Establishing the Colony
British Empire and Aden
Aden Piracy
As India increased in importance, the British sought to secure access to and from its most important colony. To start with, they considered the waterless inhospitalible island of Perim at the mouth of the Red Sea. This was originally occupied in 1798 when Napoleon landed an army in Egypt. However, it was clearly inadequate and soon the British had to look to the near-by mainland for a base. Their choice fell naturally on the superb anchorage at Aden, one of the finest harbours between London and Bombay, and perfect to serve as a coaling station for the East India Company's first Nineteenth Century steamships.

Aden had once been known as the prosperous "eye of the Yemen," a natural port of call on the Red Sea route to the East and the outlet for the fertile Yemen mountains, 100 miles to the north. But after the Turks had conquered the interior in the Sixteenth Century and Europe's merchants had discovered the Cape route to India, Aden had declined into nothing more than a pirate village preying on Indian Ocean traffic.

However, in the 1830s, Muhammad Ali in Egypt began challenging the Ottoman Sultan's power in the region and in 1833 went so far as to send an expedition to Mocha in the Yemen. The British, or rather British India, decided to allow Aden to at least remain open as a port to British ships as Muhammad Ali's rise in power in the region appeared to continue ominously. There was also the added consideration that the increasing use of steamships required regularly spaced coaling stations to allow them to refuel and continue their journeys. Therefore, in 1835 an agreement was made with the local Sultan to use Aden as a coaling station as it was midpoint between the Suez transit point and the Bombay Presidency in India. By 1837 the Bombay Governor Robert Grant felt that this informal arrangement required formalising: "I think that it will be absolutely necessary to have a possession of our own on or near the Red Sea.". The opportunity arouse when nearby locals were accused of maltreating the survivors of a shipwreck. The Sultan agreed to sell his share of the port to the Bombay government as restitution. However, the Sultan's son and other local chiefs objected when a Naval delegation arrived to finalise transferance. Therefore an expedition was despatched by the East India Company. In 1839 Captain Stafford Haines of the Indian Navy landed from Bombay with 700 men and a couple of Royal Naval sloops in support. At a cost of only 15 casualties he annexed Aden to the Bombay Presidency. It was the first imperial acquisition of Queen Victoria's reign and one destined to carry some flavour of the Victorian Age far into the 20th Century. It was soon to prove the strategic worth of its location when the main telegraph wires linking Britain to India came ashore in Aden in 1859. This was some 5 years before the main telegraph line linking Britain to India was functioning fully.

British Empire and Aden
Aden Dhows
Haines, who was appointed political agent in the territory, had a vision of restoring Aden to its former commercial glory. And after the Red Sea route to Europe was reopened in 1869, with the inauguration of the Suez Canal, Aden's trade did indeed increase. Indian merchants moved in to exploit the new commerce. Indian clerks manned the offices of the new shipping agents, and behind the headland known as 'Steamer Point', where the P. & O. vessels took on coal, a whole new Anglo-Indian town arose, full of the characteristic wooden bungalows and box-wallahs of the Raj.

But to the Indian officials Aden was primarily a military outpost. They therefore rejected the possibilities of commercial co-operation with the Yemen and chose instead to strengthen the defensive barriers between Aden and the interior by extending exclusive treaties of British protection to all the principal rulers of the South Arabian coast.

Not all the sheikhs received the British overtures, and many lesser tribal rulers were ignored (a fact that was to cause troubie for the British in later years, when favours offered to the treaty sheikhs stirred the others to rebellion). But, one way or another, by the end of the century some 30 ill-defined tribal states between the Red Sea and the Sultan of Muscat's territory in Dhofar had been recognized by Britain, thus creating that curious strip of pink on the old schoolroom maps of Empire known as the Aden Protectorate.

Administration of the Colony
In Aden Britain's chief official was also a Resident appointed by the Viceroy. The Resident's staff was recruited from the Indian Army, or even the Indian Civil Service. Indian soldiers provided ceremonial guards at the commissioner's compound. Indian Army engineers built their characteristic administrative compounds, Indian merchants ran the trade, Indian rupees were the standard currency and Indian words and customs laid a veneer of Indian culture on both the Arab and Persian worlds.

