Volume 7, Chapter 9 -- Early Voyages of the English to the East Indies, before the establishment of an exclusive Company: *section index*

Volume 7, Chapter 9, Section 4 -- Voyage of Mr John Eldred, by Sea, to Tripoli, in Syria, and thence, by Land and River, to Bagdat and Basora, in 1583.[1]

I departed from London in the Tiger on Shrove-Tuesday, 1583, in company with Mr John Newberry, Mr Ralph Fitch, and six or seven other honest merchants, and arrived at Tripoli in Syria on the next ensuing 1st of May. On our arrival, we went a-Maying on the Island of St George, where the Christians who die here on ship-board are wont to be buried. In this city of Tripoli our English merchants have a consul, and all of the English nation who come here reside along with him, in a house or factory, called Fondeghi Ingles, which is a square stone building, resembling a cloister, where every person has his separate chamber, as is likewise the custom of all the other Christian nations at this place.

Tripolisstands under a part of Mount Lebanon, at the distance of two English miles from the port. On one side of this port, in the form of a half-moon, there are five block-houses, or small forts, in which there are some good pieces of artillery, and they are occupied by about an hundred janisaries. Right before the town there is a hill of shifting sand, which gathers and increases with a west wind, insomuch, that they have an old prophecy among them, that this sand hill will one day swallow up and overwhelm the town, as it every year increases and destroys many gardens, though they employ every possible device to diminish this sand-bank, and to render it firm ground. The city is walled round, though of no great strength, and is about the size of Bristol: Its chief defence is the citadel or castle, which stands on the south side of the town, and within the walls, overlooking the whole town, being armed with some good artillery, and garrisoned by two hundred janisaries. A river passes through the middle of the city, by means of which they water their gardens and plantations of mulberry trees, on which they rear great numbers of silk-worms, which produce great quantities of white silk, being the principal commodity of this place, which is much frequented by many Christian merchants, as Venetians, Florentines, Genoese, Marsilians, Sicilians, and Ragusans, and, of late, by the English, who trade more here than in any other port of the Turkish dominions.

I departed from Tripoli with a caravan, on the 14th May, passing, in three days, over the ridge of Mount Libanus; and at the end of that time came to the city of Hammah, which stands in a goodly plain, abounding in corn and cotton-wool. On these mountains grow great quantities of gall-trees, which are somewhat like our oaks, but less, and more crooked; and, on the best trees, a man shall not find above a pound of galls on each. This town of Hammah is fallen into decay, and continues to decay more and more, so that at this day scarcely is the half of the wall standing, which has once been strong and handsome; but, because it cost many lives to win it, the Turks will not have it repaired, and have caused to be inscribed in Arabic, over one of the gates, "Cursed be the father and the son of him who shall lay hands to the repairing of this place."

Refreshing ourselves one day here, we went forwards three days more, with our camels, and came to Aleppo, where we arrived on the 21st of May. This has the greatest trade, for an inland town, of any in all those parts, being resorted to by Jews, Tartars, Persians, Armenians, Egyptians, Indians, and many different kinds of Christians, all of whom enjoy liberty of conscience, and bring here many different kinds of merchandise. In the middle of the city there is a goodly castle, raised on high, having a garrison of four or five hundred janisaries. Within four miles round about there are many goodly gardens and vineyards, with many trees, which bear excellent fruit, near the side of the river, which is very small. The walls of the city are about three miles in circuit, but the suburbs are nearly as large as the city, the whole being very populous.

We departed from Aleppo on the 31st of May, with a caravan of camels, along with Mr John Newberry, and his company, and came to Birrah [Bir] in three days, being a small town on the Euphrates, where that river first assumes the name, being here collected into one channel, whereas before it comes down in numerous branches, and is therefore called by the people of the country by a name which signifies a thousand heads. We here found abundance of provisions, and furnished ourselves for a long journey down the river; and according to the custom of those who travel on this river, we provided a small bark for the conveyance of ourselves and our goods. These boats are flat-bottomed, because the river is shallow in many places; and when people travel in the months of July, August, and September, the water being then at the lowest, they have to carry a spare boat or two along with them, to lighten their own boats in case of grounding on the shoals. We were twenty-eight days upon the river in going between Bir and Feluchia, at which last place we disembarked ourselves and our goods.

During our passage down the Euphrates, we tied our boat to a stake every night at sun-set, when we went on land and gathered some sticks to make a fire, on which we set our pot, with rice or bruised wheat; and when we had supped, the merchants went on board to sleep, while the mariners lay down for the night on the shore, as near the boats as they could. At many places on the river side we met with troops of Arabs, of whom we bought milk, butter, eggs, and lambs, giving them in barter, for they care not for money, glasses, combs, coral, amber, to hang about their necks; and for churned milk we gave them bread and pomegranate peels, with which they tan their goat skins which they use for churns. The complexion, hair, and apparel of these Arabs, are entirely like to those vagabond Egyptians who heretofore used to go about in England. All their women, without one exception, wear a great round ring of gold, silver, or iron, according to their abilities, in one of their nostrils, and about their legs they have hoops of gold, silver, or iron. All of them, men, women, and children, are excellent swimmers, and they often brought off in this manner vessels with milk on their heads to our barks. They are very thievish, as I proved to my cost, for they stole a casket belonging to me, containing things of good value, from under my man's head as he lay asleep.

