John Baldry (1939–2001)

Those who knew John Baldry during his Arabian days, but who lost touch with him thereafter, will be sad to hear that he died three years ago in Thailand. John earned his living as an English-language teacher, mostly for the British Council, but latterly for other employers. After working in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, he was posted to Jizan in Saudi Arabia. There he pursued his interest in the Idrisi of ‘Asir, which had started while he was in Libya, and fell in love with the Tihamah. The Yemeni Civil War was then in full swing, and among John’s acquaintances in Jizan was an eccentric American, Bruce Condé, who had converted to Islam. Styling himself Prince Abdulrahman de Bourbon-Condé, he supported the Royalist cause, and raised money by printing and selling royalist stamps, some of which John bought for his stamp collection.

After the Civil War, John moved to Sana’a. Soon after, in 1973, I met him at the Arabian Seminar in Cambridge. I was planning my first short visit to Yemen that winter, and he kindly invited me to stay. His laissez-faire hospitality and rather disorganized household might not have been to everyone’s taste, but it suited me fine. All John’s friends will remember his extrovert housekeeper, Hasan. John was shy and never learnt Arabic, so Hasan played a vital role in John’s explorations. Whenever John had leave, off they would speed on hair-raising motor-bike trips into the mountains (this was before there were roads). When John moved to his wonderful old timbered house in Hodeidah, Hasan accompanied him, leaving his wife and children in Sana’a, and the two enthusiastically adventured all over the Tihamah together.

After his employment in Yemen ended, John found a job on a military base in Saudi Arabia, which he hated. Soon after, Hasan tracked him down there, and they entered a newspaper competition, sponsored by Lux toilet soap, which helped change the direction of his life. The newspaper had printed a picture of a plane above an airfield, and competitors were invited to put a cross where they thought it would land. John and Hasan bought dozens of copies of the newspaper, submitted multiple entries with the cross in every conceivable position, and won! The prize was a trip for two to Thailand, so off they went. They had a whale of a time, though Hasan wondered why non-Muslims should be rewarded with so much rain and greenery. Perhaps this is when John realised that there was another culture where he could feel at home. He took jobs in Thailand and Seoul, Korea, and met his Thai wife Lamai with whom he had a son Wasant, now sixteen. John and his new family returned to the Middle East for a while, and worked in Abu Dhabi, but in his latter years he stayed in south-east Asia, shifted from country to country, and only occasionally came back to Britain. During this time he stopped writing his long, informative letters to his former friends, and most of us lost touch with him apart from receiving the occasional Christmas card. One of the last times I saw him was when he rang one day from his mother’s house in Hertfordshire to offer me all his books and notes – provided I could collect them the following day from his mother’s garage, which had to be cleared; otherwise, he said, he would have to throw them all away. I leapt into my mini-van, raced out to Sawbridgeworth, and loaded everything I could. I felt sad that John was putting the Middle East behind him, and told him that I would take care of everything in case he ever changed his mind and returned to his studies, but he never did.

During the years John lived in North Africa, ‘Asir and Yemen, he spent all his home leave assiduously researching the history of the Idrisi emirate of ‘Asir, and other aspects of Tihamah and Yemeni history, at the Public Record Office and the India Office Library. Out of this came over twenty articles and longer pieces, some of which are often quoted, but others virtually unknown. I have therefore compiled what I hope is a comprehensive bibliography of John’s works (see below). His major work was his voluminous account of the Idrisi emirate, which he laboured over for at least six years, but which is far too dense and detailed to be published in its present form. Many readers assumed, from John’s scholarly writings, that he must have a history degree, but he only had his teaching qualification, and was a self-taught historian. John’s articles comprise a major contribution to the history of Yemen from the nineteenth century. For this reason, I have long thought that they should be pulled together and published in one volume. It was in the course of trying to trace him to ask whether he would like to pursue this idea that I discovered that he had died.

Works by John Baldry

1973.    The Idrisi Emirate of South-West Arabia. [unpublished manuscript; over 300 single-spaced pages with detailed references to archival and other sources]

1975.    ‘The powers and mineral concessions in the Idrisi Imamate of ‘Asir, 1910–1929’, Arabian Studies II: 76–107

1976a.    ‘Al-Yaman and the Turkish Occupation, 1849–1914’ Arabica, 23,2:156–196

1976b. ‘The Turkish-Italian war in the Yemen, 1911–12’, Arabian Studies III: 51–65

1977a. ‘Anglo-Italian rivalry in Yemen and ‘Asir, 1900–1934’, Die Welt des Islams, XVII, 1-4:156-93

1977b.    ’Imam Yahya and the Yamani uprising of 1904–1907’, Abr Nahrain Vol XVIII: 33–73

1977c. ‘Foreign interventions and occupations of Kamaran Island’, Arabian Studies, IV: 89–111

1978a.    ‘The Ottoman quarantine station on Kamaran Island, 1882–1914’, Studies in the History of Medicine, Vol 11,1–2: 3–137

1978b. ‘British naval operations against Turkish Yaman, 1914–1919’, Arabica XXV, 2:148–97

1980a. ‘The Yamani Island of Kamaran during the Napoleonic wars’, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol 16, no 3: 246–66

1980b. ‘The struggle for the Red Sea: Mussolini’s policy in Yaman, 1934–1943’, Asian and African Studies, XVI: 53–89

1980c.    ‘The detention in Bajil of the Jacob mission to the Imam of Yemen in 1919’, Studies in Islam, 17: 204–39

1981. ‘The English East India Company’s settlement at al-Mukha, 1719–1739’, The Arab Gulf, Vol 13, No 2: 13–38

1982a.    ‘Imam Yahya and the Yamani uprising of 1911’, Annali, Vol 42: 425–459

I982b. ‘Al-Hudaydah and the powers during the Saudi-Yamani war of 1934’, Arabian Studies VI: 7–34

1982c.    ‘Railway projects in Yemen, 1905–1921’, The Arab Gulf, Vol 14, No 1: 33–40

1982d. ‘Arrest of the British Vice-Consul in al-Hudaydah,’ Studies in Islam, 19: 77–91

1982e.    Textiles in Yemen: Historical References to Trade and Commerce in Textiles in Yemen from Antiquity to Modern Times. British Museum Occasional Paper no 27

1983. ‘The French claim to Sayh [Shaykh] Sa’id (Yaman) and its international repercussions, 1868–1939’, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 133,1: 93–133

1984a.    ‘Soviet relations with Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, 1917–1938’, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol 20, No 1: 53–80

1984b.    ‘One hundred years of Yemeni history, 1849–1948’, in L’Arabie du Sud: Histoire et Civilisation, Tome II. ed. J. Chelhod, Paris: Maisoneuve et Larose, pp 69–111

1985a.    ‘The early history of the Yemeni port of al-Hudaydah’, Arabian Studies VII: 37–51

1985b.    ‘The British military administration of al-Hudaydah, Yemen, Dec 1918 – Jan 1921’, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 135, 1–2: 241–87

1985c. ‘The history of the Tihamah from 1800 to the present,’ in Studies on the Tihamah: the report of the Tihamah expedition, 1982. pp 45–50

1990.    ‘The arrest of the British Vice-Consul in al-Hudaydah and the subsequent protection of British interests in Yemen, 1914–18’, Arabian Studies, University of Cambridge Oriental Publication, 42: 23–38

??    ‘The commercial activity of Hudaydah, Yaman, in 1897’, American Journal of Arabic Research Vol IV: 1–14

Shelagh Weir