CSI, Officer of the Legion of Honour

Born 22nd December 1866 - Died 23rd December 1936


Portrait by William Arthur Chase of Blewbury


Regretably my grandfather died some 12 years before I was born. I should have liked to have got to know him. He was born on 22nd December 1866 at Satara, India, the second son of Colonel George Adolphus Jacob and Emily Abbot, the daughter of Reverend Amos Abbot. I know little of Harold's earliest years, but I do have some letters written by him and his elder brother Frederick; they were often referred to together, and as there was only one year's difference in age between them, would appear to have got on well together.Photograph taken in 1871

They had come to England by the Winter of 1874, his parents remaining in India. They were put into the care of their grandfather George Andrew Jacob DD, he having moved from Redhill, Surrey to Teignmouth, Devon, whilst during the holidays the boys being billeted with a number of relatives. Their brothers Ernest and Hugh remained in India for some time, a letter from Fred in 1874 bemoaning the fact that they cannot be with them at their school. The school they attended was Hermosa School, in Teignmouth, run by a Mr and Mrs Briton. Later Harold went on to Malvern School. After some time there he was withdrawn on account of a 'scandal' in which, I hasten to add, he was in no way involved. One can imagine this did not go down well with his father and grandfather, and he was subsequently sent to Highgate School to finish his education. He was a keen cricketer and in his last year a Highgate played for the first XI. He was invited to play for Somerset and was mentioned as a schoolboy bat by Ranji Singhi. Instead he entered Sandherst in 1887. On 14th September of that year he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment. A subsequent commission in the 14th Native Infantry was followed by a posting to the Bombay Staff Corps.

Harold had learnt to speak, read and write Arabic fluently and showed at an early stage an immense propensity for the study of the peoples and culture of South West Arabia. He was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Bombay Staff Corps in 1889. I won't give details of all his advancements and posting - they were many - but he rose exceptionally rapidly through the ranks of the Bombay Political Department, serving both in India and South West Arabia. By 1913 he had been made Lieutenant-Colonel. In the period 1904-1907 he was Political Agent in Dala, in the Aden Hinterland, 1st Assistant Resident, JP and Acting Resident Aden 1910-1917, Chief Political Officer Aden Field Force 1914-1917, and 1919 (despatches).

He enjoyed his time in Dala, some 96 miles North of Aden, immensly. He said his duties were varied and never a dull day went by. Much of his time was occupied with blood feuds. As far as intelligence work was concerned, he said his best informants were dancing girls and boys. He quotes the greek proverb 'wine and children speak the truth'. It was later said that Aden's policy at this time was very much his.

He met his first wife Lilian (Augusta Alice Henrietta) Hunter in India. She was born on 21st September 1872, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Mercer Hunter CB CSI, of Fife, Scotland. Hunter had been Assistant Resident at Aden and was the author of 'An Account of the British Settlement of Aden', published in 1877. An attractive and without doubt a self-confident woman, as any number of photographs I have of her testify, I am certain that Harold, now 30 years of age, fell head over heels in love with her. He in turn comes across as a doting husband. They married on Monday 6th March 1893. For a letter describing his wedding to Lilian, please click on rhe second letter icon below.


They had two children:

1 Frederick Arthur, born at Kolbapur India on 13th November 1895, baptized on 30th December of that year.
2 Marjorie Hunter, born at Palanpur India on 27th August 1900, baptized there on 23rd October, died 19th March 1985.

Regrettably Lilian died of Enteric Fever at Baroda on 3rd October 1903. The diary of an ancestor of a cousin of mine in the USA states that Harold had also been very ill with the fever himself, but had recovered.

Harold at Sandherst, 2nd row from back, 2nd from rightHarold and LilianIn his book 'Kings of Arabia' Harold praises the work of the Danish mission in Aden, and here he met Ellen, the only child of the Reverend Olaf Hoyer, a Danish Minister and Missionary. She was born on 5th August 1888 in Copenhagen. Although Danish by birth, she had been brought up in Scotland in a professor's household, and to all intents and purposes was the quintessential English lady.

Ellen was 20 years Harold's junior and I cannot but help feel that this marriage was in part one of convenience. I have no doubt that they were attracted to one another. Ellen was pretty and Harold was a handsome man who was also of some importance, so no doubt both derived something from this relationship. But in later years this difference in age would make itself felt. Ellen was a good mother to Harold's children by Eileen, a loving, caring relationship that carried on through the years.

