Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

25 August 2015

Smuggling in sugar

In July 1911 HMS Fox was instructed to board the British India Steam Navigation Company vessel Palmacotta which had departed Bombay for Kuwait. On board the ship were 25 cases of sugar loaf which were being sent from Antwerp to Kuwait. One of these cases had been accidentally damaged whilst being loaded onto Palmacotta for the final leg of the journey, and a surprising discovery had been made. Packed in between the cones of sugar loaf were guns and ammunition which were being smuggled into Kuwait.



From Gately's World's Progress. A general history of the earth's construction and of the advancement of mankind ... edited by C. E. Beale (Boston, 1886)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The Shaikh of Kuwait, Mubarak al-Sabah, had recently entered into an agreement with the British Government which had made the shipping of arms and ammunition into his territory illegal. This agreement had resulted in the individuals and companies involved in the arms import business in the Persian Gulf becoming more creative in light of the newfound illegality of their trade.

The discovery of these hidden weapons prompted further investigation both into the original consignment of the cargo from Antwerp and into ships' manifests to see if other similar shipments had arrived in Kuwait.

The investigations in Antwerp led to the discovery that the original dispatcher of the cases was given as a British Company ‘Bertie Richmond & Co’; however this turned out to be a fictitious name, leading only to further mystery.

The inspection of shipping manifests turned up numerous shipments to Kuwait of large quantities of sugar loaf, through a wide array of shipping agents and companies. One consignment was discovered aboard a Hansa Lines vessel SS Moltkefels, prompting the Company’s Bombay Agent to undertake his own investigation into the matter. He initially found that British companies had been listed as the original consignees, but that each of these was a fictitious creation to cover the tracks of the real smuggler.

The Hansa lines investigation eventually uncovered the full smuggling operation, which a well-respected Paris based company, Dieu & Co, had been orchestrating. The company had been ordering crates of sugar-loaf, and then sending a small number of crates from each order to a company in Belgium. The Belgian company’s instructions were to send them on to a gunsmith’s firm. The gunsmith in turn had been instructed to remove some of the sugar loaf and replace it with guns before repackaging the crate and send them back to the Belgian company, who would then send them on to be shipped to Kuwait.

Unfortunately the British and Dutch Governments (whom Hansa lines had enlisted in their investigation) had no powers to stop Dieu & Co from their smuggling practices.  They had to rely on improved searching measures and the knowledge of how the guns were being smuggled to try and ensure that this illegal trade was stopped.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records 

Further reading:



The comments to this entry are closed.

Untold lives blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs