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Brits story in Azerbaijan

Brits in Azerbaijan

The British Muscovy Company's experience of Azerbaijan was not a brilliant one. William Tumbull, Matthew Talboys et al had hoped to repeat the moderate success of five previous expeditions down the Volga and across the Caspian to trade at Shabran or Shamakha. But despite heroic derring-do, the traders' 1579 trip was a catalogue of disasters. Prevented from landing at Gil Gil (the port for Shabran), they had to continue south. Narrowly avoiding pirates, they moored off Bildigh (Bilgah) 'on ye Apsherone only one day's walk from Baku'. But on arriving they were told that Shamakha, the great trade entrepot, had been destroyed by the Turks, and that Shabran market was empty.

At the time Baku was little more than a secure port for Shamakha, so with the latter destabilized, nobody in Baku was at all anxious to buy British woollens. So the Brits decided to march north to flog their wares in Derbend, itself under a Turkish Pasha. But, in the meantime, the Turks occupying central Shirvan had been defeated by the 'Persian widow of blind King Khodabendeh' so to reach Derbend, still under Turkish control, meant sneaking along forest tracks across the zone retaken by the Persians. This was so dangerous that one of the crew had to offer himself as a hostage to guarantee the safe return of the local guide. The coastal road was considered far too dangerous. But their wool proved unsellable in Derbend too - hardly surprising given all the shepherds in the region - so increasingly desperate they attempted, nearly fatally, to reach Shamakha.

By the time they got back to Bildigh their moored boat was leaking dangerously. The ship they purchased to replace it was dashed to pieces just as they prepared to leave, resulting in the loss of a chest of gold and the soaking of their modest purchases in Caspian brine. Finally the Pasha expelled them, but the season was late and they got caught in the ice on the way back to Astrakhan. Miraculously the party finally made it back to England in 1581 but, not surprisingly, few British businessmen were destined to return until the oil boom 300 years later.