Travels to Aden and Mocha in the mid 19th Century, #5


This post continues the story of Joseph B. F. Osgood (1823-1913), whose Notes of Travel or Recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, Muscat, Aden, Mocha, and other Eastern Ports (Salem: George Creamer, 1854) describes the Arabian coastline, like a 19th century Ibn Baṭūṭṭa. For Part #1, click here; for Part #2, click here; for Part #3, click here; for Part #4, click here.

Osgood gives a lengthy discussion of the coffee trade at Mocha:

[p. 166] “In the year 1800, when the Americans adopted the popular idea of invigorating the body and clarifying the mind with the berry of Mocha, sixteen thousand bales of coffee were annually sent by dows to Jiddah, and thence by caravans to Constantinople, or by sea to Suez, and across Egypt to Abyssinia, whence it found its way over Europe. To Salem merchants belongs the credit of striking out at this time a new branch of maritime trade, which amply rewarded their enterprise, if anything can be judged from the fact that in 1805 a favorable trade and increasing competition had raised the price of coffee to fifty dollars a bale: and even at this price so great was the demand that eleven American vessels were at the port of Mocha at one time waiting for cargoes. Another interesting fact, and one to be proud of in our commercial history, is, that until the year 1822, at which time Mocha was paying an annual tribute of one thousand bales of coffee to the Pasha of Egypt, no direct trade had been carried on between Mocha and Europe by sea, except by [p. 167] American vessels, the cargoes of which were purchased almost exclusively with specie.

Other countries having entered successfully into competition with Arabia in the cultivation of coffee, in 1882 the trade of Mocha had begun very sensibly to diminish. Other causes assisted greatly to lessen its importance, and no other one more than the frequent changes of its rulers, whose usual policy appears to have been, on retiring, to secure everything of value within their control, even by imprisoning and torturing the wealthy merchants and confiscating their property. Traders were thus constrained not to become permanent residents. To this may be added the constant fear of the plundering excursions of neighboring tribes of Bedoweens, who were always found ready to enlist under any leader for their immediate purpose of rapine.

[p. 179] The trade of Mocha in former times has already been treated of. At present it carries on a considerable trade with Bombay, Calcutta, and ports on the Persian Gulf, by bugalas, which leave Mocha from the middle of August to the middle of September, and making one voyage annually, return with the favorable monsoon, from January to March inclusive. Exports to the above named places are made in coffee, senna, aloes, skins, koke, and Abyssinian produce, such as arabic, myrrh and other gums, gold, ostrich feathers, ivory, -civet, etc. Returns are taken from Bombay and Calcutta in rice, iron, lead, hard ware, raw cotton, and cottons of British manufacture ; from the Persian Gulf,  [p. 180] in dates, tobacco, pearl and tortoise shells; and in silks, cloths, etc., from Surat. Many rhinoceros horns are brought from Abyssinia to this place for manufacture into cups and boxes. They are unlike the horns of other animals in that they are solid and without marrow.  Rhinoceros hides also find a ready sale here, to be made into shields, which are impervious to the stroke of a sword, and generally in use with the Bedoween soldiers.

Mocha has for over fifty years been the principal seat of the coffee trade of Yemen, although Aden is now entering upon a successful rivalry for the eminence which a monopoly of this branch of eastern commerce might give to any seaport that can secure it. Coffee began to be a common beverage in Arabia about the beginning of the fifteenth century, and the Arabians have since sedulously cultivated and jealously prohibited the exportation of this native plant of Yemen. It has however been introduced from here into other countries without the anticipated injury to the wealth and property of Arabia, as Mocha coffee is still regarded the most excellent and expensive coffee cultivated.”

more to come