The Occupation of Kharg Island

Taylor, Robert, British military officer (1788-1852). Autograph letter signed.

Baghdad, 9. VII. 1838.

8vo. 8 pp. on 2 bifolia.


To W. Cabell, regarding the potential independence of Muhammad Ali of Egypt and the British occupation of Kharg Island.

A fascinating letter, composed at a time of great tumult in the Near and Middle East. It relays news of important events and evidences the willingness of the British to use force to implement their policy in the region. Lieut. Col. Robert Taylor went to India as a cadet in 1803 and did not return to England for over forty years, serving as Political Resident at Basra (1819-21) and Baghdad (1821-43). His library was purchased by the British Library in 1860 and forms the bedrock of its Arabic-language collection.

Writing from Baghdad, Taylor addresses W. Cabell of the India Board Office in London. He first informs Cabell of two loads of missing post; one outgoing tranche "lost by dromedaries running away with the bags and throwing their riders", and the mail from India "robbed by a party of Wahabis". He then notes Ottoman alarm at "the threatened independence of Mohamed Ali", and comments at length on relations with Persia, which were extremely tense due to the ongoing siege of Herat by Qajar and Russian forces: "Our envoy [John McNeill] ... was not listened to; while the Russian [Count Simonich] & his staff conducted their approaches to the fortress which was expected to fall." In response, the British occupied Kharg Island with a "small force ... not exceeding 500 men", thereby threatening military intervention. Reporting that it had "instilled a wholesome fear into the Persians", Taylor advocates the use of gunboat diplomacy elsewhere "to produce similar effects".

Official correspondence relating to Persia and the Gulf region is rarely found outside of institutional archives such as the India Office Records. This example is interesting on a number of levels, not least for showing how Britain's aggression in the first decades of "The Great Game" manifested in the Gulf.

A few later pencil annotations in a different hand; pages a little dusty.