The Aden Troop was created in 1855 to police the territory which was technically only 80 square miles but had a vast hinterland of 9000 miles of desert and mountain known as the Aden Protectorate. Its chiefs were nominally under the control of a political resident who was also the military commander.

The Aden troop was recruited from members of Scinde Horse and Poona Horse with an Arab Levy to act as guides. It later substituted its horses for camels and it was generally involved in patrolling against bandits. The troop was later used in Somaliland and existed until its disbandment in 1927.

Aden also took on the administration of various islands that the admiralty wished to keep an eye on to help suppress piracy or to warn ships lest they run aground on their treacherous shorelines. Kamaran Island and Perim Island in the Red Sea were two such islands, and the Kuria Muria chain which was received as a gift from the Sultan of Muscat in 1854 were also transferred to Aden for administration in 1886. That same year also saw the nearby island of Socotra enter into a Protectorate agreement to be adminstered from Aden also.

By the mid 1930s the modern map of Arabia was taking shape and a fitful sort of peace was falling upon some of its ancient tribal squabbles. In the Hadhramaut, a young political officer, Harold Ingrams, was able, only a year or two later, to settle 1,000 years of quarrels almost singlehandedly. In three years of lonely travel and tribal negotiation between 1936 and 1939, Ingrams obtained the signatures of over 1,300 local chieftains to a general truce that became known as "Ingrams' Peace."

At the same time, he signed a new series of treaties with the five major rulers of the area, promising them further British help and protection if they, in return, would accept the advice of the Governor of Aden in matters concerning the welfare and development of their territories. His achievement was significant in two respects. First, because the new treaties were the first to give Britain any right to interfere in the purely internal affairs of Arabia and, secondly, because they marked a transfer from the Indian administration's influence to the authority of Whitehall.

British Empire and Aden
Mukalla
Increasingly preoccupied by the independence struggle at home, Indian officials no longer had the energy or the interest to spare for the Arabian outposts of their empire in 1937. The Colonial Office in London assumed responsibility for the Aden Protectorate and made Aden itself a fully-fledged Crown Colony, with the intention of pursuing a "forward policy" of colonial development and defence to safeguard Britain's interests. In 1940, it divided the Aden Protectorate into a Western Aden Protectorate (WAP) and an Eastern Aden Protectorate (EAP) for administrative purposes. However, the Second World War changed the strategic dynamics and plans for the colony.

British Empire and Aden
Tarim
The German advance in North Africa and the Japanese advance in South-East Asia revealed Britain's strategic weaknesses across the Empire as a whole. The loss of Singapore and the requirement to pull back to defend Britain showed that it could no longer defend the entire empire. Furthermore, the post war Labour government stuck a dagger through the strategic rationale for Aden by giving India its independence in 1947. If that wasn't fatal enough, the Suez debacle a decade later seemed to make Aden even more redundant and yet almost by default it would go on to became Britain's largest overseas military base as oil became the new strategic commodity of choice.

British Empire and Aden
Beihan Yemenis
The naval units in the Gulf were strengthened, troops were trained in the Oman Desert, and the belated "forward policy" of the 1930s became an urgent drive for military security, economic development and political reform. But the British were running further than ever behind the clock and, paradoxically, the more they tried to catch up, the more they caused events to accelerate out of their control.

In its new role Aden Colony grew wealthy and the Indian shopkeepers and Arab landlords of Steamer Point gladly joined the treaty sheikhs of the Protectorate in planning a Federation of South Arabia that would unite the town and the tribes to secure the British base and British patronage - indefinitely. But the same wealth encouraged a new influx of Arab workers, who made a natural seedbed for revolutionary anti-British nationalist sentiment.

Outsiders jumped quickly on to the nationalist bandwagon, rolling euphorically onwards now in the post-Suez atmosphere of Arab triumph and British defeat. In the Yemen, the Imam Ahmed, the son of Yahya who had challenged British rule in Aden 40 years before, increased his raids on the Protectorate frontier and appealed to the United Nations for. support. From Cairo the Egyptian radio's Voice of the Arabs maintained a steady stream of anti-imperialist invective, while both the Soviet Union and China took their first, cautious steps into the treacherous quicksands of the Arabian peninsula 's politics.

