A series of adventures in the course of a voyage up the Red-Sea: on the coasts of Arabia and Egypt. IRWIN, E. 1787
This text documents the journey of Eyles Irwin whilst he was in the employ of the East India Company. The text is written in a series of letters 'to a Lady'. The lady herself is not named but it is possibly a format by which his account was recalled for his employers. The page that has been chosen for the display depicts the vessel that carried Irwin, and its journey through the Straits of Babelmandel (today's Bab al Mandab). Underneath it shows a view of the harbour and town of Mocha (today's Al Mucha) in Arabia Felix (Yemen).
We have chosen this page as it represents the necessity of obtaining a vessel in the 'Preparation for Journey', and also the purpose of a vessel: to embark on a voyage.
However it also reflects a reason to embark on a journey and also the interest of current society as well as his personal interest and ideologies. It is possible that Irwin was acting as a reconnaissance agent for the East India Company, as Mocha at this time was one of the main exporters of coffee for the company, since Sir Henry Middleton made contact in 1609 (Wild 1997). At the time of Irwin's journey in 1777 Arabia Felix (Yemen) was recovering from civil unrest in the area due to the previous Turkish-Persian War, and civil war between the indigenous Arab population and Turkish rule.
These events had inhibited trade in the area of the Red Sea between Mocha and India (Marshall 1976: 91). While consistent if not sparse trade continued between the Red Sea and India until the 1760 (Marshall 1976: 95) it was not until Arabia Felix came under Arabic rule in the early 1760's that trade between Mocha and the East India Company improved. Irwin makes a note of this in his accounts, that once the Turks had lost their influence on the Kingdom of Arabia, Felix the 'Imaun' (Governor of Mocha) was "inquisitive of manners and discoveries of European nations unlike the rest of (Arab) populations ... " (Irwin 1787: 8).
By 1763 The East India Company had established a coffee factory in mocha (Williams 1972: 112), and with the favourable duties they paid (those of 3% compared to the 9% paid by Arab merchants) they had gained a monopoly on the coffee trade in the area (Williams 1972: 112).
It is possible that Irwin was reporting on the vested interests of The East India Company in Arabia Felix, as well as recounting the political, social, religious and cultural climate for the reader. Not only would this have been of great interest to the 'Lady' to whom the letters are addressed but also to the Company who would wish to know the present climate of the area and the possible effects they could have had on trade.
The accounts of Irwin are an in-depth reflection of the lands that he visited and he documents the religion, social structures and cultural practices of the people he comes into contact with. Not only does he investigate the economic climate for his employers, but also provides a contemporary ethnographic study from his experience.
Wild, A. 1999 The East India Company: Trade and Conquest from 1600. London: Harper Collins.
Williams, l.B. 1972 British Commercial Policy and trade Expansions 1750-1850.Oxford Clarendon Press
Marshall, P.l East India Fortunes: The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford; Clarendon Press
Irwin, E. 1787 A series of adventures in the course of a voyage up the Red-Sea: on the coasts of Arabia and Egypt; and of a route through the desarts of Thebais, in the year 1777. With a supplement of a voyage from Venice to Latichea; and of a route through the desarts of Arabia, by Aleppo, Bagdad, and the Tygris to Busrah, in the years 1780 and 1781. In letters to a lady.