Untold lives blog

120 posts categorized "Qatar"

23 June 2022

Dr Sarah Hosmon and the Missionary Hospital in Sharjah

Kentucky born Sarah Hosmon devoted nearly her entire adult life to missionary and medical work in Arabia.  In 1909 Dr Hosmon arrived in Bahrain, and in 1913, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church of America’s Arabian Mission, she opened a clinic for women and children in Muscat.  For the next 28 years she treated, medicated and evangelized under often arduous conditions, unperturbed by having a wooden leg as the result of a childhood accident.

Photograph of Dr Sarah HosmonSarah Longworth Hosmon (1883-1964) who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1909. Source of image: How superpower rivalry and fears of a pandemic brought the first doctor to the UAE in 1939 | The National (thenationalnews.com)

Dr Hosmon was accepted by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939, and by 1941 she had set up a clinic at the Omani seaport of Saham. The clinic was extremely isolated, with medical supplies often having to be dropped by air plane.

In January 1944 Hosmon approached the British authorities , who virtually controlled the region, for permission to set up a medical practice in Kalba, then an independent emirate on the Gulf of Oman coast.

Extract from letter of Sarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944  to Captain Patrick  Tandy stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in KalbaSarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944 from Kalba to Captain Patrick Tandy, Political Officer for the Trucial Coast, stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in Kalba and to move there after April, subject to Tandy’s permission: IOR/R/15/2/853, f 88r.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎88r] (175/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)


The British inquired into Hosman’s credentials and received a glowing testimonial from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital, Bahrain.

Testimonial for Sarah Hosmon from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital  Bahrain.Letter from Dr Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) to Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent in Bahrain, January 1944, describing Hosmon’s medical abilities, character, religious opinions and relationship with Arab rulers she had worked under.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎90r] (179/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Following confirmation that the Regent of Kalba [Shaikh Khālid Bin Aḥmad al-Qāsimi] was happy for Hosmon to move her practice there, the British authorities decided they had no objection once the War had ended and if Hosmon guaranteed that her co-workers would ‘not become destitute and a charge upon the Government of India’s revenues’.

Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham to Major Patrick Tandy 26 March 1944Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent Bahrain, to Major Patrick Tandy, Political Officer, Trucial Coast, 26 March 1944.  'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [‎96r] (191/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

In fact Hosmon remained in Saham for another six years.  The British authorities did not like the ‘nebulous’ nature of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions and were reluctant to have too many American missionaries in the Gulf, whose backgrounds they could not check and whose movements they could not control.  Privately, they disliked Hosmon’s strong-headedness and considered she had used ‘underhand’ methods to obtain travel permits for herself and an American nurse.

Memorandum  dated 16 December 1945  by Geoffrey Prior  Political Resident in the Persian Gulf  setting forth British hostility towards HosmonMemorandum, dated 16 December 1945, by Geoffrey Prior, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, setting forth British hostility towards Hosmon - 'File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat' [‎5r] (9/52) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

British obstructionism was not the sole cause of delay.  The terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba appear to have been unacceptable to Hosmon, and she wanted to be able to share freely the Gospel with her patients.

Intelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain  February 1945  indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to HosmonIntelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain, February 1945, indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to Hosmon - Ext 1488/44 'Dr Hosmon: American Medical Missionary' [‎5r] (9/28) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)

Hosmon finally made the move in 1951, by which time Kalba had been reincorporated as an enclave of the Sheikhdom of Sharjah.  The clinic opened in 1952 and became known as the Dr Sarah Hosmon Hospital (closing in 1994).  The hospital was the only one in Sharjah, primarily for women and children but later also expanded to men, and its services were in heavy demand and frequently over-stretched.  Evangelism was an integral feature of treatment, with Bible readings for patients.

Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast  1935.Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast, 1935

Journalist John Sack described an encounter with Hosmon in the late 1950s, perhaps revealing the physical toll her work had taken: ‘I was met by Dr Sarah L Hosmon, the director, a slight woman of seventy or eighty whose face is taut, severe, and American Gothic, and who, after inviting me in for tea in her living room, said that she’s been on the Arabian peninsula since 1911, in Sharja since 1952….’.

