A banquet with the
Sultan of Zanzibar. With Henry Norton Stanley on his expedition to find
Livingston. Flogging spies.
After leaving the Cape of Good
Hope, the “Glasgow” laid her course for Zanzibar, the first port of call on
the east coast of Africa, included in the East Indian Station of the British
Navy and under the protection of Great Britain.
Sir Henry Morton
Stanley had not yet arrived on his search for Dr. Livingstone, which was later
to give the place the worldwide notoriety it later achieved.
When we dropped anchor in this
never-to-be-forgotten port, Zanzibar presented only a replica of the typical
Arab town, with its alley of bazaars, its squalid and mud-built dens of filth
and iniquity, its market place and slave auction block – all dominated by the
palace of the Sultan, which was built on higher ground and commanded a view of
We had no sooner anchored in the
roadstead when Sate, Bucket & Company reached the ship with their bumboat
loaded with a supply of fresh bread, meat, and sweet potatoes for ship account,
and for the men, plantains, bananas, oranges, mangoes, and “sudden jerk,” a
concoction of boiled rice, sugar, and native ingredients that gave it a dark
brown color and a diabolical flavor. There was also a stew that was popular with
the crew, and designated by the suggestive name of “curried snake.”
Everything but the bread, meat, and spuds was bought with the men’s own money,
and if coin was scarce the postage stamps they found in their letters from home
passed current at par.
The bumboat was operated by two
Arabs. Sate was tall and lean while Bucket was short and fat – a perfect Mutt
and Jeff. If Mr. Fisher had ever been in Zanzibar I would certainly suspect that
it was from this place that he got his idea. These worthies, who pretended to be
honest traders, in reality were the ringleaders of the gang that controlled the
slave trade of the African coast.
Zanzibar in 1870 was the great
clearing port and market for an immense territory, and the traffic in slaves
went on unrestricted by law. It was perfectly legitimate for a band of Arab
cutthroats to raid a village, put iron collars on the necks of the whole
marketable population, lock them to a single chain, and then march them for days
to the Zanzibar market, where they were sold to the highest bidder. From there
they had been shipped to America previous to the Civil War, and to other places.
The Sultan, old Tippoo Tib, received a tribute or royalty of fifteen pounds on
each transaction, and as this constituted the entire revenue of the throne, the
trade was wide open. The native villages in each direction from Zanzibar
contributed to these raids, and it was because of the ease with which the slaves
could be transported by coastwise dhows that the bulk of the trade followed the
The arrival of a British
man-of-war, followed by a proclamation by its captain that thereafter the slave
traffic in these waters was contraband and that any dhow with slaves on board
would be subject to capture, carried consternation to the Arab headquarters. The
Sultan responded by inviting all the officers of Glasgow to a banquet at the
palace. All accepted with the exception of Captain Jones, and the next afternoon
the commander, lieutenants, midshipmen, and officers of the marines, in full
dress, were presented to Tippoo Tib, the Sultan of the Dominion of Zanzibar.
Tippoo Tib was a powerfully built
Arab of about sixty years. He was dark and swarthy, his face partly hidden by a
heavy gray beard and his head covered by a high turban. He wore the usual white
robe of Arab sheiks, but I saw no jewelry on his person save a heavy diamond
ring on his left forefinger. I looked around for his crown and scepter, but not
being in sight I concluded they were kept in the royal treasury for a more
portentous occasion. The Sultan was squatted on the throne of lion and leopard
skins, surrounded by a villainous a looking mob of bandits as ever slit a
throat. Over all, a punkah embroidered richly in gold and silver stretched
across the room, waving gently over the guests. Arab eyes bulged in admiration
of our uniforms, some of which were resplendent with medals and gold lace.
An interpreter conveyed in
English the pious protestations of fealty and obedience from His Majesty to
Queen Victoria, and our commander replied in diplomatic fashion, so that
everything was serene. Tippoo then rose from his skins and led the way to the
The banquet hall almost took my
breath away with its wonderful adornments. The walls were hung with tapestries,
oil paintings, gold ornaments, figures of men in armor, and firearms from the
date of their invention – a collection that would be priceless in any museum.
