Journal
Of a Voyage into the Red Sea,

In the Swift sloop of war.
1795
________

by John Edw. Conant
=====

                                        The Swift left Madras
In Febuary 1795 with three ships belonging
to the Nabob of Arcot, the Success Galley,
Surprize the Generous Friend to convoy
them into the Red Sea, the intention of
this voyage was to convey pilgrims to
Mecca where the Mahometans do pennance
at the shrine of their prophet, this is
promoted by the Nabob less from a
principle of charity than from a desire
to profit by their devotions. The ships had
also a commercial object for they were to
purchase women for the Princes Seraglio,
so that amidst the prospects of futurity
the interests of the terrestrial paradise
were not neglected, we carried a quantity
of treasure for that and other purposes.

                      As we passed the Nabobs
palace, an ancient building in the
Neigbourhood of Madras, we displayed
his colours in the room of our own and
complimented him with a royal salute,
but the sailors were indignant at this
humiliation of the British flag, and
murmured to see it yield to that of a
foreign sovereign,

 

Page 2

as soon however as the salute was fired
and we were nearly out of sight we resumed
our proper flag. The ensign which we had
for this purpose from Admiral Ranier was
of white silk with a grey border and a
ball in the center of the same colour.

                     The next day we were off
Porto Nova a small English station a few
leagues South of Madras here the Nabob
had obligingly order’d that a dinner should
be provided for us and sent on board on
our arrival, but through the dishonesty of
his dependants we recieved only the common
coast curry and a few fowls, The next
morning we weighed and steered along
the coast of Coromandel, then after some
days coasting round Ceylon we saw Point
de Galle on the South side of that island,
and from thence stretched across to Cape
Comorin the Southern point of India
proceeding on the Western coast till we
arrived at Cochin, this was a tedious
passage because the monsoon winds were
against us and we were forced to wait
every night for the assistance of the tide.

Page 3

found to our inexplicitisable satisfaction, after
wandering about for some time, a comfortable
table d’hote, at which our appetities were
so good that the Dutch laid down their
knives & forks to look at us, nobody but
those who have half starved or have been
fed upon salt beef and buscuit, can know
the satisfaction with which
devoured our dinner, for the bracing coolness
of the sea air prevents that lassitude and
want of appetite so common in hot climates
which was conspicuous in the rest of the
company

                     There is something in the water
or other diet of this place which occasions
and enormous swelling of the legs and
several natives appear with one or both
enlarged to a very extraordinary thickness
but without betraying any embarrassment
as they walk. When we left this town a
Merchant ship in passing lowered her
top gallant sails to us, a token of respect
owing to the British Navy from ancient
usage but now seldom claimed and
more seldom complied with.

                     We next bent our course across
the Indian ocean passing through a
cluster of rounded islands covered with
trees which appear like so many forests
growing out of the seas and as several
of them are surrounded with dangerous
rocks, it is fortunate that the trees
indicate their situation, these islands
are called the Laccadives. The incessant calms
and consequent heat of the weather
would have made this voyage extremely
tedious if the smoothness of the sea had
not rendered communication easy with the
other ships, and they inccreased our means of society,

 

Page 4

Thus the Officers from the different ships
reciprocaly visited each other, and discontent
dissappeared in the magic of the grog bottle,

                          As we approach the African
continent we passed the Island of Socatra
which was anciently fortified by the Postuguize
(when they discovered the Southern passages
to India) in order to hinder the Venetian
traders through the Red Sea, about 40 leagues
beyond this we beheld the eastern extremity
of Africa called cape Gardufoy the mountains
behind it are high and rugged but they
gradually diminish into a low point which
forms the cape.

