1778 - Abraham Parsons
The City of Mocha and the Trade on the Red Sea
Mocha is built so near the sea, that when the wind blows strong from the west it washes against the walls. It lies due north and south, and is near one and a half miles long, but of unequal breadth; at the north end it is more than half a mile broad, and becomes gradually narrower quite to the south end, where it is not quite half a mile, according to my paces. It is strongly walled quite round with hewn stone, and the walls are kept in good repair: there are loop-holes for arrows and musquetry at about five feet distance from each other. The latitude, by a medium of three observations with Hadley's quadrant, from the top of the terrace of my house, in March, 1778, I found to be, deg. 13 24 N.
At the extremity of the two points of land which form the bay is a circular castle, strongly built, of stone. On the semicircle, towards the sea, are six twenty-four-pounders, and on that fronting the land are six twelve-pounders. There is another such castle nearly in the middle of the sea-walls, near which is the only gate by which goods or passengers can enter from the sea; here is a station for the custom-house officers, where all goods are examined and registered which are imported or exported. From this gate there runs out a pier, one hundred and fifty yards due west, which is built of stone, and strongly supported at the end and sides by plank and piles, and is very serviceable for loading and unloading goods: it was constructed by captain Watson, (late super-intendant of the Bombay Marine), about twenty years since; before this time all goods were landed and shipped from the beach, by which they, as well as the boats, often received great damage, which is now prevented.
At about a quarter of a mile from the north end of the town, on the sea-walls, is a battery of twelve guns, pointing due west; and at the south end a round castle with twelve embrazures, and six guns mounted: the embrazures are placed at equal distances, to any of which the guns can be shifted occasionally. At equal distances round the city are built round towers on the walls, which add much to the beauty of the whole. Here are two land gates, one at the north and one at the south end of the town.
The houses fronting the sea are all very lofty, built with stone, and white-washed without as well as within. There are four large mosques and six smaller, the minarets of which greatly improve the view of the town from the sea, especially the great mosque, which being elegantly built and very lofty, serves as a land-mark for ships coming into the road, to avoid the shoal before mentioned. This shoal begins about four miles from the shore, a little to the north of the south castle, and reaches almost opposite to the pier head, being nearly a quarter of a mile in breadth. Between it and the shore there is not, in the deepest part, above twelve feet water, and about one fathom and half in the shallowest, where there is a hard sand. The best anchoring in the road is in from three and a half to four fathom water, rather to the south of the pier, in which position a ship will be about a mile and a half distant from the shore. Some ships bring the mosque to bear E. by S. and then run into the road, by which means they will not only be quite clear of the shoal, but have a better chance to get into such a part of the road as will enable them to unload and reload with ease and safety; whereas by running so far as to bring the mosque to bear east-south-east they risk being driven up to the north of the northern-most castle, where they cannot unload their cargoes, until they get again to the southward and anchor in the road. Three English ships were driven above the castle during my stay here, and were obliged to anchor there; one of them was so lucky as to get into the road the fourth day after, which the other two not being able to effect, after procuring water and provision, they proceeded on their voyage, without landing any goods intended for Mocha; they were bound for Suez.
Provisions are plenty and good in this town; a fat sheep can be bought for a Spanish dollar, a milch goat and a kid for the same, and twelve good fowls for a dollar; beef at three halfpence the pound. Fish of many kinds are cheap and excellent in their quality: here are the largest sea-crabs in this part of the world; it is very common to see them from three to four pounds each, which may be bought for a halfpenny each. New cheese and fresh butter are daily brought to market from a town called Musa (Moses) about twenty miles within land.
In the summer they have plenty of fruit, such as grapes, peaches, apricots, quinces, mangoes, pine-apples, dates, plantains, and both kinds of melons, all which, except the dates, are brought from the country from twenty to fifty miles distant. The sheep are all brought from the opposite shore of Abyssinia, which is not above five leagues distant, and to which large boats run over almost daily, carrying from hence European goods, such as writing-paper, cutlery, sewing silk, thread and needles, many sorts of glass beads, small looking-glasses, and trifling toys from Venice, besides Surat piece goods, such as coarse checks and blue cloths; pepper, ginger, and sugar; bringing in return ostrich feathers, rhinoceros hides and horns, men, women, and children slaves, sheep, and rush mats, which serve to cover the floors of their houses in winter, and for sails for their boats and coasting vessels, being the only material they use for this purpose.
