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The Overland Route

Rediscovering Historical Trade Routes
The Overland Route

Watching the news and seeing the disruption to shipping in the Red Sea, I was reminded of how the possibility of using this route so excited travellers in earlier days.

The Overland Route

Originally there were two main routes of getting from Europe to the East: across the desert from Aleppo to Basra and down the Arabian Gulf (difficult for political reasons); or down the African coast which meant successfully rounding the Cape and its treacherous seas (this could take 4-6 months). James Capper, an East India Company (EIC) officer, discusses this in his Observations on the Passage to India, 1784. He stresses the huge delay in communications between England and India, and the various rivalries involved both in Europe and with the Turks, Egyptians, and other parties in the Middle East. Our copy is the corrected second edition, quite scarce, and with 2 useful maps showing the routes.

Even going into the nineteenth century the Arabian Gulf route was preferred. We have a copy of Lieutenant Thomas Lumsden’s Journey from Merut in India to London, 1822. This is a very rare account of a voyage up the Gulf from Muscat in Oman, to Persia, Armenia, and on from there. It has a great hand-coloured map, and our copy is further enhanced by formerly being in the library of the Chairman of the EIC in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Everything changed in the 1830’s. The evacuation of the French from Egypt and the rise of Muhammed Ali as Viceroy of Egypt made possible an India-Egypt-England overland route. The main driver of this for the Indian Government was speeding up mail and communications but it was also beneficial for travellers. The ‘overland route’ in all of this was the 84-mile Cairo-Suez journey by horse-drawn carriage.

In 1839 England captured Aden. This marked a huge step change for the British. Not only did they gain a coaling station, but it also put them in prime position to regain supremacy in the coffee trade from the Americans, and to prevent the French from gaining a foothold in the region. One of the most impressive publications celebrating this steam ship route was Tillotson’s Overland Route to India, circa 1850. This large format book made full use of wood-engravings to depict the cities and towns on the way including Cairo, Suez, Mocha, Jeddah, Aden, Madras, and Calcutta, as well as desert encampments and Bedouin life.

The opening of the Red Sea route really captured the imagination of people in Britain and was celebrated with an exhibition at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. We are fortunate to have a very rare large broadside for this, printed in colour, Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. Hamilton’s New Overland Route to India, 1874. This was shortly after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, an event that was to spark a major increase in trade between Asia and Europe.

Browse Overland Route rare books on our shelves below.

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Shapero Rare Books is an internationally renowned dealer in London, specialising in antiquarian & rare books and works on paper, with particular expertise in fine illustrated books from the 15th to the 20th century, travel & voyages, natural history, modern firsts, rare children’s books, guidebooks, Hebraica & Judaica, Eastern European, and Islamica

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