                         Two nights after this being
near the mouth of the Red sea the
Lieutenant of the watch descried at some
distance an apperance which for a
moment created considerable alarm
this was a luminous spot of moderate
extent like the reflection of strong light
upon the sea, our perplexity increased as
we observed that the night was perfectly
dark and that no heavenly body could
have produced such an effect this at
first induced us to deviate from our
course but by degrees on a nearer approach
the brilliancy of the object increased and
we passed over a part of this illuminated
field. When some water was drawn up
in a bucket it appeared being held to a
lanthorn to contain minute particles
of fishes spawn whos phosphoric qualities
had occasioned this shining phenomrnon.
The next day our fishermen were successful
they gave us the opportunity of seeing the
beautiful successive tints of the dying
Dolphin but those who partook of the fish
were more substantially gratified by a fresh

 

Page 5

meal when even the coarse flesh
of the Shark is not unacceptable to sailors
who have been some time from port.
Being now near the narrow entrance of
the Red Sea called the straight of Babelmandel
which is scare 2 miles in breadth we
hove the ship to, & waited till next morning
because there are some deep and dangerous
bays in this neighbourhood where ships
have been ingulfed and lost but about
8 oclock we entered this straight which
signifies the Gate of sweeping impelled
with great swiftness by a powerful wind
and current so that in six hours we
reached Mocha the first town within
the Red Sea on the Arabian side.

                      The Ancients named that
part of the ocean contiguous to this gulph
the Erythracean Sea. Epuopos signifying red,
besides this the Red coral grows within
it so plentifully at the bottom that in
shallow places I have observed it gives
the water a rosy tinge, from one or
both of these circumstances the red
sea obtained its name, in former ages
it was thought to be red as blood and
and that the navigation of it teemed with
danger, from such notions superstitious
people of old times fancied that it was
the abode of spirits, that phantoms
hovered in the waters & that ghosts
stalked upon the strands, indeed the
minds of our sailors were not entirely
untinctured with this belief.

                      As soon as the weather permitted
the Natives visited us in canoes and brought
dates and melons, these poor people were
miserable and half naked but a much
stronger race than the puny inhabitants of the Carnatic,

Page 6

The ragged rouges were as deficient in
honesty as in clothing and too little
pains to conceal their depredations. Mocha
which is famous for coffee is one of the chief
towns in this part of Arabia, the whiteness
of its houses very much embellishes the
distant view but the filth of the streets
and the ruinous condition of many of
the buildings by no means gratifies a
nearer approach.

                      The windows are of thin
wood fancifully perforated to admit light
& air but so that they totaly exclude
the view from without. The walls are
chiefly of mud or coral stone and
many are plaister’d with stucco
The fortifications are perpendicular white
walls & towers crowned with battlements
having a narrow rampart the towers
stand a musket shot from each other
some are round & some square and
perforated with small windows the
ditch is formed by a trifling elevation
of east in front of the wall which is
continued towards the sea and some
ancient pieces of brass and iron cannon
well honey combed are mounted on the
sea face, the land behind the town is
planted with dates which we obtained
in abundance and besides them water
melons, apricots, plantains, bananas,
pomegranites, gourds, olives and plenty
of grapes, all so ripe and delicious that we
looked with astonishment on the barren
sands around us, The coats is low, sandy,
& deficient in verdure, it seems to have been
formally part of the sea, but inland moun-
-tains rise at a great distance
among fertile valleys, the opposite coast of Abysinia

Page 7

Which is dimly visible in clear weather
appears more mountainous and abrupt.
The edge of the town is like the concavity
of a half moon and is flanked by two
mouldering castles, the landing place
which projects from the gate is protected
by a block house with several guns in
miserable condition & here when ships
arrive they display the Mahometan flag
a white two bladed sword in a red field.
The English have a small factory whose
principal trade is coffee but Europeans
are generally ill treated by the lower ranks
on the score of religion. I was once
insulted by a ragged rabble for admiring
a ladies veil for her face was invisible,
at another time I was soused with dirty
water from an upper window under
which I stood to design a mosque.
The women who appear in the streets
have always a veil which they dare not
remove tho’ it seldom conceals any thing
but deformity, holes are made for the
eyes and nose and it hangs under the
chin in the form of a bag having a most
whimsical appearance, so vigilent was
the jealousy of the men that the meanest
females were inaccessable to the gallantry
of our tars who seldom miss a wife in
every port but they saw that this prohi
-bition did not proceed from the
reluctance of the other sex and by
exerting a most extraordinary forebearance
these desponding lovers peacably resigned
themselves to celibacy.