The soil for more than ten miles nearest to Mocha is chiefly sand, nor is there any tree to be seen in all that space, excepting the palm or date tree; neither is there any good water to be had in the neighbourhood, as it is all brackish: those who chuse to drink pure water must buy it of the people who bring it daily to market from Musa, or send a man with a mule and skins to fetch it: the latter being most eligible I took that method, it costing me about two pence a gallon: for the first week I was well served; after which, I found that they mixed it with the brackish water; I then drank the water drawn from the common wells in the town, without any bad effect, though most strangers get fluxes by drinking it on their first arrival.
The suburbs are situated to the south of the city, there being a large void space between both. I am informed that the suburbs are so very large as to contain more inhabitants than the city itself; but they are mostly of the poorer sort. One quarter is allotted for the Jews, another for prostitute women, another for the king's slaves, who are all Abyssinians; the men are employed in repairing the walls and other public buildings, or in the boats which load and unload the ships belonging to the king.
The other parts of the suburbs are occupied by labourers, poor artizans, and some few gardeners, who, by dint of much labour and industry, with abundance of manure, make a shift to raise a very indifferent kind of sallading, a few pulse of different kinds, and sweet potatoes, like the Spanish.
Of the rhinoceros's horns imported from Abyssinia, they make drinking cups and snuff boxes, which are very beautiful, and preferred to tortoise shell; I bought a cup which was six inches in diameter, and would contain very near a quart of liquid. The Mahometans believe these cups to have a peculiar virtue in discovering whether poison is mixed in any drink which is put into them, for which reason they sell at high prices.
I have heard some of the Abyssinian merchants here relate wonderful discoveries of poison made by means of these cups, which most people believe at this place: whether this be true or not, they are in great demand, a large horn being worth from two to three pounds Sterling: the largest at this place is ten inches diameter and only twenty one in length; it has been kept here many years as a rarity, being the largest that has been seen in the memory of any man now alive. These horns are placed in the mid of the beasts forehead, and are nearly strait, having a very small curve, inclining upwards with a sharp point.
The rhinoceros is the only beast that is known to have only one horn and therefore the only one that can with propriety be called the unicorn. In size they are the largest of all quadrupeds, except the elephant.
The horns of the rhinoceros have not that inferior spungy substance which is contained within the horns of other animals, but are entirely solid; when cups or boxes are made of them, the horn is cut into designed lengths, and the inside hollowed by turning, which I have often seen done by the turners of this place, many of whom have no other employment.
Their hides are in great demand for making targets or shields. When properly tanned and prepared, they are impenetrable to the stroke of a broad sword or Turkish scimitar; they are of a variegated colour, and when polished are very similar to tortoise shell. Surat is the place where they make the most elegant targets of those hides; they shed them with large silver nails, the heads of which are a full inch in diameter, and curiously wrought. These targets sell from three to five pounds Sterling each, and are much sought for, particularly in Arabia, where all travellers go more completely armed than in any other part of the eastern world. Every man who can afford to purchase one of them will not travel without it. The attendants and servants of great men have each one, which in travelling is slung on the left shoulder, and hangs on their backs.
The small ostritch feathers, which are imported here from Abyssinia, are mostly sent to India for sale, as the officers and private soldiers of sepoys wear them in their hats and bonnets; the largest are sent to Suez and thence to Cairo, where they are bought up by the merchants who trade to Europe, and are from thence sent to Alexandria and afterwards Venice, Leghorn, and Marseilles.
There is here a Scotch renegado, named Campbell, who about twenty years since was gunner of one of the English ships which traded to Mocha, and having in a quarrel struck one of the sailors with a large stick on the head, which fractured his skull and occasioned his death, the captain threatened to have him hanged for murder, on the ship's return to Bombay; to prevent which, he deserted and became a mussulman, and was immediately employed in the artillery department, of which he has now the command. In consequence of this he has dubbed himself captain-general of the ordnance, in the kingdom of Senna. He is a well behaved man, and always ready to render service to any English who frequent this place, and is always on the pier to welcome them on their first arrival. He is so very modest that he never presumes to visit at their houses uninvited, from an apprehension of his reception as a renegado, though he will accept an invitation, when his behaviour gives general satisfaction.
