PortCities London

The Swahili community and maritime London

Swahilis in the port of London

The sultan's representative

In 1832 Sultan Sayyid Said moved the capital of his coastal empire from Oman to Zanzibar. Two years later a Zanzibari by the name of Khamis Bin Uthman arrived in London claiming to represent the Sultan of Zanzibar. The envoy requested an audience with William IV but it is doubtful that this was ever granted.

In 1836 Sayyid Said sent a 74-gun ship as a present to William IV. This Bombay-built vessel was called the Imaum.

The Swahilis come ashore

View of town and harbour of Port Royal, Jamaica.
View full size imageView of town and harbour of Port Royal, Jamaica. © NMM
The Imaum was later renamed the Liverpool and became part of the British fleet. The Swahili crew of the Imaum did come ashore in South London. At Deptford and Greenwich they were harassed by British labourers and ex-members of the naval college.

Three of the Swahili crew eventually retaliated and were brought to the local police court. In view of the circumstances the Swahili were not gaoled and were allowed to leave Deptford on the yacht Prince Regent. This yacht was given as a present from William IV to Sayyid Said.   

A new envoy arrives

The Anglican Cathedral From Opposite the Creek, Zanzibar.
View full size imageThe Anglican Cathedral From Opposite the Creek, Zanzibar. © NMM
After the death of William IV in 1837, Sayyid Said sent another envoy to London. Ali Bin Nasr was a relative of the sultan and the governor of Mombasa.

With the visiting party was Mohammed Bin Khamis, the son of the first envoy of 1834. Ali Bin Nasr was granted an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He returned to Zanzibar by steamer via Egypt and Bombay later in the year.

Mohammed Bin Khamis remained in London where he studied navigation and modern languages. He then returned to Zanzibar.

The 'Sultannah'

'Sultannah' at St Katherine's Dock.
View full size image'Sultannah' at St Katharine's Dock. © NMM
In early February 1842 the Sultannah set sail from Zanzibar under an Arab captain and pilot. On board were the Zanzibari ambassador Ali Bin Nasr and Mohammed Bin Khamis, who was to act as translator.

The Sultannah sailed around the southern tip of Africa to St Helena and weathered some storms in the north Atlantic before arriving in the Thames estuary in June. The ship had been slightly damaged by the storms and was towed by steamer to Deptford. The next day the Sultannah was towed to St Katharine Dock.   

Audience with the Queen

The Zanzibari ambassador was taken to the Portland Hotel by Professor Sir Charles Forbes, the Lord Rector of Aberdeen University. The Sultannah and her crew were to receive much attention while at St Katharine Dock and Ambassador Ali Bin Nasr received an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in July 1842.

The admiralty issued instructions for the Sultannah to be repaired and fitted at public expense and the ship was towed downstream to Woolwich for the repairs. The ambassador left London on 1 December 1842 by steamer to Egypt, Aden and Zanzibar. The Sultannah later sailed back to Zanzibar.

Sultan's visit

Zanzibar and shipping taken from HMS London, in 1875.
View full size imageZanzibar and shipping taken from HMS London, in 1875. © NMM
Sultan Sayyed Barghash of Zanzibar made a visit to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in April 1875. Despite the fact that the garrison was virtually empty of troops, every effort was made to provide a guard of honour. The sultan's entourage attracted much attention from Londoners as the two coaches travelled from central London to Woolwich.


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