Colony of Aden

Colony of Aden
Colony of Aden
مستعمرة عدن
British colony



Map showing the Colony of Aden in modern Yemen (larger than real size)
Capital Aden
Language(s) English, Arabic
Political structure Colony
 - Aden Settlement established 1838
 - Colony of Aden established 1937
 - State of Aden established 18 January 1963
 - Disestablished 30 November 1967
Area 192 km2 (74 sq mi)

The Colony of Aden or Aden Colony (Arabic: مستعمرة عدنMustaʿmarat ʿAdan) 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 km2 (74 sq mi).

Prior to 1937, Aden had been governed as part of British India (originally as the Aden Settlement under the Bombay Presidency, and then as a "Chief Commissioner's province"). Under the Government of India Act 1935 the territory was detached from British India, and was established as a separate colony of the United Kingdom; this separation took effect on April 1, 1937.

On 18 January 1963, the colony was reconstituted as the State of Aden (Arabic: ولاية عدن‎ Wilāyat ʿAdan), within the new Federation of South Arabia. The federation in turn became the People's Republic of South Yemen on 30 November 1967, marking the end of British rule.

The hinterland of the Colony of Aden was separately governed as the Aden Protectorate.



On 19 January 1839, the British East India Company landed Royal Marines at Aden to occupy the territory and stop attacks by pirates against British shipping to India. British influence then began to extend inland, both west and east, with the establishment of Aden protectorate. The Western Aden Protectorate was a nearby territory of 75 sq. miles that was ceded to Britain by Sultan Muhsin bin Fadl, while the Eastern Aden Protectorate composed of the Arab sheikdoms of Hadhramaut and the island of Socotra. Aden then became an important transit port for trade between British India and the Red Sea, and when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, it came an important coaling station.

In the year 1937, Aden became separated from the British Indian Empire and became a colony in its own right. 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 km²). (75 sq. miles).

Prior to 1937, Aden had been governed as part of British India (originally as the Aden Settlement under the Bombay Presidency, and then as a "Chief Commissioner's province). Under the Government of India Act 1935 the territory was detached from British India, and was re-organised as a separate Crown Colony of the United Kingdom; this separation took effect on April 1, 1937.

Through the latter years of its existence the Colony of Aden was plagued by civil unrest.

Population of Aden Colony 1955

Arabs Somalis Jews Indians Europeans Total
103879 10611 831 15817 4484 138441


1951 stamp depicting Steamer Point with the outside of the volcanic rim of Crater in the background

“The town of Aden was tied much more closely into the fabric of the British Empire and developed more rapidly than its surrounding hinterland”.[1] 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”.[2]

Within the Aden Colony there were three local government bodies. The Aden municipality, which covered the town, Tawali, Ma'alla 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 improved only slightly after this date, as four members were elected.[3] 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".[3]

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, unrecognised Koranic schools for both boys and girls.[4]

Domestic issues

Labour movements, trade unions and internal dissent

Trade unions formed the basis for most of the outlet of social dissatisfaction in Aden. The first union, the Aden Harbour Pilots Association, had been formed in 1952,[5] quickly followed by two more by the end of 1954. By 1956 most trades had formed a Union. There had been an assumption that the British model of Trade Union development would be followed.[6] However, in the local tangle of grievances, the nationalist and economic were difficult to differentiate. As a result strikes and demonstrations were often politically motivated, rather than by purely economic reasons.

Strikes in 1956 were marked by a good many attacks on non-Arab groups. In May 1958 a state of emergency was declared and there were a number of bombings until the arrest of the principal instigators in July. However in October 1958 there was a general strike, which was accompanied by widespread rioting and disorder which ended in the deportation of 240 Yemenis from Aden.

"By ignoring the views of the local labour force, the British pushed much of the Arab population into opposition against their rule, who previously had been by no means captivated by Nasser”.[7]

At the time much of the blame for these disturbances was placed on the broadcasts from Radio Cairo encouraged by Nasser’s anti-imperialist and Arab Nationalist regime there. "Radio Cairo began to speak in the tones of revolutionary Arab Nationalism. Men who had long lived in isolation now found a common political language and a breathtaking, liberating community of sentiment across the Arab world".[8]

In December 1963 there was a grenade attack by an unidentified assailant on the high commissioner who was unharmed, however three bystanders were killed.

Jews in Aden

There had been Jewish tribes in Aden and Yemen for millennia, where they had primarily constituted the artisans and craftsmen of these areas, but it was after the British occupation of 1839 that Aden became an important congregation.

