Lascars in Greenwich Park 1836 detail

With Greenwich Park only a short distance downstream from Deptford, it’s perhaps not surprising that it would have attracted sailors from around the world looking for some green space when their ships were in the Dockyard.  Residents of Greenwich would have seen people from many different nations and been intrigued by the novelty of their language, culture and dress.  Not surprisingly, the papers of the day reported some of the more newsworthy stories, especially where the police and courts were concerned.

One such story is from 1836 and involves a group of Lascar sailors who found themselves stuck in Deptford Dockyard for some months waiting for their ship to be ready to sail.   They had first arrived in Portsmouth in early March aboard the ‘Liverpool’, a ship of war with 74 guns and a crew of 6 officers, 35 European seamen and 180 Lascars.  This was a gift to King William IV from the Imaum of Muscat (Oman), an ally of Britain, who controlled an empire around the Persian Gulf.  The ship was renamed the ‘Imaum of Muscat’ in recognition of the gift, which also included horses, cows, buffaloes and oxen.   While the crew waited for a return voyage, they were housed in the Old Custom House in Portsmouth and supplied with warm clothes, blankets, food and cooking facilities.



The ‘Imaum’ in Muscat Harbour 1836. Tim Thompson.

In April, the papers reported that the King intended to present the Imaum with a gift of the yacht ‘Prince Regent’, which was in dock at Deptford, in return for the ‘Liverpool’.  

On 14th May, about 100 of the Lascars arrived in Deptford on the ‘Salamander’ ready to sail the ‘Prince Regent’ back to Muscat.  While the ship was being repaired and refitted, they were housed in the hulk of the ‘Investigator’.   The fitting of the yacht included installing a seraphine – a musical instrument – in the state cabin and much gilding as a gift to the Imaum.  It was not until 4 months later in early October that it was finally ready to leave Deptford for Portsmouth.     


With so much time on their hands, it must have been difficult to fill their days.  Pay for the Lascars was low, only about 5% of a British sailor, so there wouldn’t have been much money to spend on any leisure activities.  Greenwich Park in summer would have been an attractive destination.   It was in July that the activities of our Lascar sailors came to the attention of the local paper - the West Kent Guardian - when an anonymous contributor, ‘Q’, wrote a letter to the editor.  

S/he describes the scene, saying that the crew were ‘in the habit of meeting in the evening in Greenwich Park and there playing some of their national games, to the great amusement of the inhabitants of the town….’   He ‘found them sitting in groups of 6 or 8 on a lawn just at the back of the keeper’s house where they usually met’.  He discovered they were waiting for their band, ‘being determined to show the English what they could do’.  About 200 people had gathered to watch and the band could be heard approaching at about 7.45pm. However, they were suddenly stopped and ordered out of the Park to the Heath by the park keeper.  

The writer of the letter questioned whether the park keeper had the authority to do this and thought that the Park Ranger, HRH Princess Sophia Matilda would not have supported his action.  He felt that it gave a bad opinion on our politeness, considering the friendly errand they came on, and that should be allowed to continue their recreations for the short time they were here.

The editor strongly supports this point of view and reserves his strongest comments for the park keeper and his actions – ‘what a happy fellow must he be ….. let him peruse (this letter) and undoubtedly will he feel that of all the curs that ever yelped in office, he is the head of the kennel’. He goes on to refer to him as an ‘ignorant whipper-snapper’ and a ‘shrivelled-skinned, dried-up piece of human wicker-work’ who had the power ‘to create in these sons of the east a belief that people in England are driven from public parks like so many dogs’.

The editor concludes by hoping that HRH Princess Sophia will take steps to ensure that the men are convinced that ‘England is not such a brutal country’, and that the Park is open to them as a place of recreation while they are here in this country.

It is not recorded what happened, if anything as a result of this letter or editorial.  Let’s hope the seemingly officious park keeper saw the error of his ways and our Lascar sailors were allowed to continue their games and music in front of the curious crowds.