Untold lives blog

72 posts categorized "Middle East"

28 March 2022

Those who Lust and those who Lack: Tyranny and Passivity in Early Modern English writing on the Ottomans

In A Voyage into the Levant (1636), Henry Blount creates a number of stereotyped images of Turkish people he encountered during his travels through the Ottoman Empire by stating that they were ‘addict[ed] to sodomy’ (Tiryakioglu, 2015, p. 134).  Blount, according to Rosli and Omar (2017), travelled to the Levant and stayed there for 52 days.  He then made a five-day stop in Constantinople before making his way to Egypt.  Blount even goes as far as to circulate false information about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  He claims that the Prophet himself thought those who followed his teachings were ‘rude and sensual’ (Blount, 1636, p. 121) and that he wished to trick them into believing in the false paradise for which they were fighting (for example, when the Ottomans invaded the Levant in 1516): ‘Mahomet [...] made not his Paradise to conflict in Visions, and Hallelujahs; but in delicious fare, pleasant Gardens, and Wenches with great eyes [...] he promises that their Souls shall suddenly have given them young lusty bodies, and set in Paradise, eternally to enjoy those pleasures [...]’ (p.122).

Castles Sultaniye and Kilitbahir on the European and Asiatic shores of the DardanellesThe castles Sultaniye and Kilitbahir on the European and Asiatic shores of the Dardanelles from Henry Blount, Zee- en Land-Voyagie Van den Ridder Hendrik Blunt, Na de Levant. Gedaan in het Jaar 1634 (1707) via Wikimedia Commons

Thus, it appears that Blount was attempting to demonise the Ottomans in the minds of his reader due to English anxieties about increased Anglo-Ottoman trade at the start of the 17th century (Ágoston, 2013; Erkoç, 2016).  This attempt to demonise the Ottomans as self-indulgent and barbaric also recurs in The Totall Discourse of the Rare Adventures and Painfull Peregrinations (1632) by William Lithgow.  Lithgow recounts what he witnessed of the Ottoman slave trade whilst visiting a market in Constantinople and, as a result of his experiences, warns his reader that Turkish people are ‘extremely inclined to all sorts of lascivious luxury ... besides all their sensual and incestuous lusts, unto sodomy, which they account as a dainty to digest [with] all their other libidinous pleasures’ (Lithgow, 1632, p.105).

The stereotyped cultural Ottoman figure that features in Blount’s and Lithgow’s writing also affected early modern dramatic portrayals of Ottomans as violent, lustful, and, politically corrupt.  The theatrical Turkish type may have generally encouraged early modern resurgences of crusading rhetoric, whereby the First Crusade in 1095 was seen as a means to relieve the Orient from what European Christians perceived as barbarism.  However, the endorsement of English crusading rhetoric against Ottomans in early modern writing are a point of contention for Roger Boyle in his play, The Tragedy of Mustapha (1665).  Boyle depicts his Sultan Solyman’s killing of Mustapha, not as being driven by violent impulse but instead, as being driven by the Sultan’s fear that his throne—and therefore, the safety of his subjects—is at risk of being disrupted by Mustapha.  Mustapha is also humanised by Boyle because, in submitting to his death sentence without retaliation, Mustapha fulfils his political duty to his father.  Thus, Boyle represents the disastrous consequences that occur (in the form of Mustapha’s death) when a ruler forces their actions to align with, or to conform to, the expectations of the stereotyped violent Ottoman.

Aisha Hussain
Doctoral researcher at the School of English, University of Salford

Further reading:
Ágoston, G. (2013). ‘War-Winning Weapons? On the Decisiveness of Ottoman Firearms from the Siege of Constantinople (1453) to the Battle of Mohács (1526)’. Journal of Turkish Studies, 39 (1), pp.129-143.
Blount, H. (1636). A Voyage into the Levant. London: Andrew Crooke.
Erkoç, S. (2016). ‘Dealing with Tyranny: Fulke Greville's Mustapha in the Context of His Other Writings and of His View on Anglo-Ottoman Relations’. The Journal of Ottoman Studies, 47(1), pp.265-90.
Boyle, R. (1665). The Tragedy of Mustapha, the son of Solyman the Magnificent. In: The Dramatic Works of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery: Volume One, ed. by William Smith Clark II. (1937). Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Lithgow, W. (1632). The Totall Discourse of the Rare Adventures and Painefull Peregrinations of Long Nineteene Yeares Travailes from Scotland to the Most Famous Kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica.
Rosli, U.N.B.M., (2017). ‘References of Sexuality in Relation to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in 17th-19th Century Selected French and English Orientalist Travelogues’. Arab World English Journal, 1(4), pp.68-82.
Tiryakioglu, N. O. (2015). The Western image of Turks from the Middle Ages to the 21st century: the myth of 'terrible Turk' and 'lustful Turk’. Published Doctoral Dissertation, Nottingham Trent University.

