The journey to Yazd was the first time that we had got to see the Iranian landscape during the day. Until then, we had only travelled on the night bus. We were met by a crisp, early morning, the bright sun beating down on the street.
We threw all our things into the boot and got in, me sitting in the front, Denis, Marco and Valeria in the back. The first stop was Persepolis, which was about 60km to the north-east of Shiraz. Very quickly we found ourselves on a motorway, the dry landscape flashing by as we overtook lorries, buses and cars.
I was already busy snapping away with the camera.
‘You like taking pictures?’ said the driver, conversationally.
‘I can’t stop, there’s too much to see,’ I replied.
Soon, we were getting out of the car into the morning sun with Persepolis looming before us. It’s difficult to describe the effect it has on the onlooker, but the photographs don’t do it justice. I tried to imagine what the place might have been like when it was inhabited. How much had been lost to the sands of time, not to mention thieving human hands?
It was built under the rule of the Emperors Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I, at a time when the Persian Empire stretched from Greece and Egypt to what is modern day Pakistan. That is, until a certain Macedonian, who shall remain nameless, decided to throw the Emperor across his knees and give him a good spanking.
(Above top left clockwise: Gate of Xerxes, also known as the Gate of all Nations;tomb of Artaxerxes III; cuneiform script; relief of a lion attacking a bull; delegation of Persian subjects bearing tribute; relief of Persian Immortal Guard)
Now, while I could talk about the magnificent reliefs of the 10,000 Immortals, ancient troops described by Herodotus as an army that was allegedly maintained at 10,000 at all times, there was another interesting thing I saw on some of the stones that has become a part of the history of the place. It was the graffiti.
The words “graffiti” and “Unesco heritage site” should not really be in the same sentence and would normally elicit groans of dismay from people, but I thought it was something worth researching. A lot of it consisted of the names and titles of individuals who had passed through in different eras – when the British Empire was still in existence, the year Ireland achieved independence, the last year of the Russian civil war, the year Nixon was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States; the list goes on.
Lt. Colonel Malcolm Meade:
Among these was a “Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Meade, H.B.M Consul General 1898 & Mrs Meade”. I visualised these two, him most likely wearing khaki shorts and shirt, sporting a bushy moustache, sandy coloured hair, a hat and an “I say, ole boy!” type accent; meanwhile his wife probably had curly blonde hair, fair skin, rosy cheeks, was wearing a light bonnet and was pointing at one of the locals and saying:
“Oh, Malcolm, look! I want one of those! Isn’t he adorable?”
“One moment, dear,” said Lt Colonel Meade, unslinging his rifle. “Dash it, I’ve no darts left! We’ll have to use the net, darling.”
For those who do not see the joke, it is a parody on the stereotypically racist, colonial mentality of the British Empire era.
So who was this Malcolm Meade? To begin with, he was born in India and served a length of time in the Persian Gulf region from 1897. Having searched online, I found that there is a record of the Lt. Colonel at the Cambridge University archives, ancestry.com, an Oxford publication, titled “The Arabian Frontier of the British Raj: Merchants, Rulers, and the British in the Nineteenth-Century Gulf”, as well as a Cambridge publication, titled “The Kuwait Crisis: Basic Documents”. I was also able to find a census paper, dated from 1911, with the Colonel’s name written in the fourth row:
It says that he was born in “British India” and by 1911, Meade was 54, had been married 22 years, and had two children, both of whom were still alive. As it turns out, I got the detail about the moustache correct, as can be seen in the photograph below, taken in 1912:
It would seem that Lt. Colonel Meade was one of the instruments of British imperial influence in the Persian Gulf in the late 19th century. He lived in Bushire and had dealings with the Sheikh of Bahrain and the Sheikh of what is modern day Kuwait. Bushire (Bushehr) had come under British control after the Anglo-Persian War (1856-57) and played an important role as a trading post and port for the British.
