Untold lives blog

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20 November 2014

The Slave Trade at Aden, Part 2

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We continue our story of the young man named Nusseeb, who was alleged to have been purchased as a slave by Ali Abdullah, supercargo of the ship Aden Merchant, and of the enquiry ordered into Nusseeb’s case by the Government of Bombay.

When the Aden Merchant, renamed Seaton, arrived back in Aden from Calcutta, Nusseeb was not on board. Captain S B Haines, Political Agent at Aden, denied the ship permission to leave Aden, and questioned relevant witnesses about their knowledge of Ali Abdullah and Nusseeb. Ali Abdullah himself refused to answer Captain Haines' questions, simply saying “… you are a father to all and I am your son, and you know I was tried in Calcutta. I have therefore nothing more to say”.

Aden B20052-68
Aden, 1 January 1871 WD 2574 Images Online     Noc

In his report to Government, Captain Haines gave a description of Ali Abdullah which is worth quoting in full: “Ali Abdullah is about 40 years of age, tall for an Arab, and muscular; and evinced great bravery during various skirmishes with the Arabs, prior to the capture of Aden by the English, being then Governor of the Town, and afterwards appointed Arab Custom Master by Government, an Office he held with credit for three years”.

Although none of the witnesses could give the whereabouts of Nusseeb, Captain Haines discovered that Nusseeb and the other alleged slaves had been sent from Calcutta to Jeddah on board another ship sailing under Arab colours.

The Bombay Government accepted that the evidence taken by Captain Haines bore much against Ali Abdullah, and they saw the absence of Nusseeb from the ship on its return to Aden as strong proof in favour of the testimony of those who claimed to have witnessed his purchase. However, the Government was very unhappy with Captain Haines' examination of the witnesses, describing it as not only very loosely but carelessly taken, and describing his investigation as having “…been conducted in a manner which would reflect but little credit on any court of justice”. Captain Haines was admonished that he should have tried Ali Abdullah on a charge of slave-dealing, and was ordered to do so.

Just over three months later, on 24 August 1844, Captain Haines sent a report of his attempts to bring Ali Abdullah to trial. Unfortunately, the witnesses previously interviewed by Chief Magistrate Patton at Calcutta had since travelled to Jeddah, where they had dispersed, and they were not expected to return to Aden. Worse still, the boy Nusseeb could not be located in Jeddah by the British Consul residing there, and his whereabouts could not be discovered. With an absence of witnesses and conflicting testimony from the investigations in Calcutta and Aden, Captain Haines felt he had little choice but to come to a verdict of not proven and recommended that the case be dismissed. The Government of Bombay agreed with that decision.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:

Slave Trade, Vol 3: Proceedings regarding the charge of slave dealing against Ali Abdulla, the supercargo of the barque called the Aden Merchant, in the case of a boy named Nusseeb, who Ali Abdulla allegedly purchased from Ali Ibn Hamed of Aden [IOR/F/4/2066/94848 pp.1-28].

Slave Trade, Vol 6: correspondence relating to the slave trade in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf [IOR/F/4/2066/94851].

Slave Trade in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf [IOR/F/4/2087/96921].

Read our story about slavery in Muscat.


18 November 2014

The Slave Trade at Aden, Part 1

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The records of the Board of Control, the Government body set up in the late 18th century to supervise the activities of the East India Company, contain collections of correspondence relating to kidnapped Indians, often children, who were sold as slaves along the coasts of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Government of India was keen to close down this disturbing trade and the correspondence which flowed between Calcutta, Bombay and British officials in Aden and the Gulf show the different measures taken to protect children from slavers, and to reunite those rescued from slavery with their families in India.

However, this could be a difficult undertaking, as the case of a boy named Nusseeb illustrates. The case was initially investigated in November 1843 by J H Patton, Chief Magistrate of Calcutta, who acting on information received from Captain S B Haines, Political Agent at Aden, found Nusseeb on board the ship Aden Merchant which was in the port of Calcutta at the time. In a statement, Nusseeb gave his age as 16 or 17, and denied that he was a slave. He claimed that two years previously he had been the slave of a man name Ali Ibn Hamid in Aden, but that he was badly treated and so ran away. He then freely offered his services as a khalasi (a dockyard worker or sailor). He stated that he shipped aboard the Aden Merchant at Aden in the summer of 1843 on wages of 6 rupees per month, and that he was happy on board the ship, had plenty to eat and drink, and was never ill-treated. Several of his shipmates, including Ali Abdullah, the supercargo of the ship, also gave statements that Nusseeb was a free member of the crew.