There are also here several French and Dutch renegadoes, who are all of them either in the military or artillery department; some of them calling themselves engineers.
About five years ago there was a great rebellion in the inland country, about fifty miles distant from Senna, the capital, where the king resides. It was occasioned by a scarcity of corn, and grew to such a height, that several thousands were assembled, who not only plundered all provisions going to the capital, but several towns and villages which they took, and seizing on a strong hold (where there was a never failing spring of water), they bade defiance to every force which was sent against them. At length the king was obliged to muster his whole force, which amounted to near fifty thousand men, with a good train of artillery, commanded by himself. Upon his approach they fled and retreated to their strong hold, where they were regularly besieged, though without success; Mr. Campbell and the renegadoes were the chief managers of the artillery.
The rebels having great plenty of provisions and water, which were scarce in the king's army, he began to despair, and had thoughts of retreating when one of the French renegadoes told him, that he could construct such engines as would either destroy or; oblige the rebels to surrender in a week's time: he was asked to describe them, and the manner in which they were to be used; he then described the mortar and: bomb shell, with the apparatus for throwing it, which much pleased the king.
He was then asked in how long time he could make a sufficient quantity for the present occasion; he replied, in a month, if iron and fuel sufficient were provided for him: the king promised these should be ready at Mocha by the time that he and his assistants could get there, besides a present of twenty thousand dollars, if he completed his work in two months; but, on the contrary, if he failed, he should order him to be hanged.
The Frenchman accepted the terms, and set out for Mocha, and the king, after leaving a sufficient force to form a blockade, returned with the rest of his army to his capital, to wait the event.
As soon as the Frenchman and his assistants arrived at Mocha, the general topic of conversation was about him and his infernal machine. In the meantime wood and iron were collected, and he pitched on a proper place for his laboratory, to which all the iron in the town being brought, he told the governor, that he should soon begin to cast the mortars and bombs, and that when once he had made a beginning he should complete the whole in twelve or fifteen days; all which was communicated to the king, who believed it.
However, the effendis or men of the law, and others of the religious, held many consultations on this business; the result of which was, that it was impious in the king to destroy so many good mussulmen at the instigation of a renegado, who was still a Christian in his heart. A body of them was therefore deputed to wait on the king, and their remonstrance had such an effect that he sent express orders to the governor of Mocha to stop the work.
It was fortunate for the Frenchman that these orders came just in time to save his life, which he had given up for lost; for it seems that he had never considered whether or not there were materials in the country for melting the metal, and clay for making the moulds, when he had made this rash promise. I was shewn the man, who is held in great contempt, and, from being the first man in the corps of engineers, is reduced to a matross, and is now one of Mr. Campbell’s guard du Corps on public days; this undertaking had, however, this good effect, that the rebels having heard from time to time how soon they were to be destroyed, and the king promising them forgiveness, if they would solicit it, and, engaging to behave well in future, would repair to their several homes, they complied and were pardoned, and have conducted themselves well ever since. This relation was given me by the present governor, who at that time was an officer in the army, and commanded the forces which formed the blockade.
Every Friday throughout the year the governor goes in great state to the principal mosque, about nine in the morning; the chief officers, as well military as civil, ride to the great square, (in which the governor's house is situated), to pay a visit to his excellency, whom they accompany to the mosque on horseback, attended by the infantry in solemn procession, with their different flags displayed: they return with him in the same state to his house, where as soon as he enters, they disperse every one to their homes.
Upon such occasions, it is usual to see from two to three hundred excellent horses of great value, richly caparisoned, some of them estimated at two thousand Spanish dollars each. This kingdom is famed for breeding as fine horses as any in Arabia; they do not chuse to sell their best breed to strangers, but, as there is no prohibition, some of them are sold at high prices.