Meade’s role being Her Britannic Majesty’s Political Resident in the Gulf, he signed and ratified an agreement in 1899 (a year after he carved his name onto the Gate of all Nations) with the Sheikh of Kuwait, stipulating that:
“the said Sheikh Mubarak-bin-Sheikh Subah of his own free will and desire does hereby pledge and bind himself, his heirs and successors not to receive the agent or representative of any Power or Government at Koweit [Kuwait], or any other place within the limits of his territory, without the previous sanction of the British Government; and he further binds himself, his heirs and successors not to cede, sell, lease, mortgage or give for occupation or for any other purpose any portion of his territory to the Government or subjects of any other Power without the previous consent of Her Majesty’s Government for these purposes. This engagement [is] also to extend to any portion of the territory of the said Sheikh Mubarak, which may now be in the possession of the subjects of any other Government.”
In token of the conclusion of this lawful and honourable bond, Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm John Meade, I.S.C., Her Britannic Majesty’s Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, and Sheikh Mubarak-bin-Sheikh Subah, the former on behalf of the British Government and the latter on behalf of himself, his heirs and successors do each, in the presence of witnesses, affix their signatures on this, the tenth day of Ramazam 1316, corresponding with the twenty-third day of January 1899.”
Meade then added an accompanying letter to the Sheikh expressing his happiness at the signing of the agreement but made clear that “a most important aspect of the execution of this agreement is that it is to be kept absolutely secret, and not divulged or made public in any way without the previous consent of the British Government.”
One might ask, why all the fuss about the Sheikh not having relations with other powers? Well, throughout the second half of the 19th century, the Persian Gulf was an area of great contention between the British and Russian Empires, as well as other Great Powers (oh, how things don’t change), most of this being centred around Iran or Persia, as it was called then. Britain wanted to expand its trade routes, consolidate its influence in areas that were previously under Ottoman control and contain Russian influence at the same time. Russia was seeking access to another warm water port for its navy and obviously for access to shipping routes as well. The only warm water port Russia had at the time was Sevastopol in Crimea, which had been the focus of a conflict with Britain, France and Turkey from 1853-56. Although the scenario with Crimea today is different, it’s funny how history repeats itself, that that peninsula should once again become the centre of an international dispute.
To highlight Britain’s concern over its rivals’ role in the Middle East region, a memorandum “by Lord Curzon respecting Persian Affairs” stated that “a Russian railway ending at Kowait [Kuwait] would be in the highest degree injurious to British interests. A German railway to Kowait would be scarcely less so – even a Turkish railway to Kowait would be unwelcome.”
I won’t continue rambling on about 19th century imperialism in the Persian Gulf, but it is interesting to find a single piece of graffiti on an ancient statue, type that person’s name into Google, and find a whole well of information behind it. Thus, my first impressions of the title “Lt. Colonal Malcolm Meade” were pretty accurate. A bushy moustached colonial who had taken it upon himself to carve his name onto the Gate of all Nations. I’m sure the khaki outfit was a given, as was the repetitive dabbing of a damp handkerchief across an already sweat-beaded brow.
(Above: Malcolm Meade second from bottom)
As can be seen above (Second surname from the bottom), he moved to France in 1929 at the age of 75. He died in 1933.
Henderson, Ellis, Mackenzie – 1973:
In 1973, three people called E. Ellis, E. H. Henderson and G.S. Mackenzie inscribed their names on the Gate of All Nations. 1973 was the year Nixon was elected president of the United States for a second term, the World Trade Centre in New York was officially opened, the Vietnam War ended, the Watergate Scandal erupted, Pablo Picasso died, a coup d’etat took place in Uruguay, one of 7 longest total eclipses in 1000 years took place exceeding 7 minutes, Bruce Lee died, a coup d’etat in Chile took place beginning General Pinochet’s 16 year rule, the Yom Kippur War (also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War) took place, and the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey was completed, linking Asia and Europe for the first time in history.
McIlrath (Mr & Mrs H. Darwin McIlrath):
From April, 1895 to November, 1898, two Americans, Mr and Mrs H. Darwin McIlrath travelled around the world on bicycles. During their trip, their letters were published regularly in the Chicago Inter Ocean, a newspaper which was founded in 1865 and ceased publication in 1914.