Calcutta c13380-20
Banks of the Hooghly at Calcutta, with the court house in the distance c1872 Photo 179/(4) Images Online     Noc

This information was relayed back to Captain Haines in Aden, who was clearly angered by the lack of success of Chief Magistrate Patton in prosecuting Ali Abdullah for slave-dealing. Writing to the Secretary to the Government of Bombay, Captain Haines stated that it was “an incontrovertible fact known now to all Aden” that Ali Abdullah had purchased Nusseeb from Ali Ibn Hamid for 35 German Crowns. Captain Haines claimed also to have discovered that Ali Abdullah had purchased other slaves, whom he had then mixed with the crew, unknown to the principal owner of the ship, and further that he had charged the owner for them as lascars. He pointed out that the evidence gathered by Chief Magistrate Patton was “…from parties more or less likely to be involved in difficulties if any facts were revealed”.

Unhappy with this outcome, the Government of Bombay gave instructions to Captain Haines to begin a full and careful enquiry into the charge against Ali Abdullah on his return to Aden, and also into the circumstances under which he had become possessed of other slaves. The results of that enquiry will be the subject of the next Untold Lives posting.

John O’Brien
India Office Records  Cc-by

Further Reading:

Slave Trade, Vol 3: Proceedings regarding the charge of slave dealing against Ali Abdulla, the supercargo of the barque called the Aden Merchant, in the case of a boy named Nusseeb, who Ali Abdulla allegedly purchased from Ali Ibn Hamed of Aden, reference IOR/F/4/2066/94848 pp.1-28.

Slave Trade, Vol 6: correspondence relating to the slave trade in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, reference IOR/F/4/2066/94851.

Read our story about slavery in Muscat


13 November 2014

Terror and Wonder Indian-style

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Inspired by the latest exhibition Terror and Wonder I looked for ‘haunted’ materials in the India Office Records. To my disappointment I couldn’t find any ghosts, vampires or Goths among the Honourable East India Company’s servants. All was not lost however: the archive of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA) contains a file with papers relating to ghosts.


From Ghosts: being the experiences of Flaxman Low ... With twelve illustrations by B. E. Minns  British Library on flickr  

In 1839 W. B. Hamilton built a house on a plot of land in Simla near the old cemetery.  Lt. Col. W. L. F. Yonge of the Royal Artillery bought the house in 1865 and 30 years later it was inherited by his daughter Elsie Macandrew.  ‘Charleville’ was rented out by the Yonges and that’s when the trouble started.

Rental document for Charleville  IOPP/Mss Eur G89 Noc

Just before World War One, Col. P. and his wife moved into the house. They invited their niece Miss S. to stay with them.  Returning home one evening they found all the servants outside. The bearer reported he had seen a sahib in Miss S’s room. They searched, but couldn’t find anyone. After a peaceful night, the young lady went to take a bath and suddenly the whole house could hear her screaming.  She was standing, wrapped in towel, shrieking: ‘They are throwing cold water at me! Can’t you see?’

That was just the beginning. Dinner parties at ‘Charleville’ must have been amusing with missing cutlery, misplaced flowers, and rooms in disorder. Maj. H. of the Royal Engineers was certain that the servants were behind the hauntings so he and Col. P. sealed the dining-room and came back the next morning. To their surprise, the seals were unbroken but the whole room was in disarray.

Col. P., being a devout Catholic, called for a priest, who sprinkled holy water and said the prescribed prayers. The poltergeist must have been of a different religious persuasion as the disturbances carried on. The P. family had had enough and decided to move.

When Mr. Bayley lived at ‘Charleville’, one of the servants reported a sighting of a sahib in fancy clothing who walked through the door. After the Bayleys, Officer H. of the Sappers and Miners moved in. His little girl saw a man in old clothes on many occasions. The home didn’t bring good fortune – H. died at Gallipoli.

After the H. family, a Japanese consul and his wife stayed there, but after only three weeks they left in despair. Around 1914 a Mrs. A. bought the house and she still lived there in 1947 undisturbed.

Plan of Charleville  IOPP/Mss Eur G89   Noc

Simla was a-buzz with the story that the ghost was that of a man buried in the cemetery who had murdered his wife and was now earthbound.  The anonymous author ‘Hyderabad’ was so captivated that he checked the graves and burial books. His investigation was not successful, as none of the men matched the story. There were no murders, or at least no confirmed ones, and the only tragedy he uncovered was the death of a Mrs Codrington and her young children. 

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies  Cc-by

Further reading:
‘Hyderabad’, 'The most haunted house in Simla', Journal of the United Service Institution of India, v. 78, no. 327, April 1947, pp. 299-304.
Papers relating to ghost stories, including drafts for a book Ghost Tales from the Raj edited by K R N Swamy and Meera Ravi; also copies of articles by Swamy, IOPP/Mss Eur F370/1357.
K. R. N. Swamy, M. Ravi, British ghosts and occult India: an anthology, Writers Workshop, 2004.
William Lambert Francis Yonge Yonge Papers, IOPP/Mss Eur G89 .