Bejah Dervish, son of Dervish Bejah, was born in Baluchistan, India (now Pakistan), in about 1862. He served in the Indian Army at Kandahar and Karachi under Lord Roberts, attaining the rank of sergeant. Around 1890 he arrived by sailing ship at Fremantle, Western Australia.
In 1896 English mining magnate, Alfred Calvert, sponsored an expedition to investigate the region of Central Western Australia left unexplored by the 1891 Elder Exploring Expedition. He appointed South Australian surveyor and explorer Lawrence Wells as leader of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition, and Wells, who had previously worked with Afghan camel-drivers, chose Bejah Dervish to take charge of the camels, assisted by Said Ameer. The expedition travelled by sea to Western Australia in May 1896 and the seven men and twenty Western Australian camels assembled in the township of Mullewa before leaving the final settlement, Lake Way, in mid-July. On 31st July, east-north-east of Lake Way, Wells formed a depot, from where he set out on a ‘flying trip’ with Dervish, George Jones and seven camels.
Wells recorded in his journal his increasing reliance on Dervish. On 22nd August he named Bejah Hill, writing that Dervish ‘has proved himself a splendid fellow and an excellent camelman’. The journal tells how Dervish found and did his best to destroy poison-bush, how he gathered hundredweights of feed for camels tethered in poison-bush country and how he would not eat if his camels had no feed. After the party had split and Wells had sent his cousin and Jones on a more westerly line, Wells and Dervish depended heavily on each other. They rode together, suffered together and rescued each other. On one occasion, travelling at night, desperately thirsty and with the camels dying, Wells slept in his saddle and entrusted the lead to Dervish, with instructions to steer by a star. Later, the bond between the two men was further strengthened when Dervish accompanied Wells on the search expeditions looking for the two missing men. Dervish’s devotion to his camels and to his leader is evident throughout the journal and is the subject of Douglas Stewart’s poem ‘Afghan’.
Bejah Dervish settled at Herrgott Springs (Marree) and in 1902 bought three sections of land there. He married Amelia Jane Shaw, a widow with eight children, on 15th December 1909 and they had a son, Abdul Jubbar (Jack). Before this marriage Dervish is believed to have fathered a son, Ben Murray, with an Aboriginal woman. Dervish and his wife lived in Marree’s Ghantown in a galvanized iron house, which still exists. With his camels loaded with wool and stores, he was a familiar figure in the far north until he retired in the 1930s to grow date palms at Marree. His final expedition was in 1933 when he and Wells led a small party from Beresford, on the Ghan railway line, westward to McDouall Peak. They almost perished from thirst. In 1939 Cecil Madigan planned an expedition across the Simpson Desert and so impressed was he with Dervish’s ability that he asked him to be his camel driver. Dervish, who was by then about 77, declined and sent his son, Jack Bejah, instead.
Over six foot tall, unstooped, with a splendid, neat, white beard, a striking face, and always impeccably dressed, usually in a turban, wide, loose pants with a shirt worn outside, topped with a jacket and occasionally a waistcoat, Dervish remained an impressive and dignified figure. He spoke Arabic, Hindustani and English. In the film Back of Beyond (1954), he made a brief appearance at prayer. A devout Muslim, he prayed in the mosque at Marree at least three times a day and attributed his lasting good health to his faith.
Bejah Dervish died suddenly at Port Augusta on 6th May 1957 and was buried in the local cemetery. Among the many obituaries was one in the Times, London, which described him as ‘one of the last, and certainly the most famous, of the Afghan cameleers’.
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I just want to tell you that please dont call Bejah 'Bejjarr' Dervish as 'Afghan'. He was a Baluch. Afghan and Baluch are two different nation,their culture, tradition and language are very different.
Secondly before 1948 Baluchistan was an independent state and not part of India please dont misguide people. Only a part of Baluchistan was taken on lease by British know as 'Bristish Baluchistan' and they use to pay 'Khan of Kalat' the ruler of Baluchistan for that. You can see the maps before 1948, which will only show you Afghanistan, Baluchistan and India.
Moreover he was not the only Baluch cameleer , one of the biggest camel trade and goods transport company "Faiz & Tagh Mahomet" was owned by Baluch people.
They even brought their own priest Hoostan Baluch know as 'Mad Mullah'.
Other famous cameleer were Moosha ' Musa' Baluch, Dadleh Baluch and Guzie Baluch.
So please dont mix Baluch with Afghan.
Dear Imran Mengal, Please go and look at those from 1800 - 1900s and see how things changed in the region. in 1800s the whole region was under the great Afghan empire. At that time they were all Afghan Nation then they were Pashtuns, Baluch, Persions and so on. Now it is totally different. Baluch ethnicity is broken down to different countries Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. But in 1800s they were all known as Afghans. However, Baluch ethnicity in Afghanistan is still called Afghan Baluch. Thanks,
Thanks for your comments Imran,
The reference to 'Afghan' camaleers is due to the historic practice of the British-Australian population referring to all Muslim cameleers as 'Afghan' even when, as you rightly point out, they were in fact from other cultural backgrounds. The article on Afghans does outline this practice and now people in Australia are much more aware of the diversity of cultures the cameleers in fact came from.
