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23 May 2017

Milking Oil - the start of the Kuwait Oil Industry

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The Kuwait Investment Authority, the world’s fifth largest sovereign wealth fund, began life with the gift of two tins of condensed milk to the Sheikh of Kuwait in 1936.

Condensed milk

Tin of condensed milk (Wikimedia Commons)


Kuwait’s great prosperity rests on its oil industry, which started with the ceremonial opening of the Kuwait Oil Company’s first well on 30 May 1936. The occasion was captured in a picturesque report probably written by the British Political Agent in Kuwait (Gerald de Gaury).

Kuwait IOR R 15

Map of Kuwait (detail) c 1930, showing Bahra: IOR/R/15/1/621, f 132A

One hundred guests, including the Sheikh, local Notables, and Europeans had been invited by the joint British and US-owned Company to Bahra, the site of the well (known as ‘Bahra 1’).  The opening ceremony fell during the period of warm and strongish winds known as ‘Barih ath-Thuraiyah’, and the day was hot.

At 1.30pm a fleet of cars from Kuwait ‘most of them very fully laden with the Notables and their followers, set out at racing pace into the dust haze’.  ‘Strangely’ says the report, ‘there were no casualties reported’.

Kuwait L PS 12 -A

Extract from Kuwait Intelligence Summary No. 9 of 1936: the opening of the Kuwait Oil Company’s first well. IOR/L/PS/12/3824, f 365

On arrival the Company found that the weather had destroyed its arrangements, as the ‘flapping dust-filled tents were quite unsuitable as places of reception and were abandoned in favour of the garage’.  Speeches were then made by both the Company’s Manager and the Sheikh to ‘a very crowded audience only slightly revived by Sherbet [a cooling juice drink]’.

At 5pm the Sheikh pressed an electric button and ‘had the gratification of setting the rig, the first ever in Kuwait and the third only in all Arabia, to work’.  This was followed by some ‘shy applause’, before the Sheikh examined with attention the machinery both at the rig site and afterwards at the workshops.

The report then gives the following details of the Sheikh’s tour, adding a touch of pathos at the end: ‘Acetylene welding, in particular stirred his interest and he watched, through dark glasses, for some time the cutting of metal by an Indian welder who had already lost one eye through the pursuit of his trade’.

This was followed by the presentation of an unexpected gift: ‘Before leaving the Ruler was shown the Offices and storerooms where the Manager of the Company as a parting gift presented him with 2 tins of Nestle’s milk’.  The Sheikh then expressed very great satisfaction at everything he had seen, and the hope that oil production would not be far behind.  ‘As His Excellency entered his car’, states the report, perhaps somewhat sarcastically, ‘he was informed that the well had already reached a depth of eight feet’.

  Kuwait L PS 12 -BThe Kuwait Oil Company’s parting gift to the Sheikh of Kuwait: two tins of Nestlé’s milk. IOR/L/PS/12/3824, f 366

In the event, Bahra proved not to contain a commercial quantity of oil.  However, a second exploratory well, at Burgan in the southern part of Kuwait, was more encouraging, and a productive area of considerable size had been identified in the area before operations were suspended during the Second World War.

In the 1950s, the Kuwait Government prudently began investing the profits of its burgeoning oil industry in what is now the Kuwait Investment Authority. The fund today has assets in excess of $590 billion.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives  British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
London, British Library, Coll 30/104(2) 'Koweit Oil Concession: Operations of the Koweit Oil Company. (Provision of Motor Vehicles & Spares for Sheik of Koweit)'. IOR/L/PS/12/3824. (A digitised version of this file will appear in the Qatar Digital Library in the course of 2017).
D I Milton, ‘Geology of the Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait’ Geological Survey Professional Paper 560-F, (United States Government Printing Office, Washington 1967) (via Google Books).
Film of the Kuwait oilfield in the late 1940s.

11 April 2017

The Hodeidah Incident: Britain’s ‘indiscriminate’ military action in Yemen

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In the early hours of 12 November 1914 George Richardson, the British Vice-Consul to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah (Al Hudaydah) in Yemen, was awoken by the sound of the town’s Turkish gendarmes forcing their way into his residence.  Fearing assassination, Richardson leapt from his terrace to that of the neighbouring Italian Vice-Consulate, whereupon he awoke his Italian counterpart Gino Cecchi, and pleaded for asylum.  Minutes later, having realised that Richardson had escaped next door, the Turkish gendarmes stormed the Italian Consulate, injuring an Italian guard in the process, and arrested Richardson.

