Ralph Hinshelwood Daly OBE (1924–2006)
Ralph Daly, who died in Muscat where he and his wife, Elizabeth, had retired, spent most of his adult life in the Arab world, and a memorable part of it in what was then called the Aden Protectorate.
Born in Glasgow and educated at Sherborne, he was commissioned into the Welsh Guards, and fought with the Guards Armoured Division in the allied advance into Northern Europe. After leaving the army, he joined the Sudan Political Service and was posted to Khartoum as an Assistant District Commissioner. He later went to the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies in the Lebanon to learn Arabic. On his return to the Sudan he was sent to Kordofan where he remained until 1954 when, on the approach of independence, he transferred to the Colonial Service. Daly was then posted to Seiyun in the Eastern Aden Protectorate (EAP) where Colonel Hugh Boustead, who had also served in the Sudan, was British Resident Adviser. Daly’s abilities as an administrator and his command of Arabic greatly assisted him in his task of fostering development in Wadi Hadhramaut and keeping the peace in the hinterland. He built up a close friendship with Sayyid Abubakr bin Shaikh al-Kaff who had played an important part in bringing to an end the tribal feuds and lawlessness which had bedevilled the area for so long. It was in Hadhramaut that Daly’s interest in the wildlife of Arabia was aroused, especially in the rapidly disappearing Arabian Oryx.
Daly’s next posting was to the Western Aden Protectorate (WAP), where he became Senior Adviser to a number of states including Baihan, the Upper Aulaqi Sultanate, the Upper Aulaqi Shaikhdom, the Lower Aulaqi Sultanate and, finally, a virtually unknown area inhabited by the Illahin tribe. The latter’s leader, Salih bin Ali bin Muhammad al-Illahi, shared Daly’s formidable abilities as a raconteur, and when rehearsing details of a blood feud which had started a century or more ago, was the only person who could drive Daly into an exhausted silence. To the challenges of settling tribal disputes, encouraging grass-roots development and the establishment of rudimentary administrations in each state, were added problems caused by a long and porous border with Yemen. In all these tasks Daly was ably supported by Mubarak as-Saham Towsali and Aidrus Ali Sulaimani, both of whom had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the tribes and the myriad feuds which beset them. It was at this time that Daly met and married Elizabeth who travelled with him widely and made an unique visit to Harib, just over the Yemeni border from Baihan, when it was still in royalist hands.
Ralph Daly offering advice on pump irrigation to a date farmer, Wadi Hadhramaut, c. 1956.
In 1963 Daly returned to the EAP as acting Resident Adviser, with responsibility for relations with the Qu’aiti and Kathiri States and the Sultanate of Mahra and Soqotra. This was when the recent revolution in Yemen and the birth pangs of the Federation of South Arabia were awakening political consciousness in the area. Daly’s attempt to visit the island of Soqotra where the Mahra Sultan resided, nearly ended in disaster when the dugout transferring him from ship to shore overturned in the surf, and a very bedraggled Resident Adviser had to be hauled out of the sea. Daly was next seconded to the embryonic Federation of South Arabia as Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Internal Security, and quickly built up a rapport with his Minister, Sultan Salih bin Hussain al-Audhali, whose honesty, fairness and courage Daly deeply admired. At that time, the arranged marriage between the states which had joined the Federation and Aden Colony was being forced through; the civil war in Yemen between royalist and republican factions was causing instability along the border, especially in Baihan; and an anti-British/anti- Federal insurgency, encouraged by the Egyptians in Yemen, was starting. A change of government in Britain and London’s subsequent decision to abrogate unilaterally not only the treaties made with the individual states of the Protectorate but also the recently signed agreements with the Federation for its financial and defence support, dealt a mortal blow to the latter.
Daly worked zealously to try to change this decision, and supported his Minister, Sultan Salih, loyally through the tense negotiations which followed. When it became clear that all hope of an honourable outcome was lost, and the Federal government collapsed, Daly resigned. Following his departure from Aden in 1967, Daly received an OBE for his services there.
The final, and possibly the most personally rewarding stage of Daly’s life was spent in Oman. After initially serving in the Government Relations Department of Petroleum Development (Oman), his interest in local flora and fauna, particularly the fate of theArabian Oryx, came to the attention of Sultan Qaboos, and in 1974 he was appointed Adviser on Conservation of the Environment in the Diwan of the Royal Court, a post he held for the next 28 years until his retirement in 2002. By 1974 theArabian Oryx had become extinct in the wild, and Daly was responsible for Oman’s reintroduction programme which eventually saw over 450 Oryx roaming free in the Jiddat al-Harasis. For his work in the Sultanate, Daly received the Order of Oman (Civil) in 1980, the Order of the GoldenArk in 1985, and was later honoured by the Royal Geographical Society, the FFI and the University of Durham.
Ralph Daly had a great love for Arabia. He was a capable administrator, a man of principle and a fine raconteur (an attribute prized in Arab society). His love of the natural world, which started when, as a boy, he fished the lochs of Scotland, persisted throughout his life. His annual visits to England to fish the Nadder in Wiltshire in the company of friends continued until his death. I still cherish my edition of Meinertzhagen’s Birds of Arabia, in which, in his neat handwriting, Ralph confirms the sighting of a family of Hammerkop in Wadi Baihan, a grey-headed Kingfisher in Wadi Yeshbum, and a Lammergeier soaring over the Aulaqi Kaur.