The British-Yemeni Society

News and events


Journal articles

Book reviews

About the Society

Society officers

Annual reports


Annual appeal



Intercepting images of Aden’s past

In the summer of 2004 Alan D’Arcy spotted a notice on the internet advertising for sale some old photographs relating to Aden and the Aden Protectorate but otherwise unidentified. He downloaded the images in the hope that sooner or later a member of the Society might be able to throw light on them. Reproduced opposite are two of the images which seemed of particular interest.

The first shows a group of European and Eastern dignitaries sitting together on a carpeted floor. The European in the centre is none other than Colonel Sir Bernard Reilly (1882–1966), Governor of Aden 1937–40. Reilly, who had served in Aden since 1912, was appointed Resident in 1931 and Governor in 1937 when responsibility for Aden was transferred from British India to the Colonial Office, London. The European at the far right of the front row is Stewart Perowne (1901–1989), orientalist and historian, who served in Aden initially as political officer (1937–38) and later as information officer (1939–40). Perowne was keenly interested in archaeology, and was the first European to explore pre-islamic sites in Beihan and at Am ‘Adiya, near Mukeiras.

We have been unable to identify anyone else in the photograph, but it seems reasonable to speculate that the garlanded dignitary sitting between Reilly and Perowne is the leader of a delegation of expatriate Yemenis on a visit to Aden from Djibouti or Asmara, or further afield (Bombay?). The two gentlemen sitting on Reilly’s right may possibly be Antonin Besse and Cowasjee Dinshaw, both leaders of Aden’s merchant community with strong trading links to the Horn and East Africa. Any comments or suggestions from readers would be gratefully received.

The second photograph is virtually identical with one published in Freya Stark’s East is West, John Murray, 1945. Her’s is captioned: ‘Pictures of the war, in Aden’, and is described as a ‘British Official Photograph’.

Freya Stark was posted to Aden in late 1939 as assistant to the Aden government’s Information Officer, Stewart Perowne. In a letter from Aden dated 29 November 1939 she wrote:
‘… we have four showcases with photographs to keep changed, if we can, every week: there is always a bright cluster of turbans about them…’
The young man (wearing a fez) pinning up photographs could well be the twenty-three year old Ali Muhammad Luqman who worked for Perowne as translator, and whom Freya Stark described as ‘the centre and mainstay of our office’. Ali’s father, Muhammad Ali Luqman, established Aden’s first Arabic language newspaper, Fatat al-Jazira, in 1940.

August 2005