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Art. VI.—REPORT By Lieut. Col. W. L. Merewether, C.B., Resident at Aden, Describing The Various Places Lately Visited By Him, Between Aden And Suez. Contributed by Government.
Read before the Society, December 20th, lt6G.
I Have the honour to forward, for the information of His Excellency the Governor in Council, the following Report on the various places lately visited by me between Aden and Suez.
Obokh—the spot purchased a short time back by the French, is close to the entrance of the Red Sea, 45 miles south of Perim, about 110 miles from Aden, and six miles to the westward of Ras Bir. It may be called a Bay, having Ras Bir on the eastern corner, and a small low headland, Ras Obokh, on the western. The general coast line lies almost due east and west. The Harbour is at the Ras Obokh end of the above Bay, formed by coral reefs stretching across that part of it, leaving only a narrow entrance of about 300 yards wide. In this channel and inside there is deep water, and good anchorage in 10 fathoms, but the space is limited, and with most careful packing would not allow of more than 10 small-sized vessels being accommodated, moored stem and stern. The anchorage is protected from the heavy swell during the South-west and North-east Monsoons by the coral reefs, but no sailing vessel could get out of the Harbour during the former, as the wind would be blowing dead into the entrance. The anchorage is about 800 yards from the shore. A Wadi or narrow valley with a dry water course in the centre comes to the shore immediately opposite the anchorage. Excellent water is obtained by digging six feet in the bed of the water-course, and whenever heavy rain falls in the interior, as it does occasionally, water comes down in good quantity and in considerable force. This had been the case shortly before my arrival; the beach was strewn with fragments of trees, some of them large, heavy pieces, which had been brought down by the waterThis supply might easily be secured and preserved by the formation of tanks near the water-course. The valley is full of low Babul trees, and these were visible as far as the eye could follow it inland. There was also abundance of the rich creeper grass, known in India as Hurryali. On the west side of the valley is a fine, clear, and extensive plateau, raised about 60 feet above the level of the sea, an excellent position for a settlement- The wind during the summer months blows constantly from the South-west, which would be direct off the sea on to this plateau. The water would be close by in the Wadi, and forage plentiful there also. But there is the one important drawback of no supplier being procurable with the exception of meat and ghee. There is no place worthy of the name of a town nearer than Tajura, 35 miles off. The inhabitants of the country are Dunkellis, pure nomads, who move where grazing is best. No gram whatever is grown in the country; when any can be procured from Aden the Dunkellis use it, but, this exhausted, they live on meat and milk only, like the Somallees. There were two Dunkelli shepherds tending their goats and camels, with one of whom I conversed, but otherwise not a living thing was visible. The first range of hills, a low one, looked about 20 miles distant, backed by a second much higher range. Coal is said to exist in the latter to the north-west. The French sank some wells in the water-course; these have been filled up again by subsequent floods. They have also set up two piles of coral about 10 feet high each, one on Ras Obokh, the other on the edge of the Wadi about 1,000 yards from the shore, evidently as beacons. Beyond this nothing seems to have been done. The shepherd said the French had bought the place from his Sooltan Deeme, of Roheita. The hill on which the large plateau is, consists of sandstone and coral, the latter was found cropping out close to the top of the hill, showing a comparative recent upheaval, or that the sea had once a very much higher level than it has now. A rough sketch chart is appended.
Massowa-—The chief place of export from Abyssinia, about 300 miles north north-west of the straits of Babel Mandeb, and 400 from Aden. The navigation is simple and easy until nearing Massowa, when the numerous islands called the Dhalae group, and many coral reefs make great caution necessary, and daylight a desideratum ; the passage can be done at night, but this is avoided if possible. If the night is very dark and hazy, so that the land cannot be seen, vessels generally anchor outside the group and run in the following morning. Massowa being an island, the anchorage is well protected from the prevailing strong breezes by being in the channel between it and the mainland. There is abundance of water in the centre, and the channel is fully 600 yards across, but on the northern mainland side a coral reef extends a short distance from the shore. The entrance is from the north-east the other end of the passage is closed for shipping of any draft by coral rocks. At the entrance of the channel; on the left, is a small round Tower which can scarcely be dignified with the name of Fort. Near this some guns are mounted, but on the ground, not on the Tower. Artillerymen and Infantry are located close by to the number, it was said, of 1000. These had only arrived a few days before from Egypt, brought down in a Steam Frigate. Formerly the Island was held by Turkish Troops and a Governor appointed from Constantinople, but recently tbis side of the Red Sea from Suez to Massowa has been handed over to the Egyptian Government. The new Garrison is much larger than the old one, and eight fresh guns, apparently long 12-pounders, in excellent order, have been added to the previously existing four small, old, rusty iron guns. The Island, which is small, is nearly covered by official buildings and a cemetery. The Kaimakan, Governor, appears to have a tolerable house, three-storied, but the remainder are wretched to a degree, particularly those of the English and French Consuls, which would be considered unsuited as habitations in a good and cool climate, how much more unfitted for such a climate as Massowa. However no one, excepting the Kaimakan and Troops, not even Merchants, remain on the Island longer than can be helped: they have all other houses at Uthumloo or Moncooloo, villages three and four miles inland, and merely visit Massowa in the morning for business, returning to their country houses in the evening. The climate during the cold season, from the beginning of November to the end of March, is pleasant enough, but the remaining months are very trying ; often dead stagnation of atmosphere with not a breath of wind to ruffle the smooth surface of the sea. There is great dampness in the air at the same time which makes it more weakening. A few cases of cholera had occurred, but as' they were confined to the newly-arrived Troops, who had been given at first bad water to drink, I believe it to be simply sporadic, and not a return of the epidemic of last year.