CHAPTER XVII. FROM BOMBAY TO BAGHDAD.
I was told of so great an act of gratitude of the young man, Mr. William Hebworth, who accompanied me to Bandr-Abas, that I cannot omit to mention it. At the age of sixteen he went from Persia to Bombay, where he met with the kindest reception in the house of a friend of his father's, by whom he was assisted in every way, and even obtained an appointment through his interest. One day his patron, who was married, and the father of four children, had the misfortune to be thrown from his horse, and died from the effects of the fall. Mr. Hebworth made the truly noble resolve of marrying the widow, who was much older than himself, and, instead of property, possessed only her four children, that he might in this way pay the debt of gratitude which he owed to his deceased benefactor.
In Bandr-Abas we hired a pilot to take us through the Straits of Kishma. About noon we sailed.
The passage through these straits is without danger for steamers, but is avoided by sailing vessels, as the space between the island Kishma and the mainland is in parts very narrow, and the ships might be driven on to the shore by contrary winds.
The inland forms an extended plain, and is partially covered with thin underwood. Great numbers of people come from the neighbouring mainland to fetch wood from here.
The captain had spoken very highly of the remarkable beauty of this voyage, the luxuriance of the island, the spots where the sea was so narrow that the tops of the palms growing on the island and mainland touched each other, etc. Since the last voyage of the good captain, a very unfrequent phenomenon would seem to have taken place - the lofty slender palms were transformed into miserable underwood, and, at the narrowest point, the mainland was at least half a mile from the island. Strange to say, Mr. Ross afterwards gave the same description of the place; he believed the captain in preference to his own eyes.
At one of the most considerable contractions stands the handsome fort Luft. Fifteen years since the principal stronghold of the Persian pirates was in this neighbourhood. A severe battle was fought between them and the English, near Luft, in which upwards of 800 were killed, many taken prisoners, and the whole gang broken up. Since that event, perfect security has been restored.
5th May. We left the straits, and three days later came to anchor off Buschir.
There are considerable quantities of sea-weeds and molluscae in the Persian Gulf; the latter had many fibres, were of a milk-white colour, and resembled a forest agaric in form; others had a glistening rose colour with small yellow spots. Conger eels of two or three feet in length were not uncommon.
8th May. The town of Buschir is situated on a plain six miles from the mountains, whose highest peak, called by the Persians Hormutsch, by the English Halala, is 5,000 feet high.
The town contains 15,000 inhabitants, and has the best harbour in Persia; but its appearance is very dirty and ugly.
The houses stand quite close together, so that it is easy to pass from one to the other over the terraces, and it requires no great exertion to run over the roofs, as the terraces are enclosed only by walls one or two feet high. Upon some houses, square chambers (called wind-catchers), fifteen or twenty feet high, are erected, which can be opened above and at the sides, and serve to intercept the wind and lead it into the apartments.
The women here cover up their faces to such a degree that I cannot imagine how they find their way about. Even the smallest girls imitate this foolish custom. There is also no lack of nose-rings, bracelets, sandals, etc.; but they do not wear nearly so many as the Hindoos. The men are all armed; even in the house they carry daggers or knives, and besides these, pistols in the streets.
We remained two days in Buschir, where I was very well received by Lieutenant Hennelt, the resident.
I would gladly have left the ship here to visit the ruins of Persepolis, and travel by land from thence to Shiraz, Ispahan, Teheran, and so onwards; but serious disturbances had broken out in these districts, and numerous hordes of robbers carried on their depredations. I was in consequence compelled to alter my plan, and to go straight on to Baghdad.
10th May. In the afternoon we left Buschir.
11th May. Today I had the gratification of seeing and sailing on one of the most celebrated rivers in the world, the Schatel-Arab (river of the Arabs), which is formed by the junction of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Kaurun, and whose mouth resembles an arm of the sea. The Schatel-Arab retains its name as far as the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates.
12th May. We left the sea and the mountains behind at the same time, and on both shores immense plains opened before us whose boundaries were lost in the distance.
Twenty miles below Bassora we turned off into the Kaurun to set down some passengers at the little town of Mahambrah, which lies near the entrance of that river. We immediately turned back again, and the captain brought the vessel round in the narrow space in an exceedingly clever way. This proceeding caused the uninitiated some anxiety; we expected every moment to see either the head or stern run a-ground, but it succeeded well beyond all measure. The whole population of the town was assembled on the shore; they had never before seen a steamer, and took the most lively interest in the bold and hazardous enterprise.
About six years ago, the town Mahambrah experienced a terrible catastrophe; it was at that time under Turkish rule, and was surprised and plundered by the Persians; nearly all the inhabitants, amounting to 5,000, were put to death. Since that period it has been retained by the Persians.