Aden Ma'alla
Postcard showing the wharf at Ma’alla, Aden, Yemen, during the First World War. Source: Museums Victoria Collections . Public Domain.

It took a month for news of the raid and of Richardson’s arrest to reach the newspapers in Britain.  With Italy not yet having entered the war, and the British and French Governments lobbying for Italy to enter on the side the Allies, the British press focused on the ‘outrage’ that the Turkish authorities had inflicted against Italy in raiding one of its consulates, in what became known as the Hodeidah Incident.  On 14 December The Daily Telegraph reported a ‘new and very grave Italo-Turkish incident’, describing the incident as a ‘Turkish outrage at the Italian Consulate’.
 

Hodeidah 1
Copy of a communication sent by the British Ambassador to Italy, Sir Rennell Rodd, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey, 12 December 1914. IOR/L/PS/10/465, f 124.

In press reports, no mention was made of why orders were given by the Turkish to raid the Italian Consulate and arrest and detain the British Consul.  Political and Secret Papers in the India Office Records, now available on the Qatar Digital Library reveal more details.

Reporting on the incident after his eventual release, Richardson wrote that on 4 November a ‘ship of war’ appeared in Hodeidah harbour, flying the Turkish flag.  The warship then swapped its Turkish flag for the White Ensign (the British Naval flag), and dispatched a steam cutter and crew, which proceeded to set fire to a Turkish cargo vessel.  Richardson only later learnt that the vessel in question was HMS Minto, a small ship whose appearance and actions caused great consternation amongst the inhabitants of Hodeidah:

  Hodeidah 2
Extract of a report of the incident at Hodeidah, written by the British Consul, George Richardson, dated 9 February 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/454, ff 62-86.

The Minto’s action led to Richardson’s freedoms being increasingly curtailed by Turkish officials and, fearing ‘an intended massacre of British subjects in the city’, he barricaded himself and his family in the consulate.  The British attack on the Turkish fort at Cheikh Said, 150 miles south of Hodeidah, on 10 November 1914, led to an exodus of the population from Hodeidah, who expected British vessels to visit the port the following morning.  It was amidst this climate of fear and retribution that Turkish officers stormed the British and Italian consulates on the night of 11/12 November.

Richardson had no intimation of the events that unfurled in Hodeidah in early November 1914, writing only that he had received a cypher cable from Constantinople on 3 November, informing him that Britain would declare war on Turkey and that he should make arrangements for his immediate departure.

Hodeidah 3

 Extract of a note written by Arthur Hirtzel of the India Office, 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/454, f 60.

Unbeknownst to him, the Admiralty had ordered HMS Minto to ‘proceed up the Red Sea and destroy Turkish steamers and dhows’ on 2 November, three days before Britain’s formal declaration of war against Turkey.  As one India Office official noted at the time, in the early days of the war, the Admiralty was ‘disposed to be indiscriminate in their action’ in the Red Sea.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project

Further reading:
British Library, London, File 3136/1914 Pt 5 ‘German War. Turkey. Hodeida consuls incident’ (IOR/L/PS/10/465).
Charles Edward Vereker Craufurd, Treasure of Ophir (London: Skeffington & Co, 1929).
“Telegram from Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief, East Indies [Admiral Sir Richard Peirse] and the Senior Naval Officer, Aden [later South Yemen], with orders for HMS Minto to proceed up the Red Sea,...” The Churchill Papers (CHAR 13/39/50), Churchill Archives Centre (Cambridge), Churchill Archive.

 

04 April 2017

Caught out at Customs

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On 29 November 1932 a consignment of goods was delivered to Karachi via the SS Wachtfels, described on the manifest as “used effects, the property of the Afghan Government”.  On closer inspection the package was found to contain five pistols, 590 rounds of ammunition, and a “seditious publication”.  The items belonged to Abdul Hadi Khan, the former Afghan Minister to Berlin.