This blog post is part of a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

 

28 February 2022

John Sanderson’s horrible housemates

The Levant Company clerk John Sanderson had arrived in Istanbul on 12 March 1592.  However, something had changed in the behaviours and manners of the English residents since his first being there.  Sanderson wrote that there had been a ‘great alteration; frome serving God devoutly and drinking puer water, nowe to badness stoutly and much wine (the witts hater).’  In Sanderson’s absence the embassy had been taken over by Edward Barton and Sanderson now had to decide whether to move in with him.  Despite his reservations, the benefits – and probably also savings– were too great to forego Barton’s offer.

Sanderson_title pageTitle page of John Sanderson's commonplace book British Library Lansdowne MS 241 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Born in 1560 John Sanderson is a rare example of an early modern man of trade who wrote a record of his life.  His miscellaneous commonplace book is held in the British Library manuscript collection (BL Lansdowne MS 241).  His short ‘autobiography’, entitled by its author ‘a record of the birthe and fortunes of John Sanderson, alias Bedic’, noted down not only Sanderson’s illnesses, fortunes and misfortunes, but also and very keenly, his many judgments (‘censures’) about other people.  And there were loads of them.

Reading Sanderson’s account, anyone who has ever been stuck in a riotous house-share with horrible house-mates will soon start to feel sympathy.  Sanderson claims that the ambassador Barton ‘vexed me to my very soule,’ although his foremost adversary seems to have been William Aldrich, who Sanderson claims to have ‘stealingly’ struck him.  After Sanderson struck him back the ambassador Barton himself ‘laid his fists one my face for so doinge, and confined me to my chamber.’  After all these fisticuffs Barton sent a stern letter to Sanderson’s room, threatening to deport him back home to England.  After the altercation Aldrich refused to dine in the same table with Sanderson and complained that he ‘outlooked him'.  Ill-will continued for some time, although the ambassador eventually tried to make amends by gifting Sanderson ‘a redd velvett goune wch the Gran Sigr had vested him with before he kiste his hand'.  Additional proof of this reconciliation was that Sanderson later acted as the ambassador’s deputy when Barton famously, and somewhat notoriously, accompanied the Ottoman sultan Mehmet III to his wars in Hungary.  However, the scuffles continued between Sanderson, Aldrich, and the steward of the house.

Based on his writings, Sanderson was a keen observer of the faults of other people.  He listed all the names or sometimes the initials of his ‘frenemies’, saying that ‘many other agreevances and discontents passed whilst I was ther, in comp of Bushell, Aldrich, Mons, Wragg, Rivers, Babington’...  The animosities between Sanderson and the two Aldrich brothers, William and Jonas, were explained by the different ‘conditions and qualities’ of the men, whereas the differences between Sanderson and Barton were probably due to breaching social hierarchies and trying to police Barton’s behaviour too much (possibly due to toxic masculine bravado).  Sanderson gave all these men derogatory nicknames ranging from ‘wicked athiesticall knave’ to ‘poysoner’ and ‘whoremonger’ and continued to record their deaths with no small amount of glee.

The selected texts from this old ledger volume bought by Sanderson’s father were edited by William Foster, the then president of the Hakluyt Society and published in 1931.  You can find this fascinating manuscript as part of the Lansdowne collection.

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg
Academy Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, History, and Art Studies, University of Helsinki
(eva.holmberg@helsinki.fi)


Further reading:
British Library Lansdowne MS 241.
The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant 1584-1602. Ed. by William Foster. Hakluyt Society 2nd Series ; No 67. London: Hakluyt Society, 1931.
Eva Johanna Holmberg, ‘‘Passages recollected by memory’: Remembering the Levant Company in seventeenth-century merchants’ life writing’, in Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World. Routledge, 2021. p. 211-239 (Hakluyt Society Studies in the History of Travel; Vol. 1).

