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Report of a journey through Persia - Yezd

Henry Bathurst Vaughanwriter Henry Bathurst Vaughan

Henry Bathurst Vaughan was born on February 27, 1858 in Britain. At youth, he joined the British Indian army in Bengal region as an infantry soldier. As well as being a soldier, he was also a painter artist.

At the age of 30, when he was lieutenant in the intelligence branch, he was sent to a secret mission in Persia. During the year of 1888, he had a long journey through Iran from south to north, and gathered information about the country. Then he printed its confidential report, entitled Report of a journey through Persia, in Kolkata in 1890.

In the year of 1900, when he was lieutenant colonel, he went to another mission in China. Then he published its account, entitled St. George and the Chinese dragon, in London in 1901. Later, he became colonel. Finally, Colonel Vaughan died on December 3, 1934. Some of his oil paintings remain at galleries or collections.
This confidential report was written by Henry Bathurst Vaughan, a painter artist and secret agent in British army in India. He travelled across Iran, from south to north, from December 13, 1887 to September 2, 1888 to gain an insight on the country. The most important city he visited during his expedition was Yazd, where he stayed the longest and conducted the most research. He stayed there from March 3, 1888 to March 30, 1888.

In Yazd, Vaughan was the guest of Ardashir Mehraban, well-educated Zoroastrian merchant, and stayed in his garden house. Edward Browne, British Orientalist, who came to Yazd a month after Vaughan, also stayed in this garden house. Browne in his book writes: “It had been occupied about a month before by another Englishman Lieutenant H. B. Vaughan.” “The garden is situated at the southern limit of the town, hard by the open plain.” “Later, I and Lieutenant Vaughan also, made certain representations to the Foreign Office, for, a Zoroastrian had been appointed British agent at Yezd.” (1)

The most valuable parts of the report are two drawings of Yazd. The first one seems to be of the Shahi gate and Lab-e Khandagh wall. (2) The second is of the city landscape. The text of the military report contains considerable valuable first-hand information on the history of Yazd as well. In sum, from 1890s onward, British individuals and entities gradually made stronger presence in Yazd and this undermined the Russian influence in the city.
Gate and walls of Yazd
View showing the main western gate and the old city walls of Yazd. The dotted lines show the interior support of the rampart.
Henry Bathurst Vaughan

1- Introduction

Yezd is a city about 2 miles (3.2 km) in length from north-west to south-east and 1.25 miles (2 km) broad. It is built almost entirely of mud or sun-dried bricks. A few of the better houses as well as some of the mosques and other public buildings being faced with burnt bricks.

2- Urban planning

2-1- Fort

The fort or ancient city is surrounded by a high mud wall flanked by towers at about 50 yards (46 m) interval. Outside this high wall runs a low one with a command of about 9 feet (2.7 m) over the glacis, and giving a second tier of fire. Outside this lower mud wall runs a ditch with perpendicular unrevetted sides of a width and depth of about 20 feet (6.1 m).

The weaker points of the buildings are defended by round towers connected with the main building by arched bridges; the ditch being widened in places so as to include the towers and yet preserve the same width throughout.

2-2- Citadel

The governor lives in a fortified enclosure, the citadel, which is inside the fort. The citadel is the only part of the defences which are not in a ruinous and unserviceable condition. It is similar in construction to the rest of the fort, and like it, has mud walls about 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 m) in height. These are about 8 feet (2.4 m) thick at the base and taper gradually upwards, till at the parapet the thickness does not exceed 1 foot (30 cm).

Citadel and fort of Yazd
A view of the back gate of Yazd governmental citadel and a part of the city walls in Qajar era.

It is entered by two gateways, one being on the north-west and the other on the south-east face. The ditch in each instance is crossed by a permanent single-arched bridge.

2-3- Urban texture

The fort has evidently been unused as such for many years. The interior being chocked up with a mass of houses, through which run narrow winding streets, some of which are roofed over and so low that it is impossible for a horseman to ride through them. In many places, all the interior works have fallen away, leaving lines of loopholes 15 or 16 feet (4.6 or 4.9 m) above the ground, where they are quite useless.

