Untold lives blog

56 posts categorized "Middle East"

17 December 2020

Her Majesty’s Steamer Berenice destroyed by fire

On 31 October 1866 Major Lewis Pelly, East India Company Resident in the Persian Gulf, was on the steamer Berenice, making its way south from Bushire [Bushehr] to Muscat, when the vessel was destroyed by a fire which started on board.

The ship’s company and passengers escaped in life boats.  Unable to make it to the mainland before nightfall, they stopped on the shore of Shaik Shaib Island [Sheikh Shoeyb or Lavan Island].  Having obtained some dates and water from a nearby hamlet, they bedded down for the night on the beach.

Over the next six days Pelly and the ship’s captain Lieutenant Edwin Dawes organised the rescue of 170 men, 5 women and 3 children.  The party made its way by ‘native craft’ to Nakhilu [Nokhaylo] on the mainland Persian coast opposite Shaik Shaab island, and from there to the British naval and coaling station at Bassidore [Basaidu] on the island of Qeshm.  Stopping at Khen [Kish Island], Charrack [Bandar-e-Charak] and Lingeh [Bandar-e-Lengeh], clothes, food, water and provisions were acquired along the way.

Map of Oman and the Persian Gulf 1871 by Reverend George Percy Badger

'A revised map of Omân 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, F.R.G.S.’ 1871  IOR/X/3210, f 1

Unfortunately Pelly did not describe the distress and shock of the jettisoned crew and passengers, nor provide any account of the night spent on the beach.  He did, however, leave a fairly evocative account of the events of 31 October in a letter to Sir Henry Bartle Frere, then Governor of Bombay, written at Bassidore on 16 November 1866:
'I had just come on deck on the morning of the 31st Oct when the alarm was given.  The ship must have been on fire some time the smoke from the hatches was stifling immediately they were opened'.

When the crew had to resort to buckets to put out the fire, the case became hopeless.
'By nine the flames were coming up the hatches & to the awning ridges & through the scuttles.  We took to the boats & shortly afterwards she was in flames from the stem to the stern. The shell went off in about 40 minutes. We were able to take no provisions save a couple of bags of bread & about a pint of water per man... I thank God all hands are saved. But I am cleared out of all my clothes, linen, plate, crockery.'

Telegram from Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Pelly  Bassidore  to Sir Bartle Frere 9 November 1866Telegram from Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Pelly, Bassidore, to Sir Bartle Frere, 9 November 1866 - Mss Eur F126/43, f 53

So what caused Berenice to catch fire?  Built in Glasgow for the East India Company and launched in 1837, Berenice was a naval sloop, wood paddle-steamer, which could function under sail, steam or both.  It was the Company’s first steam warship.

Berenice standing out of Bombay Harbour 1837Painting of East India Company steamer Berenice standing out of  Bombay harbour, 1837 - Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich PAH8849

Low’s History of the Indian Navy, 1613-1863 records that the vessel saw service in numerous military conflicts, including the First Anglo-Burmese War, 1852-1853, Anglo-Persian War 1856-1857, and Second Opium War 1856-1860.  Countless troop transports, sea battles and substandard repairs must have taken their toll on her sea-worthiness.  However on 19 November Pelly wrote to Frere on the actual cause of the fire:
'...from some facts which came out in statements made by my own servants I infer that the burning of Berenice was attributable to the stewards using naked lights in the orlop deck, if not in the hold'.

One can only imagine how Pelly must have felt watching Berenice go up (and down) in flames.

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

 

04 December 2020

The curious case of Jean Robbio

At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, a mysterious French agent was picked up by the British at Bushire, Persia, dressed in disguise and carrying a map and secret letters.

On 29 July 1810, Stephen Babington, in charge of the British Residency at Bushire, wrote to the Government of India’s Envoy to Persia, John Malcolm, reporting the arrival of a Frenchman ‘in an Arab dress’ at Bushire.  The man was confirmed to be a courier for the Governor-General of Isle de France (Mauritius), General Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen.

