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Unrecorded account of an encounter with Sheikh Zayed the Great (1835-1909) of Abu Dhabi

[Logbook of HMS Perseus]. Stephen B. Church, signalman aboard HMS Perseus. Unpublished manuscript logbook of a British expedition to the Gulf, containing a hitherto unrecorded account of a meeting with Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, "the Great" (1835-1909), grandfather and namesake of the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed.

Middle East, mainly Arabian Gulf, Oman, Kuwait, and Somaliland, 1901-1904.

4to. English manuscript in black ink on paper. Approximately 260 pp. With 7 mounted albumen prints (3 depicting the aftermath of the bombing of "a pirate fort at Balhaf Arabia [...] July 19th 1902"). Original boards covered in loose cloth. Includes another volume recording Church's tours (ca. 1896-98) on the ships HMS Magnificent and HMS Barracouta, mostly in the Mediterranean and South America, with a series of approx. 32 albumen print photographs. Stored in custom-made giltstamped morocco case.

A unique primary source, without doubt one of the earliest and most valuable Western documents on the region still in private hands: a richly detailed, entirely unpublished manuscript account of a British naval signalman's tour of the coastal areas along the Arabian Gulf aboard HMS "Perseus", a then quite new Royal Navy protected cruiser launched only in 1897 and equipped with modern quick-firing naval guns. Intriguingly, the diary covers several meetings with the Sheikhs of the Trucial Coast, but also military engagements with Somali pirates and Ottoman troops, and describes providing support to British interests in international campaigns. Perhaps most interestingly, between Friday, 17th, and Sunday, 19th of April 1903, the Perseus successively called at Sharjah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, where the ruling Sheikhs were individually received on board and presented with gifts, visits that are recounted in detail in Church's journal. At 2.30 p.m. on Friday, the cruiser "arrived and anchored at Sharjai. The Sheikh [Saqr bin Khalid Al Qasimi] came off to see the Political Resident [Sir Charles Arnold Kemball] and with his chiefs were shown over the ship and were much interested with the working of the guns. A target was laid out and a small belt of .45 containing 134 rounds was expended and the Sheikh himself was permitted to fire about half of this. He was very pleased at the result and said he would like to get one himself. He also exploded a mine consisting of 2¼ lbs guncotton with the result that the barrel & flag were blown high in the air and loads of large fish with it". Sheikh Saqr was then presented by Sir Charles with gifts including "silk embroidered and jewels for the [he]ir", as well as with "a modern pistol and some ammunition". The following day, the Perseus left Sharjah at 1.45 and "arrived at Habai [Dubai] 12 miles distant at 3.5 p.m." Upon his visit to the ship, Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum is similarly given the privilege of firing the Maxim Gun; he, too, explodes the mine and is presented with lavish gifts. Church describes Dubai as "built around a large fresh water lake"; "mixed with hundreds of palm trees", it "looks an ideal town". After giving Sheikh Maktoum a three-gun salute, the Perseus departs for Abu Dhabi at 7 p.m., arriving the following morning at 8 o'clock. The British sailors find their ship has already aroused the interest of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who at first suspected it might be French or Russian, due to the Perseus being painted in French Grey. "The Sheikh now came off to the ship preceded by his son [possibly Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan]. They were shown round the ship, and a belt of 134 rounds was expended from a Maxim gun and he also exploded a mine of guncotton, which throwed target and a large volume of water in the air and greatly amused them. The Sheik was then presented with costly presents brough[t] especially for him. As he was leaving the ship to go ashore, the Muscat Ensign was hoisted and a salute of 5 guns given him which was two more than the others had [...] There are many palm trees and the country [...] is fertile". Fearing that other European powers might wish to establish a military presence in the Gulf, it is little surprise that the British were anxious to court the rulers of the emirates: only half a year later, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, would make a personal tour of the Gulf in a follow-up visit to the one detailed here.

