The Duke of Connaught's Visit to Aden: Unveiling a Royal Legacy

Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria, led a remarkable life that took him across the British Empire. Among his notable visits was a journey to Aden in 1906, a momentous event etched in the city's history. However, this wasn't just any royal visit—it was marked by the unveiling of a statue that stands as a symbol of the city's enduring legacy. This tale of Aden's history begins with the statue's origins, tied to the desire of local merchants to honour Queen Victoria. Join us as we delve into the fascinating story of Prince Arthur's visit, the statue that came to represent Aden, and the intriguing circumstances surrounding this royal event.

The first photograph shows the Duke being received by a guard of honour at the Landing Stage. The guard was provided by the 2nd Battalion the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the British infantry battalion stationed in Aden from November 1905 for one year. The guard are wearing trews and bagpipes can be seen at the front of the band. In the foreground are some of the Aden Troop. At the right edge of the photograph one can see the horses that were to pull the official carriage – they are facing towards Steamer Point as the Duke’s first engagement was lunch at the Residency. Soldiers from the Indian Army battalion in Aden are providing a guard of honour, as well as lining the route. Incidentally, a ceremonial tent was called a shamiana. The final photograph of the visit shows the crescent decorated in the standard way, with palm fronds.

Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, was Queen Victoria’s third son. He joined the Army, being promoted Field Marshall in 1902 at the age of 52. From May 1904 to December 1907 he was Inspector General of the Forces. Although one of his duties was to inspect British garrisons around the Empire his visit to Aden on 24 March 1906 had nothing to do with his being Inspector General.

This piece of Aden’s history begins with the statue itself. Following the death of Queen Victoria all the Aden merchants contributed to a memorial fund, the initial intention being to build a hospital for women. Unfortunately the amount raised, although substantial, was not sufficient for a hospital so two alternative suggestions were put forward; one to set up an endowment to provide for a woman doctor in the Civil Hospital and the other for a statue of Queen Victoria.

At a meeting of contributors in October 1904, chaired by Hormusjee Cowasjee Dinshaw, a statue was agreed upon. In February the following year the commission was given to an eminent sculptor of his day, John Tweed. The statue would be ready in September.

That winter the Prince of Wales was visiting India and Cowasjee Dinshaw asked if the prince could make a brief visit to Aden to unveil the statue. The Prince of Wales declined the offer (probably because he had visited Aden quite recently, in 1901), but this was to cause problems later, as we shall see.

In February 1906 Cowasjee Dinshaw was informed by his outlet in Zanzibar that the Connaughts, who were on a private visit to East Africa, would be on a liner of the German East Africa line when it called at Aden around 23 March. Would the Duke like to unveil the statue? It so happens that he and the Duchess had already seen a plaster cast of the statue in Tweed’s studio in May 1905, and had very much liked what they had seen. He agreed to perform the ceremony.

In Aden there was a slight problem. Some of the merchants were unhappy that the money they thought they had given for a hospital was going to be spent on a statue. There was a rumour that they wanted their money back. Also some were unhappy that the statue might be erected on reclaimed land outside of the Crescent area. The problem was solved by having a meeting of all the contributors, who then had to state their views. Out in the open there were no dissenters, as long as the statue could be in the Crescent. With the statue already made this was hurriedly agreed by the authorities.

During February 1906 there was an exchange of telegrams between Aden and Zanzibar, suggesting and fine-tuning a programme. The liner would normally have an 8-10 hour coaling stop in Aden and the liner would be due in Aden in the early hours of 24 March. A ceremony first thing in the morning was agreed. However on 18 March came confirmation that the HMS Renown, with the Prince of Wales on board, would call at Aden for about four hours on the 24th! Very conscious that the prince had declined to perform the unveiling it was hurriedly decided to postpone this until the Renown had sailed and the ceremony was rearranged for 4 p.m.

Meanwhile various points of ceremonial were decided on. The sighting of the Duke’s ship, the Prinz Regente, was to be signalled with the firing of two guns at the various signalling stations as if she was the mail steamer. The Union Jack was to be hoisted on Shumshum and at Morbut and the Political Jack flown from the yardarm of the Station Flagstaff at Steamer Point. A gun salute would only be fired from Fort Morbut if the Duke’s standard was flying on the Prinz Regente. The principal authorities were to ensure they were dressed alike; it was to be based on ‘Review Order White’.

The CO of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the Acting Resident, spelt it out:

“Let us wear white uniform new pattern, white tunic with pockets, with patent leather boots and no spurs, full dress medals, helmets with spike and chain looped up. Undress swords and white ordinary evening gloves.”

The Prinz Regente arrived at 0330 and the Renown, escorted by HMS Terrible, at 0700. During the morning the Duke went on board the Renown to see his nephew and then made his official landing at 1230 from the Prinz Regente. The Renown sailed at 1500, one hour before the unveiling.

As with all visitors to Aden at that time, a visit to the Tawila Tanks in Crater was a part of his official programme. Whilst there he was entertained to tea on the floor of the large tank by the officers of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers! The Duke had been asked if he would like this to have been ‘an informal at home’, his reply being that he would prefer to meet only the officers and regimental ladies. After being entertained at the Tanks the royal cavalcade returned via the Isthmus as the Prinz Regente was not due to sail until 8pm, the Duke’s departure being classed as ‘private’, without any ceremonial.

In 1907 the Duke of Connaught made another tour of inspection in the Far East. On his way back from inspecting the Hong Kong garrison the liner on which he was travelling made a scheduled stop at Aden. The British battalion was now the 2nd Battalion the Suffolk Regiment, whose Colonel-in-Chief was the Duchess of Connaught, Princess Luise Margarete of Prussia. The Suffolks marched a full (100-man) guard of honour from Crater to the Landing Stage to greet the royal couple, only to find that the Duke refused to come ashore as Aden was outside the jurisdiction of his present tour of inspection. One wonders what the soldiers were thinking as they marched back to their barracks in the Crater! The final photograph is of a guard of honour marching towards the landing Stage, with the Crescent in the background.

The Duke of Connaught visited Aden again in 1921. He had been due to land January 1st that year on his way to India to open the Reformed Legislative Council, but he was ill. He was travelling on the battleship HMS Malaya and had been due to receive a reception similar to the one he had been given on his previous visit in 1905. But he was well enough to receive on board the principal chiefs and the leading citizens and officials of Aden. Fortunately on his return journey he did land briefly to open the Memorial Building on the Prince of Wales Pier, which had been built and paid for by the Port Trust to honour those servicemen who had lost their lives in Aden during the Great War.