At Bir the Euphrates is about as broad as the Thames at Lambeth, in some places broader, and in others narrower, and it runs very swiftly, almost as fast as the Trent. It has various kinds of fish, all having scales, some like our barbels, as large as salmon. We landed at Feluchia on the 28th of June, and had to remain there seven days for want of camels to carry our goods to Babylon [Bagdat], the heat at that season being so violent that the people were averse from hiring their camels to travel. Feluchia is a village of some hundred houses, and is the place appointed for discharging such goods as come down the river, the inhabitants being all Arabs. Not being able to procure camels, we had to unlade our goods, and hired an hundred asses to carry our English merchandize to New Babylon, or Bagdat, across a short desert, which took us eighteen hours of travelling, mostly in the night and morning, to avoid the great heat of the day.

In this short desert, between the Euphrates and Tigris, formerly stood the great and mighty city of ancient Babylon, many of the old ruins of which are easily to be seen by day-light, as I, John Eldred, have often beheld at my good leisure, having made three several journeys between Aleppo and New Babylon. Here also are still to be seen the ruins of the ancient Tower of Babel, which, being upon plain ground, seems very large from afar; but the nearer you come towards it, it seems to grow less and less. I have gone sundry times to see it, and found the remnants still standing above a quarter of a mile in circuit, and almost as high as the stone-work of St Paul's steeple in London, but much bigger.[2] The bricks remaining in this most ancient monument are half a yard thick, and three quarters long, having been dried in the sun only; and between every course of bricks there is a course of matts made of canes, which still remain as sound as if they had only lain one year.

The new city of Babylon, or Bagdat, joins to the before-mentioned small desert, in which was the old city, the river Tigris running close under the walls, so that they might easily open a ditch, and make the waters of the river, encompass the city.[3] Bagdat is above two English miles in circumference. The inhabitants, who generally speak three languages, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, are much of the same complexion with the Spaniards. The women mostly wear, in the gristle of the nose, a ring like a wedding-ring, but rather larger, having a pearl and a turquoise stone set in it; and this however poor they may be. This is a place of great trade, being the thoroughfare from the East Indies to Aleppo. The town is well supplied with provisions, which are brought down the river Tigris from Mosul, in Diarbekir, or Mesopotamia, where stood the ancient city of Nineveh. These provisions, and various other kinds of goods, are brought down the river Tigris on rafts of wood, borne up by a great number of goat-skin bags, blown up with wind like bladders. When the goods are discharged, the rafts are sold for fuel, and letting the wind out of the goat skins, they carry them home again upon asses, to serve for other voyages down the river.

The buildings here are mostly of brick, dried in the sun, as little or no stone is to be found, and their houses are all low and flat-roofed. They have no rain for eight months together, and hardly any clouds in the sky by day or night. Their winter is in November, December, January, and February, which is almost as warm as our summer in England. I know this well by experience, having resided, at different times, in this city for at least the space of two years. On coming into the city from Feluchia, we have to pass across the river Tigris on a great bridge of boats, which are held together by two mighty chains of iron.

From this place we departed in flat-bottomed boats, which were larger and more strongly built than those on the Euphrates. We were twenty-eight days also in going down this river to Basora, though we might have gone in eighteen days, or less, if the water had been higher. By the side of the river there stand several towns, the names of which resemble those of the prophets of the Old Testament. The first of these towns is called Ozeah, and another Zecchiah. One day's journey before we came to Basora, the two rivers unite, and there stands, at the junction, a castle belonging to the Turks, called Curna, where all merchants have to pay a small custom. Where the two rivers join, their united waters are eight or nine miles broad; and here also the river begins to ebb and flow, the overflowing of the water rendering all the country round about very fertile in corn, rice, pulse, and dates.

The town of Basora is a mile and a half in circuit; all the houses, with the castle and the walls, being of brick dried in the sun. The Grand Turk has here five hundred janisaries always in garrison, besides other soldiers; but his chief force consists in twenty-five or thirty fine gallies, well furnished with good ordnance. To this port of Basora there come every month divers ships from Ormus, laden with all sorts of Indian goods, as spices, drugs, indigo, and calico cloth. These ships are from forty to sixty tons burden, having their planks sewed together with twine made of the bark of the date-palm; and, instead of oakum, their seams are filled with slips of the same bark, of which also their tackle is made. In these vessels they have no kind of iron-work whatever, except their anchors. In six days sail down the Gulf of Persia, they go to an island called. Bahrein, midway to Ormus, where they fish for pearls during the four months of June, July, August, and September.

