I am guessing that the effct was created, probably in england, at a time when music hall acts went down realy well, if they had a " empire theme". (1885-to the late 20s)
hence so many of the names tie into places ascociated with those days.." sands of the Ganges" , etc.Public taste was ever changing at that time as well. one day everything in the house had to be chinese, the next, indian, or egyptian.
also, i would presume that, the secret was one that got out prety quickly, and the best way to disguise the fact you are copying an effect, is by re-naming it.
i find it interesting that today, in toy shops all over the world, it is possible to buy plastic bottles of " magic sand", yet nobody has realised that its basicaly the same stuff as used in the trick.