When goods are discharged from any ship, the merchant to whom they belong must give the customer a copy of the marks, number, and contents of each bale, or other package. If the duty is to be paid by weight, they are carried to the custom-house; if piece goods, they are carried to the merchant's house, where they must lie in an open yard unopened, until they are inspected by the governor, collector, and other officers of the customs, who seat themselves in great form on such occasions, attended by the governor's secretary, and the customers, who are furnished with an invoice of the contents of the bales. Two or three bales are ordered to be opened, and the pieces counted; if they correspond with the account delivered, they content themselves with opening but a few, and the merchant is permitted to put the goods in his warehouse, and begin to sell them when he pleases; but if any bales exceed, either in number or quality, the merchant (besides receiving a severe reprimand) pays double duty for the excess, and all the remaining bales are opened. The English pay a duty of three per cent on all goods, that is, on the amount of the sale; the natives pay the same; but the natives of India, and the Arabs from Muscat and Jedda, and all other foreigners, pay five cent.
The greatest part of the foreign trade is transacted by the Banyans, some few of whom act as brokers: there are now here upwards of two hundred of these people, who wear a peculiar dress of white callico, which reaches down midway their legs, a round red bonnet, with a high crown, and red slippers, turned up at the toes in a semicircular curve, ending in a point. These Banyans are all natives of the kingdom of Guzarat, and chiefly from Surat: there is not a woman of their cast among them; formerly they brought their wives and families, but the Mahometans, who were men in power, attempting improper familiarities with the women, they embarked them all for Surat, where they always remain. They make their voyages in the annual ships from Surat; many of them stay here several years, bringing their sons and relations when young, who succeed them in the business, and in their turn return home to marry, and afterwards remain a few years only; while others chuse to reside here during life. Several of them leave great fortunes to their surviving families, as they are great oeconomists, and acute in their commercial transactions, though they are esteemed to be honest; so very quiet and inoffensive are they in their manners, that they are indulged with the privilege of living in a separate district of the town, and in the public exercise of their religion. Their public rejoicings and processions through the town, on their religious festivals, appear very ridiculous in the eyes of other people.
On the 2nd of March their great annual feast commenced, which continued three days. On the first day a cow (the handsomest and largest which could be procured), adorned with ribbons and many trinkets about the horns, head, and neck, was led through the streets followed by all the Banyans, with their cloaths, face, and hands daubed over with yellow oker, the crowd skipping and hallooing with the most comic gestures, made the whole circuit of the city within the walls, after which they returned home. In the evening they supped at the English broker's house, and the rejoicing concluded with singing, accompanied by the music (or rather a regular din, produced by beating two flat brass rings together, of which every man had two) peculiar to their cast. They sung by notes, a book being placed between every two men.
The second day the same cow, with different ornaments, was led through the town as on the preceding day, and again followed by all the Banyans, with their clothes, faces, and hands daubed over as before, and exhibiting the same kind of behaviour.
The third day the same cow was led round in the same manner; the ribbons were all painted red, as well as her tail, ears, and neck. The gestures and vociferations this day exceeded the two last, and, upon the whole, they looked horribly. On this day they put on their old clothes, and burned them when the procession ended; they then cleaned themselves, and prepared an entertainment of sweetmeats, cakes, and coffee, for those gentlemen whom they had previously invited, and who were applied to for a present of money towards defraying the expence: the governor gave ten dollars, two other English gentlemen, and myself, gave five each; they had presents of different value from all the principal officers and natives of the town. The Banyans neither kill nor eat any thing that had life, their food consisting of herbage, fruits, grain, and pulse of all kinds, oil, milk, and butter, but they never eat cheese, as it sometimes produces maggots, or other animalcula, by eating which, they, perhaps, might kill what God gave life to, which would, in their estimation, be a heinous sin. They are so very careful not to commit this crime, that they will not drink of any water that has stood in a jar, (even a few hours) without passing it through a clean cloth first, and if they discover a worm, they will, for the present, put it in a basin of water, which, at their leisure, they carry and empty into some neighbouring puddle. When they take fleas off their clothes, or from any other place, they are very careful not to hurt them, but put them gently on the ground. Of all living things they give the preference to the cow, and with great reason, as it provides them with the best part of their sustenance, milk and butter, and they carry their gratitude to this animal for it's bounties to adoration: for their own sakes they feed them well, and there are few families but what are possessed of one at least.
Having heard that there was plenty of wild fowl to be met with at the distance of three miles from the town, four or five of us Englishmen having agreed upon a shooting party one morning, desired the English broker, nick-named George, to provide us two guides.