I remained six months at Basora, in which time I received several letters from Mr John Newberry, then at Ormus, who, as he passed that way, proceeded with letters from her majesty to Zelabdim Echebar, king of Cambaia,[4] and to the mighty Emperor of China, was treacherously there arrested, with all his company, by the Portuguese, and afterwards sent prisoner to Goa, where, after a long and cruel imprisonment, he and his companions were released, upon giving surety not to depart from thence without leave, at the instance of one Father Thomas Stevens, an English priest, whom they found there. Shortly afterwards three of them made their escape, of whom Mr Ralph Fitch is since come to England. The fourth, who was Mr John Story, painter, became a religious in the college of St Paul, at Goa, as we were informed by letters from that place.

Having completed all our business at Basora, I and my companion, William Shales, embarked in company with seventy barks, all laden with merchandize; every bark having fourteen men to drag it up the river, like our west country barges on the river Thames; and we were forty-four days in going up against the stream to Bagdat. We there, after paying our custom, joined with other merchants, to form a caravan, bought camels, and hired men to load and drive them, furnished ourselves with rice, butter, dates, honey made of dates, and onions; besides which, every merchant bought a certain number of live sheep, and hired certain shepherds to drive them along with us. We also bought tents to lie in, and to put our goods under; and in this caravan of ours there were four thousand camels laden with spices and other rich goods. These camels can subsist very well for two or three days without water, feeding on thistles, wormwood, magdalene, and other coarse weeds they find by the way. The government of the caravans, the deciding of all quarrels that occur, and the apportionment of all duties to be paid, are committed to the care of some one rich and experienced merchant in the company, whose honour and honesty can best be confided in. We spent forty days in our journey from Bagdat to Aleppo, travelling at the rate of from twenty to twenty-four miles a-day, resting ourselves commonly from two in the afternoon till three next morning, at which time we usually began our journey.

Eight days journey from Bagdat, near to a town called Heit, where we cross the Euphrates in boats, and about three miles from that place, there is a valley in which are many mouths, or holes, continually throwing out, in great abundance, a black kind of substance like tar, which serves all this country for paying [[=waterproofing]] their boats and barks. Every one of these springs makes a noise like a smith's forge, continually puffing and blowing; and the noise is so loud, that it may be heard a mile off. This vale swalloweth up all heavy things that are thrown into it. The people of the country call it Bab-el-gehenam, or the gate of hell. In passing through these deserts we saw certain wild beasts, such as asses, all white, roebucks, leopards, foxes, and many hares, a considerable number of which last we chaced and killed. Aborise, the king of the wandering Arabs in these deserts, receives a duty of 40 shillings value for every loaded camel, which he sends his officers to receive from the caravans; and, in consideration of this, he engages to convoy the caravans in safety, if need be, and to defend them against the prowling thieves.

I and my companion, William Shales, came to Aleppo on the 11th June, 1584, being joyfully welcomed at twenty miles distance by Mr William Barret, our consul, accompanied by his people and janisaries. He fell sick immediately after, and departed this life in eight days illness, having nominated, before he died, Mr Anthony Bate to succeed him as consul for the English nation, who laudably executed the office for three years. In the mean time, I made two other journeys to Bagdat and Basora, returning in the same manner through the desert. Being afterwards desirous to see other parts of the country, I went from Aleppo to Antioch, which is 60 miles, and from thence to Tripoli, where, going on board a small vessel, I arrived at Joppa, and travelled by land to Rama, Lycia, Gaza, Jerusalem, Bethlem, the river Jordan, and the sea of Sodom, and returned to Joppa, from whence I went back to Tripoli; but as many others have published large discourses of these places, I think it unnecessary to write of them here. Within a few days after my return to Tripoli, I embarked in the Hercules of London, on the 22d December, 1587, and arrived safe, by the blessing of God, in the Thames, with divers other English merchants, on the 26th March, 1588; our ship being the richest in merchant goods that ever was known to arrive in this realm.

[Footnote 1: Hakluyt, II. 402. As Eldred accompanied Newberry and Fitch from England to Basora, this article is, in a great degree, connected with our present purpose: It may likewise be mentioned, that Eldred is one of the persons with whom Newberry corresponded.--E.]
[Footnote 2: It is hardly necessary to observe, that this refers to the old St Paul's before the great fire, and has no reference to the present magnificent structure, built long after the date of this journey.--E.]
[Footnote 3: It may be proper to remark, as not very distinctly marked here, though expressed afterwards in the text, that Bagdat is on the east side of the Tigris, whereas the plain, or desert of ancient Babylon, is on the west, between that river and the Euphrates.--E.]
[Footnote 4: Akbar Shah, padishah or emperor of the Moguls in India.--E.]


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