Untold lives blog

10 July 2014

Let’s vary piracy, with a little burglary!

On 20 January 1732, Bandar Abbas on the north coast of the Persian Gulf was gripped by panic, as musket shots rang out over the city and two local soldiers ran about warning of an impending attack by Afghan raiders.

 

Afghan foot soldiers in their winter dress
Afghan foot soldiers in their winter dress, 1848 (Plate 11 of 'Afghaunistan' by Lieutenant James Rattray)  Online Gallery Noc

This would not be the first such attack, the Afghans and other Sunni rebels having recently plundered the outskirts of the city,  a caravan and the village of Afseen, where the East India Company’s Baghche or pleasure garden had been looted and used as the rebel headquarters (IOR/G/29/5 f.144). The previous attack on the city had been repulsed by the recently arrived Mir Haydar, an official from Shiraz. This same official, spurred to action by the warnings of people fleeing from the perceived danger, mounted his horse to face the attackers a second time. To his surprise, rather than finding an Afghan attack underway, he discovered that the two soldiers who had earlier evacuated the local population had taken the opportunity to burgle abandoned houses nearby in order to pay off gambling debts. The two were pursued by the Persians.

These events are recorded in an East India Company consultation book, written as a record of matters discussed in the regular meetings held by the British traders and administrators in the factory at Bandar Abbas. At this time, Persia was just lifting itself out of a decade of civil war, the Safavid dynasty having been toppled by an Afghan invasion in 1722. Raids and banditry as well as all-out war with the Turks made Persia at this time a very risky place to do business. We know, for example, that the Dutch and British factories in Bandar Abbas were fortified and armed against such dangers, the locals even flocking to the shadows of their walls for protection during the Afghan raid. A Company factor, William Cordeux, after leaving Bandar Abbas to warn approaching caravans of the Afghan’s presence as well as to hurry along one carrying Company goods, was subject to an assassination mission by the Afghans, whom he was lucky not to meet with on the road.

The continued presence and activity of the British in Persia during this tumultuous period go some way to showing the importance of Persia and more specifically Bandar Abbas, as a trading hub and outlet for the Company’s trade goods from India and Europe.

Peter Good
PhD student University of Essex/British Library Cc-by

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