By 1957, as a result of Yemeni agreements signed in Moscow and Peking, Russian rifles were in use against the British on the Protectorate border and Russian and Chinese technicians had arrived to build new ports and roads for the Yemeni kingdom. As a result, the ancient tribal skirmishes of the Protectorate soon engaged more British troops and acquired ominous international overtones.

Independence
British Empire and Aden
Aden Port Modernisation
Ostensibly established to defend the Gulf oil-fields, the post-Suez base in Aden had to devote most of its energies to protecting itself from unrest in the colony and tribal dissidence in the Protectorate, conditions inspired partly by the very existence of the base. By 1962 it seemed that only desperate measures could succeed; and in September of that year they were duly taken when the colonial government bulldozed through the Aden legislature a Bill to unite Colony and Protectorate in the mutually protective Federation of South Arabia.

But once again the British were too late. The next day a group of military rebels in the Yemen overthrew the Imam's regime, proclaimed the birth of the Yemen Arab Republic, and begged for Egyptian help. Within weeks, tens of thousands of Egyptian troops had arrived and both the Yemen and South Arabia were plunged into a multi-sided civil war. In the Yemen, the Egyptians and Republicans, 'with Russian and Chinese support, were locked in battle with tribal supporters of the old Imamate - who in turn were sustained by money and arms from the Saudis, proclaiming a holy war against Communism and Nasserism on the sacred soil of Arabia.

In the south, the British and the Protectorate sheikhs sought alliance with the Saudis and the Yemeni royalists, while the Republicans and their allies helped the Aden nationalists and the dissident tribes to close the British base and destroy the Federation.

In the end, practically every party to the conflict was a loser. The Saudi regime was shaken and the Yemeni royal family was eclipsed. The Egyptians suffered five years of humiliation and exhaustion in vain attempts to subdue the hardy mountain tribes; and after Egypt's catastrophic defeat in the Six Day War with Israel in 1967, Nasser was compelled to withdraw all his forces from the Yemen and abandon his republican proteges to the perils of compromise with their enemies. The South Arabian Federation; too, was destroyed and the British were forced to evacuate Aden.

By the end of 1967 it was all over. The British forces had suffered some 60 killed and 700 wounded in the hardest anti-terrorist campaigning since Malaya and the indignity of their final departure ranked with the retreat from Palestine. There were no friendly ceremonies of independence here, only bitterness and the taste of failure. The last British High Commissioner had to be lifted out by helicopter under armed guard to a naval carrier standing well offshore, He left behind the first avowedly Marxist state to take the place of Empire, the (People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen) and a city racked by fear and poverty that had come to resemble a ghost town. "Gone Away - No Milk, No Papers," was the message left by a soldier on the wall of Aden's empty prison. It summed up Britain's abrupt departure after more than a century of continuous occupation and control.

flag
Imperial Flag
map of Aden
Imperial maps of Aden
Historical Aden
Images of Aden
National Archive Aden Images
Video
Red Sea Journey, 1967
Silent film documenting the south-western coastline of Aden from the port of Mukalla to the region bordering Saudi Arabia.

Southern Arabia 1930s
Hadhramaut Province by RAF pilot Aubrey Robert Maxwell Rickards

Historical Aden
Artwork about Aden
Administration of Aden
Administrators 1839 - 1967
Passport
Videos
Articles
My Service in Aden
by Martin Lewis

Aden: The Curtain Falls: The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie: Part 4, 1965 to 1967
Dick Eberlie gives a full account of his time as the Personal Secretary to Sir Richard Turnbull in Aden during the turbulent years of the creation of the The Federation of South Arabia. This was something of an attempt in vain to establish a viable political unit for a fractious and unstable region. A change in government at home combined with too many enemies in the region to undermine the Federal structure and contributed to one of Britain's less successful extrications from Empire.

Britain's Arabian Oil Empire
David Holden gives an account of how Britain's involvement in the Middle East mutated from a Nineteenth Century concern about security of maritime trade routes and the defence of India into a Twentieth Century preoccupation of guarding the flow of oil and attempts to contain rising nationalist aspirations in the region.