                      Some days before our departure
and in the absence of the Captain the Ship
was endangered by a violent hurricane
which ranged with such fury as to force

Page 8

most of the ships from their anchorage,
about 8’oclock in the evening we percieved
the Generous Friends to have parted from
her anchors, no sooner did she drive at
the mercy of the storm than we saw her
evidently moving towards us, mean
time the violence of the wind increased
and it grew so dark that we could
only discern a huge body for some
moments approaching with great
velocity, at others concealed by the
intervening waves. At length she
reached us and with a tremendous
crash tore away the bowsprit and
part of the ships head, the cable was
then cut with difficulty while in
veering it rushed through the hawse
and the two ships fell side by side,
webeing to leward the other was
repeatedly dashed against us by
the fury of the waves and the
concussions were so violent that nothing
but the projection of the guns which
defended the ships side saved us from
distruction, and these we apprehended
would soon give way. In this peri-
-lous situation it was thought advisable
notwithstanding an alarming deficiency
of ballast, to make sail, but authority
was at an end, the loss of the mats
was momentarily expected and though
the order resounded from a hundred
tounges nobody ventured to obey it.
At length a sailor who was in confinement
for riotous behaviour and admidst all this
dismay enjoying with composure his quid
of tobacco suddenly
intreated to be released which was no
sooner granted than he intrepidly mounted

 

Page 9

aloft and having with difficulty cut the
gaskets we were enabled to set part of the
fore sail, this and our otherexertions
were finally successful for soon the
other ship in a violent surge tore away
our quarter gallery and we seperated,
the wind afterwards subsided and we
saw with emotion how narrowly we
escaped the edge of the dangerous shoal,
at midnight the Captain returned,
he had been prevented from rejoining us
by the suddenness of the storm which forced
him to take refuge in the Success Galley where
he remained in personal security long discerning
us through a night glass in an agony of
suspence, with the remaining anchor we
secured the ship for the night, an extraordinary
allowance of Grog was then administered
and like two armies weary with contention
the wind became calm and the sailors
retired to rest.

                      Early next morning all
hands were summoned to clean the wreck,
we rigged a temporary bowsprit to secure
the masts which depend on it for support
and used every other exertion to repair
the damages we had received, our boats
were emplyed in sweeping the bottom
of the sea with a strong rope called a
hawser in order to recover the anchors and
in this we fortunately succeeded, the same
day the boatswain and several men were
by the violence of the swell washed from
a stage where they were at work under
the bowsprit and swept into the sea, but
the next wave returned them all into the
ships, in this adventure the boatswain broke
his arm which was the second fracture he
received during the voyage & now the loss of

 

Page 10

his assistance was doubly regreted.

                      As soon as we were in
condition to depart we set sail for Jedda,
the first object that attracted our notice
was an expiring volcano called Gibel-tar
not many leagues from Mocha, from the
summit issued a little light smoke which
discovered itself only at night near this
we attempted to sound but found no bottom
at the depth of many hundred fathoms.

  The fresh water at Mocha
had so brackish a taste that in hopes of a
favourable passage we sailed with a very
scanty supply, but now, as if Boreas in
the late storm had exhausted all his energy
upon us we were tormented with perpetual
calms and it became necessary to limit the
daily allowance for a few days to a pint
per man a quantity so insufficient in this
burning climate that some batered rum
for an equal measure of water, others
endevoured to steal it in the night in
spite of padlocks and centinals and
several moistened their parched mouths
by chewing lead to excite the saliva,
indeed just before we arrived at Jedda
we were in serious distress having dipt
into the last water cask, the passage
occupied above 3 weeks.