During the two World Wars the Jews in Aden had prospered while those in Yemen suffered.[9] The Balfour declaration had encouraged increased Jewish immigration into the Holy Land, and as a result many of the Jewish communities from all over the Middle East sought a new home there. The Palestine issue had a serious effect on British prestige in Aden.[citation needed]

During the Second World War, Jews from Yemen flocked in large numbers into the Colony of Aden while en-route to Palestine, where they were placed in refugee camps, primarily for their own safety. However conditions in the camps were difficult and in 1942 there was an outbreak of Typhus. The need for the camps was apparent when in December 1947, following the UN declaration for the creation of a Jewish state, there were serious riots in Aden Town, where at least 70 Jews were killed and much of the Jewish Quarter was burnt and looted. Until this point nearly all the refugees had been from Yemen and the Aden Protectorate, but now after the growing violence against Jews in the Town itself, most tried to leave. This was shown by the population figures which from a high of roughly 4,500 in 1947 less than 500 were left in 1963. " The 1947 incident found Government policies at odds with the whole Arab community, including those who manned the police forces"[10]

In 1948, due to the Arab-Israeli War immigration into Israel was very difficult, as the Red Sea and Suez Canal were closed by the Egyptian government. By 1949 and after the declaration of a cease fire, 12,000 Jews from Yemen, Aden and the Protectorate were gathered in camps, from where they were airlifted on average 300 a day to Israel, in Operation Magic Carpet.

Foreign policy issues

Aden was located in a vital strategic location, on the main shipping routes between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. During the days of Empire, the value of the port was in providing key communications and bunkering facility between the Suez Canal and India. Even after the independence of India, Aden continued to be regarded as a vital asset in Britain’s world wide defence network.[11] By 1958 Aden was the busiest harbour in the World, After New York. “Its importance cannot be overestimated, as it is the base that protects British oil interests in the Persian Gulf” .[12] The Little Aden oil refinery was essential to the economy of Aden as it could process 5 million tons of crude oil annually and formed one of the Colony's only exports. The safety of this refinery was a clear priority for the government of Aden.[13]

"As a temporary expedient, the Aden base has the merits of a stabiliser at a moment when the Yemen is split by civil war, when the Saudi Royal house has not yet made itself a name for consistent rule, when the Iraqi and Syrian governments are prone to overnight revolutions and when Egypt’s relations with both of them are uncertain”.[14]

For much of Aden’s later history, relations with the UAR (United Arab Republic) were of primary consideration. “The Formation of the UAR in 1958 increased the importance of Aden as a British military base in this troubled corner of the world”.[15] However even before the formation of the UAR, Arab Nationalism had been growing in the awareness of Adeni's. "In 1946 Students protested that the anniversary of the founding of the Arab league had not been made a public holiday"[16]

The most serious problem facing Aden in the late 50’s and 60’s was the relationship with the Yemen and Yemeni raids along the borders. But the adherence of Yemen to the UAR created a delicate situation and several political problems arose. Immigration into the Colony being a major concern of the local Arab workforce.

Previously to the creation of the UAR, peace in Aden it was admitted came not from the presence of the tiny garrison, but from a lack of Arab poles of attraction for malcontents.

However some contemporary writers, such as Elizabeth Monroe thought that the British presence in Aden may have been self-defeating, as it provided a casus belli for Arab nationalists. So rather than supporting British peace efforts in the region, Aden was actually the cause of much anti-British sentiments in the region.

“As in Kuwait prosperous older men appreciate the advantages of the British connection, but young Arab nationalists and a vigorous trade union movement think it humiliating”.[17]

Monetary system in Aden

Being an extension of British India, the Indian Rupee was the currency of Aden until shortly after India gained independence in 1947. In 1951, the rupee was replaced by the East African shilling which was on par with the shilling sterling. Then with the advent of the South Arabian Federation, a new South Arabian dinar was introduced in 1965 which was on par with the pound sterling. The South Arabian dinar was a decimal unit divided into fils. Aden became independent as the South Yemen on 30 November 1967 without joining the British Commonwealth, but the South Arabian dinar continued at the one to one parity with sterling until 1972. In June 1972, the British Prime Minister Edward Heath unilaterally reduced the sterling area to include only the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Ireland (and Gibraltar the following year).[18][19] The South Yemen reciprocated immediately by introducing its own exchange controls and ending the fixed peg to sterling. South Yemen was still however listed in British law as being part of the overseas sterling area, that being a list of scheduled territories which continued to enjoy some exchange control privileges with the United Kingdom right up until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher abolished all United Kingdom exchange controls. See British currency in the Middle East.

Federation and the end of Aden colony

To solve many of the above problems, as well as continuing the process of self-determination that was accompanying the dismantling of the Empire, it was proposed that the Colony of Aden should form a federation with the protectorates of East and West Aden. It was hoped that this would lessen Arab calls for complete independence, while still allowing British control of foreign affairs and the BP refinery at Little Aden to continue.

Flag of the Colony of Aden
Flag of the State of Aden

Federalism was first proposed by ministers from both the colony and protectorates, the suggested amalgamation would be beneficial they argued, in terms of economics, race, religion and languages. However the step was illogical in terms of Arab Nationalism, for it was taken just prior to some impending elections, and was against the wishes of Aden Arabs, notably many of the trade unions.

