SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Commercial prospects: the River and Road Concessions

Isabella Bird was clear that “the interest attaching to the Bakhtiars (sic) country and people was one of pure commercial selfishness or of lofty commercial ambition, and was connected with certain political contingencies”.

Curzon, as usual, provided more detail. He postulated a potential “fourfold development, each pregnant with future wealth”. As well as “a great impetus” to local production and manufacture, and even to population, “the opening of this route, if vigorously carried out, should result in an enormously increased import into Persia of British and Anglo-Indian goods. As it is . . the cities of Southern and Central Persia, as far north as Ispahan, already derive the bulk of their luxuries, and almost the whole of their clothing, from Manchester or Bombay; and each fresh town, we may even say each new village, that is brought into communication with the Persian Gulf, will thereby be drawn into the mesh of the Lancashire cotton spinner or the Hindu artisan”.
He continued by extolling the possibilities with a railway: “Asiatics generally are childishly fond of railway travelling; and the Asiatics of Persia, in particular, are addicted to immense journeys, extending over months of time, in order to gratify their pious desire to gaze upon the last resting-place of some departed saint. When they have reached the holy spot and have paid the becoming devotions, they enjoy what in England is vulgarly described as a spree; after which they return home in the odour of accomplished sanctity. A railway would thus in time be supported by the superstition against which it might at first have to contend”.