Rough sketch of Bushire and its vicinity  c 1800

Rough sketch of Bushire and its vicinity, c 1800 (IOR/X/3111, f 1r

Babington had acted swiftly, arresting the courier.  He was pleased to report that his men ‘effected his seizure so completely that every article about him has been secured, and at the same time the most favorable impressions have been left upon his mind, of the mild and kind treatment, which Englishmen always shew to their Enemies’.

The courier was revealed to be one Jean Robbio.  Genoese by birth, Robbio had worked for the military and diplomatic mission of General Claude-Matthieu de Gardane to Tehran of 1807-1809.  In the context of the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, Gardane’s mission had been of great concern to the British, and Babington had acted in this atmosphere of heightened tension and suspicion.  Prior to his arrest, Robbio had been stranded in Muscat for two years.  Following his capture, Robbio made ‘no secret of his hostile intentions towards the English’, and Babington had him imprisoned at the Residency.  It appears that Robbio was however a model prisoner, and Babington subsequently allowed him to go out on parole in Bushire.

Robbio had a number of papers in his possession, including a map of navigation routes around Zanzibar, an intelligence report detailing the political situation in Baghdad, and a letter detailing Robbio’s audience with the Sultan of Muscat.

Map of the routes of navigation at the port of Zanzibar, part of Jean Robbio’s captured papersA map of the routes of navigation at the port of Zanzibar, part of Jean Robbio’s captured papers (IOR/L/PS/9/68/67, f. 1) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another mysterious letter seized from Robbio was from an unknown correspondent in Muscat, possibly Robbio himself, to an unknown recipient in India.  The letter makes a plea for help, offering a reward and the services of an experienced French navigator based in Muscat in return.

Mysterious letter from Muscat making a plea for help A mysterious letter from Muscat making a plea for help (IOR/L/PS/9/68/66, f. 1r) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The episode came to an abrupt end when HM Envoy Extraordinary to Persia, Sir Harford Jones, intervened.  He wrote to Babington on 9 September admonishing him for unilaterally arresting Robbio.  He warned ‘that no public functionary in a foreign State possesses any right or authority to seize or possess himself of the person or papers of an Enemy entering or being in that State, without the permission and sanction of the Sovereign’. 

Jones wrote again on 14 September indicating that the Persian Government were ‘very little pleased’ with his handling of the affair, ordering Babington to release Robbio at once.  To add insult to injury, Babington was told to pay for Robbio to stay at the Residency if he so pleased.  In a final admonishment, Jones declared that ‘there is not any Paper found on this Gentleman which I have seen that it is at the present moment of any great Importance to us to be acquainted with’.

John Casey
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further reading:
The story of Jean Robbio and the documents captured by Babington can be found in the India Office Records, shelfmarks IOR/L/PS/9/68/60-67
Iradj Amini, Napoleon and Persia: Franco-Persian relations under the First Empire, (Richmond: Curzon, 1999)

 

24 September 2020

Bringing the children home

In the 19th century, the East India Company made increasing efforts to bring the trade in enslaved people in the Gulf to an end.  The majority of the people imported into the Gulf came from the East Coast of Africa and Zanzibar, but some also came from India.  These were usually women and children who had been kidnapped from their homes to be sold in the Gulf.  It was one of the responsibilities of British Agents in the Gulf to discover and rescue these children.

This was not always easy.  The local rulers could be uncooperative, and the merchants and traders would disguise the origins of the children to avoid detection.  The Native Agent at Muscat complained that his efforts to emancipate children had turned the population against him.  Even after they had tracked down the children, the Agents faced further difficulties in freeing them; the British Government stipulated that they must avoid force, but also directed that no money should be handed over, to avoid stimulating the market.  The Native Agent would look after the children at the British Government’s expense until he was able to place them on a ship to Bombay [Mumbai].  The Senior Magistrate of Police at Bombay was responsible for reuniting children with their parents or finding an alternative situation for them.

