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At Sharjah with the Viceroy: the logbook of the East Indies Station flagship, with 26 hand-drawn maps

[Ships Logs] - F. R. Openshaw, Royal Navy midshipman (fl. 1900s). "Log of H. M. Ships Highflyer & Hyacinth". Autograph manuscript logs of HMS Highflyer (15 Sept. 1902 to 23 Sept. 1903) and Hyacinth (23 Sept. 1903 to 1 Aug. 1904).

Indian Ocean and the Gulf, 1902-1904.

Small folio (220 x 327 mm). 118 ff., illustrated with 26 manuscript charts and 23 technical drawings (the majority coloured, some folded), plus an inserted narrative "The Capture of Illig", 4 pp., illustrated with 15 photographs (90 x 90 mm) laid down. In a printed log book by Waterlow & Sons (London, 1901). Original marbled half leather binding within owner's protective ship's canvas cover, lettered in red and black.

Meticulously maintained and painstakingly illustrated logbook covering nearly two years of Royal Navy missions in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf performed by the flagship of the East Indies Station: first HMS Highflyer and then, when the latter ship was relieved by her sister vessel in September 1903, HMS Hyacinth. The flagship would shuttle back and forth between India and Sri Lanka, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, servicing the East Indies Station's bases at Trincomalee, Colombo, Bombay, and Aden, as well as the Maldives and Seychelles. Midshipman Openshaw, keeper of the log and a gifted cartographic and technical draughtsman, prepared these remarkably precise maps and charts of all the principal harbours, including Muscat, Kuwait, and Bushehr, in addition to tracking the ship's course throughout the Indian Ocean and the Gulf. All harbour charts, handsomely coloured, give precise soundings and cover the principal approaches, often apparently surpassing in detail and accuracy the published hydrographic maps of the region. Openshaw's technical drawings, on the other hand, include scrupulously precise cross-sectional elevations of the ships, of equipment such as a rudder head, of valve and bell designs, but also weaponry such as a pistol grip firing key, the recoil cylinder and rear-end design of the six-inch Quick-Firing naval gun, the hoisting of a six-inch gun from one ship into another, and even the cone mounting of the great Maxim Gun, much coveted by the Sheikhs of the Gulf.

Of particular importance is the Hyacinth's voyage into the Gulf during November and December 1903 as a member of the flotilla that accompanied Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, on his visit to the region. The Viceroy's personal tour of the Gulf, the consummation of a devout and long-nourished wish, was carefully coordinated with the Home Office to shore up British interests in the region against the other European powers - especially Russia, whom Britain perceived as an increasingly meddlesome factor in Persia and the Gulf, their own area of special interest. To make as strong and as permanent an impression as possible, Curzon had suggested that all available fleet units, as well as Admiral George Atkinson-Willes, Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station, go along on the journey. Thus, Curzon sailed on the first-class cruiser Argonaut, the largest ship ever to visit the Gulf before the Great War, accompanied by the EIS flagship Hyacinth as well as by the Hardinge, Fox, Pomone, Sphinx, Lapwing, and Lawrence. On November 18, Curzon entered Muscat; a few days later he inspected the Musandam Peninsula. He ended up not visiting Persia, but on the 21st, at 6.40 a.m., the "fleet anchored in Shargar Harbour" (as the present logbook records). Here, Curzon was saluted with 31 guns, and the "Viceroy held [a] Durbar on board HMS Argonaut". This "Durbar", or "court" (deriving from the Farsi word 'darbar'), was an ostentatious ceremony at which all the rulers of the Trucial Coast (now the United Arab Emirates) attended, along with other guests from the region. "This kind of ritual was a feature of rule borrowed by the British from the Mughal emperors they had replaced in India. It was an act of royal incorporation, designed to establish, legitimise, and entrench the hierarchies of empire. A photograph from the Dane collection at the British Library shows Curzon, enthroned at centre stage, surrounded by the symbols of Indian [...] and British monarchical [...] authority. To the Viceroy’s right sit the Arab dignitaries. Some, deprived of chairs, are kneeling or sitting on the floor" (British Library, Asian and African studies blog, 30 Dec. 2014). Curzon's visit constituted a culminating moment in Britain's Gulf diplomacy. While the present logbook does not elaborate on the politics of the occasion, it does provide otherwise unobtainable details such as the weather, air and water temperature, air pressure, and the exact wind direction and force throughout that memorable day in Sharjah.

Later, in April 1904, the Hyacinth saw action during an incident of the Somaliland campaign which involved the recapture of the port of Illig from a Dervish force. The present log provides a narrative of the operation and its aftermath, including photographs and a brutally indifferent reference to the destruction of the village.

Occasional soiling and minor tears, mainly confined to the margins of a few pages; a single page torn with some loss to records of wind direction while anchored in Bombay. A well preserved naval logbook with uncommonly fine cartographic illustrations, documenting the flagship's missions during a crucial moment in British international diplomacy and Gulf history.

Cf. Briton Cooper Busch, Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1894-1914 (Berkeley & Los Angeles, UCA Press, 1967), pp. 257-262.