A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ottomans Expelled from Qatar, August 1915, Part II

 Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation.

In Part I of this post, I explained the background of the fact that at the outbreak of World War I, the Ottomans still retained a small garrison at Doha, Qatar, and at the neighboring al-Bida‘ Fort. If you have not yet read Part I, it provides the necessary context for this second part.

The Men and the Ships

In conjunction with the British intervention at Bushire (Bushehr) and the punitive expedition against Dilwar in 1915 (Part I and Part II of the Dilwar posts), the British decided to clear any Tangistani dhows trading with Bahrain or Qatar from the Arab side of the Gulf and, at the same time, resolve the question of the Ottomans in Qatar. In the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, discussed in Part I, Turkey had agreed to remove them, but the Convention had not been ratified when the war broke out.

Sir Percy Cox
The India Office Records show that the British political agents in Basra (Sir Percy Cox, Agent for the entire Gulf) and his agents in Bahrain (Major T.H. Keyes), Bushire (A.P. Trevor), and Kuwait (W.G. Gray) had been receiving reports of major desertions from the Ottoman garrison in Qatar, including reports that some had crossed to the Iranian side and were providing arms and assistance to the Tangistani rebels.

Let me note that I am basing this account almost entirely on the India Office Records in the British Library, but helpfully available online at the Qatar Digital Library. Most of the documents cited here appear in the "File No. E.7: Qatar & Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1913." The documents appear in roughly chronological order and are all in the same file, so I have not given separate links for each document, as I would if this were a scholarly article rather than a blogpost.

By July 30 the Political Agent in Bahrain, the closest British post to Qatar, Keyes, reported to Cox that "there are now only 34 soldiers in the Fort and ten in the villages, and that that [sic] all but about ten men and three officers are preparing to desert. The Commandant has told them they may go."

Terence Humphrey Keyes (1877-1939) in 1915 was a 38-year old officer in the British Indian Army, son of a General and younger brother of a later Admiral. In 1914 he was made Political Agent in Bahrain and had been newly promoted Major when these events occurred.

Terence Humphrey Keyes in later years
At least from my vacation perch I have not found a portrait of young Major Keyes in 1915, so I must ask you to retro-imagine a younger version of his later self. At left is the elderly Brigadier General Sir Terence Humphrey Keyes later in his career.

On August 16, the Political Agent in Bushire, Major A.P. Trevor, notified Keyes that the Senior Naval Officer for the Gulf (Captain Drury St. Aubyn Wake) was dispatching HMS Pyramus to Bahrain to hunt for Tangistani dhows there and in neighboring regions. He added:
I expect a number of Tangistani dhows may be at Doha and I have also heard that Shaikh Abdullah [‘Abdullah bin Jasim Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar] has sent a present (a most useful one) of 50,000 cartridges to Rais Ali [Ra'is ‘Ali Delvari, leader of the Dilwar opposition to the British occupation of Bushire] just before the affair at Dilwar began. I think it would be worth while to follow this up. I think it would be worth while [repetition in original] for "Pyramus" to go over there (perhaps the Commander would take you over) and take away the Tangistani dhows which might be taken somewhere to be destroyed unless you think it advisable to destroy them there.
In a telegram to Sir Percy Cox in Basra, Trevor in Bushire added the detail that the Ruler had sent the cartridges to Ra'is ‘Ali "in return for a present of hawks last year." (As will be seen later, the Ruler insisted that he only sent cloaks to Ra'is ‘Ali in return for the hawks. Hawking and falconry have long been the sport of Gulf sheikhs, of course.)

On the 18th of August, Cox telegraphed approval of the plan including the sending of Keyes, but expressed uncertainty hat Pyramus could enter Doha under the guns of the Turkish fort. Cox added a new twist, though:
Object of Keyes' visit would be seizure of hostile dhows. If shaikh fears to cooperate he can look on and plead force majeure. Incidentally Keyes should ascertain exact state of affairs regarding Turkish detachment and guns. If shaikh agrees to hand the guns over intact and clear out remainder of Turks, Keyes can offer him two thousand five hundred rupees per gun complete same as our price here or a bit more if necessary.
So, "Incidentally,"(!)  Cox has added to the search for Tangistani dhows an inducement for the Ruler to expel he Turks and hand over the guns of the Fort. One wonders if this had been a goal all along, especially since no hostile dhows were found in either Bahrain or Doha. (This is my own speculation not supported by the documentation.)

HMS Pyramus in 1914
HMS Pyramus, the main ship designated for the mission, was a Protected Cruiser 3rd Class, launched in 1897, an older ship by the standards of the time, and nearing the end of her useful life in the age of Dreadnoughts. She spent most of her life in colonial service, and when the war broke out in 1914 she was in the Pacific and took part with a New Zealand force that occupied German Samoa at the outbreak of the war. In fact, though a Royal Navy ship, she had more New Zealanders serving in her during the war than the Royal New Zealand Navy's  first ship of its own, HMNZS Philomel,  which would also serve in the Middle East during the war. She had served at Basra and in the landing at Bushire and Dilwar.

Commander Viscount Kelburn
Commanding the Pyramus on its mission to Qatar was an aristocrat, Patrick James Boyle, the Viscount Kelburn. Kelburn was the eldest son of the 7th Earl of Glasgow (and four months later in December  would become the 8th Earl on his father's death). (Kelburn, as the Earl of Glasgow, would have a certain notoriety in the 1920s and 1930s as a supporter of the Union of British Fascists.)

HMS Dalhousie
The Pyramus was accompanied by another vessel on the Doha mission, HMS Dalhousie. Before the war she had been a troopship in the Indian Marine Service, but had been brought into Royal Navy Service for the Mesopotamian campaign (replacing HMIMS with HMS) and also adding four six-inch guns. Her exact designation is unclear but she may have been classed as an armed merchant cruiser.

Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim
Those are the men and the ships on the British side. One other key player needs an introduction, the previously mentioned Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim (or Qasim, pronounced Jasim in the Gulf and often spelled with a jim in modern Qatari sources) bin Muhammad Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar (lived 1880-1959, ruler 1913 or 1914-1940 and again 1948-1949, when he abdicated in favor of his son). As in the case of Major Keyes above, the only available public domain photo I can find on vacation shows Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Jasim, not as the man of 35 he would have been in 1915, but as a man of advanced age. He is the great-great-grandfather of the current Ruler, Sheikh Tamim; the great-grandfather of his father, Sheikh Hamad, who abdicated in 2013, and the grandfather of his father, Sheikh Khalifa, deposed in 1995. All three of the latter are still living at this writing.

This post will conclude with the action in Doha in Part III, on Monday with any luck.

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