We set out early in the morning, and arrived at the place, which was a kind of coppice, where our guides told us we should find plenty; we traversed the place all round and within, for above three hours, without seeing a single bird, when we returned, blaming our guides, who were Arabs, and who seemed much surprised that we were disappointed, declaring that they had not experienced such a thing before. We got home, and met honest George at the gate of our house, who demanding what we had killed or brought home, we replied, nothing, for that we had not seen a single bird the whole time we had been out: he raised both hands, and with great emphasis thanked God for it. Some few days after, the two guides came and asked me when we chose to make another party to the coppice; I told them that we had no such intention, not liking to be disappointed a second time: they promised, that if we would go the next morning, without mentioning our intention to any other person, we should not be disappointed; adding, with a smile, they would tell us the reason why we lost our sport the first time. We agreed, and set out early as before, and were asked by our guide if we had acquainted any person with our intention, previous to setting out; on our replying no, then said they, you will have plenty of game, which you had not the first time, as George and his people (Banyans) had hired six men to set out two hours before day, with guns and powder without shot, to beat the coppice, and by incessant firing drive all the birds away. As soon as you appeared, they returned by another route, in order that they might not be seen. On the trial we were not disappointed a second time, but returned with such plenty of partridges, as would have served four or five men for three days food: George and his people seemed much chagrined at our success.
All kinds of foreign goods are sold at Mocha on credit, and the payment is made either in three instalments, or the whole is paid for on a certain day, according to the time for which the goods are sold. For example: if goods are sold from the 20th of August until the last day of April, the whole is paid in three instalments, the third and last payment will be on the 20th of August: when goods are sold on any day in May, June, July, or any day in August before the 20th, the whole amount is paid for on the 20th of August. The reason for assigning this day for the last payment is, that it is the lime for all ships bound to India to prepare for their departure, which they should be careful to do before the 1st of September, lest they should lose their passage for that year, which sometimes happens to be the case. It has sometimes happened that ships have staid at Mocha until the 15th of September, and yet have been so lucky as to get a passage through the streights of Bab-al-Mandel, but it is running a great risk in staying so long, as the northern current and south-east winds oftentimes commence about the beginning of September.
All ships from Surat, Bombay, or the coast of Malabar, bound to Mocha, should Ieave India before the 1st of March at farthest, lest they lose their passage to Mocha for that year, which was the case with an English ship last year from Surat; she was obliged lo return to Bombay and unload; it sometimes falling out (as it did then), that the wind blows strongly at N. W. in the beginning of April; in general these winds do not commence until the 20th, and sometimes later.
It is much safer to sell goods to the Banyan merchants, than either to the Turks or Arabs, since, if a Banyan becomes a bankrupt, the other Banyans, rather than he should suffer the torture, will contribute, according to their ability, and pay his debts, which neither Turk nor Arab will do for their countrymen. The person who does not pay at the accustomed times for goods bought, is complained of to the governor, who summons and examines the buyer, and when it is plainly made to appear that he bought and received the goods, and will not or cannot pay the whole amount by the 20th of August, he then suffers the torture, by being exposed to the sun, bare headed, from sun rising until setting, for three days following, if the money is not paid in the mean while, or he lives so long. This, however, seldom happens, since, if he outlives the torture, he seldom escapes a frenzy fever, of which he never gets entirely cured for, if it abates in the three cool months, it returns as the heat commences, and continues all the rest of the year.