An additional problem was the huge disparity in political development, as at the time Aden colony was some way down the road to self-government and in the opinion of some dissidents, political fusion with the autocratic and backward Sultanates was a step in the wrong direction.

In the federation, Aden colony was to have 24 seats on the new council, while each of the eleven sultanates was to have six. While the federation as a whole would have financial and military aid from Britain.

On 18 January 1963, the colony was reconstituted as the State of Aden (Arabic: ولاية عدن‎ Wilāyat ʿAdan), within the new Federation of South Arabia. With this Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston stepped down as the last Governor of Aden. British rule ended on 30 November 1967. The federation became the People's Republic of South Yemen, and in line with other formerly British arab territories in the Middle East, it did not join the British Commonwealth.

Many of the problems that Aden had suffered in its time as a colony did not improve on federation. Internal disturbances continued and intensified, leading to the Aden Emergency and the final departure of British troops.

List of Governors of Aden colony

  • Sir Bernard Rawdon Reilly (1 April 1937 - 24 October 1940)
  • John Hathorn Hall (24 October 1940 - 1 January 1945) (From 2 December 1940, Sir John Hathorn Hall)
  • Reginald Stuart Champion (1 January 1945 - 1950) (From 1 January 1946, Sir Reginald Stuart Champion)
  • William Allmond Codrington Goode (1950 - April 1951) (Acting)
  • Sir Tom Hickinbotham (April 1951 - 13 July 1956)
  • Sir William Henry Tucker Luce (13 July 1956 - 23 October 1960)
  • Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston (23 October 1960 - 18 January 1963)

See also


  1. ^ H. J. Liebensy. Administration and Legal Development in Arabia. Middle East Journal 9. 1955. p. 385.
  2. ^ H. J. Liebensy. "Administration and Legal Development in Arabia", Middle East Journal (1955), p. 385.
  3. ^ a b E. H. Rawlings. The Importance of Aden. Contemporary Review 195. 1959. p. 241.
  4. ^ Colonial Reports. Aden Report. p. 37
  5. ^ Colonial Reports. Aden Report 1953&54. HM Stationary Office 1956.
  6. ^ D. C. Watt. Labour relations and Trade Unionism in Aden 1952-60.
  7. ^ Gillian King. Imperial Outpost-Aden. Chatham House Essay Series. 1964. p.323
  8. ^ R. J. Gavin. Aden Under British Rule 1839-1967. p.332
  9. ^ N. Bentwich. The Jewish Exodus from Yemen and Aden. Contemporary Review, 177. 1950. p. 347
  10. ^ R. J. Gavin. Aden Under British Rule. p.323.
  11. ^ Gillian King. Imperial Outpost-Aden. Chatham House Essay Series. 1964
  12. ^ E. H. Rawlings, Contemporary review 195. 1955. p.241.
  13. ^ Spencer Mawby. British Policy in Aden and the Protectorates 1955-67: Last Outpost of a Middle East Empire.
  14. ^ Elizebeth Monroe. Kuwayt and Aden.p. 73.
  15. ^ E. H. Rawlings. The Importance of Aden. Contemporary Review 195. 1959. p. 241
  16. ^ R. J. Gavin. Aden Under British Rule. p.325.
  17. ^ Elizabeth Monroe. Kuwayt and Aden. p. 70.
  18. ^ Schmitthoff, Clive Macmillan; Cheng, Chia-Jui (1937), Clive M. Schmitthoff's select essays on international trade law (reprint ed.), BRILL, p. 390, ISBN 9789024737024 
  19. ^ Belchem, John (2000), A New History of the Isle of Man: The modern period 1830-1999, Liverpool University Press, p. 270, ISBN 9780853237266 


  • Colonial Reports. Aden Report: 1953&1954, HM Stationary Office 1956.
  • Paul Dresch. A History of Modern Yemen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • R.J. Gavin. Aden Under British Rule: 1839–1967. London: C. Hurst & Company, 1975.
  • Gillian King. Imperial Outpost:-Aden: Its Place in British Foreign Policy. Chatham House Essay Series, 1964.
  • H. J. Liebensy. Administration and Legal Development in Arabia. Middle East Journal, 1955.
  • Tom Little. South Arabia: Arena of Conflict. London: Pall Mall Press, 1968.
  • Elizabeth Monroe. Kuwayt and Aden: A Contrast in British Policies. Middle East Journal, 1964.
  • E. H. Rawlings. The Importance of Aden. Contemporary Review, 195, 1959.
  • Jonathan Walker. Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in South Arabia 1962-67, Spellmount 2004,
  • D. C. Watt. Labour Relations and Trade Unionism in Aden: 1952-60. Middle East Journal, 1962.

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