The University Archives and Special Collections can be full of serendipity. As we process our vast collections of archival materials we’re always discovering interesting pieces of history.
Just last summer, one of our student assistants – Terry LeBlanc – was processing the O’Brien Family fonds (MS-4-242), a collection of 19th century correspondence, vessel papers, and business records. The vessel papers were from ships the O’Brien family operated out of Nova Scotia – the “Eliza Oulton,” the “Janet,” the “Lucknow,” and others.
Amongst the vessel papers of the “Eliza Oulton,” Terry found a document in a script that looked like Arabic. We posted the document on the University Archives and Special Collections Facebook Page, but in case you didn’t see it, here it is:
Naturally, we were keen to find out what language the document was written in and what it said. Was it Arabic? Was it Ottoman Turkish? DUASC Archives Specialist Creighton Barrett had plans to visit Turkey and his friends at the Ottoman Studies Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that runs an Ottoman Turkish study abroad program. Creighton brought a photocopy of the document with him, hoping to get a translation. The instructors were thrilled at the discovery!
It turns out the document, which dates to the mid-19th century, is an order of passage issued by the Ottoman Empire to one of the O’Brien family’s ships. It is written in Ottoman Turkish. Greg Key, an instructor and PhD student at the University of Arizona offered a rough translation:
The issuance of my noble order has been requested with an official note by the aforementioned state’s embassy located in my Realm of Felicity [Istanbul].
…upon its arrival, after consideration (of?) my noble edict of permission for ship’s [passage] three hundred akches (aspers) having been paid in full as security duty in compliance with the imperial treaty.
…if [he] brings out…and purchases it, then the necessary duty required by the new trade pact only for the amount purchased…
With respect to attention being given to the matter of permission of passage acting in accordance with the imperial […], my noble edict of permission for [ship’s] passage has been granted. Written on the day…
We also discovered a number of other interesting facts about the document:
- There are many variations of Ottoman Turkish. This particular document is written in the Divani script (pronounced “dee-wa-nee”), an ornate script that is extremely difficult to read and write. Divani became popular for writing court documents because it was difficult to forge.
- A piece of the document is missing. It seems that a large portion of the document was torn off. Noble documents would typically have a tughra, or calligraphic monogram, of some kind. This document has no tughra. Also, you’ll see that parts of the transcription are fragmented – this is because the writing extends off the left side of the page or the text references a missing portion of the document. This is also why the date cannot be determined.
- The order of passage was presumably requested from the British embassy on behalf of the “Eliza Oulton.”
An interesting find! The document itself is of a fairly routine nature – countless examples exist in Turkish archives – but it is interesting to see it here in Halifax. A relic of our city’s maritime history!