This blog post is the second in a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

22 February 2022

‘A mishap to German aviators’ in Mesopotamia: a tale of engine failure and a small Persian dog

In 1917, four German aviators and their dog faced the dangers of unreliable machinery and merciless desert heat in Mesopotamia.

World War I saw the first large-scale use of aerial warfare.  Aeroplanes proved particularly valuable in the deserts of Mesopotamia, where the Ottoman Empire and its German allies faced off against the invading British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force.  British and German pilots were crucial to war on this front, flying over vast stretches of desert to observe enemy troop movements.  A single mechanical failure could send a mission spiralling towards disaster.

Map of Mesopotamia 1916Map of Mesopotamia, 1916. 'Map 3. Mesopotamia' [‎365] (1/1)  Qatar Digital Library 

One such incident is recorded in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force and gives an insight into the early problems of military aviation as it adapted to new environments.

On 7 July 1917, two German two-seater planes set out southwards from Tikrit.  The four aviators were tasked with flying over British positions near Baghdad and gathering information.  The mission went mostly to plan; both planes made it to their rest stop at Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and stayed there until 9 July.

Extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917

Extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

Disaster struck on their return journey, ‘about halfway across the 50 odd miles of desert they had to pass over’.  One plane ‘suffered a serious breakdown’ and was forced to land.  The other plane landed to try and help.  The stricken craft could not be repaired, and so the Germans burnt it to avoid it falling into British hands.  It now seemed as though two of the pilots had no way to escape the desert.

Photograph of a Rumpler C.III  a German reconnaissance planePhotograph of a Rumpler C.III, a typical German reconnaissance plane.  Image from the Ray Wagner Collection, courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum

These aviators were nothing if not creative, however.  They loaded the surviving plane with all their belongings, a salvaged machine gun, ‘and a small Persian dog which habitually accompanied all important reconnaissance’.  Two pilots took their seats in the plane, while the other two ‘sat on each wing where they held on as best they could’.  Four men, three machine guns, and a small dog managed to fly in this manner for around 25 minutes.  But the extra weight prevented the plane from climbing high enough to cool its engine.  The Germans landed once again, resolving to wait until the evening brought colder temperatures.

Second extract from British report on the German mission  21 July 1917Second extract from British report on the German mission, 21 July 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282- Crown Copyright, available via the Qatar Digital Library

They may have quickly regretted this decision.  The Germans spent a torturous day in the desert, exposed to the sun and forced to drink near-boiling water from the engine’s radiator.  As the sun finally set, the exhausted men drove their plane across the sands rather than attempting to fly.  Roughly fifteen miles from Samarra, this plane’s engine also failed.  The Germans burnt it and continued on foot.

The trials of the day proved too much for two of the men, who ‘collapsed and had to be abandoned’.  The surviving pair reached British lines at dawn on 10 July.  The British sent patrols to search for the two men left behind but found no sign of the pilots.  The two survivors were now prisoners of war.

Not all of the plane’s passengers suffered such a grim fate.  The ‘small Persian dog’ survived the desert trek, and found itself switching its wartime allegiance.  It was given to some British troops ‘with whom it is no doubt a popular pet’.

Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot  France  1915Highland Territorials entrenched with a dog mascot, France, 1915. 


Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282  - available via the Qatar Digital Library
Mesopotamia campaign
Aerial warfare during World War One 

25 January 2022

A Vignette of Inter-War Anglo-American Relations in the Middle East

In January 1931 the American Consul in Baghdad received a rap on the knuckles from the Political Agent and British Consul in Muscat, Major Trenchard C W Fowle.

Photograph of Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle in military uniform with medals.Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle, by Walter Stoneman, 1937  NPG x167632. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

This mild castigation of the American Consul, Alexander Kilgore Sloan, arose from a request by Dr Sarah Hosmon of the American Mission at Muscat to visit the inland village of Rustaq.  Hosmon wished to ‘take care and prescribe for sick people there’, following an invitation from the Governor of that town.

Sloan was under the impression that Fowle had refused Hosmon’s request and wrote a letter of support on her behalf.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq.Extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930, supporting Sarah Hosmon’s missionary trip to Rustaq. Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan concluded that if conditions there had not worsened radically since March ‘I can see no reason to forbid her journey to that town and consequently request that you assist Miss Hosmon in making her contemplated trip’.

Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930Further extract of a letter from Sloan to Fowle, 16 December 1930 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Map of Oman and the Persian Gulf

Map of Oman showing Rastaq (inland, south-west of Muscat) - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Three weeks later Fowle replied in a distinctly patronising tone: ‘In the first place I am not “The British Political Adviser, Muscat”, as addressed by you’.

Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position Extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931, ‘clarifying’ the position - Qatar Digital LibraryPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fowle refused to incur any responsibility for Hosmon’s journey: ‘When in charge of foreign interests a Consular officer has to be even more careful with regard to such interests than those of his own nationals … if some unfortunate incident befell Miss Hosmon, and if she had taken her journey with my permission, then not unnaturally I should be held responsible for her having proceeded with my approval’.

He noted that the Council of Ministers of Muscat advised against the journey to Rustaq, adding that he had made arrangements for an alternative trip by Hosmon to some coastal villages, which she had not yet made.

Further extract from letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931Further extract from  letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931 - Qatar Digital Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Perhaps to hammer home his overseeing role, Fowle signs his letter ‘Political Agent & HBM’s Consul, Muscat. (In charge American Interests in Muscat)’.

End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan  8 January 1931End of letter from Major Fowle to Sloan, 8 January 1931  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In March 1931, on his return from visiting various Gulf ports, Sloan replied to ‘His Britannic Majesty’s Consul, Muscat, Arabia’, thanking him for his ‘courtesy’ in writing to him.

Letter from Sloan to Fowle  10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s tripExtract from letter from Sloan to Fowle, 10 March 1931 abrogating responsibility for permitting Hosmon’s trip - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Sloan enclosed a copy of a letter he claimed to have written to Hosmon on 16 December 1930, the same date as his letter to Fowle.  He told Hosmon he had little knowledge of conditions in the Sultanate of Oman, but was aware that travel into the interior could be dangerous.  He cited the case of Mr Bilkert, a member of the American Mission killed in Kuwait territory in 1929, and noted his sympathy with Major Fowle’s ‘reluctance in the matter’ since it has ‘often happened in the past that the killing of an American citizen or of a British subject bound on an errand of mercy has probably caused more distress than that person could have alleviated’.

Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon  dated 16 December 1930Extract of a letter from Sloan to Sarah Hosmon, dated 16 December 1930 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
 

Sloan’s words appear, in part, to contradict what he wrote to Fowle on 16 December.  By enclosing the copy of his letter to Hosmon he appears to exonerate himself for originally endorsing Hosmon’s trip and for offending Fowle, and he diplomatically dumps responsibility back onto the British!

Interestingly the Persian Gulf Administration Report for Muscat 1931 states that Hosmon, with sanction of the Council, visited Sohar, Saham and Al-Khaburah, whilst Dr Storm, another member of the American Mission, ventured into Rustaq.

Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency  Muscat  for 1931Extract of the Administration Report of the Political Agency, Muscat, for 1931 - Qatar Digital Library  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Was there a hint of anti-American irritation in Fowle’s letter? Growing American influence in the Middle East during this period regularly irked the British colonial authorities who regarded the region as their domain.  Or perhaps risk-taking American missionaries had simply put him in a foul mood…?

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/6/145: ‘File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/12/3719/1: ‘Persian Gulf: Administration Reports 1926-1938’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/L/PS/10/1177: ‘PERSIAN GULF NEWS SUMMARY 1926-1930’, India Office Records and Private Papers, British Library, London.
IOR/X/3210: ‘A Revised map of Oman and the Persian Gulf, in which an attempt has been made to give a correct transliteration of the Arabic names. By the Rev. George Percy Badger, FRGS’, 1871, Map Collections, British Library, London.

11 January 2022

The Spy Who Came in from the Circus: Haji Ali Germani

In 1915, a man was arrested near the Iranian port of Bandar Lengeh by levies in the pay of the British Consulate, accused of inciting the local population against British interests.  He was ‘fair, though now very sunburned’, with ‘fair hair and grey eyes’, spoke German, English, Farsi, and Arabic, and went by the name of Haji Ali Germani.

