Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah : biography
Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah ( c. 1760–1826) was an Arab ruler in the Persian Gulf and was described by his contemporary, the English traveller and author, James Silk Buckingham, as ‘the most successful and the most generally tolerated pirate, perhaps, that ever infest any sea.’James Silk Buckingham, Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia, Oxford University Press, 1829, p366
As a pirate his reputation was for being ruthless and fearless, and he wore an eye-patch after he lost an eye in battle. He is described by the former British adviser and historian, Charles Belgrave, as ‘one of the most vivid characters the Persian Gulf has produced, a daring freebooter without fear or mercy’Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, G. Bell & Sons, 1966 p. 122 (perhaps paradoxically his first name means ‘mercy’ in Arabic). He was born in Qurain (modern day Kuwait) and began life as a horse dealer; he used the money he saved to buy his first ship and with ten companions began a career of buccaneering. So successful was he that he soon acquired a new craft: a 300-ton boat, manned by 350 men.Charles Belgrave, p122 He would later have as many as 2000 followers, many of them black slaves. At one point his flagship was the ‘Al-Manowar’ (derived from English).Charles Belgrave, p126
His alliances with regional powers tended to be on the basis of shared opposition to the Al-Khalifa: he formed an alliance with the first Saudi dynasty when it conquered Bahrain, and he founded the fort of Dammam in 1809. But after the Saudis’ expulsion, in 1816 he allied himself with the rulers of Muscat in their failed invasion of Bahrain,Charles Belgrave, p128 and turned away from the Saudis, angering them. The Saudis then destroyed the fort of Dammam, causing him to move to Khor Hasan in Qatar.
He died in his ship, Al-Ghatroushah, in a sea battle against the Al-Khalifa ships, lit the gunpowder kegs with his eight-year-old son by his side, killing everyone that was on board, including his men and the Al-Khalifa men that were raiding his ship, preferring to die by his own hand than to die by the hands of Al-Khalifa.
His legacy lasted long after his death; in the 1960s Charles Belgrave wrote of how old men in the coffee shops throughout the region would still talk of his exploits.