Photograph of the buildings of the Muscat Consulate and Agency on a waterfront

The Muscat Consulate and Agency, c. 1870 (Photo 355/1/43)

Mahomed Unwur [Muhammed Anwar] lived with his brother, Mirza Abdulla [‘Abd Allah], in Butcher Street, Bombay, when he was twelve.  One morning his brother sent him to the bazaar where he met a man who enticed him on board a ship with sweets.  Two weeks later, he arrived at Muscat and lived there for six or seven months with the man who had kidnapped him.  He was offered for sale privately at different houses during this time, until one day, when he was gathering dates at the Customs House, he was taken to the house of the Native Agent.  He finally returned to Bombay in November 1843, where he was reunited with his brother and returned to live with him.  This happy ending was sadly fairly unusual for kidnapped children.  On the same ship returning to India as Mahomed Unwur was another child, a girl.

Painting of a street in Bombay busy with people, 1867‘A street in Bombay’, chromolithograph by William Simpson, from India Ancient and Modern, 1867. BL Online Gallery 

Eleven-year-old Auzeemah [‘Azimah] knew that she had been born in a village near Moradabad.  She was kidnapped and lived in Moradabad for three or four years.  A man then took her to Muscat and tried to exchange her for a boy, but while at Muscat she was discovered and taken to live with the Native Agent until she could be sent home.  Unfortunately, she remembered so little about her parents or her village that, despite lengthy enquiries by the Government of Agra, her parents were not found.   Auzeemah was instead placed with a family in Bombay who would bring her up.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further reading:
The stories of Mahomed and Auzeemah can be found in IOR/F/4/2034/98123.

 

28 July 2020

The Trial of Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand

The Zand dynasty ruled in Persia [Iran] from 1751 to 1794.  The young Prince Najaf ʿAlī Khān Zand, brother of the last ruler of the Zand dynasty, survived his family’s defeat at the hands of the new ruling family, the Qājārs.  At some point in the early 19th century, he left Persia and made his way to Bombay [Mumbai].  There, he was looked after by the East India Company’s Government of Bombay, receiving a pension of 400 rupees per month.

Painting showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler, with the city of Shiraz in the backgroundI.O. Islamic 3442, f.218v showing the defeat of Prince Najaf’s brother, Loṭf-ʿAli Khan, the last Zand ruler: ‘Defeat of Lutf ‘Ali Khan Zand by (Agha) Muhammad Shah; the city of Shiraz in the background’ -  BL Images Online

This relationship was put to the test under dramatic circumstances in 1828-29.  A dispute between Prince Najaf’s entourage and a group of men from the Custom House escalated and the Prince fired his gun, killing two of the Custom House men.   The Prince was arrested and the case referred to the highest level of authority in the Government of Bombay – the Council.

Copies of letters sent from the Government of Bombay to the Court of Directors reveal an intense debate which broke out amongst the Council.  On one side, Council member John Romer argued that, due to the seriousness of the charges against him, the Prince must be tried as normal in the Circuit Court at Tannah [Thane].  On the other side, the Governor in Council, Sir John Malcolm, argued that the Prince must not be treated as a ‘common criminal’, as this would be a great insult to the Court of Persia.  As the debate intensified, Romer’s language became more and more dramatic. He argued that there were no political considerations which justified withdrawing the Prince from the hands of justice.

Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation  25 April 1829IOR/F/4/1266/50907, ff. 334v-335r: Extract of Minute by John Romer at Government of Bombay Judicial Consultation, 25 April 1829, arguing that ‘I do not think that any political considerations [justify] withdrawing him [Prince Najaf] from the hands of justice.’  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile, Malcolm attempted to pick holes in the accusations levied at the Prince, questioning the witnesses’ accounts and concluding that the Prince had only fired his pistol after being physically assaulted by the Custom House men.

Ultimately, Malcolm revealed that in addition to appeasing the Court of Persia, a trial must be avoided in order to preserve favour with the southern tribes in Persia, from which Prince Najaf’s family had originated.  According to Malcolm, these tribes continued to hold Prince Najaf’s brother and his great-uncle, Karīm Khān Zand (founder of the Zand dynasty), in such high regard that subjecting Prince Najaf to a ‘degrading’ common trial would have serious consequences.  Most pressingly, Malcolm argued that if Anglo-Russian relations were to deteriorate, the Russians might persuade the Court of Persia to allow them access to British India through Persia.  In this scenario, the best line of defence would be for the British to incite the southern tribes in Persia to rise up against the Qājārs.  However, their support could not be counted on if a trial of Prince Najaf were to go ahead. 