The arrest took place against a tumultuous backdrop.  To weaken Britain in Europe during the First World War, Germany and its allies were striking at the British imperial system in Asia.  German, Austrian, and Ottoman agents, along with Indian revolutionaries, were spreading across Iran, approaching Afghanistan and causing panic among the British occupying India.  The arrested Haji Ali was believed to be working with German agents, most prominently the feared Wilhelm Wassmuss, ‘the German Lawrence’, to weaken British influence over southern Iran, and thus the Persian Gulf and route to India.

Haji Ali told his captors that his mother was a German circus performer and his father a ‘Moor’ (North African).  He himself had started out as an acrobat, before joining the firm of Robert Wönckhaus, a former Zanzibar slave trader who had moved into business in the Gulf.

Letter about Haji Ali from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire 25 September 1915Letter from the Vice-Consul in Bandar Lengeh to the Commanding Officer in Bushire [Bushehr], 25 September 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490 f 138r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Haji Ali was already known, and distrusted, by British authorities.  He had been involved in Wönckhaus’s concession to mine red oxide on Abu Musa island, which hawkish British officers perceived as a threatening German intrusion into the jealously-guarded Gulf and quickly had shut down.

After his arrest Haji Ali was deported to India.  On reaching Bombay [Mumbai] in October 1915, he was sent into internment in Jutogh in the Himalayan foothills.  He was escorted on the long journey north by one Sub-Inspector Schiff, an Arabic speaker in Bombay’s colonial police, who coaxed information from him about Indian revolutionaries with the Germans in Iran.  After ‘a large glass of brandy (neat) and several glasses of beer at Delhi station’, Haji Ali revealed that German agents were planning to ship arms to Indian revolutionaries from Shanghai, taking advantage of relaxed checks on ships coming to India from the east.  After sobering up, he was ‘very much exercised at having said so much and bound Sub-Inspector Schiff to secrecy by all the oaths in the Arabic vocabulary’.

Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay 14 October 1915Letter from the Bombay Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of the Government of Bombay, 14 October 1915. IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 39vPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Schiff judged that Haji Ali was not a ‘true [German] patriot’, and could be led to make further ‘revelations of interest’.  Thus, no sooner did Haji Ali reach Jutogh than he was sent back to Bombay for further interrogation.  There, he revealed the location of the keys to Wönckhaus’s safes, buried near Lengeh, among other fragments of information.

We hear little more of him.  In 1916, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Thayetmyo, Burma.  After the war he seems to have returned to Iran – a 1922 file mentions him back in Lengeh, working in Customs.

Extract from Persian Gulf Residency News Summary July 1922Persian Gulf Residency News Summary, July 1922. IOR/L/PS/10/977 f 143v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is not clear if Haji Ali really was actively involved in German wartime conspiracies, or simply a bystander.  Either way, he was a colourful bit-player in a tempestuous period in Iran.

Despite declaring itself neutral in the war, Iran became a battleground for rival powers, was occupied by British, Russian, and Ottoman troops, and was wracked by shortages, inflation, and famine, causing immense suffering among ordinary Iranians.  Theirs are among the truly untold lives of the First World War.

William Monk
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, File 3443/1914 Pt 3 'German War: Afghanistan and Persia; German agents; British troops in East Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/474
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation', IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 1749/1921 ‘Persian Gulf:- Residency news summaries 1921-25’ [‎143v] (301/494), IOR/L/PS/10/977
British Library, 'File 14/115 VIII B 15 Abu Musa. Red oxide concession.', IOR/R/15/1/260
Abrahamian, Ervand.  A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Staley, Eugene. ‘Business and Politics in the Persian Gulf: The Story of the Wönckhaus Firm.’ Political Science Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 1933, pp. 367–385.

 

04 January 2022

Early modern Iran seen through the eyes of G. Hofstede van Essen

As a well-travelled physician, scholar and Royal Society fellow, Hans Sloane had an interest in foreign places, their people and customs, which also fed into his collection of drawings, such as those kept in Add MS 5234.  This album is one of more than 4000 manuscripts from the Hans Sloane Collection at the British Library, about which you can learn through the collection guide.  It contains miscellaneous notes and drawings collected by visitors to Europe and Central Asia.  Among them is a remarkable but little known series of 30 Indian ink and wash drawings of sights and monuments in Iran, signed by 'G. Hofstede van Essen'.