Osburn book

BL T29423

The publication was Must England Lose India? The nemesis of empire, by Colonel Arthur Clark Osburn, who had served with the Indian Medical Service.  Published in 1930, the book was banned for distribution in India.  Several people had brought the book to the attention of the India Office, including Osburn himself, who had instructed publisher Alfred Knopf to send a copy to the Secretary of State for India.  Osburn initially suggested that it would be inadvisable for the book to be sold in India during a period of unrest, and claimed “I am unwilling, being a member of the Socialist Party to embarrass the present Government in England in anyway”.

IOR L PJ 6 2001 A
 IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 (1930) - Finance Department (Central Revenues) Notification No. 18, 5 May 1930.  Noc

The book was confiscated. What about the pistols and ammunition?  The possession of these personal items was not the primary issue for the British authorities; rather it was the circumvention of protocol for importing arms and ammunition.  Under the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1921 the British were “for all practical purposes under an obligation to let the Afghan Government import without hindrance or restriction whatever arms it desires”.  However, prior formal notification of HM Minister at Kabul was required before permission would be granted, a system in part designed to stop the flow of arms across the border to the North-Western Provinces.

A search for a precedent to guide the decision revealed that in 1926 S Ghulam Siddiq Khan, when returning from the same post in Berlin, had transported arms not covered by a laissez passer which he had obtained from HM Embassy in Berlin.  It was noted:

“Whether the present case is a more serious one than that seems to depend on decision of the question whether it is worse to import arms under a false declaration by an Afghan Consul, or to misuse a British diplomatic laissez passer for the same purpose.”

The pistols and ammunition were returned, as an “exceptional concession”.

  Osburn’s service record
Information on Osburn’s service record, requested by the India Office IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 (1930) Noc

Osburn requested that the ban on his book be lifted, claiming to have written the book to counteract the views put forward by Katherine Mayo in her book Mother India.  He claimed his object in publishing the text was “to delay or prevent the demand in India for Independence or Home Rule from being irresistible”.  His plea was rejected by the India Office, with Under Secretary of State Arthur Hirtzel branding Osburn as “one of those disgusting birds who like to foul their own nests”.

  IOR L PJ 6 2001 B
Note by Arthur Hirtzel, in IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 Noc

Osburn’s book was added to the list of prohibited publications, alongside a wide variety of anti-imperialist works of non-fiction, fiction and poetry.  These titles can be explored further in the British Library catalogue Publications proscribed by the Government of India, and the Library holds many of the volumes in its collections.

Alex Hailey
Content Specialist Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Project

Further reading:
Records from Political (External) Collection 7: Arms, Ammunition and Arms Traffic (IOR/L/PS/12/2171-2221) are currently being added to the Qatar Digital Library Portal, and contain papers relating to licensing, the arms trade, and smuggling.
IOR/L/PS/12/2173 Coll 7/4 ‘Afghanistan: purchase of arms from Great Britain’
IOR/L/PJ/6/2001, File 1602 ‘British Rule in India: controversy regarding the book by Lt Col A Osburn’

M Lloyd and G Shaw (eds), Publications proscribed by the Government of India (British Library, 1985)
N Gerald Barrier, Banned: Controversial Literature and Political Control in British India 1907-1947 (University of Missouri Press, 1974)
A Osburn, Must England Lose India? The nemesis of empire (London: Knopf, 1930)

 

28 March 2017

Toshakhana - an untold word?

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Sometimes when cataloguing India Office Records we encounter unfamiliar words. Rather than an untold life, today we present an ‘untold word’, which might be known to those of you who have read Indian history.

  Toshakhana

What does Toshakhana mean?

Of Persian or Sanskrit origins, Toshakhana means ‘Treasure-House’, the store where items received as gifts from tribal chiefs, local rulers and princes were deposited. In fact, East India Company and India Office officials were not allowed to accept presents. Such items, often weapons or jewels, were to be valued, deposited in the Company’s toshakhana, and later used for exchange gifts with other rulers.

Several countries still have Toshakhanas. There were Toshakhanas in British India, and there was one in Bahrain.

Toshakhana IOR_R_15_2_1611_0179 IOR/R/15/2/1611, f 89.

An example of file regarding the Bahrain Toshakhana is IOR/R/15/2/1611 ‘Government Property: Bahrain Toshakhana Articles and Returns’, which contains lists of valuables kept in the Bahrain Toshakhana, as well as annual returns detailing the sale proceeds of Toshakhana and Durbar pre-sents for the years 1926-1945.