The fort contains the Juma Masjid, an ancient building, whose lofty minarets are the first object to strike the eye when viewing the city from a distance. Several of the irregularly built bazaars of the city wind in and out of the fort on the south-west side, and as they are roofed over, it is hard to tell whether one is inside or outside.

Landscape of Yazd
The city of Yazd, sketched from the roof of the garden house of Ardashir Mehraban, a Parsi merchant of Yazd. Wood being scarce, the roofs of the houses are built of sun-dried bricks, which are made into numbers of small domes. The high square towers with long open windows are windsails, which serve to keep the lower and subterranean rooms cool during the hot weather; the highest of them is 130 feet (40 m). The reverse side of the citadel, where the governor resides, as visible from here, is shown in dark shading appearing above the nearer wall and towers. A great part of the city lies to the left of this sketch and therefore does not appear.
Henry Bathurst Vaughan

3- Government

3-1- Troops

There are no troops. 500 cavalry are, however, allowed to the Yezd district for the purpose of robber catching. There are no organizations of a military sort. Their armament is guns, none.

3-2- Communications

There is a Persian telegraph office. Single wire lines run from here to Shiraz and Kerman. The post office is worked on the European system. There are weekly mails to Bandar Abbas and Bushehr.

Imad ud-Dowla
Prince Imad ud-dowla, who was the governor of Yazd in 1888, after forced abdication of Zel os-Soltan from ruling southern regions of Iran.
Yazdname, vol. 2

3-3- Government

The Yezd district was formerly under the government of Shiraz, but now, in 1888, it has been formed into a separate district directly under the supreme government at Tehran. There is an assistant governor as well as the principal one.

The government of the district is farmed out. The last governor (3) held it for 250,000 tomans. The customs are farmed for 47,000 tomans.

4- Population

The population of Yezd is about 65,000 or 100,000, inclusive of Taft and the adjacent suburbs. Of these, 6,000 are Parsis and 900 are Jews. Since the last famine in 1870, the population has been steadily increasing.

4-1- Zoroastrians

The Parsis possess four fire temples, which are however, concealed in private houses, for fear lest the Muhammadans should defile them. The parsis have been gradually driven out of the chief parts of the city until there only remains to them the south-eastern suburb and some adjacent villages.

They are much persecuted by the Muhammadans, and are not allowed to wear any clothes except those of a khaki color, nor is it allowed them to ride in any of the main streets of the city. In times of tumult, the Parsis are always the first victims. Their high priest as well as their secular head or kalantar reside here.

Jews of Yazd
Chief Rabbi in the middle, with two other Jews, in a garden belonging to a European physician in Yazd in 1902.
A. Hume-Griffith

4-2- Jews

The Jews also suffer persecution. They are distinguished from the rest of the inhabitants by being compelled to wear a patch on their garments, no matter how wealthy they are.

5- Climate

The climate is very healthy and, as a rule, dry and bracing. During the coldest month of the year, December, the thermometer ranges from 30° to 37° Fahrenheit (-1 to 3 °C), but at the beginning of June, it rises to 90° (32 °C), which is the maximum temperature. (4)

5-1- Water

The water, which is good and sufficient to meet the requirements of the town, as well as to irrigate a large number of gardens, is obtained from near the foot of the Shirkuh, whence it is brought by qanats starting at a depth of 100 feet (30 m). The qanats approach the town from the south and south-west.

Qanat maquette
A view of qanat maquette in Yazd Water Museum. Labels from left to right: cistern, entrance of cistern, payab of mosque, sunken garden of house, sardab of house.
Hossein Ghaemmaghami

There are said to be at least 70. It would be difficult to cut off the water supply from the city altogether, as some of the streams run at a great depth below the ground, and passing on, supply suburbs to the north. These subterranean streams are reached from the city by long flights of steps descending towards them through subterranean passages.