With Ellen he had three children:

1 Harold Alaric, born 8th June 1909, died 26th January 1995.
2 Kenneth Clive, born 4th March 1912, died 14th December 2009.
3 Lorna Eileen, born 2nd January 1917

It had been agreed in 1917 that Harold be appointed Chief Political Liaison Officer in Cairo. On 27th August 1918 he was instructed to remain there at the request of Sir Reginald Wingate, the High Commissioner, on account of his exceptional knowledge of Aden and Arabian affairs.

Ellen and the family had been spending the Summer months in England and the Winter in Aden, later Cairo. She had bought a car in England and had it shipped to Aden. Harold, a competent rider of horses and camels, could not number driving a car as one of his accomplishments, and the vehicle was soon written off.

Ellen with Marjorie, Alaric and Clive on her lap, Nanny Finlay standing.

What was to have the greatest impact on his career was the mission to Sana, which he described extensively in his book Kings of Arabia. I have done much research into this in the India Office and Foreign Office Papers, and further details appear in my biography of him. It had been decided to send a mission in the name of King George V to Imam Yahya, titular King of Yemen, and Harold was chosen by Lord Allenby to lead it. I cannot possibly describe the affair here in any detail, but his mission was taken prisoner by tribesmen hostile to Yahya, and friendly to the Turks.

The British East India company had occupied Aden in 1839, because it was considered crucial as a fuelling station for sea traffic between Britain and India. British influence had spread from there into the interior of South Yemen, the Aden hinterland as it became known. The Northern part of Yemen was a Turkish province administered by an official called the Vali. An armistice had been signed by the Turks on 30th October 1918, but their troops were still spread throughout much of their former empire, including parts of Yemen. The titular ruler of that part of Yemen not under British control was governed by Imam Yahya. He had been fighting the Turks between 1904-1911 and Sana the capital of Yemen had been in Turkish hands. When recaptured by the Imam it had been in a constant state of siege. It was decided to send a mission to Sana, the object being to discuss the future of the country after the Turks' withdrawel.

Harold made an error of judgement. He took the circuitous route to Sana, via the Red Sea port of Hodeida (modern Al-Hudaydah) which led to his capture and detention by hostile tribesmen. He went on to make one fundamental mistake in that, having been captured, he did not hand over negotiations in full to Major A S Meek, who had been instructed to carry these out, in order to secure the mission's release. He compounded this by making an agreement with the Kuhra tribesmen without authroity from the Foreign Office.

The mission was eventually released. Harold returned to Aden and from there to London. Whilst he knew Lord Curzon the Foreign Secretary well enough, he refused to see Harold. There was a split within the British establishment as to how policy in thus part of the world should be run, arguably there was a lack of policy. Many in the establishment sympathised with Harold, but in the event he did not get the satisfaction he sought. He and Meek were totally at logerheads as to what had indeed happened, and their accounts differ. This controversy did Meek's career no good. Harold had built up a good relationship with Yahya, facilitated by his knowledge of the Koran and of course his ability to speak Arabic fluently. Yahya was also a pious Muslim, something that did not go down well with the Foreign Office . There were however many in the Foreign Office who sympathized with Harold's predicamet.Harold in captivity

Harold had been in receipt of a salary of £1500, plus expenses, not bad for the time, but found it difficult to find subsequent postings to his liking, notwithstanding the fact that he was held in high esteem by many. He did get a posting as political agent in Gohil Wad Prant, Kathewar, in India. In India he visited Ghandi in prison to see what motivated him, or to put it into modern parlance, what made him tick; we don't know what conclusions he came to. He retired from the army in December 1921 and came back to live in England.

It was then that the most bizarre episode of his life begins. A syndicate had been formed in June 1923 trading under the name of Zayd Ltd. Its purpose was to open up trade with the Yemen and to obtain a concession for mineral exploration, principally oil. Its backers were G M Weekley, a barrister, Herbert Weld-Blundell, the owner of Lulworth Castle, a wealthy landowner and archaelogist in Iraq, Lord Lovat (Simon Joseph Fraser, 14th Lord Lovat and 3rd Baron Lovat 1871-1933) and Messrs Chapman Guthrie & Co. engineers. There were four directors of the company, the first two named above and a demobbed major A D Spiers and Harold. My father is quite insistent that Lord Harmsworth was also a finacial backer, although I find no written evidence to support this. In any case, it could only have been Harold Sydney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940). The issued share capital was £10000 of which Harold held 1500 shares. It was said he had been introduced to this syndicate by Spiers. He and Harold were employed as the company's representatives in Yemen.

