Link of Karachi with Australia

By Dr. Sohail Ansari 


Karachi long had trading links with Afghans. Before the British conquest, they had established ‘Karavan Serai’ for Afghan traders, outside the confines of the city, where Sindh Madressah stands today. The complex had central grounds and buildings around. It provided the traders with accommodation to live in and posts to run the business, all in the same complex as well as the facilities in the grounds to fend for their camels to provide the animals with food and water and space to rest. In those days, camels used to be a popular mode of transport and also to carry the loads.

Around the time of their conquest of Karachi and Sindh, the British were exploring Australia as well. However, those terrains in Australia were difficult to reach. They needed means of transport to get to the heart of its arid interior consisting vast areas of deserts, Australian outback as it was known in those days.

Burke and Wills from Australia on one of their business trips to Karachi got this entrepreneur idea of importing camels for the very purpose to traverse those difficult terrains on their expeditions. They established links with local agents and Afghan Pashtuns in Karachi to materialise the idea. The first batch of twenty four camels was shipped from Karachi to Melbourne. Eight cameleers from Karachi and Peshawar accompanied the entourage to handle those animals. They arrived at Hobson‟s Bay aboard the Chinsurah on 13th June 1860. They were the ones to make to the heart of Australia, where others failed so often. Others followed this

Over the years (perhaps up to 1930) Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Punjabi cameleers arrived in Australia; it is estimated that between 2000 and 6000 men along with about 20 000 camels were shipped from the port of Karachi.

These cameleers collectively became known as Ghans (from Afghans) in Australia in their mistaken belief that they were all Afghans and indeed a number of them were. They were among the first of the organised Muslim immigrants to Australia and brought with them their culture, traditions and religion. They played a major role in establishing Islam in Australia and built its first mosque which was made of mud brick in Marree in 1861. Though there already were some Muslims before them. This was the beginning of diverse multicultural society in Australia.

So, this links to my earlier post on the first mosque of Australia. I shall continue with some stories of cameleers from Lyari who ventured to Australia.

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Talking of cameleers, here is a story of one of those from Lyari

Dost Mohammed, was an entrepreneur from Lyari, a Baloch. He went on a trade expedition to Australia as a cameleer. There he fell in love with a girl, Annie Grigo. Her family disapproved of the relationship and she eloped with him to get married in Lyari. They returned to Australia, leaving their first born baby boy, Mustafa, behind in Lyari. Dost, who had intended to return home, procrastinated plans and stayed in Australia where he gathered wealth and property. He settled in Port Hedland. Following a patch up with his in-laws, he supported them financially. His brothers in law had a reputation of being violent.

Once during the course of an altercation with his wife, her elder brother interfered which led to a physical assault. As Dost got hold of him, his another brother in law, knocked him with a heavy piece of wood hitting his head that caused a fatal injury and Dost succumbed to the blow. The two brothers were charged with wilful murder but the courts found the accused not guilty and released them.

Dost’s brother decided to go to Australia to establish the facts and look into his heritage, as he suspected Annie to be an accomplice to his brother’s murder. He managed to lure her into an agreement and convinced her to visit Karachi to settle the property issues. She left for Karachi with her five other children.

Annie stayed with her in laws in Lyari but a well wisher warned her of their evil plans to get rid of her. One of Dost’s Makrani friends offered her an accommodation in Malir and she moved into that house. Fearful, she met the District Magistrate with her concerns and sought security. The house in Malir happened to be near the police station and that all seemed re-assuring. Her in-laws desired Lily, her 12 year old daughter, to be married to Dost’s nephew and she refused the proposal.

Ultimately, Annie decided to return to Australia and the plans were all set for Monday the 8th August, 1910. As the family (accept for Mustafa) were sleeping in the large bedroom and she was in bed with her youngest two children, a number of assailants entered through the bathroom window around midnight. They stabbed her multiple times in the back and in the heart. She was murdered on 6th August.

She was given a Christian burial in Karachi and the five children were taken into custody as witnesses. They were handed over to the matron of Civil Hospital to be looked after. Her daughter, Ada, who saw the assailants in pitch dark could not recognise them and the accused four could not be found guilty. The five children were repatriated back to Australia whereas the sixth, eldest son – Mustafa, who was already in Lyari stayed behind with his father’s family.

In those days this was a very famous case as it caused a lot of wrangling between the two governments as well.

These are the photographs of Annie (Mrs Dost Mohd) and their children (excluding Mustafa). The quality is poor since these are taken from an old newspaper.


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About Amin H. Karim MD

Graduate of Dow Medical College Class of 1977.
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