Hosmon worked tirelessly in Sharjah until a few years before her death in 1964, bringing medical relief, saving lives, and contributing to the introduction of new medicines and empirical techniques to Arabia.  Towards the end, her time was spent advising nursing staff and midwives and preaching the Word of God to patients.

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

Further Reading:
Saving Sinners, even Moslems: the Arabian mission 1889-1973 and its intellectual roots by Jerzy Zdanowski (2018)
Global View of Christian Missions from Pentecost to the present by J Herbert Kane (1971)
The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History by Miriam Joyce (1995)
The Arabian Peninsula by Richard H Sanger (1954)
One Way The Only Way, A Christian Library website, blogpost on Sarah Longworth Hosmon by Tyson Paul
‘Missionary-Statesmen of the Bible Presbyterian Church’ by Keith Coleman, Western Reformed Seminary Journal 11/1 (Feb 2004) 15-19
Report from PRACTICALLY NOWHERE by John Sack (1959)

26 May 2022

Monsieur Roux, the would-be Consul of Baghdad

By the summer of 1917, the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force had been in Mesopotamia for three years.  It had fought the armies of the Ottoman Empire and occupied territory stretching from Basra to Baghdad.  British officials had every reason to feel triumphant.  But then they met an opponent they could not defeat -– a French diplomat determined to be Consul of Baghdad.

A French Consulate for Baghdad
On 20 July 1917, the British authorities in occupied Baghdad were warned that a ‘Mons. Roux’ was en route to Mesopotamia, intending to establish a French Consulate.  The British authorities were bewildered.  They had not been informed about this new Consulate, and were worried that it might complicate efforts to impose imperial control in Mesopotamia.

The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force July 1917The first appearance of Monsieur Roux in the War Diaries of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281, f. 90r.

It was too late to prevent Roux reaching Bombay; the Foreign Office ordered that Roux be kept there while they decided on a response.

A captured Turkish steamer ship at BasraA captured Turkish steamer ship at Basra. Roux’s arrival in the busy port meant diplomatic complications for the British occupation. © IWM Q 25326 (htt

From Bombay to Basra
The British did not reckon with the determination of Monsieur Roux.  On 4 August, an embarrassed telegram from Bombay reached Baghdad. Roux had requested that the Government of Bombay let him leave for Basra.  The Government refused, stating that he would have to wait until they received permission from Basra.  Roux- clearly well-versed in the arts of diplomacy- ‘expressed extreme astonishment’ at this delay, and warned of ‘diplomatic complications’ if he was hindered.  Bombay allowed Roux to sail for Basra.  Shortly after his ship had left, a telegram belatedly arrived confirming that under no circumstances was the Frenchman to be allowed to leave.  Monsieur Roux was one step closer to Baghdad - and had left a gaggle of humiliated British administrators in his wake.

Telegram from Bombay reporting that Monsieur Roux has left for BasraBombay reports that Monsieur Roux has left for Basra, against the wishes of Basra’s British authorities in the occupied port city. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282, f. 128r. 

Diplomatic Privileges
By 16 August, Roux had arrived in Basra and was causing more issues for the British.  Roux expected permission to use a locked diplomatic bag and a telegram cipher. However, his British hosts were reluctant to allow him to keep his communications secret.  On 28 September, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff telegrammed that the French Ambassador had complained about an ‘unfriendly and suspicious attitude towards Consul Roux, which may create bad impression in France’.

Telegram reporting that the ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General StaffThe ‘unfriendly and suspicious’ treatment of Roux drew the attention of the French Ambassador and prompted an official warning from the Imperial General Staff. Crown Copyright, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284, f. 487r

The Chief ordered that this be investigated and that Roux, as ‘official agent of French Government’, be permitted to send cipher telegrams.  The threat of political consequences allowed the Frenchman to get his way again.