The Great Mosque at Isfahan, standing in the market place, with camels in the foregroundAdd MS 5234, item 8: G. Hofstede van Essen, The Great Mosque at Isfahan, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Much of this artist’s life and work remains shrouded in mystery, including his full name.  Presumably from Germany, Hofstede is documented as travelling in present-day Syria, Iran and Turkey between 1693 and 1703.   His best-known work is a painting of the ruins of Palmyra, made in 1693, and soon after shipped to historian Gisbert Cuper in The Netherlands, where the painting remains to this day

How did Sloane acquire Hofstede’s drawings?  Sloane may have learned about Hofstede’s work through Gisbert Cuper, from whose library he bought manuscripts at auction.  The Royal Society in London provides another link to Hofstede.  As editor of the Society’s Journal, Philosophical Transactions, Sloane would have read accounts written by fellow members concerning a 1691 expedition to Palmyra organised by the British Levant Company and in which Hofstede possibly took part.

In these drawings, Safavid Iran is seen through the eyes of a European draughtsman, who may have had little understanding of the local language and traditions.  Nevertheless, Hofstede was keen to demonstrate his direct experience of the terrain.  This draughtsman sitting on a hill whilst sketching Soltaniyeh stresses Hofstede’s role as first-hand witness.

A view of Soltaniyeh from a hill with a draughtsman sitting sketching in the foreground

 

Close-up of the draughtsman sketchingAdd MS 5234, item 17: G. Hofstede van Essen, A view of Soltaniyeh from a hill, and a close-up of the draughtsman sketching, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Hofstede’s drawings display an interest in recording local traditions – from games to burials – and an antiquarian appreciation for monuments and buildings, evident in the depiction of details from their decoration like this bas-relief from Persepolis.

A bas-relief in Persepolis - a seated man with two attendants, one with fly-whisk, one with sunshade.Add MS 5234, item 6: G. Hofstede van Essen, A bas-relief in Persepolis, c. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The inscriptions on these drawings make the many individuals who must have handled and observed them more tangible.  There are notes in Dutch, with spelling mistakes that suggest a non-native speaker like Hofstede, as well as inscriptions in English and French by different hands.

The red-bordered labels pasted on the folios offer a glimpse into how the drawings were ordered and displayed before coming to the British Museum Library.  Whether the labels were added during Sloane’s lifetime or by somebody rearranging the collection after his death is another open question.  Similar labels appear in other albums from Sloane’s collection (Add MS 5253, 5255 and 5256), that include drawings with a similar ethnographic focus.

Persian caravan - long line of men on horseback and pack animals proceeding downhill along a winding road
Label accompanying drawing of Persian caravanAdd MS 5234, item 25: G. Hofstede van Essen, a Persian Caravan and a close-up of the label accompanying it, ca. 1693-1703. Indian ink and wash on paper. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Much about the provenance, historical accuracy and interpretation of Hofstede’s drawings, as well as their relation to other items in Sloane’s collection, remains unclear.  Yet it is certain that Hofstede’s drawings have many fascinating, so far untold, stories to tell.

Alice Zamboni
PhD candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
-Add MS 5234 contains many other works on paper, some of which are discussed and illustrated in Kim Sloan, "Sloane’s ‘pictures and drawings in frames’ and ‘books of miniature & painting, designs, & c.” in From Books to Bezoars. Sir Hans Sloane and his Collections (London: The British Library, 2012), 168-189.
-One letter sent from Gisbert Cuper to Sloane survives in Sloane MS 4041, fol. 95. Sloane’s printed books collection includes a copy of the catalogue of Cuper’s library, auctioned in 1717 (General Reference Collection S.C.147).
-Hofstede’s painting of the ruins at Palmyra now belongs to Allard Pierson  (University of Amsterdam Special Collections), and was on display at Museum De Waag, Deventer (The Netherlands), on the occasion of an exhibition about Palmyra in 2016-2017.
-An engraving closely related to Hofstede’s painting of Palmyra was published in Philosophical Transactions 218 (1695), after p. 175.
-Add MS 5024/1, also from Sloane’s collection, is a view of Istanbul seen from the water depicted in ink and blue wash and mounted on a roll. It bears the name of Hofstede van Essen penned in ink on the verso, but more research would be needed to confirm the attribution.
-In the transcript of the catalogues listing the contents of Sloane’s library, drawings by Hofstede van Essen are mentioned in three different albums, which suggests they would have been rearranged in what is now Add MS 5234 at a later date. Transcript of ‘Mins’ BL Sloane MS 3972 C vols 1-8 

