Guide to the Alexander Russell Webb Journals, 1892

Collection Overview

The collection contains Webb's Journal No. 1, From Manila to Calcutta (142 pp.), Aug. 29-Oct. 19, 1892, and his Journal No. 2, From Calcutta to Bombay and Agra (144 pp.), Oct. 20-Dec. 15, 1892. This is the first journal that Webb ever wrote (Vol. 1, p. 1). His journal continued beyond Vol. 2; the last sentence was continued elsewhere, and no pages appear to be missing from this volume. A later volume or volumes contained the account of the rest of his journey which is incomplete here.

Webb's descriptive style is good, and he did extensive touring wherever he went. Thus, his volumes are good travel journals. The most important feature of his account is his contact with Muslim scholars, re-ligious leaders, businessmen, rulers, ordi-nary people, etc. Beginning in Rangoon, he and his mission to spread Islam in America were enthusiastically received not only by individuals but literally by throngs of well-wishers. He was received by many influential Muslims, and his comments about some of them are quite interesting. Webb did not like the English or local people who catered to them, and this attitude, often expressed, colored his reactions to persons whom he met. Some of the significant Muslims whom he discussed have been identified by using S. M. Ikram's Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan (Lahore, 1977). Spellings of names are given as Webb wrote them unless they are found written otherwise in Ikram's book or other reference sources.

Webb's journals record the following travels in 1892: Vol. 1: Manila, Aug. 29-Sept. 6 (pp. 1-10); ocean travel, Sept. 6-13 (9-23); Singapore, Sept. 14-21 (24-64); ocean travel, Sept. 21-28 (64-80) with a visit at Penang, Sept. 23-25 (66-74); Rangoon, Burma, Sept. 28-Oct. 9 (80-113); ocean travel, Oct. 9-12 (113-122); Calcutta Oct. 12-19 (122-142); Vol. 2: Calcutta, Oct. 20-23 (pp. 1-11); Patna, Oct. 23-24 (11-15); Benares, Oct. 25-26 (15-19); Bombay, Oct. 28-Nov. 17 (21-54); Poona, Nov. 17-19 (56-62); Hyderabad, Nov. 20-Dec. 8 (65-120); Madras, Dec. 10-12 (127-140); and Agra, Dec. 15 (143-144). Travel inside India was by train, of which Webb gave some interesting descriptions.

The item is a printed program for a horse race given by the Sultan of Johore at Singapore on Sept. 15, 1892.

A Xerox copy of Journals 1 and 2, on acid-free paper, is filed with the collection. Further photocopying should be done from these copies, not from the original volumes.

Description from the Manuscript Card Catalog located in the Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Collection Details

Collection Number
Alexander Russell Webb Journals
Webb, Alexander Russell, 1846-1916
0.2 Linear Feet, 3 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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A Xerox copy of Journals 1 and 2, on acid-free paper, is filed with the collection. Further photocopying should be done from these copies, not from the original volumes.

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[Identification of item], Alexander Russell Webb Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Alexander Russell Webb Journals, 1892

The following description does not include references to every person, place, or topic mentioned in Webb's journals, but sufficient detail is provided to indicate the richness of their contents and to serve as a guide to them.

The journal begins on Aug. 29, 1892, at Manila when Webb was concluding his affairs at the consulate. His wife and children had left earlier for the U. S. He remarked that he had never before kept a journal. The section for Manila is on pages 1-10.

On Sept. 6 Webb sailed for Singapore on a Spanish steamer, a trip that lasted until Sept. 13 (pp. 9-23). He commented about the crew and about the bad conditions on the ship.

