British Newspaper Archive
Updated: May 17, 2020
One of the sources I’ve made use of in writing the Muhammad Amalfi Mysteries is the British Newspaper Archives, found at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk This is a brilliant collection of digitized British, Irish and Scottish newspapers, as they appeared in print, from as early as the seventeenth century to the present day. The search engine is powerful and comes complete with all manner of filters.
As a writer of fiction, I am always on the lookout for a character or an event that encapsulates or adds to the color of the era I'm writing about. D. L. Doctorow wrote, "Facts are the images of history; and images are the facts of fiction." A simple snippet from a newspaper of the period will often suffice in projecting an image that will sustain or support an entire novel, or explain the motivation of an important character in it. This is why the BNA can be such a wonderful resource. Examples of its utility can be found in this Blog under the heading: Jean Bon St. Andre. An example of a page mentioning the Dey of Algiers is given here from Saturday, 7 February, 1818, in the Star, a London daily newspaper.
In addition to the above, the saga of French Consul-General, Citizen Jean Bon St. Andre, and many others, I was intrigued by the curious incident of a carriage intended by the British as a gift to the Doge in Venice. This was taken at sea by a French corsair and then gifted by the French to the Dey of Algiers. I adapt the historical incident in A RUNAWAY IN ALGIERS to have the gift presented to the Dey on the arrival of St. Andre as the new Consul-General. Interestingly, I ascribe the removal of the former French Consul to his belonging to the minor nobility and thus falling prey to the Revolution, also reported in British newspapers at the time. From: A RUNAWAY IN ALGIERS
There were three French frigates, La Vesiale, La Juno, and La Serieufe, and one of them carried a gift for the Dey from the newly-formed French Directory.
I was secretly comforted by the knowledge that the ships I thought I saw the day before were real, and not merely phantoms that hovered at the outer edges of my imagination. My daylight dreaming was becoming a distraction, and I hoped it would not lead me into danger. The arrival of the ships was reassuring.
To my friends, I noted how on that day a European nation was presenting our ‘Den of Pirates’—for as such the Europeans continue to libel our city—with the product of their own piracy, a jewel-studded coach taken by a French privateer from a British ship, the Lark, headed for Venice with a fine gift for the Doge.
“You have to admit the British blockade has mightily angered our French neighbors,” stated Michele, raising his thick black eyebrows as his eyes opened wide in solicitation of our accord on the matter.
“And so the French seek to flatter the Dey with rich presents in addition to their annual tribute,” Muhammad Merchant replied without hesitation, “Let us see this representative of the revolution they have somehow decided to send as their new Consul-General.”
As an official of the Dey’s administration sent to formally greet the arriving French diplomat, I stood together with my two friends by the Marine Gate to the city, gazing seaward and to the east northeast. Against the backdrop of the gleaming Mediterranean that morning, the magnificent coach was hauled along the long mole by men who had been harnessed in the place of horses. These were immediately recognizable as slaves by their red caps, the sleeveless blue waistcoats they wore and the iron rings on their ankles. As they drew closer, and we saw their blond hair and blue eyes, we realized that the slaves were the crew of the Tiger, the English privateer recently captured and brought to port by Rafi Hasoob’s corsairs. Muhammad Merchant, himself a former subject of King George, turned his head away and remarked in a voice that only Michele and I could hear.
“This Hasoob has a way of making a statement, does he not?”
Muhammad Merchant had recently been promoted to the position of Market Inspector. He made Michele, my friend and protector from our earliest days together on the sea and in the slave barracks of Algiers, his assistant. Both were dressed in fine white robes that day, scarves, turbans, and calf-colored burnooses, as was I. The only difference between us was that I wore the green sash around my waist and the red ribbon edged in gold on my turban that marked my office as Caid al-Fahs, or Chief Commissioner of the Hinterlands of Algiers. Michele differentiated himself by wearing a simple white neck scarf to which several drops of fragrant rose attar had been applied.
Colorful flags waved in the warm winds coming off the desert far to the south, and the familiar and slightly putrid odors of the city in the air likewise intermittently assaulted our senses. As the ornamental carriage drew nearer, its features came into full view, and it was plain to see the exquisite workmanship and superior materials that rendered the vehicle an object of luxury, if not of art. The gleaming black lacquer paint, shiny brass fittings, and expanses of gold-threaded fabric and fine red leather inside combined to create within those who witnessed it passing the distinct wish that they might find themselves inside that elegant vehicle. The sorry spectacle of the wretched British prisoners straining at their harnesses, however, offered a curious and pitiful contrast to the cushioned luxury they labored to display.
The utility of this wondrous mode of transportation, however, will be limited to the road from the city gate known as Bab al-Wad to the summer palace at Bouzarea just outside the city in the Hinterlands, and the territory for which I have become responsible. Travel within the city would be impossible on all but the only route wide enough to accommodate a carriage, the Büyük Çarsi that runs the length of the city waterfront. It was along that route, from the Marine Gate to the Bab al-Wad, that the carriage was paraded that day, and with considerable fanfare and public celebration. The French humiliation of the British, at the same time, was unmistakable and indelible.