                      The entrance into Jedda
is difficult and in rough weather dangerous
on account of the multitude of sand banks
and rocks of coral which enclose the
harbour as it were in a triple fence,
the most ????? mode of entrance and that
which we adopted was by means of a
look out stationed at the fore topmast head
to give timely notice of the approach of danger
and of the course which must be taken to avoid it,

 

Page 11

As the sight from that elevation penetrates
sufficiently into the sea to discover every obstacle
which might oppose the ships passage.
These branching clusters of coral which may
be called the forest of the deep, so shelter
the harbour from every wind and sea
that ships may rest at all times in
perfect security about 1 ½ miles from the
town near which the sand banks are
numerously scattered forming a variety of
little channels & through them the boats pass
to the shore, when we arrived the Captain
landed to wait on the Visier who resides
here in authority under the Xerif of Mecca,
the successor of those potent Caliphs of whose
atchievements we read in the Arabian Nights.
This place has the same general
aspect as Mocha only that the sandy
mountains are skirted by a range of dark
rocks which render the whiteness of the
town more conspicuous. The neighbouring
country is a thirsty desert in the midst
of which stands Mecca the celebrated residence
of Mahomet little more than 20 miles
distant but out unhallowed eyes were
not permitted to behold it. It is the
resort of pilgrims from all parts of the
world, we saw many ships arrive
absolutely laden with them from Egypt
and Abysinia.

                      The smaller kind with
one mast are called Dows they have a
latteen sail of course matting attached to
a yard formed of two poles roughly united
in the center round which the sail is
occasionaly furled, the deck is sheltered
by an awning and the stern terminates
in what is called a goose neck. When
the are loaded they sail remarkably near the wind,

 

Page 12

when light they scarecely draw 3 feet of
water. The largest vessels have three masts
the top masts contrary to the usual mode
are abaft the lower masts & the latter
have small circular tops; under the
bowsprit hangs an arnament which the
sailors called Jacobs ladder and on the
forecastle resides the Master or Captain
under a thick awning. Their manner
of steering is very remarkable being
performed by tackles attached to the tiller
whichj projects from the back of the rudder,
to aid this a strong beam traverses the ship
abaft the mizzen mast whose two ends
extending beyond the ships sides support
the centres of two levers which are placed
in an upright position, the lower arms
of these communicate by ropes with the
tiller, their upper arms are attached to
tackles which lead into the ships for the
purpose of steering, one of these vessels
sometimes conveys 4 or 5 hundred pilgrims,
each of whome is allocated a narrow space
on the open deck for himself his jar of
water & his scanty store of food, here he
lives or rather vegetates during the voyage
for it is impossible to remove but on the
most urgent occasions so that the fatigue
of pilgrimage seems here to be the fatigue
of sitting still, when the vessel anchors
several of the most indigent of these
devotees impatient to arrive at the Sanctum
Sanctorum fling themselves into the sea
and swim ashore taking breath at intervals
upon the sand banks. When we had been
here about 2 months the heat of the
weather was for some days intolerable,
much exceeding anything we experienced
in the East one morning I was informed

 

Page 13

That the thermometer stood at 120 degrees and
the closeness of the air produced an universal
relaxation it was now understood that a
scorching wind which penetrates to the Red
Sea from the Arabian Desert was shortly to
be expected, this wind (called in Arabic
Samiel) becomes heated in its progress over
and endless waste of burning sands whose
finer particles are hurried into the air and
driven in mists before it, hence it resembles
at a distance an immense cloud of dust at
the approach of which the terrified Arabs
fall on their faces to avoid suffocation.

