Pair of photograph albums from the earliest years of commercial aviation in the Gulf, comprising over 550 images.Bahrain, Doha, Kuwait, Iraq, Persia: 1948-55 Stock Code: 135949
NotesA fascinating, cogently assembled, and extremely uncommon photographic archive of over 550 highly appealing and informative personal photographs captured by a British official in Bahrain, Doha, Kuwait, and Iraq at the moment when the region was just opening up to Western oil companies, chronicling the origins of commercial aviation in the Gulf.
Probably an aviator rather than a professional photographer, the compiler nevertheless clearly used professional equipment. His images are skilfully shot and developed, showing excellent definition and tonal range; scenes are thoughtfully composed and show a genuine feeling for people and place. They are undoubtedly of superior quality and while, with one or two exceptions, not "art photography" could certainly be described as superior reportage.
The unidentified individual behind the lens evidently had access to local oil and aviation industry circles. It is not unreasonable to speculate that he may have been involved directly with the early days of Gulf aviation and its pioneer, Freddie Bosworth. "In 1950 a man named Frederick Bosworth (the model for Nevil Shute's hero in Round the Bend 1951) appeared in the Gulf. He started a small company, refused Ministry pressure to amalgamate with Skyways, and proceeded to establish his own Gulf Aviation. Bosworth began to expand, but was unfortunately killed in a crash in England, and so BOAC bought his company to keep it out of hostile hands. It was always a good investment" (Higham, p. 190). Bosworth had cut his teeth in Iraq "where he had been unsuccessful in forming a charter company but Bosworth was a man of energy and enterprise and not easily disheartened In the beginning it was a hard struggle. Money was short, and it was difficult to get suitable pilots and engineers to join a small, new venture in the Persian Gulf, which nobody knew much about Then the Government granted a loan to the company and the Shaikh and some of his family invested money in it. Following their example a number of merchants bought shares in Gulf Aviation, and with the support of BOAC, without which the company could not have existed, its prospects began to improve" (Belgrave, p. 174-5). Gulf Aviation was formally incorporated in 1950, which coincides precisely with the images in these albums. Bosworth's original plan was to establish scheduled feeder and cabotage services between a number of the Gulf States, alongside charter/air taxi services, aircraft handling and flying training. Scheduled operations based in Bahrain commenced on 5 July 1950, to Doha (Qatar) and Sharjah (Trucial States, latterly UAE) and on 28 September 1950 to Dhahran (Saudi Arabia).
Album I "Bahrain Doha Kuwait": 252 monochrome prints. 200 images of Bahrain (approximately 143 identified more specifically as Manama, 30 as Adari and Awali, 26 as Muharraq); 11 at Doha; 41 at Kuwait. The three "Ansco colour" prints are of scenes in Bahrain.
The Bahrain volume opens with three excellent colour prints captured at the Muharraq causeway and two monochrome shots of a BOAC Short Sandringham 5 flying boat (G-AJMZ "Perth"). A plethora of excellent images taken largely at Manama follow, including many of the "types" that still fascinated Western visitors to the region (water carrier, hubble-bubble, women in purdah, washing at the hammam, scenes in the bazaar, merchant, tailor, coffee seller, grocer, potter, carpenter). There are three views at Bahrain races and a more extensive series of 13 captured at "Belgrave's Folly", the deep water spring at Idari that was improved by Charles Belgrave, advisor to the rulers of Bahrain. In his memoir, Personal Column, Belgrave describes this in 1926 as being "a dirty, messy place where gardeners took their donkeys to be washed"; his improvements included the planting of "flowering trees and shrubs, and I made a garden on one side of it full of oleanders and crimson and brick-red bougainvillaea" (ibid.). Our photographer comments "called 'Folly' by the locals because flowers are foolish you can't sell them and you can't eat them, so why bother with them?" There are seven images of the oil refinery at Awali, including the Bapco offices and the Sitra pipeline. The Awali oil settlement is described by UNESCO as "the earliest modern oil 'camp' or settlement in the Arabian Gulf, which provided a gated residence and working environment