Another prominent Arab visitor to be received was Mubarak Al-Sabah, "the Great", the founder of modern-day Kuwait who ruled the country from 1896 till 1915. Of Al Jahra, Church writes that "very little could be seen here but the Desert and thousands of camels [...] Party returned onboard with Sheikh and his staff [...] they seemed very much interested in the electric lights. The Sheikh has a very antiquated sword with him which looked a formidable weapon" (12 Sept. 1901). Bahrain is described as "belong[ing] to Muscat [and having] a ruling Sheikh [Isa ibn Ali Al Khalifa] and a British Consul". Muscat, too, is frequently mentioned: in April 1901 the ship, for the first of many occasions, "saluted the Sultan of Muskat with 21 Guns which was returned from the old fort". In October "H.R.M. the Sultan of Muscat honoured us with a visit of an hours duration [...] he was very elegantly dressed in the style of this country and very much interested in the guns". On a future visit the Sultan's army of 300 men were aboard, "all fully armed with rifles of the most antiquated patterns, blunderbusses some of which were 6 feet in length [...] the ages of the troops varied in appearance from 10 years to 90". Arriving from Kuwait at Muscat on 13 November "the Zanzibar ensign was flying onshore from every possible place to welcome home their Sultan". At Jehara, Persia, "Arabs [were] onboard training in the use of 7 Pounds Field Guns" (14 Jan. 1902), while at Hobya ["Obbia", Somalia] the local Sultan "bought us 3 buckshee sheep for the officers. The Sultan was not very gorgeously attired [...] all he wore was a suit of bathing drawers and hair about 6 inches standing up on end and making him look a most weird object". Church later (30 Dec. 1902) records that this Sultan was discovered to have been in "daily communication with the Mad Mullah [Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, leader of the Somali Dervish rebellion]".

The constant threat of real violence, against the background of trading in weapons and political dialogue with local leaders, punctuates the narrative. At Kuwait, on 13 August 1901, "the signalmen were detailed to closely watch for a large army of Turkish soldier marching into Kuwait [... some rumours] estimated the number of Turkish soldiers expected [...] to be 50,000", and on 24 August "a suspicious craft" was seen coming down from the Euphrates which later proved to be a Turkish "Man a'Fight", after which ensued a 24 hour stand-off during which "we quite expected a sharp engagement and visions of medals and decorations" before the Turkish ship withdrew. On 19 July 1902 the author provides a harrowing description (accompanied by three photographs) of the bombardment with lyddite shells of a pirate fortress at Balhaf, Yemen, "on account of the Arabs presenting themselves with loaded rifles [...] in less than an ½ an hour the fort was a heap of ruins". A "wild cat" brought on board after the shelling surprisingly survived for a month, "as nothing living is supposed to survive the fumes of these deadly shells". During another bombardment along the Yemen coast at Ash Shihr "the principal buildings to be destroyed were Dar Nasar & Hasu-saidth together with the Sultans palace" (16 July 1902). Piracy was deemed a constant threat also along the coast, Church noting that "the natives here were armed with spears and seemed very hostile" (May 1902). On one occasion, HMS Perseus confronted Arab smugglers, "killing the captain of the dhow leaving only his head and legs intact. Another man was shockingly mutilated", and capturing a cache of French-made weapons which had been "bound for Makullah where the gear was to be shipped in large dhows for the use of the Mad Mullah's party in Somaliland" (2 June 1902).

Among the more pleasant missions of the Perseus must have been carrying the geological surveying team from Karachi to Muscat and transporting "Indian princes returning to India after the coronation of their Emperor" at Aden. Church also describes observing "about 500 men engaged in Pearl fishing [...] at Sheikh Island", as well as swimming in Muscat harbour "free from sharks [...] the water literally swarmed with fish of all sizes. Photographs include the ship's crew at work, the Perseus moored "at Madras, October 15th 1903", "Aden natives 1902", and "the landing of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught at Aden, Sunday, December 21st 1902".

Stephen Bennett Church was born in Kent in 1876. He worked as a gardener before going to sea and served in various capacities on a large number of ships between 1892 and 1919, when he transferred to the coast guard.

Some dampstaining near the beginning; a few edge flaws to pages, but in general an extremely well preserved, well legible survival.