Aden crown flag

Dhow symbol which was incorporated into the Union Jack
to form Aden Colony flag.

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Dr. A. Al Sayyari
(Saudi Arabia)

Dr. Shihab Ghanem

Ashraf Girgrah, B.A. B.Ed

Design :
Ashraf Girgrah


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Last update October 2021  التحديث الاخير في
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الدكتور عبدالله السياري

أسرة التحرير
الدكتور شهاب غانم
(ألامارات المتحدة)
أشرف جرجره
ب.ع. آداب، ب.ع. تدريس

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A short history of Aden Colony 1839-1967

The first European to give a first hand description on Aden at the beginning of the 16th century, was the Italian Ludovico di Varthema. He writes: "Aden is such mighty and powerful that I have hardly seen another city of its might during my life . . . . all big ships anchor at the port coming frAden early daysom India Ethiopia or Persia".(1)
Copper line engraving showing the earliest view of Aden first published by Braun and Hogenberg in Cologne 1572.

Aden's strategic location and its importance as a commercial center long made it a coveted conquest. Muslim Arabs held the region from the 7th to the 16th century. The Portuguese failed in an attempt to capture it in 1513, but it fell in 1538 to the Ottoman Turks.(2) Arabia Felix, or Aden, had been destroyed by the Romans; and Dean Vincent is of opinion that the Caesar in whose reign this event took place was Claudius. The object of destroying so flourishing a port is not difficult to determine: - from the time that the Romans first visited Arabia under AElius Gallus, they had always maintained a footing on the shores of the Red Sea;  Aden had recovered its former splendour, and as a conquest of the Roman empire, it received the name of Romanian Emporium.(3)
After 1175 AD, rebuilding in a more solid form began, and ever since Aden became a popular city attracting sailors and merchants from Egypt, Sindh, Gujarat, East Africa and even China. In 1421, China's Ming dynasty Yongle Emperor ordered principal envoy grand eunuch Li Xing and grand eunuch Zhou Man of Zheng He's fleet to convey an imperial edict with hats and robes to bestow on the king of Aden.
In 1513, the Portuguese, led by Afonso de Albuquerque, launched an unsuccessful four-day naval siege of Aden.(4)

On January 19, 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines at Aden to occupy the territory. From 1839 until 1937,  Aden was ruled as part of the Bombay Presidency of British India and was known as Aden Settlement. Its original territory was enlarged in 1857 by the island of Perim, in 1868 by the Khuriya Muriya Islands, and in 1915 by the island of Kamaran.

The first years of  occupation of the British Settlement did not pass without tribal opposition and resistance. The British colonial policy was to buy the allegiance of the leaders of the tribes by payment of annual salaries and gifts, signing treaties under the threat of force and the policy of playing one tribe against the other. Haines had also used Jewish spies against the tribes. The Jews prepared their reports in Yiddish which was difficult to decipher by the tribes.(5)

The Colony of Aden was a British Crown Colony from 1937 to 1963, and consisted of the port city of Aden and its immediate surroundings (an area of 192 kmē), (75 sq. miles).(6)

Within a few years of its occupation, the population of Aden increased from 600 inhabitants in 1839 to some 25,000 inhabitants in 1842. Aden was declared a free port by Act X in 1850, according to which no customs duty was payable on any goods carried by sea or land to or from Aden. (7)

This Act left the door of immigration wide open to the new Settlement. Arrival of foreign labour and expatriates continued to pour unabated until the 60s .

Population of Aden Colony 1955
















“The town of Aden was tied much more closely into the fabric of the British Empire and developed more rapidly than its surrounding hinterland”.  The fundamental law for the Crown Colony of Aden is the Order of Council September 28 1936. Which follows the usual lines of basic legislation for British colonies .

Aden was notable in that Sharia law was not used in the Colony. “All suits, including those dealing with personal status and inheritance of Muslims are entertained in the ordinary secular courts of the colony”. The absence of Sharia courts is the cause of some dissatisfaction in the colony.

