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The islands of Zanzibar and Pemba lie 25 kilometres off the east coast of Africa. At the last census before the war in 1910, the islands had a population of 200,000 with 35,000 living in the town of Zanzibar. The population was composed of Swahili, Indian and Arab people. In 1890, the islands were declared a British Protectorate and were presided over by the Sultan of Zanzibar.
Following the declaration of war with Germany, the Sultan of Zanzibar issued a statement supporting British actions. Similar decrees were subsequently issued against Austria, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. In 1914, the garrison at Zanzibar consisted of one company of the 3rd King’s African Rifles.
This force was supplemented by the Town Guard which was formed under a declaration made by the British Resident, Major Francis Pearce. Its primary role was to guard against a surprise raid by a German landing party. In 1915, the Town Guard was enlarged into the Zanzibar Volunteer Defence Force under the command of Captain John Sinclair. Almost every member of the British community volunteered for service. Zanzibaris were recruited into the Carrier Corps. In 1916, a force of 600 was sent to the mainland with 4,000 serving in the port of Zanzibar and other naval facilities (WO 329/2342).
Zanzibar was used as a base and coaling station by the Navy during operations in German East Africa and acted as a naval workshop. A small naval detachment was also stationed on the island under the command of Commander J Ingles, the captain of the ship Pegasus.
The Public Works Department were also employed on the construction of defences, artillery positions and aerodromes for the Royal Naval Air Service. Two steamers belonging to the Zanzibar government were placed at the disposal of the navy and used as patrol vessels and troops carriers.
On 20 September 1914, the German ship Königsberg entered the southern end of the Zanzibar approaches and opened fire on the Pegasus which had put into Zanzibar for repairs to its boiler. The Pegasus was at anchor, helpless and outgunned by the German ship. Pegasus was holed near her waterline and began to list. The order to abandon ship was given. Pegasus sank later that day having lost 38 members of crew (ADM 137/10).
Sultan Khalifa bin Harub
Sultan of Zanzibar
Sir Henry Conway Belfield
High Commissioner (1912-1917)
Major Francis Pearce
British Resident (1914-1917)
Captain John Ingles
Captain of the Pegasus