The Belgian Consulate at Basra 1917The Belgian Consulate at Basra, 1917. Roux is likely to have occupied similar quarters during his stay in the city. © IWM Q 25679 

Consul Roux 
Roux’s status remained unsettled for over a year. By October 1918, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf had changed his approach, suggesting that Roux should come to Baghdad ‘where he… can be more efficiently influenced and controlled’.  Roux himself was now more interested in events beyond Baghdad.  The oil-rich northern region of Mosul was at the time claimed by both the British and the French.  The commander of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, Sir William Marshall, recalled in his memoirs that Roux spent November 1918 requesting permission to go to Mosul.  Marshall refused to allow the visit, suspecting that Roux planned to improve French influence in the region by handing out money.

The story of Monsieur Roux illustrates the smaller-scale realities of imperial rivalry.  The presence of a Consul allowed France to exert authority in a territory the British were determined to control.  Roux thus became a cause for concern, and relatively inconsequential incidents of interpersonal tension became part of a broader struggle for post-war imperial supremacy.

Dan McKee
Gulf History Cataloguer
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
India Office Records – Military Department files: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3281; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3282; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3283; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3284; IOR/L/MIL/17/5/3309
Mesopotamia campaign - National Army Museum 

 

24 May 2022

Hidden Letters: When Documents Contain a Surprise

One of the responsibilities of an archival cataloguer is attempting to determine the provenance of the documents they work with, how each document came into being, and the journey it went on before arriving at the archive.  In some cases this can be a relatively easy task: details of provenance may be clearly recorded, either within the document itself or externally.  But occasionally a document is discovered somewhere entirely unexpected, sometimes even within a collection which the archive has held for many years.  Just last year a previously unknown letter by Giacomo Casanova was discovered inside a copy of his Memoirs held by the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge.  The letter was written to his nephew in 1791, but the volume it was inside wasn’t published until 1833, 35 years after his death.  How and when it ended up there has gone unrecorded, but there is at least an obvious reason for an association between these two documents.  A similar situation involving two documents held by the British Library cannot be simply explained by any such thematic link, and appears to be a connection that came about completely at random.

Inscription at the start of the journal of the ship SandwichInscription at the start of the journal of the Sandwich, inside which hides a document from 75 years later (1755), IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, f 2, India Office Records, British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/B/606C is a journal of a return voyage by the East India Company ship Sandwich from England to India and Mocha in 1753-55, one of hundreds of similar documents within the India Office Records covering trading voyages from the 17th-19th centuries.  But nestled between its pages is what seems to be an entirely unrelated piece of paper, containing copies of four testimonial references written in 1830 for the then newly-qualified English doctor Alfred Swaine Taylor (IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, ff. 98-99).  This is by no means an insignificant document, the references come from some of the most respected physicians of their day: Honoratus Leigh Thomas, recently retired as President of the Royal College of Surgeons; Joseph Henry Green, Professor of Anatomy at both the RCS and the Royal Academy; Thomas Addison, a celebrated diagnostician who would go on to be the first to describe conditions including Addison’s disease and pernicious anaemia; and Sir Astley Cooper, another former President of the RCS who was renowned for his pioneering treatments of aneurysms and hernias.  What it does not contain is anything directly relevant to an ocean voyage 75 years earlier.

Portrait  photograph of Alfred Swaine Taylor

Portrait  photograph of Alfred Swaine Taylor by Maull & Polyblank NPG Ax87530 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

However, there is a slight connection between the two documents.  Taylor’s father was Thomas Rumbold Taylor, a captain with the East India Company, and though the journey recorded in the Sandwich’s journal is too early for him to have been involved with, he did captain the EIC ship Glory on a voyage to India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka] in 1803-05, for which the journal is preserved as IOR/L/MAR/B/295A.  Is this connection mere coincidence, or might a researcher have inadvertently cross-contaminated the records while looking into this very link?  Might Taylor himself have mislaid his references while researching his father’s profession?  If this was the case his prospects do not appear to have suffered, he would be appointed Lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence at Guy’s Hospital, London, the following year, and go on to a distinguished career in toxicology and forensic medicine.  As for how the document ended up where it is, we will likely never know.

Testimonial for Alfred Taylor from Sir Astley CooperTestimonial for Alfred Taylor from Sir Astley Cooper (1830), IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, f 98v, India Office Records, British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Matt Griffin
Content Specialist, Gulf History, British Library Qatar Foundation partnership

Further reading:
Money matters: the discovery of an unpublished letter by Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

 

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.

 

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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