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  • John M. Willis


On 19 January 1839, the South Arabian port town of Aden was bombarded by ships of the Indian Navy and occupied by soldiers of the East India Company. It was the first British colonial acquisition of the Victorian period.


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John M. Willis is Assistant Professor in the Department of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, Colo.; e-mail:


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Author's note: Funding for research in Yemen and the United Kingdom was provided by grants from the Fulbright Institute of International Education program, the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, and the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. I thank Marjorie McIntosh, Sanjay Gautam, and four anonymous IJMES reviewers for their comments on this article.

1 IOR R/20/A/434, Haines to the Superintendent of the Indian Navy, 20 January 1838. The conversation took place on 13 January 1838.

2 Surat was annexed by the British in 1842 under the doctrine of lapse, by which independent “states” without recognized heirs were inherited by the East India Company. On the longstanding commercial ties between the port of al-Mukha and Surat, see Gupta, Ashin Das, Indian Merchants and the Decline of Surat, c. 1700–1750 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1979), 2093, passim.

3 Tignor, Robert L., “The ‘Indianization’ of the Egyptian Administration under British Rule,” American Historical Review 68 (1963): 636–61, and Owen, Roger, “The Influence of Lord Cromer's Indian Experience on British Policy in Egypt, 1883–1907,” in Middle Eastern Affairs, ed. Hourani, Albert (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 109–39.

4 Dodge, Toby, Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 109–29.

5 Onley, James, The Arabian Frontier of the British Raj: Merchants, Rulers, and the British in the Nineteenth-Century Gulf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), esp. Chap. 1.

6 Interpretation Act, Section 18(5), quoted in Laws of the Aden Protectorate (Aden, Yemen: Government of the Colony of Aden, 1939), 26.

7 See Onley, Arabian Frontier of the British Raj, 20–29, 216–17, 225–27.

8 The concept of India as both a political and cultural project that extended beyond geographical South Asia was suggested in the context of the formation of the Aden Protectorate in Willis, John M., “Leaving Only Question-Marks: Geographies of Rule in Modern Yemen,” in Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, ed. Al-Rasheed, Madawai and Vitalis, Robert (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 124–27. Metcalf, Thomas, to my knowledge, was the first to suggest this line of approach in his “Empire Recentered: India in the Indian Ocean Arena,” in Colonialism and the Modern World, ed. Blue, Gregory, Bunton, Martin, and Croizier, Ralph (London: M. E. Sharpe, 2002), 2539.

9 Metcalf, Thomas R., Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860–1920 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2007), 1.

10 Blyth, Robert J., The Empire of the Raj: India, Eastern Africa and the Middle East, 1858–1947 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

11 Ballantyne, Tony, “Rereading the Archive and Opening up the Nation–State: Colonial Knowledge in South Asia (and Beyond),” in After the Imperial Turn: Thinking with and through the Nation, ed. Burton, Antoinette (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003), 113.

12 In making such an argument, I am obviously indebted to scholars such as Bernard S. Cohn, Ronald Inden, and Nicholas B. Dirks (among others), who early on noted the importance of the production of knowledge as a field of discursive and practical power through which colonial rule was effected and effectively reproduced in India (and beyond). See Bernard S. Cohn's essay collections An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990) and Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British In India (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996). Also see Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990) and Dirks, Nicholas B., Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Unversity Press, 2001). I contrast the work of these scholars with those of the Cambridge school, particularly that of C. A. Bayly, who analyzes knowledge not as a field constituted by power relations but as a form of value-neutral “information” on which neither colonial nor various local agents had a monopoly. See his Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). For an incisive critique of Bayly's account, see Dirks, Castes of Mind, 307–11.

13 Metcalf, Barbara D. and Metcalf, Thomas R., A Concise History of India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 133.

14 For useful overviews of the Indian princely states and the development of the British residency system, see Ramusack, Barbara, The Indian Princes and their States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) and Groenhout, Fiona, “The History of the Indian Princely States: Bringing the Puppets Back onto Centre Stage,” History Compass 4 (2006): 629–44.

15 On the early development of the port and settlement of Aden, see Gavin, R. J., Aden under British Rule, 1839–1967 (London: Hurst, 1975), 4861, 102–8; Kour, Z. H., The History of Aden, 1839–1872 (London: Frank Cass, 1981), 1362, 77–104; and the entirety of Hunter's, F. M.An Account of the British Settlement of Aden in Arabia (1877; repr., London: Frank Cass, 1968).

16 For background on the Indian Political Service in Aden, see Copland, Ian, The British Raj and the Indian Native Princes: Paramountcy in Western India, 1857–1930 (Bombay: Orient Longman, 1982), 7475. On the backgrounds of the Aden residents, see Bidwell, Robin, “The Political Residents of Aden: Biographical NotesArabian Studies 5 (1979): 149–59.

17 See Bidwell, “The Political Residents of Aden,” 149–50. On Outram's policies toward the Bhils and his time at the Baroda residency, see Trotter, Lionel J., The Bayard of India: A Life of General Sir Charles Outram (London: J. M. Den & Co., 1909), 1626, 106–8.