Portrait of Sir John MalcolmP616: Portrait of Sir John Malcolm, 1832 - BL Images Online

Despite Romer’s pleas to respect the pursuit of justice in order to preserve the rule of law, no trial ever went ahead.  Prince Najaf was held in comfort at the Company’s Fort at Thane before being sent to Bussorah [Basra] with his family, free to continue with his life.

Curstaidh Reid
Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/F/4/1266/50907 ‘Removal of Nujif Ali Khan (a Prince of Persia) to Bussorah, in preference to his being tried for murder of which he was accused – His pen[sion] of Rs 400 discontinued from 30th November the allowance of Rs 120 per mo[nth] to the Mother of […] Prince made payable at Bussorah’ 
John Perry, ‘ZAND DYNASTY’, Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016 

 

23 July 2020

The lesser-known early years of Sultan Qaboos

Fifty years ago today, on 23 July 1970, the late Sultan Qaboos overthrew his father, Sa’id bin Taimur, in a British-supported palace coup in the monsoon soaked southern province of Dhofar to become ruler of the Sultanate of Oman.  He was to go on to become the Middle East’s longest ruling monarch until his death in January 2020.

Qaboos’ role in facilitating dialogue such as that which led to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is now well known but perhaps lesser-known are the circumstances of his early years.  It is said that the first seven years are the formative years of a person’s life, thus the information on Qaboos gleaned from digitised India Office Records,  although sparse and seemingly incidental may be of quite some significance.

In October 1940 the British Political Agent, Muscat, recorded a conversation with Sultan Sa’id concerning succession in Muscat that should anything happen to him ‘at present he has no male heir and has no particular affection for any single member of his family’.  Further, he would prefer a British officer to fill the post of Regent rather than any other members of his family.

Qaboos was born a month later in November 1940 to Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur, Sultan of Muscat and Oman, and Mazoon Al-Mashani, ‘a Dhufari women of good family’.  Sultan Sa’id received the news from Dhofar in Muscat.

Letter from Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur to Political Agent  MuscatIOR/R/15/6/216, f 44 Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur to Political Agent, Muscat


As the child was legitimate congratulations were sent by the King of England and the Viceroy.

Text of telegram from Political Resident at Kuwait  to Secretary of State for India  LondonIOR/R/15/6/216, f 51, Political Resident at Kuwait, to Secretary of State for India, London

Sa’id bin Taimur treated Dhofar as his private estate avoiding ‘the tedium of Muscat weather and Muscat politics’.

British briefing note about Sultan Sa’id bin Taimur

IOR/L/PS/12/3720A, f 413 British briefing note on Sa’id bin Taimur  

Interestingly, Taimur bin Faisal, Qaboos’ grandfather, who had been allowed by the British to abdicate after many years of imploring British officials, kept his grandson in mind as he lived out his life in India and Japan under the name of Al Said, ending a telegram in 1943 with ‘MY BEST WISHES TO QABOOS’.

Telegram from Taimur bin FaisalIOR/R/15/6/217, f 21 Telegram from Taimur bin Faisal

In 1945 the Political Agent, Muscat informed Colonel Galloway, the Resident in Bushire, that he had inquired to Sultan Sa’id about the education of Qaboos.  It seemed Sa’id was considering an elementary education in Egypt from the age of eight and indeed had discussed this with King Farook.

Question of Qaboos's education in letter from Political Agent  Muscat  to the Political Resident in the Persian GulfIOR/R/15/6/216, f 190 Political Agent, Muscat, to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf

The Annual Muscat Administration Report for 1950-51 notes the isolation of the Heir Apparent.  Qaboos, now aged ten, had still not started education in Egypt but was kept ‘strictly under constant supervision and guard’ rarely meeting anyone outside of the palace.

Note on Qaboos in Annual Muscat Administration Report  1950-51IOR/R/15/6/343, f 11 Annual Muscat Administration Report, 1950-51 

Qaboos’ education was eventually to take place in the UK in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.  From here he returned to Salalah where he was kept as a virtual prisoner by his father forbidden to meet anyone apart from the Sultan’s trusted advisors.  Sultan Sa’id’s ‘personal estate’ with its myriad petty restrictions had become intolerable for its inhabitants and in 1965 a rebellion had started.  It was in the Sultan’s palace, Salalah on 23 July 1970 at the height of the Dhofar War that with the help of his Sandhurst classmate, Tim Landon, that a British-supported coup took place, and Qaboos became the Sultan of Oman.

