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Persian Gulf

Bahrain translates to "two seas," as it is an archipelago in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It was viewed by ancient Sumerians as an island paradise to which the wise and brave were taken to savour eternal life.

Nubian Ibex.

Known in ancient times as Dilmun, Bahrain was an important center of trade by the 3rd millennium B.C. Islam swept the entire Arabian region in the 7th century, overturning the idol worshippers. With the spread of Islam in Qatar, Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) sent his first envoy Al Ala Al-Hadrami to Al-Mundhir Ibn Sawa Al-Tamimi, the ruler of Bahrain, which extended the coast from Kuwait to the south of Qatarincluding al-Hasa and Bahrain Islands, in the year 628, inviting him to accept Islam.

The islands were ruled by the Persians in the 4th century A.D., and then by Arabs until 1541, when the Portuguese invaded them. Persia again claimed Bahrain in 1602. In 1783 Ahmad ibn al-Khalifah took over, (they remain the ruling family today). For more than 100 years, Bahrain was attacked by various tribes and national groups until the al-Khalifa clan took control of the island. The clan sought the protection of the British and between 1861 and 1971, Bahrain was a British Protectorate.

Al Ala Al-Hadrami was appointed by the Prophet as his representative in Bahrain to collect the Jizya (religious tax).

Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors.

Al Fateh Mosque in Manama, BahrainAl Fateh Mosque. Manama, Bahrain.

Al Fateh Mosque in Manama. Bahrain.

Bahrain was also a pearling area: In 1838, Lieutenant J. R., Wellsted, an officer in the British India service, reported that the fisheries of the gulf employed 4,300 boats, manned by somewhat more than 30,000 men.

Of these boats, 3,500 were from the Island of Bahrain, 100 from the Persian coast, and the remaining 700 from the Pirate Coast situated between Bahrain and the entrance to the Gulf of Oman. Lieutenant Wellsted estimated the value of the pearls secured annually as approximately 400,000 British pounds, which is somewhat less than the average value of the output in recent years.

Washington Globe, Washington, D.C., August 13, 1839


The most successful and most generally tolerated pirate that, perhaps, ever infested any sea, was an Arab chieftain, by the name of Rahmah Jaubir. This butcher chief escaped the vengence of our expedition, for he was too knowing a fellow to insult the British flag; and it was the policy of our Government to give no offence to the Wahabee power whom he served. Rahmah exclaimed, "The world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open." He pirated for himself, and pocketed his booty. His thousand followers also squabbled for the loaves and fishes and as the greater number of these were his own bought slaves, and the rest equally subject to his power and caprice, he was often as prodigal of their lives as those of his enemies, who, even after submission, were inhumanly tortured, some by impalement, and others by being embowelled. He once shut up a number of his own crew io a wooden tank, in which he kept their fresh water, and threw them all overboard.

1742: Persia, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain Gulf

Bahrain Gulf, 1742. Middle East.

I was present at the last interview this buccaneer had with the English. It was at Bushire, in the British residency, in the presence of that accomplished officer, General Sir Ephraim Stannus, who was then holding the high office of political resident in the Gulph of Persia. Rahmah's appearance was most ferocious. His shirt had not been changed from the time it was first put on; no trowsers covered his spindle shanks; a capacious woollen cloak, or abbah, encircled his shrivelled figure; an old ragged kefish, or headkerchief, with green and yellow stripes, was thrown over his head. His dry sapless body was riddled with wounds, and his wizened face most fearfully distorted by sabre gashes and by the toss of an eye. His hands were long and narrow like the claws cf a bird of prey, and his left arm had been shattered by canister shot. The bone between the elbow and shoulder being completely crushed to pieces, the fragments had worked themselves out, exhibiting the arm and elbow adhering to the shoulder by flesh and tendons alone. Notwithstanding this, he valued it for its useful properties. "For," said he, stretching out his long ghastly finger, adorned with the only ornament he wore, a huge, silver mounted sealring, engraved with Arabic characters, "I wish nothing better than the cutting off with my yambeeabb, of as many heads as I can sever at one blow with my boneless arm."