18 Dirks, Castes of Mind, 43–60.

19 In this case, the Aden experience was quite different from that of India insofar as the residencies there adopted Mughal bureaucratic practices and Persian as an administrative language. In most residences, therefore, it was typical to employ a munshī as a specialist in administrative practices, the Persian language, and court etiquette rather than a native informant using local vernaculars. See Fisher, Michael H., Indirect Rule in India: Residents and the Residency System, 1764–1858 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991), 324–30.

20 Gavin, Aden under British Rule, 127.

21 Ibid., 127–29, and Copland, The British Raj and the Indian Princes, 62–63. In Copland's view, the independent power of translators through their monopoly on information was typical of the entire residency system, a point supported by Michael H. Fisher's work. See Fisher, Indirect Rule in India, 328–21.

22 Nonetheless, the Arabic Department, as it had come to be known, was the primary point of entry and distribution for all correspondence from the tribes. The correspondence collected in the department can be found in IOR R/20/A/4520–4847.

23 See Schneider to Gonne, 10 February 1873, Ingrams, Doreen and Ingrams, Leila, eds., Records of Yemen, 1798–1960, 16 vols. (London: Archive Editions, 1993), 4:4546. Gavin is the only historian to point out that the nine tribes represented a political not an economic unit. Even then, the politics represented were not British colonial but the lines drawn by the resistance to Qasimi rule in the late 18th century. Gavin, Aden under British Rule, 140–42.

24 The results of which were organized and reproduced in Hunter and Sealey's handbook. See Hunter, F. M. and Sealy, C. W. H., The Arab Tribes in the Vicinity of Aden, rev. ed. (1909; repr., London: Darf Publishers, 1986), 235–21.

25 Hunter, F. M. and Sealy, C. W. H., An Account of the Arab Tribes in the Vicinity of Aden (Bombay: Government Central Press, 1886) and Arab Tribes in the Vicinity of Aden (1909).

26 These memoranda are in IOR R/20/A/4873 (Subayhi), R/20/A/4874 (Subayhi), R/20/A/4868 (Upper Yafiʿi), R/20/A/4869 (on Wadi Bayhan and the ʿAwaliq), R/20/A/4871 (ʿAbdali), R/20/A/4875 (Fadli), R/20/A/4876 (Subayhi), R/20/A/4877 (ʿAlawi), R/20/A/4878 (Hawshabi), R/20/A/4879 (Lower Yafiʿi), R/20/A/5002 and 5003 (Amiri/Daliʿ).

27 General Staff, India, Military Report on the Aden Protectorate (Simla, India: Government Press, 1915) in Military Handbooks of Arabia, 1913–1917, 10 vols. (London: Archive Editions, 1988), 1:13, and G. A. Joy, “A Summary of the Raising and Training of the Yemen Light Infantry,” Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society 11, pt. 2 (1924), 148. For J. Wyman Bury, the “hill tribes” by virtue of their military abilities and status as small landholders were little different from the romanticized vision of the English yeoman farmer. See Bury, G. Wyman, The Land of Uz (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1911), 300.

28 The first treaties were signed with the ʿAqrabi (1888), the Fadli (1888), the Lower ʿAwlaqi (1888), the Barhimi and ʿAtifi sections of the Sabayha (1889), the Lower Yafiʿi (1895), the Hawshabi (1895), and the ʿAlawi (1895). During the Anglo-Ottoman Boundary Commission, treaties were signed with the Upper ʿAwlaqi shaykh (1903), the Upper ʿAwlaqi sultan (1903), the Upper Yafiʿi sultan and several sections and notables ostensibly under the authority of the Lower Yafiʿi sultan (1903), the amir of Daliʿ (1904), and the sharifs of Bayhan (1904).

29 IOR R/20/A/54, fol. 14.

30 IOR R/20/A/54, fol. 15.

31 Arab writers, even those from the ʿAbdali family, have been more circumspect regarding the chronology of the revolt. See Ahmad Fadl bin ʿAli al-ʿAbdali, Hadiyat al-Zaman fi Akhbar Muluk Lahj wa ʿAdan, rev. ed. (1931; repr., Beirut: Dar al-ʿAwda, 1980), 109, and Hasan Salih al-Shihab, Al-ʿAbadil: Salatin Lahj wa ʿAdan (Sanaa, Yemen: Markaz al-Sharʿabi li-l-Tibaʿa wa-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawziʿ, 1999), 11. Both texts are based on the Zaydi chronicle of Husayn bin Husayn al-Rusi, Al-Barahin al-Mudiʾa fi al-Sira al-Mansuriyya, Eastern Library, Sanaa, Yemen, Tarikh: 2198 (unpublished manuscript).

32 On the contraction of the Qasimi state, seeHaykel, Bernard, Revival and Reform in Islam: The Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 6263. On the Yafiʿi role in the southern opposition to the Qasimi state, see Al-Rusi, Al-Barahin al-Mudiʾa, passim.

