1775 - Abraham Parsons
The Trade of Muscat
Muscat is a place of very great trade, being possessed of a large number of ships, which trade to Surat, Bombay, Goa, along the whole coast of Malabar, and to Mocha and Jedda in the Red sea. It is the great magazine or deposit for the goods which they bring from those parts; it is resorted to by vessels from every port in Persia, from Bussora [Basra], and all the ports of Arabia within the gulph, and from the coast of Caramania without the gulph, as far as the river Indus, and many places adjacent to that river.
There are at present such immense quantities of goods in this town, that as there are not warehouses to contain half of them, they are piled up in the streets, and lie night and day exposed, without any watch or guard, yet there never happens an instance that such goods are robbed, or even pilfered, of the least part.
The inhabitants have a very large inland trade, not only with the subjects of Muscat, but with the numerous tribes of independent Arabs, from whom they receive caravans frequently, who bring great quantities of gums and other drugs of various sorts, ostrich feathers, hides, sheep, and lamb skins, honey, bees-wax, and live cattle and sheep; they send in return, India piece goods, pepper, ginger, rice, tobacco, coffee, and sugar, and many other goods, the produce of India, as well as English cloth, cutlery, toys, and many other articles.
The king or imaum of Muscat and the Persians are almost continually at war; yet such is his policy, that he suffers the Persians to resort to Muscat with their vessels to purchase goods for ready money, without any molestation, either at Muscat or it's dependent territories, or in their voyages to or from Muscat to any part of Persia; but this permission holds good only with regard to such vessels. All vessels which they meet at sea, trading to other parts, and all ships of war, they endeavour to make prizes of.
This port is both safe and convenient, and the castles are so many, and so judiciously situated, on the surrounding hills, as to be secure from attack by sea. As the country abounds in provisions, a blockade would not have any other bad effect than on their trade. While they are at peace with the English they have no other power to fear, and it is certainly the interest of the English to live in amity with the Muscateers.
It has always been an usual custom for all English merchant ships, in their voyage from India to Bussora, to stop at Muscat, and send an express by land to the Company's agent of Bussora, to advise him of their arrival; on receiving which the agent gives directions to the commander of one of the Company's cruziers or ships of war (there being seldom less than two on the Bussora station), to repair to Muscat, and convoy such ships to Bussora, This is done to prevent them from being taken by the galliotes belonging to the shaub, a piratical prince whose dominions border on the Persian side of the great river, about mid-way between the bar and Bussora creek. These make no distinction, but capture all ships which they can overcome, as they did a few years since an English ship, richly laden, from India, and bound to Bussora, of which David Phillips was commander.
The shaub's principal strong hold is at the head of a creek, which is dry at low water, nor is there ever water sufficient for ships of any force to enter to pursue his galliotes; besides this security, his town at the head of the creek is walled, and well fortified with a strong castle, so as to be deemed impregnable against any force that can be sent against it from these parts; this the Persians have experienced, to their great loss.
When an English convoy comes upon an errand to Muscat, the vessels belonging to Muscat, bound to Bussora, take the benefit of it, as it protects them besides from the Persians. When these ships return from Bussora for India, they are in the same manner convoyed as far as Muscat, which is a double advantage to this place, as they generally sell and purchase goods here. The Muscat vessels have the advantage of being convoyed at the same time.
The dominions of Muscat reach along the coast of the Persian gulph upwards of three hundred miles. This capital is nearly in the centre of their territory in the gulph. From cape Rasalgat (which is the point of Arabia terminating the western part, or entrance of this gulph) the land extends northward quite to the straits of Babel Mandel, at the entrance of the Arabian gulph, or Red sea.
Nearly half the country between both gulphs belongs to the king of Muscat, and, the other half to the king of Yemen, whose principal trading town is Mocha.
The dominions of Muscat reach upwards of three hundred miles inland, and join the dominions of the king of Yemen. These are the only two kingdoms in Arabia.
Provisions are very good and cheap at this place. Every ship bought sheep and some oxen. The fish are brought on board the ships by men who sit on catamarans, which are three logs of wood, about nine feet long and one wide, fastened together, on which a man sits naked and cross legged; before him is placed a basket with various kinds of fish, which is fastened with lines to the log. The man, with one short paddle, which he dexterously, and with rapidity, applies on both sides alternately, drives his catamaran along at a quick rate; the water continually washing over and between the logs, so that the fish in the basket, as well as himself, are continually wet. The weather was so exceedingly hot that I envied his situation. We bought excellent fish, of various denominations, for less than a halfpenny per pound, supposing they had been bought by weight, but they are always bought by tale.
This is the season [August] in which mangoes are ripe, which are so very excellent in their kind as to be preferred to any from India. The stones of the Muscat mangoes are an acceptable present to those gentlemen in India who have gardens large enough to allow room for their growth. We bought a thousand mangoes for two rupees, (five shillings) and endeavoured to preserve some of the largest to prevent to our friends in Bombay; but they were so very ripe, that they would not keep sound during the few days which we remained here. We picked out the largest of the stones, which captain Farmer and myself divided between us.
The form of this port resembles an horse shoe, the entrance being at the south-east part; which position makes it a very safe port, as it is secured from those winds which are most predominant, and blow with the greatest violence in those parts; it is besides so very capacious, that many hundreds of ships may moor here in safety.
Travels in Asia and Africa