UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Naval History 1794-1925 - Qajar Dynasty

The peculiar attitude of Persia towards sea polity was illustrated in the dimensions of the Qajar Shah's navy, which by the end of the 19th Century consisted of a solitary steamer, whose toy-shop qualities were indifferently concealed by an armament scarcely more serious than the Persefolis herself. The Persians had no tradition of seamanship, and showed little ability to learn. Englishmen, who are naturally fond of the sea and of travelling generally, could not understand the horror which the sea excited in the breast of the Persian.

Sir John Malcolm's remark that "the Persians at all periods of their history have abhorred and dreaded the sea." The historical consequence of this national characteristic has been, as Malcolm pointed out, that the Arabs have possessed themselves of the islands of the Gulf, and of almost all the harbors along the coast, their position there being conditioned at times by a real, and at others by a nominal obedience to the Shah's Government. The Arab dominion of the Gulf was for long periods the dominion of piracy, and very early in the evolution of the English power in Asia the obligation to control and suppress that evil forced itself upon the courageous men who first at Surat, and then in Bombay, were engaged in laying the foundations of our Oriental Empire.

When Agha Mohammad Qajar, the fonder of the Qajaar Dynasty, ascended the throne, in 1794, his country was exhausted hj protracted civil war; one of its largest provinces, Khorassan, still refused to submit to the reigning dynasty, and the once flourishing city of Kerman was in ruins, and its population massacred or dispersed. The roads were everywhere unsafe ; hordes of Belooch, Affghan, and Turkoman robbers plundered caravans, and carried off captives in sight of the gates of Ispahan. Foreign trade was de- pressed and languishing; direct communication with Europe unknown. Arab and Turkoman pirates swept the seas, and harried the shores of the Gulf and the Caspian. The sea-board of the former was in the hands of Arab sheikhs, either wholly independent or professing but a nominal allegiance to the Courtof Tehran. Provincial governors were always semi-independent, and often in rebellion. Wheeled carriages were entirely unknown.

In the first of Persia's disastrious wars with Russia, which lasted from 1805 to 1813, she was compelled to give up most of the Caspian provinces, and agreed to maintain no navy on the Caspian Sea. By the Treaty of Peace concluded between Persia and< Russia at Gulistan, on 12 October 1813, the Khanates of Karabag and Ganschin, which formed the Province of Elizabethpol; the Khanates of Schekin, Shirwan, Derbent, Kubin, Baku, and Talisch, and their dependencies; Daghestan, Georgia; the Provinces of Schuragel, Imiritia, Guriel, Mingrelia, and Abassia; and the territories included between them and the Caucasian line, on the one side, and the Caspian Sea, on the other, were ceded to Russia.

In September, 1826, war was again declared by Russia against Persia; and by Arts. IV and V of the Treaty of Peace signed at Tourkmantchai in February, 1828, the Khanats of Erivan and Naktchivan, in Armenia, were ceded by Persia to Russia. In this Treaty it was again recorded that none but Russian ships of war were to be allowed in the Caspian Sea. On 24 November 1869, a décision of the Couneil of the Empire of Russia was published, prohibiting the establishment of Companies for the navigation of the Caspian Sea, except by Russian subjects, and the purchase by foreigners of shares in such Companies.

In 1825 the British had abandoned Persia, although several British officers were at that time in command of Persian troops; and in 1827 the Treaty of Turkman Tchai had excluded Persian ships from the Caspian. In Nadir Shah's time an Englishman had commanded a Persian ship on the Caspian, and from the Caspian Sea the Russians could be taken not only on the flank, but in the rear. English were here beginning to do for Persia what the Persians had never been willing to do for themselves. Here, if anywhere, in her world policy, the "white man's burden" has rested upon England; and despite occasional reluctance to carry its full weight, she has borne it, on the whole, unselfishly and well.

By the late 19th century the entire Persian Navy was found in the shape of the gunboat Persepolis. The result was that the commander of the Persepolis rose to the post of chief officer of the Persian navy, some from the humbler position of river pilot for the merchant steamers. This toy of the Shah was built by a German firm in 1885, and cost the government over $140,000. She has never moved since her arrival.

Lingah is generally considered to be the prettiest port on the Persian coast. Since 1819-20 Lingah continued to be ruled by a Sheikh of the Jowasmi tribe, under allegiance to Persia, until 1887, when the Persepolis, the one ship of the Persian Navy, arrived in the roads and set up a Persian Governor. The Arabs made little or no resistance, and have remained ever since under direct Persian rule with one short interval in 1898, when the Sheik Mahomed, a descendant of the old Arab rulers, executed a miniature coup d'etat, but in a few months was compelled to succumb to the Darya Begi, or Persian admiral, who, arriving with the awe-inspiring Persepolis, found no difficulty in re-establishing Persian rule. The Arab population is perhaps 10,000 strong, yet the gallant admiral was able to reduce the citadel with two hundred Persian soldiers.

The ruling dynasty, and almost all the ministers, notables, and courtiers, belonged to the northern frontier districts, and their family and personal interests combined with State reasons to dictate deference to Persia's nearest powerful neighbor, who is within such easy striking distance of the capital. The power of England, as manifested by her cruisers and gunboats in the southern waters, was not in such strong evidence with the Government at the great distance of seven hundred miles from the capital. The Court had little or no personal acquaintance with the south; the people of the southern provinces could scarcely be expected to have much sympathy with their rulers; and it is a circumstance of which the Persian Government should take due note, that the familiar sight of British gunboats in the Persian Gulf constituted a defence for Persian authority. The warlike alien Arab population of the coast and their brethren inland believed England to be Persia's ally for the preservation of peace and order.

By 1896 the bottom of the gunboat Persepolis was covered with coral and shells, her screw stuck hard and fast, while the four steel Krupp guns which she mounted were rusty and useless.

By 1910 the Persian government possessed nine steamers. One is the "Nasru 'd-Din," an old yacht of about 120 tons, presented in the 1870s by the emperor of Russia, and stationed at Enzeli, the port of Resht. The others, all employed in the customs service in the Persian Gulf, were the following: The " Persepolis," built 1884, 600 tons, 450 h.p., with three 7 cm. and one 8 cm. Krupp guns. The "Susa," built 1884, 36 tons, with one Krupp. An old Belgian yacht "Sellka," purchased 1903 and renamed "Muzafferi," with two Hotchkjss guns. Five launches built in the Royal Indian Marine Docks, Bombay, in 1905, at a cost of 60,000 rupees each, of about 80 tons.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 21-02-2014 18:47:15 ZULU