The Jeddah sailed from Singapore on 17 July 1880, bound for Penang and Jeddah, with 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board. Muslims from the Malay Archipelago, they were travelling to Mecca and Medina for the pilgrimage. Some came from the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia); some from the different Malay states, then beginning to experience more direct British intervention; some from Singapore.
The ship was under the British flag. Seyyid Muhammad al-Sagoff, the managing director and part-owner of the Singapore Steamship Company, to which it belonged, came from a wealthy Arab family, originally from Hadhramaut in south-east Yemen but already well established in the economy of Singapore and the Hejaz, the region in western Arabia within which lie the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Seyyid Omar al-Sagoff, Muhammad's son, was on board. In addition to its Singapore office, the business had an important branch in Jeddah, the main port of the Hejaz, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It also ran an agency in Aden, since its conquest in 1839 a key link in British maritime influence in the Indian Ocean, and after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 an even more important port on the Europe-Asia routes. This is the high point of 19th-century imperialism.
LRB 19 October 2006 | PDF Download