During six months or more it is intensely hot at this place, and in spring and autumn it is warmer than in midsummer in England. On the 20th of March, 1778, in a room in my house at Mocha, and where the sun never penetrated, the quicksilver in Fahrenheit's thermometer was at eighty-eight degrees [31 °C], and I am assured that during the months of July, August, and September last year, viz. 1777, the mercury was observed to be, by such another thermometer, at 108 to 112 degrees [43 – 45 °C], and yet the English resident now here assures me, that it was more healthy in those three months, and during the whole of the heat, than it was from about the middle of November to the middle of February. The natives confirm this account, asserting that they were much more healthy during the hot season, and in spring and autumn, than in the abovementioned three months, which they call winter, that is cold weather. The mornings and evenings are cold, yet a southerly wind prevails most of the time, with fine clear weather; and what is very remarkable in this country, and the reverse of every country which I have been in heretofore, that it is always dry and fine clear weather, with a southerly wind, and the reverse when the wind is northerly, it being then always damp, with more or less of a mist. I first discovered this circumstance on the 22d of this month of March (which was the first day that the wind had shifted this year from the south and south-east to the north and north-north-west), by the salt and sugar in my house, which began to dissolve; the wind continued only three days, when it changed and became fair and serene weather, with a strong southerly wind again, when the salt and sugar soon became dry. I mentioned this observation to the English broker, and to many of the natives, who all agreed that this was always the case, and that the northerly and southerly winds are the only winds which predominate or blow constantly, directly in or directly out, through the streight of Bab-al-Mandel, and between the other islands which he to the west of the streight. This phenomenon is easily accounted for; the coasts of Arabia and Abyssinia being very high, and not above eight leagues distant, at the entrance, and becoming gradually narrower towards Mocha, where the distance between the two continents does not exceed five leagues, and also the islands at the entrance of the Red sea, which are high, and not above two miles asunder, form so many funnels for the wind, whose direction changes alternately, according to the seasons.
At Mocha, and in the surrounding plain for several Ieagues, there is very little dew, and less rain; but about twenty miles inland the hills commence, and behind them the mountains rise with fine fertile valleys, where, as they have copious dews, and plenty of rain at certain seasons, the weather is never intensely hot; they have therefore plenty of wheat, barley, beans, pease, and every other kind of pulse and fruit, and all sorts of garden stuff.
Geographers call this kingdom Yemen, probably from Jam, or Jem, a leopard; the natives call it Senna, and according to them it reaches northward on the coast of the Red sea to latitude 19. 30. N. where it is bounded by a river which divides it from the dominions of Mecca, of which holy city Jedda is the sea port. To the south, the dominions reach through the streight of Bab-al-Mandel, where the coast takes a more easterly direction to Aden, which is about one hundred and twenty miles beyond the above-mentioned city and port, where there is a river which divides the coast part of the dominions of Senna from those of Muscat. This direction is generally preserved to Cape Raz-al-had, the westernmost point of the entrance of the Persian gulf. The interior parts are likewise bounded by the Mecca and Muscat dominions to the N. E. and to the E. the borders of the former are about three hundred and twenty, and of the latter about three hundred and sixty miles from Mocha. This account I had from people who travel to the different places as messengers, who compute the distances by the time they are in travelling, which is at the rate of three miles an hour on horseback; as they never gallop or trot their horses, but always walk a sober pace. They compute it to be one hundred and ten hours journey between Mocha and Senna, thirty-two hours to Aden, going round by the coast; but only twenty hours by the direct road; and thirty-four hours from Mocha to Beetle Fakey, which is the capital of the province which produces the coffee berry.
The port of Beetle Fakey is called Hodedah, and is distant from Mocha about one hundred and twenty miles by sea, in latitude 15 10 N. At this port is a custom-house, which is thirty miles distant from Beetle Fakey. The coffee that is shipped off for India, Muscat, or Europe, is first brought by land to Mocha; but what is designed for Jedda is shipped at Hodedah. There are two kinds of duties paid on coffee, one at Beetle Fakey, called the inland duty, which is paid on all that is consumed in the kingdom as well as what is exported; and another duty on exportation, of which the quantity is immense. The customer here assures me, that one year with another there are not less than sixty thousand bahars (a bahar is eight hundred and twenty English pounds weight) exported. It now sells at Beetle Fakey at eighty-five Spanish dollars per bahar. The inland and foreign duty, and camel-hire to Mocha, and charges in shipping, amount to about twenty dollars more, making the entire cost to the merchant one hundred and five Spanish dollars: the present price is called cheap, as the first cost, at Beetle Fakey, is sometimes from one hundred to one hundred and five dollars: on what is shipped at Hodedah there is a saving in camel-hire of three dollars per bahar.
Coffee is always paid for in ready money, either in Spanish dollars, German crowns, or Venetian zechins, which latter are two German crowns and a quarter, and pass by the name of Spanish dollars. All goods, the produce of the country, are likewise sold either by tale or weight, at so much the Spanish dollar, with this difference only, that there is a credit given, or if ready money is paid, a discount allowed at the rate of nine per cent.
