Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

The Voyage of the Samannud: Pilgrimage, Cholera, and Empire on an Ottoman-Egyptian Steamship Journey in 1865-66

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

The Voyage of the Samannud: Pilgrimage, Cholera, and Empire on an Ottoman-Egyptian Steamship Journey in 1865-66

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1865, perhaps in July, the steamship Samannud, in the service of the Khedive Ismail Paşa, embarked from Alexandria with 1,845 North African pilgrims who had completed the hajj in June. The ship also carried approximately 37,500 kilograms of biscuit, a number of chickens, and cholera. Over the next four months, the Samannud would call, or attempt to call, at ports in Benghazi, Malta, Tripoli, Tunis, Mahon, Tangier, Gibraltar, and finally Mogador, where the last of the North African passengers (maghāriba) disembarked. It then circumnavigated Africa with stops at Madeira, St. Helena, Cape Town, Mauritius, and Aden. After entering the Strait of Mandab, sometime in the spring or early summer of 1866, the Samannud carried another 1,500 pilgrims from Yanbu (near Mecca) to Suez. Since leaving Alexandria, the Samannud had been at sea for at least seven months and passed through Ottoman, British, Spanish, and Moroccan ports.

The voyage of the Samannud in 1865-66 is remarkable in many ways, beginning with the documentation that remains of it. This article provides the first analysis and English translation of an account of the voyage by the ship's commanding officer, Sulayman Qabudan Halawa, which offers an extraordinarily intimate view of hajj transport at an inflection point in its long history. In the wake of the 1865 cholera, the hajj would come under increasingly close European inspection and regulation.1 Sulayman Qabudan's account thus sheds light on the experience of North African pilgrims, their relationship to Ottoman-Egyptian authorities, and the variable application-and negotiation-of quarantine in a period of rapid change. It also offers a rare glimpse into the self-understanding of the Ottoman-Egyptian military-technical elite at a time when the Khedivial government, not yet bankrupted by foreign borrowing, harbored ambitions for economic and military expansion in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. By publishing the captain's account in translation, I hope to make it available for historians of stream travel, public health, non-Western empire, and pilgrimage. The following commentary, which precedes the translation, does not aim to offer a comprehensive analysis of the Samannuďs voyage, but rather to contextualize select aspects of the voyage's historical significance. I also hope to stimulate further research on the Egyptian steam fleet, an understudied phenomenon in the rich literature on late Ottoman Egypt.

Authorship and History of the Text

The translation is based on an excerpt from the autobiography of Sulayman Qabudan Halawa in 'Ali Mubarak's twenty-volume geographic dictionary of Egypt, al-Khitat al-Tawfiqiyya al-Jadida (1886-89).2 As is typical of the arrangement of Mubarak's text, the account of Sulayman Qabudan's life appears under the entry for his birthplace, Qasr Baghdad, a village in the Manufiyya district, just north of Cairo.3

Sulayman Halawa was born in 1820-21 and educated in the institutions of warfare and technical training that gave a small class of Egyptians a path toward social advancement during the latter half of Mehmet Ali Paşa's rule (1805-48). After entering primary school at Alexandria in 1830-31, he began his mathematical studies in the artillery school (Madrasat al-Tubjiyya),4 then was transferred to the naval school (Madrasat al-Donanma) in the first half of 1839, just as the second Ottoman-Egyptian war broke out. He carried out major technical missions, such as a survey of Egypt's Mediterranean harbors, and remained an instructor at the naval school until its closure in 1855-56. After serving as an officer on Sait Paşa's personal steamer, he received command of the Samannud in 1865. In 1871, he returned to the reopened naval school as an instructor in nautical and mathematical sciences, publishing a textbook, al-Kawkab al-Zahir f Fann al-Bahr al-Zakhir, in 1874-75,5 and a series of almanacs for Alexandria in the 1880s.6

In his remarkable rise from Delta peasant to effendi, commander, educator, and published author, Sulayman Qabudan belonged to a generation of Egypt's new technical elite, including 'Ali Mubarak, Mahmud al-Falaki, and 'Ali Ibrahim, who played leading roles during the reign of Ismail Paşa (1863-79). …

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