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The Somali Community in the Port of London

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The British Protectorate

First British contact

Britain’s first contact with the Somali along the northern coast of Somalia began in the early 19th century. It was linked with the development of trade and transport between Europe and India via the Red Sea.

In 1827 the British signed a trade treaty with Berbera, and in 1839 the British captured the port of Aden. This prompted the expeditions by Johnstone to Berbera in 1842 and Burton to Harar in 1854. In 1855 further treaties were signed between the British and the Somalis.

Creation of Somaliland

Aden on the coast of Arabia, c.1835.
View full size imageAden, on the coast of Arabia, c.1835. © NMM
In the second half of the 19th century the coast of northern Somalia fell under Egypt's control. However, following the Anglo-Egyptian war and the fall of Khartoum, the Egyptians left northern Somalia.

British detachments from the Aden garrison occupied the towns of Zeila and Berbera in 1884. From that time until January 1885 the British government entered into treaties with all of the Somali tribes under its protection. The area occupied by those tribes was called British Somaliland.  

Italian Somaliland

The British Consulate, Zanzibar.
View full size imageThe British Consulate, Zanzibar. © NMM
The Benadir coast to the south had been under nominal control of the Sultan of Zanzibar since the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1881 the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) leased the Benadir coast from Zanzibar.

However, when IBEAC collapsed the British government sub-let the Benadir coast north of the Juba river to Italy in 1889. This region became Italian Somaliland. 

Revolt and independence

The area occupied by the Somali people was further divided in 1897 by treaties between Ethiopia, France, Italy and Britain. The complete division of territory - often across clan borders - among a people unified by language and religion fuelled a revolt. This took the form of a religious war or Jihad by Seyyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan in 1899. The British named the Hassan the 'Mad Mullah.'

Full British control of Somaliland was only achieved in 1920 after the defeat of Sayyid Hassan. On the 26 June 1960 the republic of Somalia became independent.

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