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The Khalifa was a steamship of the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Company. It was brought to Baghdad on 26/02/1880 by Thomas Blockey, Lynch’s agent in Baghdad. The Svoboda family came onboard the Khalifa on its inaugural run down the Tigris River, where it was attacked by soldiers loyal to the Arab Cheiftan Seyhood.

Early History (Construction and Launch)

Construction of The Khalifa began in late 1879 at the behest of the E & T Steam Navigation Company. The materials used in the construction of the Khalifa were brought to Maghil, in Southern Iraq, on October 20th, 1879, by another E&T Company vessel, the S.S. Anandale. The construction process, which employed over 120 workers (including 35 blacksmiths), took place entirely in Maghil.

The launch of the Khalifa occurred on February 13th, 1880, despite fears that the launch would be unsuccessful. Captain Clements was chosen by Lynch to captain the Khalifa. The Khalifa had only 10 simple cabins and was described as “light.”

After its launch, the Khalifa was brought to Baghdad from Basra on February 26th, 1880. Thomas Blockey, an agent of Stephen Lynch and Co., extended an invitation to the local European community, including Joseph Mathia Svoboda, his family, and wife Eliza, to board the Khalifa for its inaugural trip down river. Eliza, having recently lost her son, declined, but Joseph accepted the offer.

Journey of the Khalifa

While travelling near Hmeyan on July 8th, 1880, the Khalifa came under attack by a group of between 50 and 70 armed Arabs of the Beni Laam tribe. The Arabs, under the leadership of Sheikh Seyhood, pelted the vessel with bullets and spears until the vessel was steered to safety. During the ensuing attack, Captain Clements and the ship’s steerman were both injured, the latter mortally so. After escaping the attack, the Khalifa travelled to Amara, where its crew reported the attack to the local Ottoman government. The Ottoman government, however, had such weak control over the Arabs living in the region that they were unable to respond to the attack.

Shortly after the attack, the Khalifa came into contact with the S. Meskeneh near Azizieh. At the time, the Meskeneh was carrying the current Governor of Baghdad, Abdulrahman Pasha. After being informed of Seyhood’s attack on the Khalifa, Governor Abdulrahman deployed an additional 400 soldiers near the areas of Hmeyan and Gorna (where the original attack on the Khalifa occurred) to provide additional security against Seyhood’s forces. Kalat Saleh: a mashoof sent from the ex-motserrif of Amara, also responded to the attack on the Khalifa, providing the crew of the ship with 15 armed men (Zaptiehs) to help ward against further attacks. The crew picked up additional Zaptiehs for protection at Azeir. Through conversation with Cowley, Blockey was informed that he should take these guards with the Khalifa on its journey to Baghdad.

In order to ward against future attacks, the S. Meskeneh, carrying the motserrif of Amara onboard, accompanied the Khalifa on its journeys south. Captain Clements, still recovering from the shoulder wound received during the first attack on the Khalifa, did not continue onboard the ship but rather stayed behind to allow for the recovery of his injury. Meanwhile, local authorities stepped up efforts to capture Seyhood, who regretted his soldiers’ attack on the Khalifa and feared execution if captured. Both the S. Phrate and the S. Mosul were deployed to help find and capture Seyhood, and the S. Meskeneh carried an armed contingent between Azeir and Zechyeh to further aid the effort.

Eventually, the S. Baghdad replaced the S. Meskeneh in accompanying the Khalifa southward. For a time, Seyhood, who had successfully gone into hiding, evaded capture by local authorities, and attacks on the Khalifa continued. Attempts to find Seyhood continually failed, although his close confidante, Haji Mootair, was eventually captured near Howeza. Mootair, who had participated in the attack on the Khalifa, was transferred to prison in Amara.