Webb's visit in Singapore lasted from Sept. 14 to 21 (pp. 24-64). He considered Singapore one of the most beautiful of cities, and he provided a fine description of many aspects of it. He commented about: the Raffles Hotel (25-26, 54-55); a Chinese open-air theater (26-28); the Singapore Cricket Club (29); the Chinese section of the city on various occasions; English snobbishness (31-33); carriages and carriage drivers often; a horse race given by the Sultan of Johore (33-34); Sir Charles Warren (34, 57), army commander at Singapore; Hindu temples (36-40, 42-43); an Islamic mosque (38-39); a Buddhist temple (39-40); the tomb of Iskander Khan, an Islamic shrine (40-42); the home of a wealthy Chinese (43-45); the Raffles Library and Museum (46-47); the Leogan (?) Library of oriental material (47-48); a Chinese club dinner, a social custom among wealthy Chinese (48-51); the girls imported to be sold as wives, mistresses, and prostitutes and their role at the dinner (49-51); a Chinese street festival to propitiate the devil (51-53); the Botanical Garden (55-56); psychical researcher Ridley and two experiments in thought transference (57-58); prostitutes on Malay St. (59); a Chinese ceremony over the dead (59-61); and botanist Henry Nicholas Ridley (57-58).

Webb resumed his journey on Sept. 21 with a voyage from Singapore through the Malacca Strait and Bay of Bengal (pp. 64-80). This ship was better. He described a number of European and Asian passengers. The ship paused during Sept. 23-25 at Penang, and Webb, who was charmed with this city, described it and its environs.

On Sept. 28 the ship entered the Irrawaddy River and soon docked at Rangoon, Burma, where he visited until Oct. 9 (80-113). He was greeted at the wharf by a throng of Muslims, and he was driven to the principal mosque where he addressed a large gathering and where he was congratulated for becoming a convert to Islam. He toured the city extensively. He met with many Muslims at the mosque, an assembly hall, offices, and private homes. He delivered several addresses. At the principal mosque he was given his Islamic name of Alexander Russell Abdulla Webb (88), but he was known later as Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb. Muslims whose names appear frequently in the text are Abdul Careem Sookar, Abu Beher, and Abdulla Arab. There are a few references to Ismail Mohammed (107-108), Mohammed Dawood (84, 87-89), and Moolah Ismail (82).

Notable references include: Buddhists and Buddhist temples (101-104); funeral customs (85, 105-107); a museum and zoo (110-111); an oil-mill or petroleum refinery (112); opinions of the English (109, 112); etc. The Imam endorsed Webb's mission to convert Americans to Islam, and subscriptions were raised (102).

Webb traveled by boat to Calcutta, and his visit there is described in Vol. I, pp. 122-142 and Vol. II, pp. 1-11, covering the period of Oct. 12-23. As usual he was well received by the Muslims, and he met with many of them. Of particular interest are his comments about Nawab Abdul Latif (1828-1893), a magistrate, first Muslim member of the Bengal Legislative Council, and founder of the Mohammedan Literary Society at Calcutta. Webb toured extensively in the city and commented upon places of interest associated with the British, Muslims, and Hindus. Religious observances of both Muslims and Hindus occurred during this time. Some of the Muslims whom Webb met were: Hajee Noor Mohammed Jackeriah (123-124); Hajee Abdulla (often); Abdul Jubbar (131); Nawab Jan Mohammed (136, 140); the editor of the Mohammedan Observer (138-140, 142); Hajee Abdul Wahed (139); Dewan Synd Ameer Hossein (131, 139); Mohammed Yussuf Khan Bahadur (139; II, 6); Moulin Abdul Jubbar (139; II, 9); Nawab Meer Mohammed All (II, 9); etc. Prominent Hindus included Dr. Sambha C. Mookerjee (II, 2).

Webb left Calcutta by train on Oct. 23 and next visited the Muslims and sights at Patna (II, 11-15). Of special interest is his visit to Moulin Khuda Bakhsh Khan Bahadur and the Bakhsh Oriental Library of books and manuscripts in his mansion. This notable collection is now the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library (11-12).

Webb's next stop was at Benares on Oct. 25-26 (15-19). While en route from Benares to Bombay, Webb was joined by Budmddin Abdulla Kur whom he was to see often in Bombay. Kur was the publisher of Webb's lecture at Bombay.