 

20 December 2021

The stork in fable and record

In September 1942, a flock of around 200 white storks (ciconia ciconia) arrived in Bahrain, as reported in the intelligence summaries from the country.  A ring on one of them showed that it had come from Lithuania.  They were shot at by the Bahrainis, who did not recognise the species, whereas elsewhere in the Middle East they were never harmed, suggesting that they were very infrequent visitors in Bahrain.  The report continues: ‘it was, no doubt, a coincidence that the same night a son was born to Mrs. Wakelin, wife of the Bahrain Government Director of Education’.

Painting of storks in a landscape surrounded by trees and flowersStorks (ciconia nigra) Or 3714, f 391r  - public domain

Stories about storks have circulated for millennia.  Their size makes them extremely visible and their habit of nesting on roofs of buildings, which also allowed their care of their chicks to be seen.  This, combined with their apparent care of the old and monogamous habits, led the Romans to believe that when they reached old age, they were transformed into human shape as a reward for their piety.

Storks have also been considered extremely lucky birds.  As travellers visited the Persian Empire and the Middle East, they frequently remarked on the presence of storks as the birds were common in mainland Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Eastern Europe, but almost unknown in Britain.  They were considered as generally bringing good luck to the house on which they nested, and therefore were never harmed.  In 1758 Edward Ives described the scene in Baghdad: ‘You generally see on the Minarets the Stork, a large bird called by the Arabs Leg-leg, a destroyer of serpents; the Turks never offer to molest it…those who own a house where Storks have nested, are supposed to receive great blessings from heaven'.

Painting of storks nesting on a building Storks nesting on a building Or 2265, f 15 - public domain

Some hints about the origin of this belief can be found in the name sometimes given to them, haji laqlaq, suggesting that they had made a pilgrimage to Mecca.  ‘Laklak’ has existed as a name for storks since the Akkadian period, and as the main noise that storks make is clapping their bills, it is may be imitative in origin.

In the late 17th century, John Fryer visited Persepolis and remarked on the storks present there ‘which may serve to contradict the received Opinion, of Storks abiding only where Commonwealths are; this always having been an Empire’.  One of strangest stories about storks current at the time was that they would not nest under a monarchy, which served to explain why they did not nest in England, while they did in Holland and other places in Europe.

In ‘The Frogs who asked for a King’, one of Aesop’s Fables, a group of frogs ask Jupiter for a king.  He sends a log, which they play with and make fun of, and ask Jupiter for a real king. He then sends a stork, which starts to eat them.  This tale was still used as a metaphor in 1905 for two different ideas of power: King Log and King Stork.

Extract from official document speaking of King Log and King Stork  in reference to the ruler of BahrainKing Log and King Stork, in reference to the ruler of Bahrain IOR/L/PS/10/81, f 105r   open government licence 

And as for the Director of Education’s son arriving with the storks?  Despite stories from Eastern Europe and Egypt of storks having human souls, it is perhaps more likely that the story that storks brought babies was an extension of the idea that storks were ‘lucky’: a baby being the ultimate blessing a house could have.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer - British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
John Fryer’s visit to Persepolis is told in his account of his travels, W 3856 
The arrival of storks in Bahrain appears in IOR/R/15/2/314 ‘File 8/16 Bahrain Intelligence Reports’ 
Edward Ives describes seeing storks nesting, W 4137

 

15 December 2021

The story the India Office Records preserve about kasids

Within the India Office Records (IOR) catalogued for the British Library-Qatar Project, there are a number of references to local messengers called kasids (sing. kasid).  The term kasid (qasid: قاصد) originates from the Arabic verb qa sa da (قصد), ‘to aim at’, and qasid itself means someone who knows his direction and moves with a purpose.  In Persian, the term has been adapted to also refer to a messenger (Pr. پيغامبر، قاصد، رسول ). The East India Company (EIC) adopted the Persian term in reference to a certain type of messenger employed within its establishments in Persia [Iran].  This blog explores the available records on kasids and examines their role within the postal system of the EIC and the India Office afterwards.

