London Library Magazine Issue 31 Spring 2016

Page 24


Jono Jackson on his remarkable discovery of the forgotten library of the English Club in Zanzibar, which can still be visited, even though the Club, founded in 1888, has long ceased to exist

to one subject are so often gloriously peppered throughout the stacks, and therefore show how research into one place is a journey of its own. Zanzibar sits six degrees south of the Equator and some twenty-five miles from the East African coast. To give a sense of its size to an English readership, Major F.B. Pearce wrote in Zanzibar: The Island Metropolis of Eastern Africa (1920, T. Zanzibar) that the island is ‘about the size of Hertfordshire’ and that its length from north to south is equivalent to the distance as the crow flies between London and Eastbourne. Similarly, Robert Nunez Lyne in ‘Section of Map of East Africa Showing Zanzibar Island’ (detail), from Zanzibar in Contemporary Robert Nunez Lyne’s Zanzibar in Contemporary Times (1905). Times (1905, H. Zanzibar) imagined Zanzibar as being ‘very much It is nearly ten years since I first sat on like the Isle of Man in shape, though the terrace of the Africa House Hotel nearly three times the size’ . in Stone Town, Zanzibar, and waited Zanzibar is in fact an archipelago, expectantly for the sun to meet the ocean. consisting of two main islands – Unguja I was talking to the manager, who asked and Pemba – as well as numerous islets. whether I knew that the building once It is this first island that is historically and housed the English Club, and that its popularly referred to as Zanzibar, with original library still existed if I would Stone Town as its metropolis. Seasonal like to see it. I forgot the sunset in an monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean instant. We left the terrace and descended brought trade to its verdant shores for the grand staircase to the ground floor, centuries, and from this long-standing where the library can be found behind an trade between Asia and the East African unassuming locked door. littoral emerged Swahili society. This was Some years later I was drawn back literate, culturally rich, ethnically diverse, to the English Club library and went on adherent to Islam and complex in its to research its collection and history for composition. my M.Sc. thesis. The London Library ‘s Today Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous collections on African history, and constitutional part of Tanzania and has particularly those on East Africa and a fascinating history. In 1698, after a Zanzibar, proved to be invaluable. I have period of ineffectual Portuguese rule, included London Library shelfmarks control fell to the Sultanate of Oman, the below, to illustrate how books that relate 24 THE LONDON LIBRARY MAGAZINE

capital of which was moved from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1832. Commercial treaties were made afterwards with the USA, Great Britain and France. Consulates followed and it became the base from which David Livingstone, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke began their pioneering journeys to the African interior. In H.M. Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone (1872, T. Africa, Central), he writes that Zanzibar is ‘one of the fruitfelest islands of the Indian Ocean’ , to which foreign vessels arrive loaded with ‘American sheeting, brandy, gunpowder, muskets, beads, English cottons, brasswire, china-ware’ and depart with ‘ivory, gum-copal, cloves, hides, cowries, sesamum, pepper, and cocoa-nut oil’ .  However, as it was also the chief entrepôt for the Indian Ocean slave trade in the eighteenth century, this ‘principal emporium of the eastern seaboard of Africa’ was not so benign. The movement for the abolition of the trade further developed British interest in Zanzibar and its suppression brought a greater naval presence. A treaty was signed in 1873 that ostensibly brought an end to the trade, yet it continued illicitly and the treaty required zealous enforcement by the Royal Navy. Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890. The rights and territories of the Sultan were guaranteed and placed under the immediate protection of Great Britain, which led some observers to perceive the British as colonial masters in collaboration with the Arab aristocracy. Two years earlier, the English Club was founded in Stone Town as a facility ‘for the association of an unlimited number of English Residents, together with officers of the Royal Navy stationed in these waters’ , and later for ‘any British subject or American citizen of European extraction’ . With its bar, billiardtables, card-playing rooms, bedrooms and library, it was a bastion of Albion abroad. The Club was not racially so

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