Webb was at Bombay during Oct. 28-Nov. 17 (21-54) where he received his most cordial reception up to that time. His traveling companions and helpers, Hajee Abdulla and Hassan Ali, were with him through most of his journey in India. Some notable aspects of the Bombay visit were: meeting with Shaikh Abdul Rahim, a Muslim mystic and clairvoyant (28); opinions of Nawab Zada Nasrullah Khan of Sachim and his cousin the Nawab of Jungera (32-33); critical remarks about the English scattered through both volumes; a Muslim wedding procession (34-35); a Parsee wedding (37-39); the Elephanta Caves (40-43); Hajee Yussuf Soliman (48-49); the shrine of Ali (49); and Badr-ud-Din Tyabji, a justice who once presided over the Mohammedan Educational Conference (51-52).

The next city that Webb visited was Poona on Nov. 17-19 (56-62) where he met Hajee Haroun Hajee Jaffer, a wealthy bookseller and businessman (57, 59, 61) and Khan Bahadur Kazi Shahabudin (60-61).

Webb traveled by train inside India, and his descriptions of these experiences, especially from Bombay to Hyderabad, Hyderabad to Madras, and Madras to Agra, were rather colorful.

Webb had a particularly interesting visit in Hyderabad, the capital of the native state of Hyderabad that was ruled by the Nizam with British assistance. He was in the city during Nov. 20-Dec. 8 (65-120). Notable references include: the Superintendent of Public Instruction (66); marriage procession for a daughter of the Nizam (68-69); Shah Abdur Rahim, a sort of high priest to the Nizam (70-75, 79); Mohammed Sharful Hak of Delhi, a Muslim missionary (71, 74); the Nawab Mehdi Ali, that is, Syed Mehdi Ali, a high official in the government of Hyderabad who retired in 1893 and soon became an official of the important Aligahr College (75, 79, 87, 89-90, 93, 104-105, 107-108, 116-118); a juggler (77-78); the Prime Minister (78, 87-89); Webb's speech before 2000 people (80) that was soon published; visits to a dervish (91-92) and to a Muslim saint who conducted a seance before his followers in a mosque (99-101); the old city of Golconda (102-104); Hassan Ali's public lecture and troops to keep order in case the Muslims revolted (104-106); and the lack of success of the movement here (110-111).

Webb's next stop was at Madras during Dec. 10-12 (127-140). Notable references include: Mirza Ismail Khan Bahadur (129-131); Col. Henry Steel Olcott, founder of the Theosophical Society (128-129, 132-133); the performance of a fakir (135-137); presiding over the opening of the new asylum for Moslem converts (137-138); Mohammed Ahmad (138-139); and various references to Anjumani-Islam, a society that hosted him.

The second volume of the journal ends during the visit at Agra on Dec. 15 (143-144).


Historical Note

Alexander Russell Webb (1846-1916) has the distinction of being the first known American convert to Islam and of being the first person to conduct a major effort to spread Islam within the United States. Born in Hudson, New York, he had a short journalistic career as editor of the St. Joseph Gazette and Missouri Republican. In 1887 he was appointed American consul at Manila. There he befriended several Indian Muslim businessmen and studied works about Islam. In 1888 he declared in a pamphlet his conversion to Islam. He resigned from the consular service in 1892 and returned to the U. S. by way of Singapore, Penang, Rangoon, a number of cities in India, and possibly other places. Back in America, Webb established an office in New York City as the Oriental Publishing Co. In May, 1893, he published the first issue of the Moslem World, Devoted to the Interests of the American Islamic Propaganda, the earliest Islamic missionary periodical in America. In connection with his “American Mission,” as Webb called it, he wrote a number of books and pamphlets among which were several of his lectures in India that were published there during 1892-1893. Biographical information about Webb appears in: Nadim al Maqdissi, The Muslims of America, 80,000 Muslims and 12 Mosques in the United States and Canada, Islamic Review, Vol. 43, No. 6 (June, 1955), pp. 28-29; Nelson R. Burr, Critical Bibliography of Religion in America (Princeton, 1961), pp. 536-538; and V. S. Naipaul, An Islamic Journey, Among the Believers, The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 248, No. 2 (Aug., 1981), p. 63. Copies of the pertinent pages from these sources are filed in the Information Folder in this collection.

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The Alexander Russell Webb Journals were purchased by Duke University in 1980.

Processing Information

Processed by: Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Staff

Completed October 8, 1981

Encoded by Stephen Douglas Miller