In the center of the room a long, low table, just off the floor, was loaded with
the most luscious fruits in the land, candied fruits, nuts, dates, all in dishes
of chased gold; cigars in ebony boxes; wines, rum, and arrack in delicate
containers of cut glass near every guest. The Sultan seated himself cross-legged
at the head of the layout, with our crowd on each side of the royal person, the
aforesaid “courtiers” occupying the rest of space about the board.
For an hour we ate sweetmeats,
fruits, and other delicious morsels, drank the wine, and smoked Tippoo’s
cigars, and when the old Sultan thought his guests properly primed, he ordered
in his harem of concubines, ranged the beauties in a line, and invited us
(through the interpreter) to take our choice. At this interesting moment
Commander Hope suddenly thought of an important commission that could be
accomplished only by the immediate return to the ship of his three midshipmen,
where further instructions would be forthcoming. An escort was detailed to
conduct us to the boat, and after expressing our regards through the interpreter
to the old reprobate on the throne of skins and casting a lingering glance at
the loveliness lined up against the wall, we made our exit. Being young and
unsophisticated we never suspected the commander of any duplicity until we
reached the ship and found our “commission” was a hoax.
As the days wore on a new
interest was aroused by the arrival early in January 1871 of Henry M. Stanley,
who had been sent out by James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald,
to locate David Livingstone, an itinerant missionary who was somewhere in the
interior of Africa uplifting the savage tribes. Stanley proposed to organize his
safari at Zanzibar.
My spirit of adventure had not
been suppressed by the collapse of my diamond expedition, and as soon as I could
get the ear of the New York newspaperman I poured into it such a tale of my
accomplishments that he promised to take me along if the consent of Captain
Jones could be gained. The latter at first gave Stanley faint encouragement,
frankly telling him that I was wild kid, and while he was more than willing to
lose me it would entail a vacancy on his staff, which might occasion some
explaining at the Admiralty. A party or two at Stanley’s, however, disposed of
the captain’s objections, and I was given indefinite leave.
The safari got under way on the
morning of March 21, 1871 and formed a line of carriers, mostly slaves, half a
mile long, each black having a package of supplies on his head. Stanley, with
his guide and interpreter, was in the lead. Fred De Gama, who knew Livingstone,
and I moved from end to end to assist in any breakdown and get the line going
again. The journey into the interior was at a snails pace, through the usual
open veldt or desert, mostly sand and some patches of timber, with little game.
After few days of travel I became
sick, having shortness of breath, dizziness, and headache. Stanley, who knew
something about medicine and had a box of drugs, diagnosed my case as liver
compliant and without more ado ordered me back to the ship. On a light cot slung
on a pole resting on the shoulders of two of the carriers, with a headman in
charge who carried our supplies, I was taken back to the “Glasgow,” where in
the sick bay I hovered between life and death for several weeks.
During my absence the ship had
been refitted, painted, and a couple of divers had scraped the barnacles from
the bottom of the vessel, so that she looked as if she had just come from dry
dock. The crew had been given their shore leave and was restive for action.
Through my convalescence the ship was active in running down slave dhows, and
had put the fear of the British Navy in the Arab conscience to such an extent
that extraordinary exertions were put forth to gain information as to the
movements of the ship’s boats, which had begun to patrol the coast.
Sate and Bucket, the two inseparables, too frequently appeared with their
bumboats, and while it was being unloaded they would circulate among the crew,
giving packages of dates, bottle of rum and curios where they would do the most
good. Little attention was given to their spying activities until it reached the
ears of the commander that the movements of the boats was known on shore, and
that the business of Sate and Bucket was not confined to supplying the Glasgow
with beef. Investigation substantiated the suspicions, and a trap was set, with
the result that one morning the two Arabs were invited below ostensibly to
settle their account. While occupied, the anchor was raised and we quietly
steamed out to sea. On reaching the three-miles limit, the navigating officer
announced that we were on the high seas. In the meantime the gratings were
rigged and the quartermasters stroked out their cat o’nine tails. Sate and
Bucket were brought up from below and to their unfeigned astonishment were
unceremoniously disrobed, tied up to the gratings, and given four dozen lashes
with a vim, regardless of their screams and curses in Arabic. This done, the
ship retuned to its anchorage, Sate and Bucket were bundled into a boat, and
that was the last seen of those worthies.