DOWNLOAD THE APP

History

In the 1920s, the western world was obsessed with the romance and intrigue of Arabia. The exploits of T E Lawrence (of Arabia), put on a pedestal by US journalist Lowell Thomas, made the Empty Quarter a point of focus for adventurers and explorers. The race was on to become the first westerner to successfully cross this vast area of sand, and there were two people in that race; in Saudi Arabia, Philby, advisor to Ibn Saud, was busily making plans for his own attempt, but his hopes were dashed when in February 1931he received a telegram, from Bahrain, sent by Bertram Thomas. After a journey of sixty days, Thomas, guided by Omani Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut, had successfully reached the towers of Doha, and the Empty Quarter had been crossed.

Following his death, many of Thomas’s possessions, especially those relating to his expedition, were stored on permanent loan at the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge. The images that follow are displayed with the permission of the Thomas family.

15th December 1953

Sheikh Salih Bin Kalut Dies

Sheikh Salih Bin Kalut passes away in Dubai on December 15, 1953, some twenty two years after his great achievement. Pictures of him can still be found hanging on the walls of Bahrain Airport, Salalah Museum and the Sheraton Hotel in Doha.

1950

Thomas Dies

Bertram Thomas dies in the same house in which he was born, and is buried with his mother and father in St George’s church, Pill, in south west England.

1945

Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut al Rashidi al Kathiri

The only Omani to complete the entire journey from Salalah to Doha in 1930/31, an image taken in the 1945 with Wilfred Thesiger. Having read about Bin Kalut in Thomas’s book Arabia Felix, Thesiger was keen to meet him to help with the logistics of his own journeys.

He said Bin Kalut was ‘….. immensely powerful. His body was heavy with old age, so that he moved with difficulty, and rose to his feet only with a laboured effort, and after many grunted invocations of the almighty. He seldom spoke, but I noticed when he did, no one argued’.

Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut al Rashidi al Kathiri
12th February 1932

The Explorers Club of New York

Invitation to members of the prestigious club to listen to Bertram Thomas lecture.

The Explorers Club of New York
31st May 1931

Newspaper article from the Glasgow Herald

Making reference to the ‘Towers of Doha’ – what a welcome and emotional sight they must have been for Bin Kalut and Thomas … after nearly sixty days on the move, the Rub Al Khali had been crossed.

Newspaper article from the Glasgow Herald
15th May 1931

An article from The Times

At this point in the journey, Thomas and his companions were close to current day Shisr, the fabled city of Ubar, known as the 'Atlantis of the Sands'

An article from The Times
May 1931

Excerpt from The Times

A report in The Times newspaper on Thomas’s lecture to a packed Royal Geographical Society in London

Excerpt from The Times
9th March 1931

Telegram of congratulations sent by Abdulmunim Al Zawawi in Karachi

Advisor to Sultan Said bin Taimur

Telegram of congratulations sent by Abdulmunim Al Zawawi in Karachi
March 7th 1931

Telegram of Congratulations from Abdullah Philby in Mecca

A painful and understandably brief message; the race to become the first to cross had been won, and Philby’s hopes had been dashed by Thomas and Bin Kalut

Telegram of Congratulations from Abdullah Philby in Mecca
28th February 1931

Telegram of congratulations from King George in London

Where news of the successful completion of the crossing made front page news in The Times.

Telegram of congratulations from King George in London
22nd February 1931

Telegram of congratulations from His Majesty Sultan Taimour, Ruler of Oman

The telegram is sent from Dehadrum in central India, and is evidence that whilst Thomas left Muscat in secrecy to undertake his journey, he had left written word of his desires with His Majesty.

Telegram of congratulations from His Majesty Sultan Taimour, Ruler of Oman
5th February 1931

Journey’s End

The Empty Quarter had been crossed

February 1931

Doha Fort

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani in the centre of the photograph. Mohammed Bin Abdul Latif Al Mana (to the right) and his brother (to the left).

Doha Fort
January 1931

Journal Entry

Page from the original journey diary; each evening, Thomas used aneroid barometers and other instruments to take readings. These records show him using the stars, Polaris, Markab, Procyon, Sirius, Betelgeuse and the planets Jupiter and Mars, to help fix his position.

10th December 1930

Journey Begins

The first team, led by Sheikh Saleh Bin Kalut, set’s off from the Royal Palace in Salalah.

December 1930

Thomas with companions from the Murra and Rashid Tribes

Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut was the only person other than Thomas to complete the crossing – others would only travel within their own tribal areas; a successful crossing depended on Sheikh Saleh’s skills of negotiation and diplomacy

Thomas with companions from the Murra and Rashid Tribes
December 1930

The Jebali

An image taken by Thomas of Jebali people in the hills above Salalah, burning frankincense to exorcise the Djinn, or evil spirits from their animals.

The Jebali
1929

HRH Taimour Al Said, ruler of Oman

Thomas and The Sultan worked closely together, with Thomas accompanying His Majesty on an official visit to London, where he acted as an interpreter.

HRH Taimour Al Said, ruler of Oman
1892

Thomas Born

Bertram Thomas was born in Pill, a small village near Bristol in south west England