Muscat Harbour – ship names.

Visiting Muscat harbour anchorage at the entrance to a bay overlooked by the Sultan of Oman’s Muscat palace; there has been a tradition for ships crew to paint the name of their vessel on the rocks surrounding this bay.
A lot of the names are very faded and can only be read up close from a boat, but one or two are still very distinct; HMS Perseus being one of them.

Now a problem arises:
Received wisdom says the ships name refers to:

HMS Perseus a British Parthian-class submarine built in 1929 and lost in 1941.

But there was another HMS Perseus who spent time visiting Muscat.

HMS Perseus was a 3rd Class, Protected Cruiser.
Built by Earle of Hull, laid down May-1896, launched 15-Jul-1897, and completed 1901.
On completion she went to the East Indies Station, where she spent her entire active service 1901-13.
Returned to the UK and paid off.

The diary of A. Barker whilst in service aboard the Protected Cruiser, HMS Perseus in 1901/03 at the East Indies Station. Starting from 13th September 1901, he makes several entries pertaining to Muscat.

See example of entries below.
13th After smooth passage we arrived at Muscat at 9 am. We saluted the Sultan with 21 guns which was returned.
14th We coaled ship 200 tons.
Time had been rather dull during our time up the Gulf as we had had no leave since we left Karachi so we arranged a seigning (sic) [seining or net fishing is what I think he means]  party, which came off very well.
18th We received the Sultan & the British Consul on board. A salute of 21 guns for the Sultan 11 for the Consul was fired.
20th We had Divine Service which was conducted by the American Minister from ashore
21st We got the starboard bower anchor out, and then we started painting ship.
23rd We had another seigning (sic) party, which was attended by the British & American & French Consul & Mrs Cox. There being no communication from Muscat by telegraph we left Muscat on the 25th for Jask & arrived there the 26th. We left again on the 27th for Muscat.
28th We carried out our firing and arrived at Muscat. We moored ship placing spare bower on the billboard.
29th We unmoored ship and replaced spare bower anchor.
30th We left Muscat at 7.30 am with British Consul & Sultan of Muscat & 150 soldiers onboard, bound for Sur & Khora Jehoram

And another:

HMS Perseus – Light Cruiser 2,135 tons served in The Persian Gulf between 1909 and 1914:
Towards the end of the 19th Century the trafficking of arms in the Persian Gulf area had escalated to dangerous proportions. The British Government pressurised the Governments of Persia and Muscat to take action to bring this business under control. By 1897 Persia had managed to reduce the involvement of their nationals but Muscat was still a serious problem.
So this ship also visited the harbour on several occasions.

But the most interesting is this reference to a HMS Perseus crew painting their ships name in 1857, Made by members of HMS Gambia who visited in August 1958 and did the same thing.

While a few of us had thus been seeing what there was to see, or doing battle on the hockey pitch, a party of stout-hearted individuals had landed on the rocks a few hundred yards from the town where, having scaled a hundred-odd feet of mountainside, they set-to repainting the magic letters GAMBIA on the rock-face, together with the Admiral’s Flag close-by. This was not just a bright idea by one of the boys, but part of a publicity campaign which has been going on ever since H.M.S. PERSEUS painted her name on the brown rock in 1857. As a result, the cliffs either side of Muscat form what is surely the world’s biggest autograph album, for by now they are covered with the names of ships and not only R.N. ones who have visited the place.

The problem is that if the following list is correct, it would indicate that no ship called HMS Perseus existed for that time frame (1857) – so who knows.

Six ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Perseus.

HMS Perseus was a 20-gun sixth rate launched in 1776; she was the first vessel of the Royal Navy to be sheathed in copper. She was converted to a bomb vessel in 1799 and was broken up in 1805.
HMS Perseus was a 22-gun sixth rate launched in 1812. She was used for harbour service from 1818 and was broken up in 1850.
HMS Perseus was a Camelion-class wooden screw sloop launched in 1861. She was used for harbour service from 1886, was renamed HMS Defiance II in 1904 and was probably sold in 1912.
HMS Perseus was a Pelorus-class protected cruiser launched in 1897 and sold for scrap in 1914.
HMS Perseus was a Parthian-class submarine launched in 1929 and sunk in 1941 during the Second World War.
HMS Perseus was a Colossus-class aircraft carrier launched in 1944 as HMS Edgar but renamed a few months later. She was scrapped in 1958.

10 thoughts on “Muscat Harbour – ship names.

  1. Such a shame that weather is rapidly eroding this record. In the past 4 years many of the ship names have faded and are becoming less and less legible.

    1. Yes, I have noticed they did not seem as clear as when I last looked a couple of years ago, then again I was in a boat at the time.
      A lot of stuff is being lost one way or another – think it’s a constant catch-up with conservation (left it rather late) so can only hope.


      1. i helped paint NUBIAN on the cliffs outside Muscat in 1969. it was near the top. Muscat had little electricity and people traveled at night carrying a lantern. Fond memories.

        1. Hello Derek,
          Lovely to hear from you, pleased the post gave you fond memories.
          You would be surprised if you went back now. Although a lot of the old town is still there, the rest is now a modern city, but still in character with its cultural heritage.
          A long way from the reputation of a hot and unhealthy environment noted by lots of pre 70’s visitors.
          As I said, a lot of the names have become indistinct, although go close by boat and most can still be read.
          Regards, David.

    1. Thanks,
      I have never been convinced that a submarine would visit Muscat then send a boat & crew who painted their whereabouts for all to see !
      But as I said – it is as good a theory as the rest I suppose.


  2. Super post…and loved all the FACT that came along with it. Back ‘then’ rumour/myth had it that Nelson had been on a ship that visited Muscat. A wonderful invention! I send you separately a shot from Murani and in the distance is the wing of the harbour in your shots…you’ve seen it before…dating from ca 1959…ship and fort saluting each other with guns.

    1. The Rt Hon William Hague when he was Foreign Secretary in an announcement he made 25 November 2010, mentioned that Admiral Horatio Nelson is said to have visited Muscat when he was a young midshipman in the eighteenth century.
      So it seems to be officially recognised as a substantiated rumour 🙂
      Thanks and yes I remember that photograph.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s