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street corner, prove that the Bushirees have something to give away, if at the same time they have a good many people among whom to distribute it. The place sends grain to India, and might be very prosperous were there a wagon road between the port and Shiraz. But there is only a donkey or mule path ; and though the European merchants have often offered to construct one, they have never been permitted, since the Persian officials learn that there is to be no “backsheesh” for them to be got out of the enterprise. Indeed, every effort at improvement is barred by this craving for “ backsheesh,” an Oriental word which may be familiarly translated “palm oil.” The unwritten rule through “all the gorgeous East” is, no bribe, no public work, a state of matters which also prevails in Turkey, though not to such a barefaced extent as in Persia. Hence, by a general consensus of opinion, the Sultan's side of the boundary shows greater prosperity than the Shah's, and every year many of the subjects of the latter are, in spite of the prejudice against their sect of Mohammedanism, emigrating across the frontier. Bunder Abbas, or Gambroon, the only other important Persian port in the Gulf, is an open roadstead. The undulating shore, diversified with patches of green and palm trees, and backed fifteen miles away by high gbauts, rising to 8,000 feet, and still further in the interior by snow-capped peaks, give the place a pleasant appearance when viewed from the
But the town itself is of small dimensions, filthy beyond Persian precedent, falling into hopeless decay, and so unhealthy that no Europeans dare live in it permanently. The natives, however, look robust enough. They subsist chiefly on the fish which swarm in the Gulf, and are to a great extent, but not nearly to the amount they might be, exported to the Red Sea, Mauritius, and elsewhere. The shoals of sardines are described as being something prodigious.
In sight of Bunder Abbas is the Island of Ormuz, which in early days under the Arabs, and then under the Portuguese, was the centre of the Gulf trade. But in 1663 it was captured by the troops of Shah Abbas the Great, aided by some English vessels. Since that day the place has been desolate. Its fine harbour is shipless, and the commerce which was driven off by the sack of the city has never returned either to it or to Bunder Abbas. The great reservoirs constructed by the Portuguese to hold the water supply, however, still remain intact; but the surface of the island—nearly twelve miles in circumference—is entirely denuded of soil and of vegetation. Salt and sulphur patch this desert, and form almost the only articles which the few Arab and Persian inhabitants export to India, as opportunity offers. The tottering lighthouse and the ruined fort stand as witnesses to the former substantiality of the place, and the numerous mounds and ruins which cover the vicinity attest the populousness of the city in early times. These might, if properly explored, yield many interesting remains. The crystalline incrustations of salt, which in places cover the surface of the hills, give them the appearance of being overlaid by glaciers.*
Linga is a busy town on the Persian shore, but it is ruled by an Arab Sheik tributary to the Shah, and mainly peopled by Arab refugees from the other side of the Gulf. Otherwise, the place is as evil-smelling as any other part of urban Persia, and altogether as tumble-down. Justice is administered, as it is along the shores of the Gulf, in
* Whitelock : Bombay Geographical Society's Journal, Vol. I., p. 113: Grattan Geary: “Through Asiatic Turkey," Vol. I., p. 35.
a terribly stern fashion. Robbers are common, but when caught they may consider themselves happy if they are only walled up alive, for not unfrequently they are crucified with the addition of terrible tortures, only possible for an Oriental brain to devise.