Some in the foreign office suspected Harold of going back to Sana to complete unfinished business. I don't believe that. His principal motive was to earn an income to support his family. He had four dependent children and faced a much reduced life style. So where better to go to improve his fortune than Yemen, a land he loved

He had corresponded with Imam Yahya for a year before and must have known that he, Yahya, desired a treaty with Britain. Yahya was a wily political. The Turkish General Said Ali Pasha had once described him to Harold as the pick of the Saidi bunch, but a fanatic. Was Yahya using Harold? Undoubtedly. Was Harold using his position within the Arab world and the contact he had to him? Undoubtedly.

Harold and Spiers set off for Aden. He adivised Major C J Barrett 1st Assistant Resident there on 27th October 1923 that he was on his way. The relationship was cordial as Harold writes in code Al-Arabic dying to discuss his intention of going to John. For Al-Arabic read Harold, for John read Yahya. In fact, I have a number of Harold's books in my possession and he inscribed them Al-Arabic, the Arab.

They left for Sana by 23rd November 1923 and visited Yahya, taking with them many gifts including a Bassett Locke large gauge model steam railway. This was laid out in the palace courtyard and played with enthusiastically by palace officials. 78 rpm records were also taken, and dance music of the day found most favour. On 28th November General Scott advised the Secretary of State that Europeans and Americans had visited Sana from time to time with a view to commercial enterprise. He had always believed that the Europeans had been entrusted with semi-political missions, but could not prove it. He thought a British mission to explore commercial enterprise a good idea.

Spiers returned to Aden on 9th January 1924, reporting a considerable degree of success. Harold remained at Sana. Spiers carried a personal letter from Yahya to King George V, and another to the Colonial Office. The letter to King George V was not passed onto him. The Colonial Offuce insisted that such a letter should go through official channels. They feared a commercial firm would not be slow to take advantage of such recognition - perhaps so. The letter was translated and printed in full by HMSO. Yahya wanted a treaty with Britain and recognition of his realm. He claimed he had been promised the return of the port of Hodeida after the Turks had surrendered there, but in the event it was given to the Idris, who also had claims to sovereignity in Yemen. Then there appeared before me a commercial deputation under the leadership of Colonel Jacob, a man of exceptional integrity and parts and well versed in the Arabic language. He wanted to work the country's resources, but Yahya wanted a treaty as a basis for this. Harold was accussed of drafting the aforementioned letter himself. I find that difficult to believe. Yahya was a learned religious leader, let along a shrewd politician. Might he not have found it rather insulting for such a letter to have been written for him? There was much spin at play on the part of the Government at the time. Aden informed Yahya that Jacob had no Government backing in this matter and that the letter to King George V should be forwarded through official channels. Yahya replied that he could chose any medium he wished for one monarch to communicate with another. The basis for a trade deal had been negotiated and agreed upon, but this was contigent upon a treaty with Britain; this was not forthcoming. The authorites in Britain and Aden now truned hostile towards Harold.

Yahya, writing to Harold on 11th Macrh 1924 states he had turned down other concessions to foreigners in favour of the British. Perhaps, or this was but a negotiating stance. Yahya had been threatening military action to regain his ancestral rights, mainly land. Harold wrote to him stating that Zaid Ltd cannot hope for a concession until the conclusion of a political treaty. Your excellency is aware that I am your warm friend and admirer, and that I more than any other - am studying your best interest. He quotes an Arab poet: How oft have I succeeded by diplomacy when the sword would have neen disastrous. So Oh best of freinds, keep your armies off our British Protegies, so that after a time, if Allah so decrees, the Government may be induced to give you some of such tracts. This is hardly the tone of a man prepared to place British interests last. Harold wanted to arrive at a conclusion beneficial to the Government, Yahya and his syndicate. In the event a treaty was signed by Yahya with Italy. There was much lobbying reported in the British press.

Harold visited Sana again in 1928 and in 1930. Officialdom had tried to put him off in 1928, as a telegram in my possession reveals. Yet one could not do so without causing, in their words, a grave scandal. P H Hoare, the Acting High Commissioner, writing to the residency in Aden, stated that Harold had apparently said to an Englishman that he had obtained from the Imam the concession for exploring oil and that he was acting in this matter for a millionaire, but would not say whether he was an Englishman or not. This was rather uncharacteristic of Harold, as he tended to keep his own council. It occured to Hoare at the time, that he may be acting for a Mr Crane, whose incoherent interests in Arabia were well known. Incoherent indeed ! Charles Richard Crane was a wealthy American from Chicago, a philanthropist and Arabist. He was invited to Saudi Arabia by Harry St John Philby and in May 1933 facilitated a contract for oil exploration between Saudi Arabia and the Standard Oil Company of California; this for a 60 year period. In 1936 a treaty of freindship was signed between the two countries. This spelled the decline of British influence in the Middle East.