Items like rifles, watches, cigarette cases, hunting knives, binoculars and telescopes were normally kept for presentation purposes in the Bushire Toshakhana and reused as gifts for local rulers.

Another common practice was the sale of firearms and ammunition from the Toshakhana for training or salute purposes, and the use of the Toshakhana for the temporary storage of firearms be-longing to the Bahrain Agency staff.


Valentina Mirabella
Archive Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

@miravale
@BLQatar

 

07 March 2017

Flying over the Himalayas: RAF Flight to Gilgit in November 1934

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During the 1930s, the RAF conducted a number of flights to Gilgit. These flights served political purposes through projecting British power into this remote region of her Empire, propaganda purposes from the resulting prestige of conducting daring flights of exploration, and allowed the exploration of prospects for civil aviation.

    IOR L PS 12 1993 f. 183
Hawker Harts over Chamngarh Nala: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 183

A flight during November 1934 is particularly richly illustrated by a file from the India Office Political and Secret Department records. In addition to a detailed written report, the file also contains forty-five aerial photographic prints.

The outward bound flight, comprising five Hawker Harts, departed from Risalpur at 8:05am on 5 November 1934. The flight flew via Daggar, Kandar, and Patan following the Indus Valley. It arrived at Gilgit at 10:10am. The flight proceeded smoothly, but unfortunately poor visibility limited the use of the camera; only eight exposures were taken.

IOR L PS 12 1993 f. 177
Gilgit landing ground: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 177

The aircrew remained at Gilgit for three day camping at the edge of the landing ground. A programme by the local resident which included a chikor shoot, polo, and a display of dancing by men of the Gilgit Scouts kept them entertained. During their stay they undertook demonstration and reconnaissance flights; sadly due to a fuel leak in the photographic aircraft no photographs were taken.

The flight departed Gilgit on 8 November at 10:30am. The fuel leak in the photographic aircraft could not be rectified in time due to the amount of dust at the aerodrome, so only four aircraft made the return flight. Luckily the camera was transferred to another aircraft and a large number of exposures were taken during the return trip.

During the return flight a number of aerial photographs were taken of Gilgit town and the surrounding country.
 IOR L PS 12 1993 f.176

Gilgit Fort: IOR/L/PS/12/1993 f. 176

The flight proceeded down the Indus Valley and obtained pictures of a number of very high peaks including Rakaposhi, Haramosh, and Nanga Parbat. The flight then descended, circled over Chilas, then proceeded along the Darel Valley as far as Reshmal [?]. It then returned back along the Indus Valley as far as Shiwai at which point a return course was set for Risalpur.

The flight returned to Risalpur at 1:20pm. The photographic aircraft returned with a relief plane the following day.

The photographs, along with the rest of this file's content, are available to view free of charge on the Qatar National Library’s online portal.

Robert Astin
Content Specialist, Archivist British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 5/39 ‘Flights of RAF aeroplanes to Gilgit; flights of foreign aircraft over Gilgit and Chitral’ IOR/L/PS/12/1993

 

21 February 2017

Enclosed Herewith: Specimens of Ore from the Kuria Muria Islands

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Recently the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership programme discovered an unusual enclosure in some India Office correspondence:  four small specimens of ore, contained in a little pouch.  Where were these specimens from and how did they become part of the India Office Records?

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0036

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 17: pouch containing four specimens of ore Noc

The specimens were given to Lieutenant-Colonel William Rupert Hay, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, by some inhabitants of Al Hallaniyah during Hay’s visit to the island on 7 April 1947.  Al Hallaniyah is the largest of the Kuria Muria Islands, a group of five islands located in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Oman.  The islands were presented as a gift to Britain by the Sultan of Muscat in 1854, and they became the responsibility of the Government of Bombay in British India.  They were highly valued for their guano deposits, which were exhausted by 1860, following a brief but intensive period of extraction. The islands became part of the British Aden Colony, but for administrative purposes were placed under the control of the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0037

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 17a: four specimens of ore from Al Hallaniyah Noc

Although the islands were long regarded by the British as being of little strategic or commercial interest, their status and administration became a topic of discussion between the India Office and the Colonial Office during the 1930s.  This was mainly in relation to Aden’s separation from British India, but also because of the establishment of a strategic air route from Aden to Muscat.

