Harbor And Town Of Muscat
( Originally Published 1851 )
Muscat, the principal port on the eastern coast of Arabia, is under the government of an independent chief. The harbor, which lies in latitude 38' north, and longitude 59° 1.5' east, is formed by a small cove, or semicircular bay, environed on all sides, except at its entrance, by lofty, steep and barren rocks, and extending not more than half a mile in length from the town, at the head of the cove, to the outer anchorage, in the mouth of it; and not more than a quarter of a mile in breadth from fort to fort, which guard the entrance on the east and west. The entrance to this cove is from the northward, and the water is deep, shoaling quickly from thirty to fifteen fathoms at the cove's month. Ships entering it from the northward, with a fair wind, should go no farther in than ten fathoms before anchoring, as the ground does not hold well; and within this, there is but little room to drive.
The town of Muscat is seated near the shore, at the bottom of the hills. It is of an irregular form and meanly built. It is walled around, with some few round towers at the principal angles, after the Arabian manner; but this is only towards the land side, the part facing the sea being entirely open The population is about ten thousand. Of these. about nine-tenths are pure Arabs and Mohamme dans; the remainder are principally Hindoos. There are only three or four Jews, and no Christians of any description resident in the place. The duties on commerce are five percent ad valorem, paid by strangers of every denomination on all goods brought into the port There is no export duty.
The Custom House, which is opposite to the landing place both for passengers and goods, is merely an open square of twenty feet, with benches around it, one side opening to the sea, and the roof covered in for shelter from the sun. This landing-place is also the Commercial Exchange, where it is usual, during the cool of the morning, to see the principal merchants assembled, some sitting on old rusty cannons, others on condemned spars, and others in the midst of coils of ropes, exposed on the wharf, stroking their beards, and seeming to be the greatest of idlers, instead of men of business; notwithstanding which, when a stranger gets among them, he finds commerce to engross all their conversation and their thoughts.
In the town, horses are seldom used, but camels and asses are the animals mounted by all classes of those who ride. The tranquillity that reigns throughout the place, and the tolerance and civility shown to strangers of every denomination, are to be attributed to the inoffensive disposition of the people, rather than to the efficiency of a police, there being no regular establishment of that kind here. Whole cargoes of merchandise, and property of every description are left to lie open on the wharf and in the streets, without fear of plunder. Every thing is favorable to the personal liberty, the safety and the accommodation of strangers; and the Arabs of Muscat may he considered, as far as manners go, as the most civilized of their country-men.
Provisions and refreshments for shipping may be easily obtained here. Meat, vegetables and fruit are all abundant in their season, of excellent quality ; and fish are nowhere more plentiful or more delicious than here. The water is also pure and wholesome. Deficiencies in ships' crews may also be made up by Arab sailors, who are always to be found here, and are unquestionably braver, hardier, and better seamen, than the Lascars of India, though they are sometimes difficult to be kept in order.