Of foreign goods imported, china, silk, and porcelain, are sold at so much by weight, or tale, for a Spanish dollar, and a credit given as on other goods sold. All other goods imported are sold either by weight or tale, at so much the Mocha dollar, an imaginary coin, which is twenty-one and a half per cent less in value than a Spanish dollar. They have no gold, silver, or copper coin of the country, the only coin they have, which is called a kamatch, being base; it is iron silvered over, about the size of a silver two-pence. They have likewise half and quarter kamatches, the value of which varies according to the plenty or scarcity of them in town; sometimes forty-eight kamatches are equivalent to a Spanish dollar, at other times forty-six only: they have Arabic characters stamped on them, and their intrinsic value is not a farthing.
In July and August ships and coasting vessels arrive from Jedda and the island Mussava (an island on the coast of Upper Egypt), with money and Venetian goods, such as glass beads of all sorts, looking-glasses, needles, paper, and cutlery, (which they buy at Grand Cairo, and ship off at Suez), and dispose of to the Indian, Muscat, and Abyssinian merchants, as well as the Jews and Banyans, who send them by pedlars to Senna, Aden, and all the towns and villages throughout the kingdom. In return they buy coffee, ostrich feathers, rhinoceros horns, socotorine aloes, pepper, ginger, and other spices, sena, and many other kinds of drugs and gums, the produce of this country and of Muscat and Persia, as likewise benzoin, camphor, and lignum aloes from India, as well as many sorts of piece goods, with which they return in November.
The trade from India and Muscat to Mocha is very great. From Surat come piece goods of many kinds, tobacco and rice. From the coast of Malabar they bring rice, pepper, ginger, cardamoms, areka, and beetle nut, timber and plank for house and ship-building, cloves, nutmegs, and cinnamon. From Bengal are brought abundance of rice, salt-petre, piece goods, china, silk, and porcelain, benzoin, camphor, lignum aloe, and opium, besides piece goods, which they sometimes take in at Madras. From Muscat are imported many kinds of drugs, Persian silk and carpets, some pearl, and great sums of money in dollars and Venetian zechins; the Muscateers in return taking coffee, with which they not only supply their own country, but all Persia, and a great part of Turkey by the way of Bussora. Some years upwards of twenty thousand bales are sent to Bussora (a bahar making two bales), from whence part is sent to Bagdad and Mosul (the ancient Ninevah) by water, and part by caravans over the desert, directly to Aleppo. The greatest part of that which goes up the Tigris to Bagdad is sent by caravans to Aleppo, Damascus, Erzerum, Teflis in Armenia, and to every town throughout Mesopotamia, by means of the Tigris and Euphrates; as likewise through the different towns in the province of Diarbeker. Coffee being but little used in India, the ships on their voyage home take in but a small quantity, the returns being made in German crowns, Venetian zechins, ostrich feathers, rhinoceros hides and horns, various kinds of Venetian goods, and some few drugs and balsams, of which that called balsam of Mecca is very dear.
All goods exported pay a duty of five to ten per cent on the value, excepting what is exported by the English, who pay no export duty, execpting on coffee, in regard to which they are on the same footing with other nations; the greatest export of coffee from Mocha is to Jedda, in vessels belonging either to Mocha or Jedda, where, after reserving a sufficient quantity tor the consumption of the dominions of Mecca, the remainder is sent to Suez in ships belonging to, and who come annually loaded with rice and various kinds of merchandize from that port, and return again from Jedda with coffee, drugs, and other merchandize, the produce of the kingdom of Senna, Abyssinia, Muscat, Persia, India, and the dominions of Mecca. The ships belonging to Suez have an exclusive right to the trade, as no ship from Mocha, Muscat, or India, is allowed to enter any port in the Red sea beyond Jedda, on pain of confiscation. Coffee is prohibited to be carried from Mocha to Jedda, in any other ships than those belonging to one or other of these ports; yet this is the third year that the English have broke through this regulation, of which the xeriff of Mecca has made great complaints to the grand signior, and it is believed that the trade will be put a stop to, as the English ships carrying their merchandize from India directly to Suez, is a great injury to the port of Jedda.