for a new international community of oil specialists and technocrats, who were in key positions to establish and run the new industry" (unesco.org, retrieved 8 October 2019). Construction at Awali began in 1934, with expansion during that decade and into the 1940s. During the period when these photographs were taken living conditions were considerably improved, with residents enjoying "the first central sewage system in the region and the globally first centralized air conditioning system for an entire settlement" (ibid.). Four snapshots were taken at "Thompson's beach", named after G. B. Thompson (pictured here with his wife), the Bahrain Government Oil Inspector, who was appointed by Belgrave to run Gulf Aviation when its founder, Freddie Bosworth, when the latter was killed in a plane crash in June 1951. The scenes at Muharraq (1948-9), an air base originally established by the RAF in 1943,4 include images of a BOAC Avro York "Malvern" captioned "leaving Muharraq for Cairo and London, 1948"; the first Canadair North Star Argonaut-class airliner "Amazon" (a variant of the Douglas DC-4) "arriving at Muharraq from London, Rome, Damascus, Basra and Kuwait" (1949); Argonaut "Aurora" pictured in 1952; a Gulf Aviation Avro Anson (G-AIFD) and two de Havilland Doves, a short-haul airliner (G-AMKT); the amusingly captioned "York freighter arrives with 10, 000 passengers" shows the "Malmesbury" unloading a vast array of animals (ducks, parrots, cats and one dog). The Kuwait section (April 1951) opens with two excellent birds-eye views of the city from the air, followed by four shots of the BOAC Argonaut "Arion" (G-ALHY) on the tarmac, Iranian Airways Dakota (EP-AAK) and Iraqi Airways Viking "Al Mahroussa" (YI-ABR); the airport building is captioned "in 1949 only the tents were there".
Volume II "Iraq Persia": 322 monochrome prints. 10 of Beirut and Lebanon (dated August 1952 - September 1953); 220 of Baghdad; 50 of Basra, Abadan and Khorramshahr; 42 of Tehran.
The early pages include some excellent images of the approach to Beirut (1949) and the Mount Lebanon range, before arrival at Baghdad, some nicely-framed images of "the Tigris from the British Council Office balcony" and a highly evocative view titled "sunset on the Tigris"; Assyrian monuments and the mosques and buildings of the city; Kadimein (Kadhimiya), a northern neighbourhood of Baghdad; excellent images of Baghdad's "Railway Club", a watering-hole popular with pilots, a number of whom are identified (Captain Ralph Watts, Brooks, Pengilly, Neville Dowding (1917-2013), Catto); some 18 images were captured at Baghdad West airport, showing crew and an Iraqi Airways Dove (YI-ABK "Al Faihaa"); these are followed by a sequence of seven photographs of locomotives and crew at Baghdad West station; excursions to Hindiyah Junction, Hillah, Babylon, Basra; eight show scenes at the Abadan oil refinery; a small group were taken during winter at the Mehrabad Airport, Tehran, and include shots of an Iraqi Airways Viking (YI-ABR,"Al Mahroussa")
In his book Essays and Addresses on Arab Laws, W. M. Ballantyne gives a brief but memorable sketch of the early days of passenger flight in the Gulf: "I first visited the Arabian Gulf in 1948. Then it took three days by flying boat; three delightful days during which you dined with the crew at night and during dinner agreed the take-off time in the morning. In 1948 Kuwait was a golden mud-walled town, a fishing port with some trade and a pearling industry: and behind it, desert Bahrain was in 1948 still a tiny community with a British adviser working with the Sheikh".
2 volumes, quarto (325 x 210 mm). Contemporary commercial Twinlock Crown 3C maroon rexine post-binders, rounded corners, heavy stock sand-coloured grained endpapers; manuscript titles to spine labels: "Bahrain – Doha – Kuwait" and "Iraq – Persia".
Total of 574 original monochrome photographs (varying sizes from 55 x 85 to 72 x 103 mm, landscape and portrait), 3 colour photographs (50 x 80 mm), all mounted recto only on pale grey leaves, sporadic captioning in blue ballpoint; 5 BOAC colour maps and
Binders a little rubbed at extremities, occasional light abrasions and scuffs, overall in excellent condition.
See W. M. Ballantyne, Essays and Addresses on Arab Laws, Routledge, 2000; Charles Belgrave, Personal Column, Librairie du Liban, 1996; Robin Higham, Speedbird: The Complete History of BOAC, I. B. Tauris, 2013.
With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.
Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220