Mr. Geary describes the trade of the Gulf—both local and foreign-as steadily progressing, and settled order becoming the rule. The British India Company's steamers ply along the whole extent of the Gulf—600 miles long to from 120 to 230 miles broad-up and down weekly, in addition to numerous other steamers and sailing vessels. In the winter the cold is often piercing, but during the summer months the beat exceeds everything known in any other
British gunboats keep order in the Gulf, under the direction of our political agent at Bushire. Hence the organised piracy which until within the last fifteen years prevailei is a something of the past. British influence is likely to increase now that we have
assumed a protectorate over the Asiatic dominions of the Sultan. Yet hitherto, though British money has made the Gulf safe, the Arab Sheiks and the Shah have not been asked to contribute to the cost of their protection. This fact the Turks, when annexing strip after strip of the Gulf littoral from the Arabs, did not fail to adduce as a proof that we had no right to object to their absorption of the territories of independent tribes. The Persians look upon the British Residency at Bushire with extreme jealousy. At first they refused to allow the Resident to build a house, and even after the necessary permission was granted they stipulated that the dwelling should not be larger than the tent he at first occupied ! Well might Colonel —now Sir Lewis—Pelly write in an official communication to the Bombay Government that “the Persians have some good qualities, but they are jealous and small-minded beyond any people I ever came across in the course of twenty-two years' travel.” Nevertheless, in spite of their dislike, the Resident still exercises judicial and political dictatorship over every place where the formal rule of the
Persian, Turkish, or Arab cannot extend. But owing to his position on foreign soil his jurisdiction is naturally exercised under considerable restraints and difficulties. Indeed, as the Persian Gulf may be said to be virtually British waters, and will become of paramount importance to India, should a railway ever unite it with the Mediterranean through the Euphrates Valley, a British settlement on its shores is every year becoming more and more a necessity, and has been advocated by Sir Lewis Pelly and other Residents at Bushire. Some locality near Cape Mussendom would meet this requirement, and act favourably not only on the Gulf trade generally, but exercise a bealthful influence on Arabia and Western Mekran, while from its frontier it would speedily attract the merchants who were scattered on the destruction of Ormuz. The value of the Gulf trade has been estimated at
£8,000,000. But even allowing that this is too high, it is incontestable that since the opening of the Suez Canal the commerce has prodigiously increased. Goods once brought solely by way of the old cavaran route from the Mediterranean ports viá Damascus and Aleppo to Bagdad, Bussorah, and Western and Northern Persia, now travel by the Red Sea route. China, Java, Bombay, and Calcutta send their contingent; and even the apathetic Persians, templed by the new sources of wealth opened out, despatch opium to China, and grain and pilgrims to Jeddah, in steamers under their own flag. From Meshed and Herat caravans reach the shores of the Gulf, while Seyd and Bunder Abbas are partly kept alive hy landward commerce from other parts of Asia, and down the Tigris and Euphrates come goods not only for remote parts, but for transshipment for “the country trade.” These countries, however, only use the Gulf as a highway. Its waters, nevertheless, supply materials for trade in the shape of fish and pearls, and on its shores grow dates and other produce, the aggregate value of which is considerable.
THE PEARL FISHERIES.
The Pearl Fisheries have been long celebrated. Of Babrein, an island containing 50,000 people ruled by an independent Arab Sheik, there is so great a trade in these coveted ornaments that not unfrequently a single Arab will send several thousand rupees' worth of the shells alone to London; and as the banks extend along nearly the whole of the Arabian coast from Kowait to Ras el Keimah, and are also found in one or two places, though of inferior quality, on the Persian coast, the amount of pearls obtained must be great. The Coast Arabs regard the banks as their special property, and would drive away as a poacher any one from the interior caught attempting to share the marine treasures. The diving begins in June, and lasts until September. During the height of the season about 2,000 boats will be engaged in the business on the Bahrein banks alone, but along the shores of the entire Gulf not less than four or five thousand boats, each manned by from ten to thirty-two men, are engaged, these labourers being paid by a share in the venture. Still, pearlfishing is a poor trade—to all save the pearl merchants. The latter are mostly natives of India, and usurers of a more than ordinarily objectionable type. The divers are almost invariably in their debt, and hence are obliged to sell their pearls to their creditors at prices often greatly below their value, and to buy what they require from them at a cost proportionately above the market rates. The result is, that these Oriental Shylocks manage, what with the interest they charge on money advanced, and on the advantages they take in buying and selling to so unconscionably fleece their serfs, that for a diver in an ordinary season to be in want of food is not an uncommon occurrence. When an Arab wishes to embark in the pearl-diving business, he seeks out one of these Indian usurers, and borrows money from him at cent. per cent. interest, and probably a boat at an equally extortionate rate of hire. If he is successful he may possibly be enabled to get out of his creditor's clutches. But if the season is an ordinary one, or still worse,