Khan square in Yazd
A view of Khan square in Yazd in 1902. This square was also called Ab square, meaning water, and was a shopping and recreation hub.
M. E. Hume-Griffith

6- Economy

6-1- Supplies

Yezd being simply an emporium of trade situated in the middle of an unproductive plain, does not contain supplies sufficient for the consumption of her own inhabitants. Consequently, sheep are imported from Shiraz and grain from Isfahan. It is only during the months of October, November and December that the city subsists on its own grain raised in the neighborhood. Special arrangements would have to be made for the supply of any large force halting here.

6-2- Bazaar rates

The following is a list of the prices current in the markets. 1 man at Yezd i.e. 1 shah man is equal to 13 lb. av. (5.9 kg) and 1 rupee is equivalent to 2.5 krans (5).

productprice (krans the man)productprice (krans the man)
Sugar5.75Chopped straw4
Barley1.25Fuel (firewood)0.2
List of the prices in Yezd bazaars in 1888.

6-3- Carriage

There were formerly 50,000 camels in the city, but since the introduction of the camel tax of 2 tomans per camel, the number has fallen off to about 15,000. There are, however, mules and asses to the equivalent of 35,000 camels. Mules preponderate. Horses are scarce. The people of Yezd are not horsemen; they prefer riding donkeys.

Strategic location of Mohammadabad in relation with Yazd.

7- Defense

7-1- Camping grounds

There are good camping grounds for a large force between Mohammadabad and Yezd. Water is plentiful and soil is gravel and sand.

7-2- Defensive positions

The nearest position from which the city could be defended against a force advancing from the south is at Mohammadabad. The position of the city, low down, its irregular and straggling nature would prevent its being defended from any nearer point.

8- Trade

Since the introduction of the telegraph and post office, Yezd has become an important center of trade.

Khan square in Yazd
A commercial caravan is importing goods into the Khan square of Yazd in late Qajar era.
Yazdnegar \ Reza Shah documentary

8-1- Imports

The imports are Indian goods, as well as English of all descriptions, amongst which are yarns, piece goods, prints, sugar, refined sugar, copper sheets, tin slabs, lead, iron, condiments, chinaware, glassware, spices, green tea, Indian tea, and Singapore tea.

These imports come chiefly from Bombay through Bandar Abbas; and after a sufficient quantity has been taken for local use, the remainder goes on from this city to the following places: Tehran, Mashhad, Kashan, Sabzevar, Birjand, Toon (6), Tabas.

8-2- Exports

The exports of Yezd are opium, cotton, wool, madder roots, cumin seeds, almonds, walnuts, pistachio nuts, etc. Yezd is the center of the opium trade. About 2,000 chests of opium being annually exported to Bombay via Bandar Abbas, and thence sent on to China. This opium is not only the produce of Yezd, but is also that of many other parts of the country, for instance, Semnan, Bajestan, and Gonabad.

A part of commercial map of Yazd in Qajar era. White: Yazd; Red: distribution destinations for goods imported from India; Violet: opium collection sources for export to India; Gray: transport centers for textile produced in the city; Black: Bandar Abbas and its three routes; Yellow: Mumbai and its sea route.

8-3- Trade routes

Most of the imports and exports come and go via Bandar Abbas, which port is connected with this city by three routes. The first being the well-known one via Kerman, the second via Sirjan, and the third route via Herat Khowreh (7), Neyriz, Qatruyeh, and the Tang Zagh.

8-4- Local manufactures

The principal of these is the chador or outer covering worn by women. These go principally to Isfahan and Shiraz.

Traditional Russian samovar
A few samples of Russian charcoal samovars, which imported to Iran during the Qajar era. These samovars were made from brass.

8-5- Present condition of trade

Trade in English goods is now, if anything, on the decline. They are being gradually driven out of the market by Russian goods, which, especially as regards their print goods, are preferred as being of a superior quality and more popular patterns. Russian print goods are fast dyed, while the English are not. English sugar is still preferred as being better than Russian.

There are several Armenian Russian subjects staying here, engaged in purchasing furs and in other business. These men, though only small traders, no doubt take care to inform their friends of the kind of goods which are most in demand here, and doubtless, give information on any other matters worthy of note to their own government.