It was often noted by commentators that in contrast to other Gulf states, Qaboos was ‘alone on the throne’, ruling in isolation from other family members.  Perhaps these glimpses into his early years shed light on this behaviour in his later life.

Dr Francis Owtram
Gulf History Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
The archival extracts in this article are from IOR/L/PS/12/3720A, IOR/R/15/6/216, IOR/R/15/6/217 and IOR/R/15/6/343 and are all available on the Qatar Digital Library.
A finding aid to the records of the Muscat Agency, IOR/R/15/6 has been written by Ula Zeir.
Francis Owtram, A Modern History of Oman: Formation of the State since 1920 (London: IB Tauris, 2004)
Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)
Marc Valeri, Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State, (London: Hurst, 2017)

 

24 June 2020

A fraudulent shipwreck

When Commander John Porter heard of a case of shipwreck in the summer of 1843, there seemed to be nothing remarkable about the case.  Shipwrecks were common, and navigation in the Gulf could be dangerous.  But this shipwreck was different.  Porter went to offer what assistance he could to the stricken ship, the Mary Mallaby (also written Mary Mullaby).  He offered to assist Captain Charles Fisher with attempting to refloat his ship, which he thought would be possible.  Instead, Fisher rejected his offer, and insisted on selling the Mary Mallaby to the Shaikh of Qeshm.

Bandar Abbas from the sea

Bandar ‘Abbas from the sea - image from Philip Howard Colomb, Slave-Catching in the Indian Ocean (London, 1873) BL flickr

The ship’s log records that when the ship ran ashore, a ‘party of Arabs’ arrived in a small boat to offer assistance, but then refused to help by taking the anchor.  A few of them stayed on board overnight, but in the morning, they had vanished – along with two treasure boxes.

Fisher’s version of events differed markedly from that of the Shaikh of Bandar ‘Abbas.  Fisher claimed the Shaikh had refused to help, whereas the Shaikh claimed he had assisted as much as he was able to, given that it was the date harvesting season, and indeed countered that some of his offers of help had been refused.  Fisher even went so far as to object to the Shaikh sending the letter to Porter informing him about the wreck.

Brigantine by Oswald Walters Brierly - National Maritime Museum'A Brigantine' by Oswald Walters Brierly - image courtesy of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London PAD9215 

Looking into the circumstances of the wreck carefully made Porter more suspicious.  The ship had run aground at a location that had been properly mapped, and yet Fisher had not let go the anchor early enough.  The incident had occurred during the afternoon, in calm, sunny weather.  He had then hoisted his sails, driving his ship further on shore.  Both the crew and the people watching on shore agreed that it looked deliberate.

Following the event, more facts began to emerge.  Fisher was seen in Muscat retrieving a chronometer and a sextant which he had left there before the incident, and which could have been damaged by the sudden impact of the wreck.  A traveller on the same ship to India as Fisher and his wife heard her say that her husband told her to hold tight just before they hit the shore.

Letter from the Chief Secretary at Bombay Castle  20 March 1844 to Captain Samuel Hennell  Resident in the Persian Gulf  giving his suspicions about Fisher

Letter from the Chief Secretary at Bombay Castle, 20 March 1844 to Captain Samuel Hennell, Resident in the Persian Gulf, giving his suspicions about Fisher IOR/R/15/1/102, f. 34r

The final piece of evidence came when two treasure boxes matching Fisher’s description were dredged up from the wreck site while the new owner of the Mary Mallaby, Sultan Thuwaini bin Sa’id, was looking for the anchor that had been lost.  These were carefully carried to be opened in the presence of the shaikhs of Bandar ‘Abbas and Qeshm, and all other local dignitaries, including Captain James Cromer of the Columbia.  Cromer described the opening of the boxes, and the astonishment of the room, when they were found to contain only copper dross ‘such as I have sometimes seen ships have for ballast’.  The opinion of the Bombay Government was clear: this was attempted fraud, and they conveyed as much to Fisher’s insurers.