Definition of kasid  based on its Arabic origin Definition of kasid, based on its Arabic origin, IOR/R/15/5/397, f 618r, Crown Copyright

 

Reference to kasid as a messenger in its Persian contextA reference to kasid as a messenger in its Persian context, V 3148, p 113, Crown Copyright

The earliest records showing the EIC employing kasids within its establishments in Persia are from the 18th century.  These records indicate that kasids were foot messengers whose main task was to deliver letters to and from the EIC’s representatives and local governors.  They are not to be confused with another type of messengers in Persia known as shaters.  It is most likely that the EIC employed kasids from the local population, taking advantage of their familiarity with the region, its people and landscapes.  These kasids were paid 30 rupees a month for their service.

Note of kasid’s paymentKasid’s payment, IOR/G/29/25, f 411v, Crown Copyright

Besides their main job as messengers, kasids also collected intelligence relating to certain people, incidents or events.  They wrote down their collected observations within reports that are referred to as akhbar.  In a number of fascinating folios dated 5 June 1799, the EIC’s Resident at Bushire, Mirza Mahdi Ali Khan, wrote to the Governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan, informing him of the akhbar he had received from his kasids.  This akhbar contained details of the French siege of Acre, and how the Governor of Sidon, Jezzar Pasha, and the British navy had responded to the siege.

Akhbar on the French siege of AcreAkhbar on the French siege of Acre, IOR/G/29/25, f 413r, Crown Copyright

The same akhbar included information about the encounters between the Governor of Baghdad Büyük Süleyman Pasha, the Wahhabis, and the Arab tribes of Iraq.  However, the records also indicate that the akhbar received from kasids were not always accurate.  And in cases where fake news had been conveyed, the kasids were simply dismissed from their positions.

Akhbar on the Governor of Baghdad  Wahhabis  and Arab tribesAkhbar on the Governor of Baghdad, Wahhabis, and Arab tribes, IOR/G/29/25, f 414r, Crown Copyright

In some other cases, kasids themselves quit their jobs, primarily due to the hardship they faced during their journeys.  In a couple of references to kasids in the early 20th century, we learn that the Indo-European telegraph system relied on kasids to deliver the post during bad weather conditions or military disturbances.  This was not an easy task, and many kasids were reportedly refusing to return to their jobs, something which often caused disruption to the postal service.

Extract from Shiraz News noting that kasids were part of the Indo-European telegraph systemKasids being part of the Indo-European telegraph system, IOR/L/PS/10/163, f 18r, Crown Copyright

Report of kasids quitting their jobsKasids quitting their jobs, IOR/L/PS/10/163, f 17v, Crown Copyright

The records also show that, during World War I, the kasids who were delivering post between Persian towns were accused of serving the British interest.  They were attacked and beaten, when caught on duty, by anti-British Persian Gendarmerie.  The concerns which the Government of India raised about this issue indicate how essential the kasids’ service was to the postal system.

News of Persian Gendarmerie attacking kasidsNews of Persian Gendarmerie attacking kasids, IOR/L/PS/10/484, f 96r, Crown Copyright

In summary, the story preserved about kasids, although brief, offers glimpses of the way they performed their job in Persia between the 18th and early 20th centuries.  Future cataloguing of India Office Records may bring to light more information about the kasids and the history of their attachment to the EIC and the India Office.

Ula Zeir, Content Specialist-Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Project

Further reading:
Al-Zabidi, Taj al-‘Arus min Jawahir al-Qamus, vol. 9. (Ed. Abdul Sattar Ahmad Farraj), (Kuwait: Kuwait Government Press, 1971).
Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute & International Center for Persian Studies
IOR/G/29/25 ‘Various Papers Relating to the Work and Activities of the East India Company in the Gulf of Persia.’
IOR/L/PS/10/163 ‘File 948/1909 Persia: Situation in the South; Condition of the Roads. Attack on Mr Bill. Road Guard Scheme.’
IOR/L/PS/10/484 ‘File 3516/1914 Pt 7 German War: Persia’
IOR/R/15/5/397 ‘John Richardson, A Dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English; with a Dissertation on the Languages, Literature, and Manners of Eastern Nations
V 3148Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde; accompanied by a geographical and historical account of those countries, with a map.’

 

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