It appears that the Russians have a better knowledge of the tastes and requirements of the Persian people than we have, and consequently know better how to suit them.

Family of Goudarz Mehraban
Arbab Goudarz Mehraban Rostam Irani, great tea merchant and prominent Zoroastrian philanthropist. He lived in Mumbai before aging and was therefore a British citizen.
Kamran collection

8-6- British subjects

In Yezd, there are some 15 naturalized British subjects, qualified by residence in India, both Mussulmans and Parsis. It is through their hands that the whole of the trade in English goods and the bulk of the trade from Bandar Abbas passes.

These merchants, among whom are several men of good education, for instance, Ardashir Mehraban Irani, who is a B.A. of one of the Indian colleges, possess great influence in Yezd. They are disposed to be loyal towards the British government.

Owing to the insecurity of life and property, these men dare not invest more than a quarter of their fortunes in trade. The British government has hitherto refused to protect these men in any way whatever, consequently they are liable to ill-treatment, extortion and persecution, especially the Parsis, whose lives are often in danger and sometimes lost. Through the Parsis, half the trade with Bombay passes.

I have just stated that the Muhammadan merchants require protection as well as the Parsis. This is the case, for in Persia, when a merchant is wealthy, the governor always squeezes as much of it out of him as he can.

Several of these merchants belong to the Bab sect, and from long residence in India have learnt to look with toleration upon men of other creeds. Their doing this is sufficient to arouse the dislike of their stay-at-home and more fanatical fellow citizens, who envious of their wealth, would be only too glad to do them a bad turn should an opportunity present itself.

British consul family
Family photo of British consul at Yazd during the constitutional revolution.
Mashrutiat dar Yazd

8-7- Encouragement of British trade

If protection were afforded to these merchants, either by the establishment of a native agent to look after their safety and the interests of trade, or by their being taken under the protection of one of the British agents in Persia, the effect on British trade would be astonishing.

These merchants would lay out nearly four times the amount which they now do in trade. The Parsis of Yezd would form companies and firms, establish factories and banking corporations, and import and export goods of English manufacture for local as well as foreign consumption to a vastly larger extent than they do now.

English commercial influence would then, as it should, become paramount in these parts.

Mirza Sayyid Mohammad Taqi Shirazi
Haj Mirza Sayyid Mohammad Taqi Shirazi, Russian agent in Yazd, who was appointed to this position in 1888.
Yazd dar asnad-e Amin oz-Zarb

8-8- Future of British trade

Since the above was written, the Karun River has been opened up to navigation; (8) and Haji Mirza Muhammad Taqi has been appointed Russian agent at Yezd.

The opening up of the Karun River will not affect the trade of Yezd. In order to develop it, other steps must be taken. The first of these should be the immediate appointment of an agent to the city. Other things would then follow of themselves.

For instance, the merchants, feeling secure, would, of their own accord, as is customary in the country, commence improving the communications with the Persian Gulf, by levelling the roads, building cisterns, erecting caravanserais, and sinking wells where necessary.

Edward Granville Browne
Professor Edward Granville Browne, famous British Orientalist and fellow of Cambridge University in Persian dress.
Palmer Clarke

9- A text from Edward Browne

The subjoined extract from the diary of Mr. E. G. Browne, which was kindly furnished to me by that gentleman, who was recently travelling in Persia, is of interest as bearing on the subject in question: (9)

“Yezd is too well-known, and has been so often visited and described, that I will merely add a few impressions which I received during the 20 days I spent here.

1- That the governor, the Imad ud-Dowla is a very good and capable one.

2- That Yezd is really one of the most flourishing and opulent towns in Persia, and that the really poor are much fewer than in almost any town there.

3- That its merchants are many of them of great ability, integrity and enterprise, with a large connection not only through Persia, but with India, China, Beirut, and some of them have a large command of capital. They are, owing to their connection with India, and in the case of the Zoroastrians especially, many of whom have been themselves at Bombay, warmly attached to the English, of whose greatness.