This brutal corsair put to sea on a cruising expedition, accompanied by the fleet of Joassimee boats, which had also escaped the notice of our expedition. A desperate action was fought between Rahmah's fleet and the Uttobec Arabs of Bahrain, in which the former was signally victorious. Among numerous captures, were two baghalahs bound to India, having on board several valuable Arabian horses for the Bombay Government, on account of the stud esiablishment of the presidency. These he most carefully transhipped, and had them most safely landed at Bombay.

Signal, a Grey Arab, with a Groom in the Desert
David Of York Dalby

Signal, a Grey Arab, with groom in the desert. David of York Dalby.

Subsequently, he cruised off Bahrain for the purpose of intercepting other Joassimee boats, which frequented that island for pearls, rice, and dates. In his action with them he sank three, after taking out their cargoes; four he blew up for the want of hands to man them; and the same number he brought into Bushire roads for sale. Having effected his object, he stood away to the southward, and continued cruising between the piratical port of Ras-ul-Khymah, and the pearl banks off Bahrain, pursuing his course of fearless, lawless rapine. No corner of the Gulf was secure from his ravages; he swept from shore to shore, and passed from isle to isle, with the force of a thunderbolt, and with the speed of the lightning. He even theatened to attack both Bushire and Bassorah. A late British resident actually made peparations for the removal of his family to Shirauz and Bushire itself was placed in the most efficient state of defense. But here the corsair's career was destined to close.

Sheik of Bahrain.
The Sheik of Bahrain
Sir Sulman-Bin-Hamman-Bin Isa Al Khalifa
A former ruler of Bahrain. The country has been run by the al-Khalifa dynasty since 1783.
Dmitri Kessel

One fine morning when the gray mists evaporated and left a clear line of horizon it was suddenly broken by a little speck on the dark blue sea. Rahmah ordered the helmsman to bear up; and, the breeze freshening, soon came down on a heavy baghalah, and instantly stood stem on her, laid alongside, and prepared to board her on the gang way.

When his intentions were questioned the only reply he would give or that could be distinguished by his antagonist was "What is that to you?" On rashly attempting to board, Rahmah men were met on all quarters, and became completely overpowered by a superior numerical force. Hastily demanding of his crew whether they would not perish by the annihilation of their foes, and being answered by their war-cry in defiance he rushed below, attached a match to his powder barrel, returned on deck, and sprang upon the poop with his only son m his arms. The match ignited, and the vessels, still firmly grappling, burst together into thousand atoms, and were hurled through the air in the midst of a volcano of smoke and flame.

Atlas, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom, November 1, 1845

The last portion of the slave-trade of the Arabs of Muscat and Bahrain, to be noticed, though on a small scale, requires particular notion, it being a clandestine trade with BritishIndia, and which I cannot see the possibility of the authorities preventing--except in occasional instances of it -- from the difficulties of gaining information on the subject. It will be necessary to offer a few remarks to enable those who know it not, to understand the subject.

Boatmen on the Malabar Coast.

Boatmen on the Malabar Coast.

The provinces of Malabar and Canbara produce large quantities of rice and timber. For the first the Arabs are the principal customers, taking off of this surplus produce to the amount annually of twenty-five to thirty lacs of rupees, or 250,000£, or 300,000£ sterling. These vessels, which sometimes is the port of Mangalore, alone amounts to several hundred, from 100 to 350 tons, purchase from their parents young girls; those of course are smuggled off and carried to the gulf. The Arabs of Bahrain I believe to be most impolicated in this trade. On several occasions, these girls hav made their escape at a later period, at Bahrain and elsewhere, on board the English vessels, where they hav been protedted. Your obedient servant, Humanitas.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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