Thesiger's Journeys in Arabia - First Empty Quarter Crossing 1946-7

2004_130_6827_1-O2004_130_6827_1-OJourney dates: October 25, 1946 - February 23, 1947

In October 1946 Wilfred Thesiger returned to the port city of Salalah, Oman, determined to be the first Western explorer to cross the eastern sands of the Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali) by camel. As a researcher with the British Middle East Anti Locust Unit (MEALU) in Arabia, Thesiger had received permission from the Wali of Salalah to travel as far as Mughshin Oasis, situated on the desert's southern edge. Unbeknownst to the Wali, Thesiger secretly arranged to meet with a second party of Rashid Bedouin at Shisr well, on the way to Mughshin Oasis, whom he felt would be willing to accompany him across the Empty Quarter.

On October 25, 1946, Thesiger's original party of Rashid and Bayt Kathir Bedouin left Salalah, crossing the Jabal Qara mountains and following the interior wadis to the wells of Ma' Shadid and Shisr. At Shisr, Thesiger met with Muhammad al Auf, Salim bin Kabina, and the rest of the Rashid party, and together they continued on to Mughshin Oasis. Just after the party arrived in Mughshin Oasis, trouble struck the expedition when Mahsin bin Khuzai, senior leader of the Rashid Bedouin party, fell from his camel and broke his leg. As Mahsin was unable to continue, a small party was forced to split off from the group and remain behind.

Thesiger and the rest of the party continued on into the Ghanim Sands, but the mood had changed within the group. By the time the party reached Ramlat al Ghafah on December 2, a serious conflict had erupted between Thesiger and Sultan bin Ahmad, leader of the Bayt Kathir Bedouin party. Sultan refused to travel any further into the Empty Quarter and demanded the party turn back. Despite this pressure, four members of the party stood by Thesiger to continue the journey: Muhammad al Auf and Salim bin Kabina of the Rashid Bedouin, and Mabkhaut bin Arbain and Musallim bin Tafl of the Bayt Kathir Bedouin.

From Ramlat al Ghafah Thesiger's party continued over the high dunes of the 'Uruq ash Shaybah, crossing the Suhul al Kidan and Al Batin sands to arrive just south of Liwa Oasis in mid December. Continuing across the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the party rode through Ramlat ar Rabbad before crossing into Oman at Wadi al 'Ayn. From here the party continued through the wide rocky wadis of Oman's Ad Dhahirah and Ad Dakhiliyah regions, crossing Wadi Hawshi and heading towards the coast. At Boi, Thesiger and his small band was reunited with Salim bin Tamtaim and the other members of the party who had remained at Mughshin. The combined party travelled across the Jiddat al Harasis to Yisub, and then through the Jabal Qara mountains to arrive back at Salalah on February 23, 1947.

Named Individuals: Hamad bin Saadna [Hamad bin Hanna], Mabkhaut bin Arbain, Masa'ud, Muhammad, Muhammad al Auf, Musallim bin Anauf, Musallim bin Tafl, Rai, Rai al Raqiqa, Salim bin Kabina, Musallim bin Tafl, Salim bin Tamtaim, Salim bin Turkia, Sultan bin Ahmad, Wilfred Patrick Thesiger

Represented Cultural Groups: Qara Region Tribes, 'Ifaar Bedouin, Bayt Kathir Bedouin, Harasis Bedouin, Rashid Bedouin, Bayt Musan Bedouin, Mahra Bedouin, Wahiba Bedouin.

Locations: Ma' Shadid, Shisr, Wadi Mughshin, Mughshin Oasis, Ghanim Sands, Ramlat al Ghafah, 'Uruq ash Shaybah, Suhul al Kidan, Al Batin, Ramlat ar Rabbad, Bir al Tawil, Wadi al 'Ayn, Wadi al 'Umayri, Wadi Hawshi, Jiddat al Harasis, Boi, Yisub, Jabal Qara, Wadi Darbat


Wilfred Thesiger, 1948. 'Across the Empty Quarter', The Geographical Journal, Vol. 111, No. 1/3.

Wilfred Thesiger, 1960. Arabian Sands, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd: London.