Midnight Siege: The 1839 Arab Attack in Aden

The following article is an extract from a letter dated December 8, 1839 from an officer in the First Bombay European Regiment stationed in Aden which was printed in The Times, Friday January 10, 1840.

The Arabs, after talking for a long time of their intention to cut all our throats in a night attack, actually made one on the 11th November. I was in Aden, having only two days before being relieved from a five weeks' sojourn at the Darub el Arabs, or, as we usually term it, The Turkish Wall, or The Wall: otherwise I should have been in the midst of the whole business. As it was I only had the pleasure of scrambling over the hills, when everything was over, in search of stragglers.

We made one prisoner, and shot a man who did not choose to yield, but pelted stones down from the peak upon which he had seated himself. He was a chief, and a remarkably fine looking man. The officer who was with me got all his arms. The troops at the wall estimate the number of the Arabs at 5,000, but amongst them were not more than, at most, 3,000 armed with matchlocks, the rest being men who had collected from all directions in hopes of plunder. When I moved out with the Colonel and a large escort to protect the ammunition we were carrying to the wall the Arabs were in sight, but out of range of the guns.

There were at least 300 camels, which their riders managed with the greatest dexterity. The chiefs were mounted on horseback, and if their followers had been as brave as they we would have had very sharp work.

They were strenuous in their exertions to bring their men to the scratch, after those inside had got out, but it would not do. Parties of our men drove them back, but our want of cavalry and of bullocks to draw the guns was much felt. Had we possessed them, how we should have cut up the rascals!

A favourite horse of the Sultan of Lahidge, worth 500 German crowns, was struck with a cannon ball and killed. His master is dreadfully enraged at his defeat, and swears that he will take Aden from the Kaffirs, or die under its walls. He, in connexion with the Sultan of Lahidge, has nearly cut off all communication between us and the interior, by placing armed parties on the roads, and plundering and murdering everyone they can lay hold of, either coming to or returning from Aden.

The Ramazan is today over, and we expect another attack daily. We have now got guns placed upon the heights in excellent positions, and have built up the defences in many places so that if the Arabs pass the wall again, and attempt to force the hills, they will be well received.

Government are sending up another native regiment from Bombay and some artillery to reinforce us, but I have not yet heard what their intentions are with regard to the Sultan, who absolutely (illegible) us for our weakness.

The Hugh Lindsay had not left when the attack took place, but the passengers were on board, and the letter bags were closed, so that I could not add anything to my last letter about it and its result.


  • The 9-year-old SS Hugh Lindsay was a paddle steamer of 411 gross tons. Built in Bombay in 1829 for the naval arm of the British East India Company it was the first steamship to be built in Bombay. She pioneered the mail route between Suez and Bombay. Hugh Lindsay was lost in the Persian Gulf on 18 August 1865

  • The first Bombay European Regiment had been renamed in 1839. Prior to that they were named The Bombay Regiment in 1668 having first been raised in 1662 in England to garrison Bombay under the name 1st Bombay (European) Fusiliers.