I believe that had the Government, riven as it was between the two policies for Arabia, supported the attempt to bring about a conference , then a treaty of benefit to all parties may well have been signed. The opportunity was missed. In fact a treaty between Britain and Yemen was not made until 1934, with a proposal for obtaining oil concessions following in 1936. BP did not have an oil refinery there until 1954. Yahya was assassinated in 1948 and was succeeded by his eldest son, the penultimate Imam Ahmad bin Yahya (1891-1962). He was to forge many bonds with communist regimes. I feel his experience with earlier British vacillations may have been largely to blame for this.

Zaid Ltd eventually ceased trading. Harold's interest in Yemen did not waver. On 20th October 1932 he read a paper before the Grotius Society titled: The Kindom of Yemen: Its place in the comity of Nations. I should love to have known what the delivery was like. The content was certainly erudite and well presented. Looking at the photographs of him, and speaking to my father about him, I always thought he was rather a dour man. Imagine my surprise when reading his paper as to how much wit it contained.

Harold's circle of acquaintances had been wide. Perhaps the fact that he was a freemason contributed to this, as also to his rapid rise to success. He knew Harry St John Philby, yet Philby did something Harold did not - he went native. Harold remained a Christian throughout his life. He converted to Islam in 1930, in later years buying a second wife in a market in Jeddah. His son Kim came to stay with Harold's family during a school holiday. My father remembers going with him to the Natural History Museum and the RAC club swimming baths. There was no inkling of the treachery he was to display in later years as a British/Soviet double agent.

Perhaps the most well known individual in his sphere was T E Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. In 1974 I made a recording of some of my grandmother's reminiscences. She spoke about her times in Cairo where she had first become acquainted with Lawrence over tea at Shepherd's Hotel. The recording has never been published, but I give some sound excerpts from it below. Lawrence wrote to Harold asking him to subscribe to a limited edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which he was preparing for the press. The sum asked was 30 guineas. Unfortunately Harold did not subscribe to it. It would have been a good investment.

Harold held a number of views which find resonance today. He believed Muslims think spiritually, in that they are Muslims first and foremost. He remarked on the wearing of the veil. He says the Koran does not stipulate it, nor does other religious literature. He believed the habit came from Persia to Arabia or possibly from India,and that the common folk (women) (in Yemen) would not be coerced to wear it by their husbands. It was probably a matter of men protecting their assets.

He wrote two books on Arabia, Kings of Arabia and Perfumes of Araby.

He retired to live in Hastings and it is there that he died on 23rd December 1936 at Buchanan hospital. He died intestate and letters of administration were granted to Ellen on 7th January 1937. He was buried at St Leonard's, Hastings.

Cyril C Dobson, Vicar of St Mary's, who conducted the service at Hastings wrote:

All will remember his tall figure laying the wreath at our Armistice service, but few knew of his true greatness which prompted me to invite him to perform this small service. They only knew of him as a quiet, unobtrusive man, who came morning and evening to church. When I gave him the usual wording for laying the wreath he said to me "do you mind if I don't use those words, but say a few words of my own. I should like to (be a) witness to my faith." This was the true character of this humble man. Yet it is not we but the empire that is the loser by his death.

A contemporary English translation of a letter from his Majesty the King of Yemen, dated 13th January 1937 and addressed to His Excellency the Resident, Aden, states..... the death of the lamented Colonel Jacob has caused us great grief and we are sorry for his loss. The said person, over and above the moral qualifications he possessed, part of which (was) his knowledge of the Arabic language, was known for his friendship to the Arabs and for his affection to us (Yahya).(Jacob MSS).



Jacob MSS (Correspondence, Death Certificates, pedigrees, and other documents).
Who's Who.
British Library, India Office, Numerous MSS.
National Archives, Numerous MSS.
Clive Jacob, An itinerant Childhood, The Jacob Private Press, 2002.

HomeBooks written by Harold Fenton Jacob Photo album Sample of handwriting Letter describing Harold's wedding to Lilian Hunter Recording of Ellen Jacob made in 1974 Sample of handwriting in Arabic Cartoons done whilst in captivity