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

Further reading:
The story of the Mary Mallaby is told over multiple files: IOR/R/15/1/100; IOR/R/15/1/102; IOR/R/15/1/103, which are all available on the Qatar Digital Library.

Articles about the insurance fraud case can be found in the British Newspaper Archive - also available from Findmypast.

 

19 November 2019

Annals of the Middle Eastern Press in the India Office Records (Part II)

The India Office Records (IOR) that are related to the Gulf and the Middle East contain some articles, clippings and extracts from the region’s early press materials.  Here at the BL-Qatar Foundation partnership programme, we created a list of Middle Eastern press materials for copyright purposes.  To put these materials together we needed to trace their history answering the who, when and why.  Even though the extracts available in the IOR come from early 20th century editions, our research established that a number of press materials were in fact 19th century items.  Following on from part I of this blog, this part examines examples of these items.

The press in the first half of the 19th century was a medium that served governments’ interests.  One of the earliest examples available in the IOR is the Ottoman language official gazette Takvım-i Vekayi (Calendar of Affairs, Istanbul, est. 1831).  The paper was initiated by Sultan Mahmud II as part of his reform policy, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Egyptian official gazette al-Waqa’i‘ al-Misriyya (Egyptian Affairs, Cairo, est. 1828) initiated by Muhammad Ali Pasha.  Takvım-i Vekayi became the official medium of publicising new laws and decrees issued by the government.  It also played a crucial role promoting the Ottoman Tanzimat (reforms that were carried out between 1839 and 1876).

Translated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railway construction in AnatoliaTranslated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railways in Anatolia IOR/L/PS/10/166, f 139r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The second half of the century witnessed the publication of many private sector and independent newspapers.   Nationalism, independence and relations with Europe were the most compelling questions of the time.  Some publications adopted a liberal voice against the traditional Ottoman authority, such as the private daily Ottoman language gazette İkdam (Istanbul, est. 1894), founded by Ahmet Cevdet Oran.  Among its lead columnists was Ali Kemal effendi, great grandfather of politician Boris Johnson.  İkdam was known for being critical of the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress). 

Extract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca RailwayExtract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca Railway IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 222r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another example is the weekly English language Levant Herald (Istanbul, est. 1859).  This was published by British subjects and circulated in the UK and Europe.  Both publications were severely critical of the Ottoman Government, particularly the policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

Letter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway FundLetter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway Fund IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 176r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other materials available in the IOR come from 19th century Egypt.  Among the prominent Arabic language publications is the weekly, later daily, al-Ahram (Alexandria and Cairo, est. 1875), founded by the Lebanese brothers Bshara and Salim Taqla.  Among its early writers were the renowned Muslim scholars Muhammad ‘Abdu and al-Afghani.

Report of an article in al-Ahram  concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from IraqReport of an article in al-Ahram concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from Iraq IOR/R/15/2/178, f 351r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another Egyptian example is al-Muqattam (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Ya‘qub Sarruf, Fares Nimr and Shahin Makariyus.  Al-Muqattam was openly pro-British.  Its rival, al-Mu’ayyad (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Mustafa Kamel, was a popular pan-Islamic, anti-British newspaper, with lead columnists such as Qasim Amin and Sa‘d Zaghlul.  

A correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and KuwaitA correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, dated 1937, IOR/R/15/5/121, f 11Ar Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq 1910An extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq, dated 1910, IOR/R/15/5/26, f 71r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Among the English language press in Egypt was the weekly, later daily, Egyptian Gazette (Alexandria, later Cairo, est. 1880–).  This Gazette was used to spread British propaganda in Egypt.