Within the Aden Colony there were three local government bodies. The Aden municipality, which covered the town, Tawahi , Maalla and Crater , the Township authority of Sheikh Othman and finally Little Aden had been established in recent years as a separate body, covering the oil refinery and the workers settlement. All of these bodies were under the overall control of the Executive council, which in turn was kept in check by the Governor.

Until the 1st of December 1955, the executive council was entirely unelected. The situation only improved slightly after this date as four members were elected. Judicial administration was also entirely in British hands. “Compared with other British possessions, the development towards self-government and greater local participation has been rather slow".

Education was provided for all children, both boys and girls, until at least intermediate level. Higher education was available on a selective basis through scholarships to study abroad. Primary and Intermediate education was conducted in Arabic while Secondary and independent schools conducted their lessons in Arabic, English, Urdu , Hebrew and Gujarati . There were also for those who wished,
Koranic schools for both boys and girls.

The British government had protective treaties with it and subsidized traditional leaders of sheikhdoms from the Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb to Muscat territory at Ras Dharbat.(8)

Two small, unfortified islands in the Red Sea, Perim (area 13 sq km/5 sq mi; population 300) and Kamara'n (area 57 sq km/22 sq mi; population 2,200), were under the administration of the high commissioner in Aden.

In order to stabilize Aden and the surrounding Aden Protectorate from attacks by North Yemen, the British decided to unite the several states of the region in preparation for eventual independence. On January 18, 1963, Aden Colony was incorporated into the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South as the State of Aden and the Federation was renamed the Federation of South Arabia . In 1964, Britain announced its intention to grant independence to the Federation of South Arabia in 1968, but increasing violence prompted Britain to speed up the process.(9)

In 1967, the British abandoned Aden and South Arabia. There was no official hand over of independence. The fate of many aspects of life in the country, the people, institutions and establishments were destined for the unknown.

Foot notes:
Courtesy of Webmaster: Peter Pickering. Historian: Ingleby Jefferson
Copyright © 2008 web site   .

Kings of the Arabia, by Harold F. Jacob, Chapter 3,First published in 1923, examines the history of Yemen from the 17th century to the aftermath of the First World War.
6)History of the Colony of Aden
The History of Aden 1839 – 1872, by Zaka Hannah Kour, Chapter 6, pg72 Chapter 3, Published in 1981 in the UK by Frank CASS and Company Ltd.
8) History of the Colony of Aden
History of the Colony of Aden

Aden in 1512_edited-1

Sira Isalnd harbour in 1512.

Invading British ship of Aden 1840

British Navy squadron invading Aden in 1839.

Captain Haines

Captain Haines, first British Agent  appointee after invading
Aden on January 16th,,1839.

British invasion camp1839_edited-2

British regiment headquarters along Al Rizmaith off Sira,,1839.

Captain Haines residence_edited-1

Official residence of Captain Hained n Crater after the invasion of Aden.

Aden in 1882 by Jose Rizal

Aden port as it was sketched by the traveller  Dr. Jose Rizal  from the Philippines in 1887.

Port of Aden 1800s

Aden Tawahi port in 1800s. Hogg’s clock is in the rear.

Visit of Prince of wales to aden1875

The Royal Yacht Serapis in Aden in 1875 carrying the Prince of Wales.

Maalla Daka and dhows

Busy Al Maalla loading and unloading dhows dock (Dakka).

Crater taken form the Legislative Council1846

The  water embankment path through Crater which diverts water flooding to the sea. Unfortunately, Crater was not saved from a water flood from the tanks of Tawila in 1846 and 1859.

Aden Legislative Council 4

Garrisn Church was built in 1867. In 1950s it became the seat of the Legislative Council.


A recent photo in 2006 of Little Aden where  the Refinery is located. The land was bought by the British in 1860 from the leader of Al Aqrabi tribe.

Sheikh Othman 1901

In 1879 the British paid the Sultan of Lahej 20,000 Rupees for the purchase of Sheikh Othman.

Tawahi 1910

Tawahi port in 1909. Notice that cars were not introduced to Aden until 1920s. Hogg’s clock in the rear.


Aden port during the 50s and 60s

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