a bad one for him, his fate is, as Mr. Geary justly remarks, somewhat like that of the Indian ryot when his crops fail-he is forced to get money to carry him over to the next season at whatever terms are demanded. The divers, during the hottest portion of the season, will sometimes descend a dozen times a day. But earlier in the year, when the sea is still comparatively cold, three or four plunges are about as much as they can tolerate in the twenty-four hours. Their mode of operations is very simple. The diver, after his nostrils and ears have been plugged up, and a weight attached to his feet, is dropped over the oysters which have been sighted through the clear water. These he detaches, and placing them in a sack round his waist, is again drawn up by the cord attached to him. A minute or a minute and a half is about the maximum time which the divers can remain under the sea. Even then the work is most injurious to their health, Nearly all of them reduced in body, and suffer greatly from the ophthalmia which is so common among the inhabitants of the Gulf shores, and the risks they run from sharks and sawfishes render the occupation one not conducive to longevity. Quarrels among the pearl-divers are frequent, but the presence of the British gunboats on the banks during the fishing season enables the
sheiks to keep order, and above all-what they consider the final purpose of orderto levy their poll-taxes in peace. In India the yellowish-hued pearls are most sought after: in the Bagdad market the white ones are most valued, and this variety is also best appreciated in Europe ; but Persia absorbs a great number of seed pearls for purposes of embroidery and for medicine, the pearl being throughout the East celebrated as a tonic. Altogether Mr. Geary, from whom we have obtained the foregoing particulars, calculates the Gulf pearl fisheries may be worth £200,000 per annum, more or less; but there is no means of arriving at anything save an approximate estimate.
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE POPULATION.*
To return to Persia proper. The snows which cover the Persian plateau atone in most degree for the absence of the monsoon. The winds blowing over in the winter months revive the dried-up denizens of the Gulf towns, and at times make even Europeans shiver. Persia and the Gulf have this advantage over India, that instead of only two seasons, they have four, and are situated "within the zone of winter rains, which extends as far as Central Europe.”
Politically, Persia is divided into four great provinces, each province in its turn being subdivided into six sections.† The four great political divisions are: Khorassan, or the east region ; Azerbaijan, the western, or, to use the poetical Persian imagery, “the province of the rising and the setting sun ;” Irak, the central region lying between these two; and Fars, the most southern part of the country. The low-lying country between the edge of the Persian plateau and the Gulf, though under the rule of the Shah, is in the East scarcely considered a part of Persia. It is to the Orientals simply bistan," or the country of the Arabs. But even without it the Shah rules 600,000 square miles, or a sixth more than the Sultan of Turkey does in Asia. The population of the country is not known with anything like accuracy, for it is not to the interest of the provincial officials to send up returns which might inconveniently act as a check upon their peculations. A large population would inevitably result in the Teheran officials insisting on a large revenue. Accordingly, while the governors take care that every one is taxed to the uttermost farthing, they report only a moderate population as taxable, and pocket the difference. Hence Major St. John considers that instead of the population of Persia being only 4,000,000, it is nearer 10,000,000. The governors are permitted to retain their posts longer if found capable men—that is, men who send up a good revenue to the treasury, and from whose provinces no rumours of revolts or of flagrant abuscs reach the capital. Members of the royal family
* See also “Races of Mankind,” Vol. III., p. 221.
+ In this statement I have followed the best authorities. In some works, however, there are thirteen provinces mentioned; in others twenty; in a third estimate twenty-four. The discrepancies arise owing to the interpretation into English of the Persian word signifying “ Province,” and the estimation of the size of a tract of country entitled to that designation. In taking the view I have done, my opinion is strengthened by the authority of a distinguished European officer in the service of the Shah, who has been good enough to supply me with much information, and to read over part of these notes, compiled from various official and other documents.