Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862–63)


William Gifford Palgrave (1826–88) was a famous English traveler to Arabia who inspired a generation of European explorers and missionaries. He became fluent in Arabic while serving as a Jesuit missionary in Syria. In 1862 he undertook a year-long journey through the Arabian Peninsula with the stated aim of studying the “moral, political, and intellectual conditions of living Arabia.” He was also working as a secret agent for the French emperor, Napoleon III (1808–73). Palgrave disguised himself as a Syrian doctor and was accompanied by his assistant, Barakāt al-Shami. He brought medicines for the journey and used these to cure minor ailments in the towns he visited, which served to hide his real identity. His disguise did not always work. During his stay in Riyadh, the then capital of the emirate of Najd, he was suspected of espionage by Emir Faisal ibn Turki (1785–1865), and Faisal’s heir, ʻAbd-Allāh ibn Faisal. Palgrave gradually won the trust of Faisal. He refused to provide ʻAbd-Allāh with strychnine, which Palgrave suspected ʻAbd-Allāh wanted to use in a plot to murder his father. In an encounter with ʻAbd-Allāh, Palgrave admitted to being a Christian but managed to talk his way out of execution. Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey originally was published in 1865. Presented here is the sixth edition, published in 1871.

Last updated: September 3, 2014