For extracts of these and other materials, I encourage readers to visit the Qatar Digital Library.  Part III of this blog post will explore the 20th century Middle Eastern press materials found in the IOR.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/166 ‘File 3047/1909 'Railways: Asiatic Turkey; railway construction in Asia Minor'
IOR/L/PS/10/12 ‘File 3142/1903 'Hedjaz Railway'
IOR/R/15/2/178 'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'
IOR/R/15/5/121 ‘I Riyadh (VII) Colonel Dickson’s v[isit] to Riyadh (Includes visits of other Europeans to Riyadh’
IOR/R/15/5/26 'File X/3 Disorders & Raids near Basra & in Koweit [Kuwait] Hinterland'

Anthony Gorman and Didier Monciaud. The Press in the Middle East and North Africa, 1850-1950: Politics, Social History and Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

 

28 August 2019

Annals of the Middle Eastern Press in the India Office Records (part I)

Cataloguing the India Office Records (IOR) that are related to the Gulf and Middle East region brought to my attention a rich corpus of press materials that might otherwise be lost.  These materials are published in various languages, and come from a number of regions within the Middle East and the wider Arab World between 1800 and 1950.  The materials found in the IOR are mostly in the form of newspaper articles, clippings or extracts.  Some of these remain in their original language, and the rest are translated into English.

Extract from newspaper al-Iraq 9 February 1939

IOR/R/15/5/126, f 263r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Here at the BL-Qatar Foundation partnership project, we created a list of Middle Eastern press materials for copyright purposes.  Putting the materials together produced a wide cross-section of press publications in the Middle East at the time.  So far, the list includes 140 titles of newspapers, journals and periodicals.  The majority of these, 33 titles, come from Iraq, including the Basra Times, Al-Ikha' Al-Watani, Al-Nas and Al-Ba'th Al-Qawmi.  The next largest group comes from Egypt, with 28 titles, including the Egyptian Gazette, La Bourse Egyptienne, Al-Shabab and Al-Shura.  From Iran, the list has 25 titles including Asr-e Azadi, Journal de Téhéran, and Atish.  And the last two large groups come from Syria (14 titles), including Al-Ayyam, Alef Ba’, and Bureau Arabe de Damas; and from Lebanon (13 titles), including Sawt Al-Ahrar and Al-Nahar.  The rest of the titles, including Al-Forkane, Bahrain Diary, Al-Qabas, Berid Barca, Muscat News, Al-Jami'a Al-'Arabiyya, Sawt Al-Hijaz, Yeni Gazette, and Al-Iman, come from Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen respectively.

Translation of article from newspaper Berid Barca 30 November 1937IOR/R/15/6/345, f 97v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The majority of the press materials preserved in the IOR appear in English translation.  However, tracing the history of the press in the region we find that Arabic was the dominant language of the press, as in the examples of the Syrian daily newspaper Fata al-'Arab and the Saudi weekly newspaper Um Al-Qura.  On the other hand, Persian was the language used in most of the Iranian press as in the example of the daily newspapers Iran-e Ma, and Rahbar.  Ottoman was the main language used in the Ottoman Empire press, as in the examples of the daily newspapers Takvim-i Vekayi and İkdam.

Translation of extract from newspaper Um al-Qura April 1934IOR/R/15/6/163, f 18r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Further, English and French were the prominent languages in titles that were either influenced or set up by the British or the French.  Examples of these are the daily newspapers The Iraq Times and L'Orient (today L'Orient-Le Jour).  Besides, there is one record of a Lebanese newspaper named Athra that was published in Arabic, Assyrian, English and French.

Front page of newspaper Athra 15 April 1939IOR/R/15/5/127, f 120r Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Indeed, it is due to British officials’ concern and interest in what role the press played in the region that we encounter this large amount of press materials in the records.  The practice of clipping and attaching press materials to India Office correspondence paved the way for us to explore all these aspects of the Middle Eastern press from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Parts II and III of this blog will focus on the content of the press materials examined here.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/5/126 'File 2/1 I PROPAGANDA (Absorption of Kuwait by Iraq)'
IOR/R/15/5/127 'File 2/1 II IRAQ PROPAGANDA. (Absorption of Kuwait by Iraq). Relations etc.'
IOR/R/15/6/163 'File 6/27 Foreign Interests: Sa'udi-Yemen Dispute'
IOR/R/15/6/345 'File 11/2 Diaries and Report: Arabia Series'
Anthony Gorman and Didier Monciaud. The Press in the Middle East and North Africa, 1850-1950: Politics, Social History and Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

 

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