The important port of Surat, on the western coast of India, was an important centre for foreign trade and the principal harbour for the Mughal Navy. Historically, the port and castle, together with the immediate hinterland, were governed by two Imperial officials. The Qiladar (Castellan) or fort commandant and the Mutsadi ("Clerk of the Crown") or Governor. The latter office being the senior of the two and usually held by a Mughal noble.

During the early decades of the eighteenth century, when the Mughal power was in its decline, the local governors like many of their contemporaries elsewhere in India, assumed near independent powers. Surat's "man of the hour" was a certain Tegh Bakht Khan. Together with his two younger brothers, he gained control of the historic port in 1733, making himself independent of the Mughal power in all but name. Tegh assumed the title of Viceroy and Nawab, later securing formal recognition from Delhi. Unfortunately, he had to contend with the powerful Sidi faction, the traditional African commanders of the Mughal Navy, making their own bid for power. 'Ali Nawaz Khan, an official who had once occupied the post of Mutsadi, led another faction continuing an intrigue with Mughal officials and commanders to secure his reinstatement. The latter eventually assumed control after the death of Safdar Khan, Tegh's younger brother in 1758.

Since none of the brothers left male issue, the leadership of the family devolved on Mir Moin ud-din Muhammad 'Alias Mian Achchan, son-in-law of Beglar Khan, the middle brother of both Safdar and Tegh. He threw in his lot with the Sidis, returning in late 1758 to oust 'Ali Nawaz and secure Surat for himself. The Sidis, proved to be exacting friends, not content merely to be supporters and followers of the Nawab. They had become increasingly lawless, preying on European traders and threatening the economic power of the East India Company, not only in Surat but also in other parts of western coasts of India. Battle eventually ensued, the British taking control of Surat and expelling the Sidis. The Mughal court were no less eager to be rid of their quarrelsome sailors and readily agreed to the appointment of the HEIC as Qiladars of the Castle and Commanders of the Imperial Navy in 1759. For the remainder of Achchan's reign, system of joint ruler obtained over Surat, with the British and the Nawab sharing power. At his death in 1763, no formal appointment of a Nawab forthcoming from Delhi, the British recognised his son as hereditary ruler and severed connections with the Imperial Court. Nawab Hafiz ud-din, and his successors, ruled as independent princes under British protection.

Nawab Mir Nasir ud-din, grandson of Hafiz, succeeded in 1799 but made an agreement to hand over full control over the administration of Surat to the company, in the following year. In return, he received a large portion of the land revenue, recognition of his hereditary styles and titles, and retained sovereignty over his palace grounds and private properties. Although his son Afzal succeeded to the titular honours in 1821, he failed to produce a male heir and left no living recognised successor when he died in 1842.

Immediately after the death of the Nawab, disputes arose with various members of the family, who claimed either the whole or part of his inheritance. Charges of irregular marriage, accusations of illegitimacy and substituted babies flew in every direction. The government of Bombay, not being keen on continuing the arrangements, was not unwilling to listen to these conflicting claims. The unpopular doctrine of lapse was then in vogue, and interesting or uncomfortable facts that emerged from the family conflict helped further justify the policy. The result being, the Government of India ruled that no successor was to be recognised and the arrangements made in 1800 would cease. The late Nawab's private property, including palaces, were distributed to various members of the family according to the tenets of Islamic law.

The late Nawab's younger son-in-law, Mir Ja'afar 'Ali, made a spirited bid to claim the title. However, the basis of his case remained weakened by the death of his wife, the Nawab's only surviving daughter, who left only two surviving daughters. The government eventually agreed to settle a generous pension on her widower their daughters in 1856, but only following lengthy proceedings by him in England. They also permitted Mir Ja'afar 'Ali to be informally addressed as Nawab of Surat as a courtesy, but without any legal right to that title.

Since the death of Mir Ja'afar 'Ali in 1863, the representation of the family has rested with the two branches established by his daughters born of the Surat princess. The elder branch descends from the elder daughter and her husband, Zia un-nisa Begum and the Nawab of Belha. The junior branch descends from her younger sister, Rahim un-nisa Begum, and her husband Ghulam Baba Khan. In common with other families whose principalities were annexed before 1947, these two branches continue to receive the pensions agreed with the British authorities. Unlike many other political pensioners, the Surat families have not produced vast numbers of descendants.

The ruling prince: (personal titles), Nawab Mir (personal name) Khan Bahadur, Nawab of Surat, with the style of His Highness.
The principal consort of the ruling prince: Nawab (personal name) Begum Sahiba, with the style of Her Highness.
The Heir Apparent: Nawabzada Mir (personal name) Khan Bahadur, Wali Ahd.
The daughter of the ruling prince: Nawabzadi (personal name) Begum Sahiba.

Male primogeniture, failing which succession to the eldest grandson in the female line.

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Nawab Mir Sadiq Aly Khan.
The Darbar Sahib of Kamadhia.
Kumar Shri Moin Mir.
Mir Ghazanfar Aly Khan.
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Copyright©Christopher Buyers, September 2004 - June 2014