Stafford Bettesworth Haines: The Visionary and Controversial Figure Behind Aden's Transformation

Historically, Aden town in Crater had been a thriving centre of trade with Africa, India and China. But when Commander Stafford Bettesworth Haines seized it on 19 January 1839 on behalf of the East India Company, for use as a coaling station for ships steaming to and from India, it was a derelict village of some 600 inhabitants — Arabs, Somalis, Jews and Indians — housed for the most part in huts of reed matting erected among ruins recalling a vanished era of wealth and prosperity.

Haines' Early Life

Commander Stafford Bettesworth Haines, born on December 9, 1805, in Sussex, England, was a notable figure in the British naval history, particularly for his role in Aden. He was the son of John Haines and Mary. Haines was baptized at St James, Piccadilly, London, on February 26, 1809. He achieved the rank of Captain in the Indian Navy and is remembered for his instrumental role in purchasing and developing Aden as a strategic port for the British Empire.

Haines married Mary Saulez on June 11, 1831, in Alton, Hampshire, England. The couple had at least two children, Ellen Cogan Saulez (Haines) Mainwaring and Stafford Alfred Haines. Haines's life was marked by his professional achievements and the challenges he faced, particularly in Aden.

Haines' Capture of Aden

For Queen Victoria, the capture of Aden was the first addition to the British Empire since her accession to the throne in 1837. Haines’ knowledge of Aden’s history made him optimistic about the possibilities for its future.

‘Scarcely two centuries and a half ago’, he wrote, ‘this city ranked among the foremost of the commercial marts of the East the superiority of Aden is in its excellent harbours, both to the East and to the West; and the importance of such a station, offering as it does a secure shelter for shipping, an almost impregnable fortress, and an easy access to the rich provinces of Hadhramaut and Yemen is too evident to require to be insisted upon’.

Haines' Vision

Appointed Political Agent by the Bombay Presidency of the East India Company Haines served in this capacity without leave for the next fifteen years, presiding over Aden’s rapid expansion as a fortress with a garrison of 2000-3000 Indian sepoys and as a port which by the early 1850s had a population of 20,000.

His vision for Aden was far-reaching. He saw the potential of the port as a significant commercial and strategic location and played a critical role in transforming it from a small town into a thriving port city. His efforts in Aden earned him the nickname "English Sultan" due to his 15-year rule over the area. Haines was a complex figure: a visionary with romantic ambitions for Aden, skilled in navigating the politics among Arab tribes, yet facing difficulties in administrative matters and dealing with his fellow countrymen.

Haines saw beyond the desolation. Recognising Aden’s strategic position at the crossroads of Africa, India, and China, he envisioned it as a pivotal coaling station for ships en route to and from India. His decisive action in claiming Aden was not just a military conquest but a transformative step in global trade dynamics. Under Haines' stewardship, Aden rapidly evolved from a forgotten village into a bustling port, pivotal in the East India Company's operations. He understood the importance of a strong maritime presence and worked tirelessly to establish Aden as a key player in international trade.

Haines' House - The Residency

The house initially occupied by Haines in Biggari Valley, Crater, and known as The Residency or The Old Residency is said to have been rented from a local Hindu merchant and to have been situated near a Hindu temple.

Old maps from 1875 and 1877 place the Residency in Crater about 600 metres due south of the Main Pass, in the Biggari Valley. A map dated 1917 calls the building ‘The Old Residency’. The photograph of the house, in this article, was possibly taken some time before 1920.

There was scanty accommodation in his house for guests and he had to place three to four gentlemen in one room, nor had he a room fit for dining a small party; and so he put up a small thatched building close by with a dining-room and two small sleeping or sitting-rooms. The largest room in his residence was only 11 ft x 11 ft, and it was his dining-room, and the servants had to pass through the office to get to it, which was very inconvenient, as both money and all records were kept there. In Sultans of Aden (1968) Gordon Waterfield described the building as ‘extremely hot and the rooms inconveniently small'.

By 1930 the Residency was being used as a guest-house for visiting Arab chiefs. From 1948 until about 1954 it became the headquarters of the British Agency, Western Aden Protectorate. It is possible there are remains of the building still in existence today.

Haines eventually built himself a new, more suitable residence at Ras Tarshyne overlooking Sapper Bay and Telegraph Bay and with views across the water to Little Aden. This was a much more comfortable house and his wife and child joined him there from Bombay.

Debtor's Prison

Despite his accomplishments, Haines faced significant challenges. He was accused of financial irregularities, leading to a trial for fraud and embezzlement. Although acquitted, he was nevertheless cashiered and struggled with financial difficulties, resulting in six years of imprisonment in a debtor's prison in Bombay. Haines was released on June 9, 1860, but tragically passed away a week later on June 16, 1860, aged just 58, at Bombay harbour on a ship that was to take him to England.

Haines' Legacy

His legacy extends beyond his military and political triumphs. Haines was a bridge between cultures and eras, ushering in a period of economic prosperity while respecting the rich tapestry of cultures that made up Aden's social fabric. His impact on Aden's history is indelible, marking him as a figure of both historical significance and visionary foresight.

In South West Arabia his name lived on and for decades local tribesmen referred to the inhabitants of Aden as Awlad Haines (‘Haines’ children’).