Omani and British officials including Tharia Topan Zanzibar

Navy officers and Omani officials including Tharia Topan


Photo of senior Navy officers and Omani elite including the Indian Tharia Topan who collected taxes in Zanzibar on behalf of the Sultan. Photo taken before 1890. Photographer unknown. Photo belonged to a Consul of the US in Zanzibar.



Antique photo Zanzibar

Who is who on this photo?

Sir Tharia Topan is the big (Indian Ismaili ) gentleman located front-row right.  Tharia Topan:

  • Left Zanzibar 1885 (So the photo is definitely before 1886) never to return as he died on his trip abroad in 1891
  • Was the most important Ismaili Indian (Khoja) businessman in Zanzibar: for several years he was responsible for collecting customs fees.
  • Coordinated infrastructure projects for Sultan Bargash and was a minister for him.
  • Was main business partner of the Explorer and notorious slave and Ivory trader Tippu Tip!
  • Funded the preparations of the expeditions by Stanley who was guided by Tippu Tip etc.
  • Entertained David Livingstone after he was recovered from then jungle and taken to Zanzibar.

Person top-row right is Sir Bartle Frere and several high ranking British naval officers.

The key person in the middle of the front row could be:

  • David Livingstone (wishful thinking? )
  • Sir Claude Maxwell Macdonald who was consul general from 1887-1889 (but Topan had left by then, so not likely? )
  • Another British officer / diplomat? But strange for a diplomat /  officer to have a jacket and trousers that fit so poorly and to be so poorly shaved

The Omani official on the front-row with his sword is also unknown, almost certainly a member of the Sultans family (he could be Hamad bin Thuwaini who became sultan in 1893)

Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini

Hamad bin Thuwaini at later age , became Sultan in 1893

and was probably poisoned a few years later.



 Most of the officials on first photo are also on the next stone-laying photo. The uniforms worn by the British naval officers were phased out before 1890.

It was Bartle Frere who in 1875 persuaded Bibi Salme (Emily Ruete) not to contact her brother Sultan Bargash (about her inheritance) during the Sultans visit to London, with a promise of financial support for her children. However the British did not keep word.


  1. This photo comes from the estate of the American consul in Zanzibar Seth Pratt. He was consul 1889-1891 He went back to New York USA in 1891 with the ship Wheatland. He became vice consul in 1898?
  2. The Sultan's Spymaster Peera Dewjee of Zanzibar by Judy Aldrick page 242 . The predecessor of Sultan Ali was forced by the Germans (and supported by the British) to accept  in 1890 a payment of GBP 200.000 for the Coastal strip initially rented by the Germans (German east African Colony). In 1894 the British private company IBEACo  was close to bankruptcy and the British forced Sultan Hamed to Buy the company with the GBP 200.000 originally obtained from the Germans.  The sultan was under the impression that he would get back his coastal strip as compensation, but the British told him the unpleasant news that this was not the case. The Sultan reacted "So be it!  I am merely a little bird in the claws of an eagle"
  3. Seth A. Pratt , "Clove Culture in Zanzibar" US Department of State Reports of the consuls of the United States 32 Nr 112-115 (Jan-Apr. 1890) p 687-688