Black Waters: The Strange History of Port Blair


Tavarikh-i ‘ajib (Black waters: The strange history of Port Blair) is an account of the British penal colony of Port Blair, located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. The British first established a naval base and penal colony on the islands in 1789, which they had abandoned by 1796 because of disease. Following the Uprising of 1857 (also known as the Sepoy Rebellion), the British authorities in India saw a new need for a secure prison in a remote location, and construction began in Port Blair later that year. In subsequent decades, many political prisoners were housed in the Cellular Jail, also called Kala Pani (Black Waters). Muhammad Jafar (1838–1905) was deported to the Andaman colony for his part in the 1857 uprising. In this book, he describes the life and customs of the islanders, the rules and regulations for the management of the convicts in the period 1858–79, and the people in authority at the penal colony. He also highlights major events, such as the 1872 assassination at Port Blair of Governor-General Lord Mayo. The book includes a table of Hindi and Urdu words and phrases and Arabic equivalents. Other tables detail the many languages spoken in the colony. The work is illustrated with drawings of the inhabitants and of local flora and fauna. It was first published in 1890; this copy is the second, revised and expanded, edition of 1892.

Last updated: January 16, 2015