Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #1


The good ship Belisarius was launched in October 1794. She measured only ninety-four and one half feet in length with a breadth of only twenty-five feet. She carried most valuable cargoes and paid duties on them ranging from fifteen to twenty-one thousand dollars. After successful voyaging in the India trade for eight years, the beautiful ship Belisarius went to pieces in a gale in the Bay of Tunis in April 1810, the crew and cargo saved. Source

During the 19th century there were many sail ships that engaged in trade, not to mention military expeditions, on the Arabian coast. One of the most interesting accounts was penned by Joseph B. F. Osgood (1823-1913), the son of a sea captain. In 1854 he published his travel account entitled Notes of Travel or Recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, Muscat, Aden, Mocha, and other Eastern Ports (Salem: George Creamer). Setting out from Salem, Massachusetts, he reached the port of Majunga on the northwestern corner of Madagascar in 93 days. As an American Ibn Baṭūṭṭa, he provides a detailed and entertaining guide to the peoples and places he visited. From Majunga he sailed up the African coast to Zanzibar and then on the Zanzibar ruler’s ship “Curlew” to Muscat, where he arrived in 14 days after a trek on rough seas.

His colorful description of the coast between Oman and Aden is as follows;
[p. 118] “Our vessel was twelve days making an average passage along the east and south coast of Arabia from Muscat to Aden. Between these ports almost the entire line of sea coast is very barren, and sparsely inhabited by nomadic tribes of Arabs, who have no intercourse with civilized nations. The tribes living nearest to the sea-board are miserably poor and obtain their principal subsistence from the neighboring fishing grounds. None of them have good boats, and such of them as are not too lazy to work make use of the best floats which their ingenuity may devise. The Jenabi tribe, who occupy a desert line of coast between Suakirah and Kashaim, venture out to sea seated on inflated skins, which they manage very skillfully in heavy surfs, such as no boat could live in. While fishing for sharks they fearlessly expose their legs in the water, yet the greedy monsters do not molest them.

The people of Morebat, farther down the coast, have [p. 119] no boats or rafts of any kind. The same may be said of the few inhabitants of Hullaniyah, a small island about twenty miles in circumference belonging to the Curia Maria group, and the only one of that group that is inhabited. The want of boats is seriously felt, as these lone islanders are forced to depend for their daily subsistence chiefly upon the crabs and shell fish they are able to gather, and the fish they catch from the rocks. Captain Haines, I. N., visited this island in 1835, and found its poor and inoffensive population to consist of only seven families, amounting in all to twenty-three souls. One birth and one death was calculated upon annually. They had no idea from what part of the coast they originally came, and though they professed Mahometanism, but one of them could say his prayers. They lived in small huts built of loose stones, and covered with seaweed.

Vessels may make a safe anchorage off Morebat. Most of the trading boats stop at Morebat and Dhafar, as this coast forms the shore of the gum country. The quantity of gum-arabic annually exported, though large, is by no means equal to what might be obtained, as the gum trees on the inland hills and valleys are exceedingly numerous. The gum trees grow to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, have large leaves, and bark of a greyish color which is easily pierced.

Conspicuous among the former rulers of Dhafar was Seyed Mohammad Akil, who having made several successful conquests with a large retinue of slaves, was led by ambition and avarice to turn pirate. Among other prizes, in June 1806, he captured plundered and [p. 120] burned near the harbor of Hodeida, in the Red Sea, the American ship Essex, belonging to Salem, and commanded by Joseph Orne. Captain Orne had arrived in the Essex at Mocha with sixty thousand dollars to purchase coffee.

He was persuaded to sail from Mocha for Hodeida by Mohammad Akil, who, keeping him company in an armed ship, seized the vessel soon after leaving Mocha, and slaughtered all on board except a Dutch boy named John Herman Poll, whom he carried to Dhafar. The young man was kept in servitude, educated as a Mahometan, married and had several children, and when last visited, within a few years, seemed perfectly contented with his lot, having nearly forgotten his mother tongue. It may be gratifying to some to know that Mohammad Akil, after some years of cruelty and plunder, changed his mode of life, became devout and was much loved by his subjects. Others may be pleased to learn that this treacherous pirate met with a deserving death in the year 1829. One day, returning from Morebat with a smaller retinue than usual, he was mortally wounded by a matchlock ball, fired from the low brushwood. When he fell his slaves immediately fled, and the Bedoweens who were lying in ambush dispatched him at once. His body was afterwards found by a strong party sent out to recover it, pierced with numerous wounds from their daggers.”

more to come…