The reasons behind Hay’s visit to the islands in 1947 are not entirely clear, but he appeared to take a personal as well as a professional interest in the islands.  Following his visit he submitted a short article to The Geographical Journal (the journal of the Royal Geographical Society), which was published later that year.  Hay was also curious about the properties of the specimens that he had received at Al Hallaniyah.  A few days after his trip, in a letter to Eion Pelly Donaldson at the India Office in London, Hay wrote: ‘I forward herewith the specimens of ore handed to me on Hallaniyah Island.  If there is no objection I should be grateful if you could kindly have them analysed and let me know the result'.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0045

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 21: letter from the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf to the India OfficeNoc

The specimens were duly sent to the Geological Survey and Museum (now part of the Natural History Museum) in South Kensington. After an initial inspection the specimens were identified as being crystals of iron pyrites, and were deemed not to be of commercial value.  Donaldson informed Hay of the results and added ‘[w]e will keep the specimens here for the time being, unless you want them returned’.  Presumably Hay did not express any interest in retaining the specimens, which have remained with the correspondence ever since.

IOR_L_PS_12_2106_0028

IOR/L/PS/12/2106, f 13: letter from the India Office to the Political Resident in the Persian GulfNoc

Images of the specimens will be made available on the Qatar Digital Library website later this year.


David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
Coll 6/39 'Kuria Muria Islands: Administration and Status of', IOR/L/PS/12/2106
John Gordon Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, ’Omān and Central Arabia, 2 vols (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, India, 1908), II, pp. 1043-1045.
William Rupert Hay, ‘The Kuria Muria Islands’, The Geographical Journal, 109 (1947) No. 4/6 (April-June 1947), 279-281.

  

16 February 2017

Thim Days Is Gone – a colonial memoir

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Patrick Tandy was a soldier and colonial administrator who wrote a memoir about his time in India and the Persian Gulf. The memoir has an arresting title: ‘Thim Days Is Gone’.

Tandy, an Irishman, was no lover of colonial ‘snobbery and pomposity’, as he explains in a preface: ‘The late Christabel, Lady Ampthill of blessed memory, answered the door-bell of her Castle of Dungorra in Connemara to find the coal-man on her door step. He said “Where do you want the coal, missus?” She drew herself up and replied “Kindly address me as your ladyship!” His answer was “Thim days is gone missus, where do you want the coal?”’

Mss Eur F226_28_0005

‘Thim Days Is Gone’ by Patrick Tandy. Mss Eur F 222/28, f 3.

Tandy had a career spanning the Royal Artillery, the North-West Frontier Province of India, and colonial administration in the Persian Gulf, where he was Political Officer, Trucial Coast, and later Political Agent, Kuwait. The memoir spans the years 1932-48, and was written in the 1980s.

We learn from Tandy’s colourful account, among other things, that the Urdu spoken by upwards of 90% of the British officers in India was in fact a language ‘almost unintelligible to the untutored Indian’, and Urdu-speaking recruits had to be taught by their fellow soldiers the ‘Sahib’s Urdu’ in order to understand their own officers (folio 6).

Amorous exploits include the ‘attractive blonde daughter’ of his boss, the Chief Commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, ‘whose marriage was going through a difficult period, and who had flown to the shelter of her mother’s wing. One could hardly have asked for more’ (folio 34).

Then there was the Maharajah who always wore gloves to shake hands with Europeans ‘in order to avoid defilement’ (folio 33).

Service during the Second World War with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the borders of Iran and Russia brought him into contact with a local official who had removed a cache of arms and ammunition from behind the walls of his house. He had then disguised the repair to the wall by hanging up a sanitary instrument, ‘more, one imagines, for convenience than ornamentation’. The same official also made home-brew vodka, which exploded when lit by a match (folio 86).

Attempts to organise Russian deserters for guerrilla operations foundered on the fact that if captured the deserters faced execution by their own side, by the Germans, or by anyone else.

Tandy’s transfer to Sharjah in the Trucial Coast involved a stopover at Bahrain, where he tells the story of an unnamed VIP, an apartment for off-duty air hostesses, and a two-way mirror (folio 96).

Much follows about social customs, local rulers, and the advent of the oil industry.

On folio 103 the Sheikh of Sharjah (a diabetic) is saved by an insulin injection from a Jewish doctor, and on folio 115 the Sheikh of Kuwait fortunately takes the right glass at a Royal Navy reception (all the others had gin in).

