the steamboats imported by the British. The steamers were the most advanced technology in South Asia. British investors poured capital into them, colonial officials subsidised them, and European travellers patronized them. The country boats-blown by the winds, rowed by the oars, dragged by ropes-had hardly changed in a thousand years. Yet the country boats kept the river trade while the steam flotillas went bankrupt. They were far better adapted to the shallow, shifting rivers; they were much cheaper to build and operate; and they drew on an extraordinary pool of skills-the skills of boatsmen and boat-builders. Steamboats on the Indus shows that the received wisdom-the 'Technology and Imperialism' school-is wrong to assume that Western machines destroyed indigenous techniques wherever they came into competition. Traditional technology could exploit the economic opportunities created by imperialism at lower cost than the most advanced machinery from the West.