(Above: Inter Ocean publishing house – 85 West Madison, Chicago)
The feat of cycling round the world on a bicycle was even more exceptional given the times the McIlraths undertook their journey. The bicycle had been invented only a few decades before and, the first being known as a Dandy Horse, which was invented by the German, Baron Karl von Drais, who also invented the typewriter. While not quite what we would associate with modern bicycles, as it was without pedals and riders had to propel themselves forward by running their legs along the ground, the Dandy Horse was the first two wheeled contraption from which would arise the standard bicycle.
Mr and Mrs McIlrath were indeed doing a journey of an epic scale, even by today’s standards, and all without the use of satellite navigation, mobile phones etc.
(Above: Mr & Mrs McIlrath)
They simply documented their experiences and telegraphed them back to the publication house in Chicago. Some of these were quite interesting and colourful:
China – ‘Received in state by the Toa Toi of Su Chow – Invited to witness an execution of a woman by the “Seng Chee” method – Debut of the bicycle along the Grand Canal – “Foreign Devils” pursued by maddened mobs of natives’
Seng Chee (Lingchi) is what is more commonly known in the West as “Death by a thousand cuts”. As the title describes, this is a form of execution where the hapless victim is tied to a frame and the executioner slices pieces of flesh off one at a time, making the process altogether rather drawn out. You could say that the point of a drawn out death penalty is not to cut corners. The Confucian idea behind this was that the victim would not be whole in the afterlife.
India – “Pursued by a maddened herd of water buffalo – A joke ends in a race for life – The Yankee flag a conspicuous feature of the Queen’s Jubilee at Delhi”
India – “Last days in India spent during the dreaded monsoon season – the pet monkey’s appetite for rubber brings about an annoying delay”
Finally reaching Persepolis, the McIlraths described the reason for carving their names onto the Gate of all Nations, indicating that they really despised vandalism, but having seen it vandalised by one of their main competitors from the US, they could not allow that to go unanswered and decided that the best way to respond was to further vandalise the statue themselves:
‘The portals are the favorite background upon which visitors inscribe their names. I have always held such proceeding as vandalism, and though the names of British ambassadors, naval officers and clergy deface the rock, I should have foregone the pleasure of perpetuating our visit, had not my eye fallen upon the following inscription: “Stanley, New York Herald, 1870.” Never for a moment has an inhabitant of Chicago allowed that New York thrust its ancient claim upon the world as a typical American city without resentment, and immediately we chipped beneath, “McIlrath, Chicago Inter Ocean, 1897.”‘
And here it is, the picture taken by yours truly:
Above the McIlraths’ inscription, a wandering Russian had carved the words “1900 Russia” (1900 Россiя), using one of the letters from the old Russian alphabet (“i” instead of “и”). On other sections, the names D.S.P Andre (1899), J. Crampton, J.B. Marrige and W. Sundt (1810) were inscribed. A Russian had simply put his first name, Серёжа, in 1928 – Seryozha in Roman letters – while another Russian called M. Vanyashin – М. Ваняшин – had carved his name out in 1922 (the year of Irish Independence). There were some in Arabic and Persian, which unfortunately I could not find anything on, as I do not speak either language. An R. Willock had carved a skull and crossbones followed by the words “or Glory” in the year 1810:
Upon Googling ‘J.B. Marrige’, all that came up were links to tabloids with the headlines ‘Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin getting married?’. Such is the age we live in!
All of this to me was fascinating to see. I kept thinking about what had brought those people there so long ago, when the world was so much larger. It’s easy to forget that back then, long-haul journeys did not mean a few hours of flying, but several weeks of travel!
People have all sorts of reasons for doing funny stuff like carving their initials onto ancient statues, made by the hard working slaves and skilled stonemasons of long gone empires. I wonder what people of the future will think of the likes of “Dave was ‘ere 03”?
I snapped away, taking pictures of the marks, graffiti and artefact alike, left by those individuals who were long deceased. We wandered for two hours through the ruins, until it was time to leave and continue on the road to Yazd.