Tandy finally left Kuwait (and the Gulf) in 1948, when he handed over to ‘a young man from The Foreign Office who had no Arabic’, leaving him with the feeling that ‘an era had come to an end’.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Mss Eur F 226/28 'THIM DAYS IS GONE'
Biographical notes on Maurice Patrick O'Connor Tandy (1912-1986) can be found in Paul John Rich, Creating the Arabian Gulf: The British Raj and the Invasions of the Gulf (Lexington Books, 2009)
Diana Quick, A Tug on the Thread: From the British Raj to the British Stage. A Family Memoir (Virago Press, 2009).

 

 

12 January 2017

The Beach Pyjama Incident

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Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow wore them, but British officials felt that beach pyjamas weren’t right for Sharjah in 1933.

Beach pyjamas

Woman in beach pyjamas, 1932. Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-13627 via Wikimedia Commons

Air travel had come to Sharjah the previous year, when it began serving as a stopover on the Imperial Airways route to India. Facilities included a rest house with bath and showers. However, in 1933 a report reached the British Political Agent in Bahrain that passengers had been making visits to the town, including one female passenger ‘clad in beach pyjamas’, the fashionably fast beach leisurewear of the 1930s.

A senior India Office official, J G Laithwaite, was soon referring in an official minute to the ‘beach pyjama incident’.

IOR L PS 12 3807, f 24

Minute by Laithwaite, India Office, 8 May 1933, referring to ‘the beach pyjama incident’ at Sharjah IOR/L/PS/12/3807, f 24.

British concern about the free movement of air passengers at Sharjah took two forms. On the one hand, they wished to limit contact between visitors and the Sheikh of Sharjah, particularly unauthorised representatives of oil companies hunting for lucrative petroleum contracts.

On the other hand, there was concern that passengers might be ‘insulted or molested’ by the local inhabitants, who had ‘not up to now been accustomed to having strangers, especially ladies, wandering about their bazaars’. If this happened, the British authorities would be forced to insist that the Sheikh identified and punished the offenders, with a consequent straining of relations between the British and the Sheikh.

The British Political Resident, Lieutenant-Colonel Trenchard Fowle, proceeded to write to the Sheikh of Sharjah, warning him, more tactfully, about the possible threat to passengers from ‘some bad character or Bedouin from the desert’, and asking him to enforce a treaty clause stating that no Imperial Airways employee or passenger should be allowed to enter the town of Sharjah without the Sheikh’s permission.

IOR L PS 12 3807, f 29

Letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Trenchard Fowle, Political Resident in Persian Gulf, to the Sheikh of Sharjah, March 1933, warning him of the consequences, if some ‘unfortunate incident’ were to occur involving Imperial Airways passengers at Sharjah: IOR/L/PS/12/3807, f 29.

The historian Penelope Tuson thinks that the concern of British administrators for the safety of female passengers was only apparent, and that that their real motive was to preserve sexual propriety and the status quo, in the face of increasing numbers of female visitors to the Gulf – doctors, nurses, oil industry wives, and travellers like Freya Stark. All of these women were outside the British political and diplomatic class, and hence more difficult to control.

However, British officials may have reflected that Sharjah was in a part of the Gulf that had up to that point seen few manifestations of Western culture. (The airfield ‘rest house’ was actually a fort, Al Mahatta, complete with armed guards.) Moreover, the chief concern of British administrators was normally the need to preserve friendly relations with local rulers, who were themselves part of the status quo.

Thus, Fowle had also been at pains to reprimand Imperial Airways over an incident at Gwadar, an exclave of the sultanate of Muscat, in which an employee of the company had accidentally wounded a local person while out shooting. Fortunately, the incident in question was quickly settled.

In the event, Imperial Airways promptly enforced restrictions on the movements of passengers at Sharjah.

The identity of the female passenger at the centre of the controversy is not recorded. However, the incident illustrates some of the cultural interactions that characterised the changing face of the Gulf in the 1930s.

The correspondence file on which this piece is based will be made available in the Qatar Digital Library in 2017.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 30/88 'Question of residence of European women on the Trucial Coast.' IOR/L/PS/12/3807.
Penelope Tuson, Playing the Game. The Story of Western Women in Arabia (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2003)
Film of the airport at Sharjah in 1937