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'File A/5 Pearl fisheries of Persian Gulf' [‎2v] (4/62)

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The record is made up of 1 file (31 folios). It was created in 10 Mar 1904-19 Jun 1918. It was written in English. The original is part of the British Library: India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. Records and Private Papers.


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object which for more than a century past we have steadily kept in view in
our dealings with the Arab tribes. To secure this object we have prohibit
the use of armed boats by the Chiefs, and have taken upon ourselves the dut
of policing all these waters. A necessary corollary of this policy is that t
Chiefs cannot themselves adopt forcible measures for the preservation of th
monopoly in connection with the pearl-fisheries. It is clear, therefore, tt
we on our part owe to them an obligation to defend their rights so far as th
can reasonably be substantiated. This duty carries with it incidentally t
advantage that, if our right to police the pearl banks is recognised, a large ai
of the Gulf becomes at once practically British waters.
4. In the past we have on more than one occasion intervened to preve
the intrusion of foreigners. In 1863 a British steamer appeared in the Gulf v\
trained divers and scientific appliances, but the steps which were at once taken bj
the Resident, with the approval of the Bombay Government, sufficed to frustrate
the attempted encroachment. In 1874, and again in 1890, His Majesty's
Government, on the advice of the Government of India, declined to counte
nance proposals made by British companies to exploit the fisheries. In 1894
support was refused to an application by a British subject to the Persian
Government for pearling concessions in the Gulf. In 1899, in connection
with the alleged grant of certain privileges to two Europeans by the Persian
Government, the Mushir-ed-Dowleh was informed by His Majesty's Minister
at Tehran that no contract could be recognised which would have the effect of
interfering with the rights exercised by Chiefs under British protection In
1901 Sir Nicolas O'Conor, hearing of a project which was under the considera
tion of the Porte to tax the fisheries, acquainted Tewfik Pasha with the
objections which Her late Majesty's Government saw to any action which
would interfere with the prescriptive rights of our protected tribes. In 1902
our local officers declined to countenance the project of a British Indian subject,
who proposed to obtain facilities for pearling in Abu Dhabi waters. Finally, in
1903, Colonel Kemball reported that two Frenchmen, named Oumas, and
Castelin, had arrived in Bahrein with the intention of prospecting the pearl
banks round that island. The Chief refused to entertain their proposal,
and subsequently the strangers left the neighbourhood, one for Turkish Arabia,
and the other for Jiurope, where it was believed that he intended to engage a
professional diver. He has, however, not yet re-appeared. In connection with
the last-mentioned case, we have informed our Political Resident A senior ranking political representative (equivalent to a Consul General) from the diplomatic corps of the Government of India or one of its subordinate provincial governments, in charge of a Political Residency. in the Persian
Gulf that we entirely approve Sheikh Esa's attitude, and that, in the ev* nt of
either of these Frenchmen returning to Bahrein, the Chief should refuse to
render assistance of any description ; that any other Chief who may be similarly
approached should return a similar response; and that the Government of India
should at once be informed of any renewal of the project or of any like
attempt. We enclose, for your information, a copy of the recent correspondence
on this subject.
5, We have thus succeeded, hitherto, in staving off outside interference.
We recognise, however, that our position in the matter is in certain respects
difficult, and that in the future the same success may not attend measures
which in the past have sufficed to attain our object. The question involves
considerations, firstly, of private, and, secondly, of international law. Our
i ights in restraining foreign interference are, it appears to us, at any rate
commensurate with those of the Arab tribes concerned, since these have
agreed to leave the protection of their interests in our hands; and the question
which we may hereafter be called upon to answer, whether in defending a
civil suit in a British Court or in meeting an international claim, must
be the same, namely, the extent of the rights and jurisdiction possessed
by the Arab Chiefs. The chart which we enclose shows that the pear]
banks extend to considerable distances from the mainland or from any
island. Within the 3-mile limit it seems evident that no difficulty need
be encountered, and that the rights over the pearl banks and the jurisdiction
required to assert those rights are indisputable. Beyond this zon \ however,
the case is less clear. We understand that it has become an uncontested
principle of modern international law that the sea, as a general rule, cannot be
subjected to "appropriation. At the same time we believe that it is admitted
that portions of the sea may*be affected by proprietary rights on the part of
the States whose territories' ft adjoins, and that such rights have "been more

About this item


The contents of the file relate to the British Government’s concerns over growing British and international interest in the Gulf’s pearling industry, hitherto almost exclusively exploited by the region’s indigenous inhabitants.

1) The first half of the file (folios 2-13) comprises copies of Government of India correspondence published in 1904 and 1905, which discuss Britain’s historic role in the Gulf in relation to the pearling industry. Themes covered include: Britain’s duty to protect the pearl banks for the benefit of the Arab pearl divers, acknowledgement of growing national and international interest in the pearl banks, the extent of territorial waters, and the likely result of any legal challenges to Britain’s refusal to allow foreign interests the opportunity to exploit the Gulf’s pearl banks.

2) Correspondence relating to an enquiry by a German businessman, concerning the pearl trade in the Gulf (folios 15-17).

3) Printed copies of correspondence (folios 20-23) from the Persian Gulf Historically used by the British to refer to the sea area between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. Often referred to as The Gulf or the Arabian Gulf. Political Resident A senior ranking political representative (equivalent to a Consul General) from the diplomatic corps of the Government of India or one of its subordinate provincial governments, in charge of a Political Residency. (Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Cox) and the Bahrain Political Agent A mid-ranking political representative (equivalent to a Consul) from the diplomatic corps of the Government of India or one of its subordinate provincial governments, in charge of a Political Agency. (Captain Charles Mackenzie), dated 1910, concerning the increasing trade in oyster shells in the Gulf, used for the production of mother of pearl. A drop in the numbers of oysters being fished is attributed to the mother of pearl industry. A German firm based in Bahrain, Wonckhaus & Co., is identified as a key exporter of oyster shells at Bahrain.

4) A letter (folio 27) intercepted by the Political Agency An office of the British Government and, earlier, of the East India Company. in Bahrain, from the Secretary of the Wolverine Motor Works, U.S.A., to Robert Wonckhaus & Co., dated 3 February 1915. The letter and accompanying leaflet (folios 28-29) relates to Wolverine Motor Works’ new combined compressor and propelling motor, designed specifically for use in the pearl fishing industry.

5) A typewritten extract from the Times of India Illustrated , dated 19 [month missing, presumed June] 1918 (folio 30) reporting on rumours that German financiers are buying up all the pearls available in Britain and France.

Extent and format
1 file (31 folios)

The contents of the file have been arranged in approximate chronological order, running from the earliest items at the front of the file to the latest at the end.

Physical characteristics

Foliation: The file is foliated from its front cover to inside back cover, using circled pencil numbers in the top-right corner of each recto The front of a sheet of paper or leaf, often abbreviated to 'r'. . There is an additional pagination system running throughout the file.

Folio 29 is a fold-out.

There is minor insect damage to papers throughout the file.

Written in
English in Latin script
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'File A/5 Pearl fisheries of Persian Gulf' [‎2v] (4/62), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/R/15/2/3, in Qatar Digital Library <> [accessed 21 February 2020]

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