Bejah Dervish is my Grandfather, and his only son Jack is my Father. I am very interested in their history, and research as much information about my heritage as possible. Thank you for your information, as it is very valuable for my children and theirs. Although I have most of the information, it is great to add things which I do not know. Thank you, regards Marie williams
Dear Marie Williams,
I am also Baloch and landed in Australia in 2011 and I was thrilled by hearing this wonderful contribution by Baloch People in Australia. I want to make a video on this topic and I was looking for some references or the next generation of those cameleers in Australia in order to get more information about their ancestors.
you can email me at email@example.com
My great grandfather was LA Wells. I saw Bejah in the 'Back of Beyond'. My father knew Wells very well and had no end of praise for Wells and Bejah. Wells had extreme affection for his friend. They saved each others lives on more than one occasion. I guess you have many photos of your grandfather. I have some but they may well be ones already in the public arena.
I would love to know more. I only posted a pic of the two of them yesterday on a page I have. Can you send me an email?
I am sorry, that I haven't contacted you. I forgot that I had posted that comment. Maybe we could start a discussion about LAW and Bejah Dervish
Hello Richard, this email is almost twelve months behind the times but I am sitting at my computer and just put my grandfather's name in and your comment about my Pop is still there. It is exciting to know that Larry Well's great great grandchild is still around. ( I hope you are). It appears that Pop and Larry Wells did form an extreme affection for one another, and thank goodness they both survived such a journey. I am sure that today's generation would not be so resilient.
It would be nice to talk to you through email if that is possible. I actually own the house that Pop built back in 1902, and we are renovating at the moment. Hope we can now continue to correspond about our forefathers. Regards, Marie Williams
Hi Marie, I have discovered that I am somewhat related to this man. Is it possible we could contact each other. I am related to the woman he married when she had 10 kids
I am thrilled that I looked at this page again. Yes please contact me about LAW and Bejah. My sisters and I and my second cousin in England and his children are fascinated about the relationship those old timers had for one another. I still have some of LAW's letters to my dad (Dec) but would love to talk to you and maybe meet up some time. I saw Back Roads by Heather Ewert and I think you were in that program.
Maybe we could talk soon
Richard (great grandson of LA Wells)
Are you related to Butch? I met him in Marree in 2016.
I have funding to take a few young Muslim boys on a trip to Marree learning a little about the towns history, their ancestors sacrifice and achievements and to build a 'connection to country' that sometimes can be lacking due to many factors.
I'd love to chat with you if there is a way of exchanging contacts.
Hi Shane, we can pass your contact details onto Marie if you would like.
Can you pass my email on to Marie Williams please.
Will do Richard.
I was only posting information about your grandfather and Wells yesterday. I would love to have a chat if that's ok? Please feel free to email. Very exctiting.
Hi Richard, if you're interested in seeing what else is out there I'd start by searching the collection at the State Library of South Australia. They have some lovely photos like this one: https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+8441
Thank you, this information is very interesting for me as this information also relates to me and my family :)
There are info about darvesh bejah which are misleading. One, he was a baloch from my tribe and his original name was Bijjar (a balochi name)which is hard to pronounce with two rrs in last.. He was not afghan but a baloch from nechari tribe innbalochistan and his share of land still do exist alongwith our land
Hi Iftikhar, the article above uses the spelling from the historical documents they are referencing (see the learn more section, top right) for Bejah Dervish's name. The reference to Afghan cameleers is not to claim that Bejah Dervish is Afghan, but a reference to the term commonly used by Australians and the British at the time to refer to people from the areas we now recognise as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For more on that history visit http://www.cameleers.net/?page_id=779
Glad it was useful Whitely
Hi Marie how are you?
I am searching for my ancestors family in australia from 7 years.
I am the granddaughter of Muhammad Wazir Khan. The brothers of Muhammad Wazir Khan went to Australia in 18's and they took camels with them and they also help the Australian in making railway tracks. I am searching for the families of Wazir Khan brothers.
Wazir Khan son was Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, and his son was Muhammad Ismail Khan and his son was Muhammad Waheed Khan and I am the daughter of Muhammad Waheed Khan.
I am grand grand grand daughter of Muhammad Wazir Khan.
Please please help me.
If you're researching the Wazir Khan brothers you might like to try this site as a starting point: http://www.cameleers.net/ You could also look through the immigration records at the National Archives of Australia to see if they have anything on the brothers: http://www.naa.gov.au/
Best of luck with your enquiries, we'd love to know what you learn!
Thanks Catherine for the site. I m also trying to search the details from my father's sister. She is very old that's why she didn't remember much, but I am trying. If I know anything I will find them InshAllah.
Best of luck Farheen, I'm sure they're out there somewhere.
Dear Marie. I would like to be in contact with you as I have some information about your grandfather, Beejah, which you may not have. Do you have an email address I could contact you on.
I was very interested to see the ABC Compass programme last Sunday night [12th], as I recall meeting Beejah when I was a child. With very best wishes to you. Sincerely Barbara Lamb
My grandfather was Nada Sha Kader (Len) son of Shiek ABDUL kADER of Marree...a camaleer and date grower.
I was raised by his son.
I am very interested in any information you have.
There was also a Rajah Kader in Ade;aise buried at West Terrace Cemetry , Poppa had one brother Rustuum who drowned in the middle East...do you know anything about him?
I believe the National Archives have records relating to theKaders Suzanne, you should be able to find out more there: http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ListingReports/...
If you and Marie are both happy to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org we can put you in touch without you needing to make your e-mails public on the website.
Dear Marie. I am endeavouring to respond to your information about Bejah Dervish. I haven't been sucessful, so this is a" test run". Could you let me know if this reaches you please. Barbara Lamb