Jedda is the magazine or deposit for all kind of merchandize intended to be carried to Suez : these pay a duty to the xeriff of Mecca, of which, by the by, the pasha of Jedda, who is appointed by the grand signior has a moiety: the landing and reshipping of these goods gives bread to a multitude of people employed in the service, and particularly to the proprietors of the magazines where they are deposited, and the factors to whom they are consigned for receiving and delivering, or making sales and returns of the cargoes, of which the quantity is immense. The customer here assures me, that last year upwards of seventy thousand bales of coffee were exported from Hodedah to Jedda, which, at two bales to the bahar, makes upwards of thirty-five thousand bahars, a greater quantity than was exported to all other parts: of that number he has been informed that upwards of sixty thousand bales were sent from Jedda to Suez.
The English carrying goods from India and Mocha directly to Suez, is a great loss likewise to the merchants at Jedda, who before bought all these cargoes from the English, and either resold or shipped them off for Suez, to be sold either there or at Cairo on their own account, or that of their correspondents, at Suez, Cairo, Alexandria, or other places; they have been for three years deprived of these advantages. The customer predicts that this will be the last year that the English will be suffered to carry goods to Suez, as an order has been sent from the grand signior to the pasha of Egypt, to forbid their returning next year. The ruling beys encourage the trade, which pays them, by agreement made in 1776, between Mahomet bey and Mr. John Shaw, six per cent duty, which is double what the natives pay.
Amongst the Jedda merchants, who are here on business, are many who affable and intelligent; I desired they would inform me of the reason why the grand signior sent a pasha to Jedda, who shared the duties on goods imported and exported, since I had always been informed, that the xeriff of Mecca was an independent prince. They all allowed that he was so far independent, as not to be appointed by the grand signior, but by the holy sheiks of Mecca, of which number the xeriff must be one; that all the country of Arabia bordering on the Red sea, the kingdom of Senna included, was formerly under the dominion of the grand signior by conquest, and governed by his pashas and officers, during which time Aden was the principal port: that about one hundred and fifty years since the king of this country shook off the Turkish yoke, expelled their officers, and a few years after built this city of Mocha, which has remained independent ever since. Mecca, however, is so far dependent, as to acknowledge the grand signior to be their lord and protector, as head of the mussulmans, in consequence of which his pasha has the keeping and guarding the port of Mecca or Jedda, where they have a sufficient body of troops. To maintain this ascendancy, the pasha is allowed a moiety of the customs. They asserted that the pasha is greatly enriched by this post, as the expenses of the garrison do not amount to half the sum which he receives as customs, besides what he draws annually from the rich Mahometans, who come from India and land at Jedda, on their pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
Mocha is certainly a city of great trade, and consequently very rich; for although the balance of trade between it and India is against this kingdom, as the greatest part of the produce of the goods brought here from India is carried back in gold and silver; yet this drain is amply compensated by the immense sums paid in ready money for coffee, which, according to the customer's account, at eighty-five Spanish dollars per bahar on the average exportation annually, amounts to five millions and one hundred thousand Spanish dollars, or Pounds 1,275,000 Sterling, besides one-fifth more paid for custom, and the other expenses attendant on shipping it: to this must be added the large quantities of drugs, and other goods exported, so that a great balance of gold and silver is left annually in the country.
I am likewise informed, that the king's revenues so much exceed his expenses, both public and private, that his exchequer is much richer than that of his neighbour the king of Muscat, who is obliged to support a large marine force for the protection of his trade; whereas Mocha, not being situated near any maritime power, has an uninterrupted trade, without the expense of maintaining even a single ship of war. This monarch is equally secure by land from any contending neighbours, so that this kingdom really deserves it's appellation of Arabia Felix.
The inhabitants of this country possess an advantage peculiar to themselves, in paying no fees to a physician until the recovery of the patient, so that if he dies, he gets nothing for either attendance or medicine; of which he is both the prescriber and vender. This custom I witnessed in the case of Mr. Charles Lloyd, of Bengal, who had a part of my house here, and died in it. I paid all his debts but the doctors', who did not demand any remuneration.
Travels in Asia and Africa