The Aden Emergency
Jim Herlihy has written an extensive account of the final few years of Aden as a British Colony

Memories of WAP
The Western Aden Protectorate was a vast arid part of the Empire which was politically and culturally distinct from the more famous port of Aden. Winkle Allen gives an account of what it was like to be one of the very few women in this overwhelmingly male dominated society.

The Royal Visit - Aden 1954
Bill Wickham gives an account of the visit of HM Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Aden in April 1954

Trial in Perim (1955)
Bill Wickham explains how unusual it was for the British to become involved in judicial issues on the Island of Perim at the end of the Red Sea.

How the Colonial Service helped build Israel
Michael Crouch explains the role that colonial officers in the Western Aden Protectorate played in assisting the ancient Yemeni Jewish population to reach the newly formed state of Israel.

The Inebriates of the South Arabian Political Service
Michael Crouch recounts the antics of some of those political officers who over-imbibed despite living in an Islamic part of the world which looked down on the drinking of alcohol.

Political Officer at work, Eastern Aden Protectorate
Michael Crouch explains what it was like working as an isolated 'Assistant Adviser Northern Deserts' in the vast and querulous Eastern Aden Protectorate.

A Journey in the Hadhramaut
Mary Reid gives an account of a remarkable journey she was privileged to take in 1963 along the Hadhramaut Wadi from the interior of the Eastern Aden Protectorate to the coastline. The journey was all the more remarkable for being undertaken by a woman in a deeply conservative and traditional part of the Empire.

A Game Warden's Permit for a Corpse: The life and times of a Customs Officer
Patrick B. Sweeney gives two extracts from his memoirs as a Customs Officer in the Middle East and East Africa. One extract explains his role in trying to levy duty on the addictive 'qat' in Aden. The other extract explains how he tried to control the flow of duty free goods to non-soldiers in the thirsty NAAFIs of Aden.

Famine in Arabia
Mary Fletcher experienced famine in Arabia firsthand in the 1940s. She goes on to explain Britain's response and in particular what happened to a group of girls that found themselves being looked after by the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion.

Journals and Periodicals
Port of Aden Annual: 1949
Port of Aden Annual: 1950
Port of Aden Annual: 1952
Port of Aden Annual: 1953
Port of Aden Annual: 1954
Port of Aden Annual: 1955
Port of Aden Annual: 1956
Port of Aden Annual: 1957
Suggested Reading
An Imperial Twilight
by Sir Gawain Bell

The Parting Years: A British Family and the End of Empire
by Sheila Bevan

The Wind of Morning
by Sir Hugh Boustead

An Element of Luck: To South Arabia and Beyond
by Michael Crouch

Aden: The Curtain Falls: The Memoirs of Dick Eberlie: Part 4, 1965 to 1967
by Eberlie, Dick

Landscape with Arabs
by Donald Foster

Aden under British rule, 1839-1967
by By R. J. Gavin

Sheba Revealed - A Posting To Bayhan In The Yemen
by Nigel Groom

Without Glory in Arabia: The British Retreat from Aden
by Peter Hinchcliffe

Roads To Nowhere: A South Arabian Odyssey, 1960-1965
by John Harding

Without Glory In Arabia: The British Retreat from Aden
by Peter Hinchcliffe

A Time in Arabia
by Doreen Ingrams

Arabia and the Isles
by William Ingrams

The View from Steamer Point: Being an Account of Three Years in Aden
by Charles Johnston

Britain and the Yemen Civil War
by Clive Jones

The View from Steamer Point
by Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston

The Sultans Came to Tea
by June Knox-Mawer

Tales from a Palm Court
by Ronald Knox-Mawer

Armed Forces of Aden
by Cliff Lord

From Aden to the Gulf: Personal Diaries, 1956-66
by Margaret Luce

No Telephone to Heaven: From Apex to Nadir - Colonial Service in Nigeria, Aden, the Cameroons and the Gold Coast 1938-61
by Malcolm Milne

Tour of Duty
by George Symes

Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in South Arabia 1962-67: The Savage War in South Arabia 1962-87
by Jonathan Walker

Sultans Of Aden
by Gordon Waterfield

Check ebay for Colonial Aden items




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