                      Every precaution was speedily adopted
to secure us from the effects of this pestilence
which according to the Mahometan creed is
one of the torments of hell, the ports and
stern windows were carefully closed
awnings were spread over all the decks
with canvas curtains hung from their sides
and the decks were well sprinkled with
vinegar, soon after noon the wind increased
in warmth and in force, a few hours after
it blew with all its violence but in the
evening it gradualy abated, we afterwards
experienced this for some days in a much
slighter degree, the hands and faces of
some who were accidently exposed were
scorched and raised into blister, they
had also great difficulty in breathing
but this in some measure was universal.
In a few days the Captain fell a victim to
the unwholesome state of the atmosphere
aided perhaps in some degree by his own
interferance, the 2nd Lieutenant was on
the point of death and much sickness
prevailed in the ship, the Captain languished
but 3 days overcome with continual restlessness
and extreme dejection of spirits, perhaps

 

Page 14

If we had immediately put to see he might
he might have been saved but he had not resolution
to direct any such measure till the last
evening of his life, when it was determined
to remove the ships into a more open part
of the harbour for the benefit of the sea
breezes, this late precaution took place at
sun rize on the ensuing morning & when the
Master entered the cabin to receive his further
commands, he found him dead.

                      He was buried next day on the
sea shore with reluctant permission from
the governor receiving the honours usual on
such mournfull occasions admidst a crowd
of Arabians who grudged his remains the
scanty space prepaning on the sands, the
marines however kept them in awe having
been drawn up to pay the deceased a last
tribute of respect by firing over his grave.
In consequence of this event the first
Lieutenant acted as Captain, and a
midshipman was promoted in the room
of the 2nd Lieutenant who became first.

                      When we had repaired the
damages which our ships suffered at
Mocha we enjoyed a long season of ease
an indulgence however of which we
afterwards repented, for sailors unemployed
like stagnent waters are in great
danger of corruption. Their
necessities have entangled them in a
profession made up of dangers & hardships and they
can only be reconciled to its endurance
by the hurry of a laborious life, with
intervals of ease too short for reflection
and therefore enjoyed, leave them
to reflect & they forget the comforts which
they have in thinking of those which they
have not, this begets discontent their hardships

 

Page 15

Appear grievous they discover each others
sentiments and this gathering confidence
murmur and disobey, this conduct alarms
the Officers who strive to support it by a
severer discipline, but there is in every ship
of war many who have
been emptied into the Navy from Goals
or sent to sea to avoid them
by efforts of these wretches (indolent
in every thing but mischief) the sailors
are too often incited to mutiny. We afterwards
felt this effect of idleness at a time when
nothing but the dread of a surrounding
fleet kept the men from open violence.

                      We now indulged in the recreations
of Angling, sailing & shooting. In a sultry
evening we betook ourselves to the water
and many who could not swim were
sustained by ropes till they
accomplished it, so that very few remained
ignorent of this usefull art, in which the
Arabs are so expert that they dive in
search of fish which they seize with
wonderfull dexterity, and in quest of
the pearl oysters they remain under water
a great length of time; fish were plenty
but we had very indifferent success owing
to the lessor beds of coral every where
scattered among the sandy shoals which
made great havoc with the nets, we
feasted however unexpectedly upon several
fine turtle which our fishermen stumbled
upon in their attempts. We were generaly
obliged from the heat of the weather to
sleep upon deck in the open air taking
care to rise before day break to avoid the
morning dews, which are very heavy in
this country and supply the entire want of rain,

 

Page 16

if in spite of this inconvenience we still
slept we awoke at sun rise by the
clamours of the religious as they summond
the people to early prayers from the
minarets of their Mosques. Water is
carried into the town upon camels backs
in leather skins and by this means our
boats received it to supply the ship and
we found it better than the water of
Mocha. The town is often very dirty
& offensive, the better sort of shops are
kept by Turkish Merchants where alone
many articles of luxury and convenience
may be purchased, the market is generaly
well stocked with the same fruits which
we found at Mocha besides a few pines
of indifferent flavour, the flies and musketoes
are allowed here in such hosts that the
women are continually ocupied in fanning
them away, the coffee houses are very
numerous where the inhabitants drink
unadulterated coffee served in small
cups which are inclosed in others to prevent
inconvenience from the heat of the liquor,
mean while they recline uponm wicker
sofas and smoke opium thro’ pipes
composed of reeds.