They have very high ideas; many of them expressed a great wish that some day a railway would be made to connect them with the Gulf. They asked me what its cost would probably be. The same feeling prevailed in Kerman.

Those of them who are under British protection or are British subjects, are extremely proud of the fact, and many who were not so were anxious to become British subjects, if possible.

Yazd Nasseri Association
Yazd Nasseri Association chaired by Ardashir Mehraban Rostam Irani in 1902. All of the 28 members of the association were elected and honorary, and its aim was to advocate the social rights of the Zoroastrians.
Arnold Henry Savage

4- Amongst the Zoroastrians, several know English, notably their chief merchant, Ardashir Mehraban, a most admirable man in every way. Amongst the Mussulman merchants, the richest and most powerful are Haji Mirza Muhammad Taqi, and among his relatives, Haji Leyjid Mirza, originally of Shiraz, who are also most kindly and upright men. One of the sons of the former, a young man of 30 or so, named Haji Mirza Muhammad, knows English a little.

5- As to the condition of the Zoroastrians, it is better than it was formerly, but they are still subject to many vexatious laws, and are often insulted or unjustly treated without being able to obtain redress.”

Edward G. Browne, M.A., M.B.,
Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge

Red line, approximately matching railways today, and blue lines, routes suggested by the author to connect Yazd with the Persian Gulf. White: Yazd; Black: Bandar Abbas; Gray: Bandar Moghuyeh; Red: Bafgh; Blue: Neyriz.

10- Final Word

With regard to the construction of a railway, I found the people much interested in the subject. The only remarks that I can offer are:

“That a line could be constructed from Yezd to Neyriz with but little difficulty, for, although the elevations crossed are great, yet the gradients are very easy, the greater part of the line running over a level plain.

To the south, between Neyriz and the Persian Gulf, the country is, I believe, very mountainous. The best route directly south would probably be Darab, Lar, ‌Bandar Moghuyeh, where there is said to be a good caravan route. But I should think that the best direction to follow from Neyriz would be a line running in a south-east direction towards Bandar Abbas. The line then would run in conformation with the general line of the mountains, and an easy route might be found along the valleys and river banks.”

From the foregoing remarks on the commercial importance of Yezd, it would be easy to estimate whether such an enterprise would be profitable or otherwise.

footnote Footnotes

(1) A year amongst the Persians; by Edward Granville Browne; p. 400, 402 and 417
(2) M.Arch. Najme Nadery
(3) Mostafa Qoli Khan Arab entitled Saham os-Saltana, who was the governor of Yazd in 1887.
(4) According to 65 years of weather data from 1953 to 2017, the yearly maximum temperature of Yazd usually occurs in July and is between 41 and 46 with mean of 44 °C.
(5) The kran was the currency of Iran in Qajar era, which replaced with the rial in 1932.
(6) Toon was the old name of Ferdows in South Khorasan province, which was called until 1929.
(7) In times past, when Iran had two cities named Herat, one that is located in Yazd province today was called Herat Khowreh to be distinguished from the other that is located in Afghanistan today.
(8) Naser ad-Din Shah signed the order of opening up the Karun River to navigation, on October 30, 1888, which pleased Britain and enraged Russia. According to this order, “Commercial steamships of all countries … {are allowed} to transport goods through Karun River from Muhammarah (Khorramshahr) to Ahvaz dam.
(9) Interesting memories of Edward Browne from Iran, and particularly Yazd, could be found in A year amongst the Persians.
Report of a journey through Persiaresource Report of a journey through Persia

Report of a journey through Persia, was written and illustrated by Henry Bathurst Vaughan of the Bengal infantry for the intelligence branch of British army in India, and printed in Kolkata in 1890.

This confidential book contains his military report about cities, villages and routes of Persia. His journey through Iran began on December 13, 1887 in Bandar Lengeh, and ended on September 2, 1888 in Bandar Gaz.

This report also includes twenty-six large illustrations, many of which are topographical views of the landscapes and villages. There are numerous other small illustrations included within the text. All the illustrations were sketched by the author.
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