33 See General Staff, Military Report on the Aden Protectorate, 9–10.

34 “Proclamation by the Queen in Council, to the Princes, Chiefs and People of India,” in Calcutta Gazette, Extraordinary, 1 November 1858, in Britain in India, 1765–1905, ed. John Marriot and Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay, 6 vols. (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2006), 5: 298–300.

35 Metcalf, Thomas R., Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 193–94. See also Cohn, “Cloth, Clothes, and Colonialism,” in Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge, 119, and “Representing Authority in Victorian India,” in An Anthropologist Among the Historians, 649–50.

36 For a standard definition of “durbar” in the British imperial context, see the entry inYule, Henry and Burnell, A. C., Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo–Indian Dictionary (1886; repr., Ware, U.K.: Wordsworth Editions, 1996), 331.

37 Metcalf and Metcalf, A Concise History of India, 133.

38 Chatterjee, Partha, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 1617.

39 For an elaboration of the privileges associated with each class, see the unsigned memo from 24 April 1907 in IOR R/20/A/1859. The tribes and their classifications, as listed in the same file, were as follows. Class I: Quʿayti, Qishn and Suqutra, ʿAbdali, Fadli. Class II: Amiri, Lower Yafiʿi, Hawshabi, Upper Yafiʿi sultan, Upper ʿAwlaqi sultan, Upper ʿAwlaqi shaykh, and Lower ʿAwlaqi sultan. Class III: ʿAqrabi shaykh, ʿAlawi shaykh, sharif of Bayhan, Upper Yafiʿi stipendiaries (Mawsatta, Dubi), Wahidi sultans (Balhaf, Bir ʿAli), Hawra shaykh, and ʿIrqa shaykh. Class IV: Upper Yafiʿi stipendiaries (Muflahi, Hadrami) and Subayhi stipendiaries (Mansuri, Makhdumi, Rijaʿi, Barhimi, ʿAtifi).

40 For the protocol governing visits by native chiefs to the Aden Residency, see “Draft Memo, Aden Residency, 1906,” IOR R/20/A/1859. For the importance of personal visits to the residency, see “Notes on System of Presents and Entertainment,” 6 May 1906, IOR R/20/A/1419.

41 On the frequency of visits, see the letter from political resident O'Moore Creagh to the governor of Bombay, 15 February 1900, in Ingrams and Ingrams, Records of Yemen, 5:27.

42 Cohn, “Representing Authority,” 636–40. On the symbolic function of the darbar as an act of incorporation, see F. M. Buckler, “The Oriental Despot,” in Legitimacy and Symbols: The South Asian Writings of F. W. Buckler, ed. M. N. Pearson, Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 26 (1985), 176–87.

43 See, for example, “Notes on System of Presents and Entertainments” as well as the related files in IOR R/20/A/1419. For some basic figures on funds granted to specific tribes for the year 1905–1906, see IOR R/20/A/1420.

44 Jacob, Harold, Perfumes of Araby: Silhouettes of Al Yemen (London: Martin Secker, 1915), 234.

45 Quoted in Lord Curzon in India, Being a Selection From His Speeches as Viceroy and Governor General (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1906), 290.

46 IOR R/20/A/955, Maitland to Wahab, 29 October 1902.

47 IOR R/20/A/956, Foreign Office, Simla, 4 November 1902.

48 The protectorate chiefs were ranked higher than others with salutes of nine guns primarily because they were believed to exercise greater independence from British rule. See notes by the Bombay Political Department from 1916 in IOR R/20/A/1391. The chiefs from the Bombay Presidency who attended the durbar in order of precedence were the following (followed by salute): maharaja of Kolhapur (17), rao of Cutch (17), mir of Khairpur (15), maharaja of Idar (15–personal), sultan of Shihr and Mukalla (12–personal), nawab of Junagarh (11), thakur sahib of Bhavnagar (11), rana of Porbandar (11), nawab of Cambay (11), thakur sahib of Morvi (11), thakur sahib of Gondal (11), sultan of Lahj (9), raja of Bansda (9), raja of Baria (9), thakur sahib of Palitana (9), thakur sahib of Limri (9), nawab of Janjira (9), and the amir of Daliʿ, the pant sachiv of Bor, and the chief of Miraj (none of whom had salutes). See Stephen Wheeler, History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar (London: John Murray, 1904), 303, and the list of precedence within the Bombay Presidency included in IOR R/20/A/956. For a slightly later period, see the lists of salutes forwarded to the Aden Residency in 1910 for the purposes of the 1911 durbar in IOR R/20/A/2650.

49 Wheeler, History of the Delhi Coronation Durbar, 60.

50 Ibid., 79.

51 Ibid., 123.

52 Ibid., 128–30.

53 Quoted in Edwardes, Michael, High Noon of Empire: India Under Curzon (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1965), 169.

54 Bose, Sugata, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 2324.


  • John M. Willis


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