                      Our departure was retarded several
days by the visier who refused on some
pretence of tribute to part with the
Nabobs Vaheel, or Envoy till after repeated
applications we threatened to burn all
the Arab ships in the harbour & to fire
upon the town and we actually took
measures to this effect having siezed
two or three vessels when our demand
was at length complied with.
Just before we set sail the Circassian
ladies for the Nabob arrived at Jedda

 

Page 17

and were conveyed to the Success Galley
veiled and attended by many eunuchs
so that we were not feasted with a sight
of these beautifull damsels.

                      We next shifted our situation
so as to have the passage out of the harbour
open before us to profit by the first favourable
wind and in the narrow entrances we
placed buoys with grapnels to point out
the clear road to the sea but an Arabian vessel
which left the harbour during the night
carried them all off so that in the
morning we found it necessary to provide
a pilot and the 3 ships sailed together
the next day. When we got into the midst
of the rocks this pilot who was a native
Arab either thro’ ignorance or design
conducted the ships with some force against
a great cluster of coral and in the
confusion which this adventure created,
leaped into the sea and made the
best of his way to shore, but the rock
proved so soft that no damage of consequence
ensued, when we had disentangled
ourselves from these obstructions we
shaped our course for Mocha & having
the advantage of a fresh breeze we
fumigated the ships, this is performed
by burning some moistened gunpowder
between decks and then closing the
hatches (every body being on deck)
which presently fills the ships with
a thick sulphureous vapour drying
the inner parts and destroying the
insects, by this means we greatly
thinned our ordinary suite of flies &
musketoes which were becoming very
troublesome.

                     The wind favoured our return

 

Page 18

And within a week we reached Mocha
where the Captain of the Success Galley
purchased some fine Arabian horses for
the Nabob, during our short stay we
were visited by a plague of locusts which
flew from the land in such swarms that
the ship was covered with them. These
rapacious insects which in times of scarcity
are eaten by the Arabs, proceed at certain
seasons in such millions over the most
fertile parts of Egypt and Arabia as
sometimes to darken the air with their
numbers, wherever they alight the
harvest is utterly destroyed and famine
follows in their track till they arrive
at the Red Sea or the
Persian Gulph in whose waters they
usually perish.

                      We had a prosperous voyage
across the Indian ocean to the Malabar
coast of India being accompanied by the
North West monsoon. At Bombay we
received intelligence of a war with
Holland and that we might share
in the capture of the Dutch settlements
the ships were docked and refitted with
the upmost dispatch, so that we
were presently enabled to proceed to
Madras, here Admiral Ranier was
busy in equipping an armament against
the Moluccas and we prepared to
accompany him. The Nabobs ships
had arrived before us, alas the fair
ladies in the Success Galley came too
late to allure the frigid energies of the
old Nabob, he had just taken his last flight
to Paradise, leaving these earthly houries
for the consolation of his son.

 

 

 

The text has been copied from the journal as closely as possible with the line breaks and spacing as in the original, also the full stops, commas and paragraphs, together with the original spelling.

 

 

 

 

 

The journal, 8 by 13 inches, is written in a red and blue lined book probably intended for accounts. The cover is stained and well used with just decipherable at the top the name J E Conant in excellent copper plate writing.

Cover

Cover

 

To give you an idea of how the journal pages look here is the top part of page two

 Page Two sample

 

 

There is an engraving loose between pages two and three.
In pencil at the top is written "Engraved from Drawings 1607"

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Stuck in at Page Five is the first of a number of water colour illustrations.

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An Arabian Dowe - Page Eleven

A Arabian Dowe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fishes among the shoals at Jedda - Page Fifteen

Fishes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two mausoleums to the North Of Jedda - Page Sixteen

Two mausoleums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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