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Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
CountryFlag of Tanganyika 1923 to 1961.png Tanganyika, British East Africa
AllegianceFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif United Kingdom
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
TypeNaval Base & Station
Part ofEast Coast of Africa Station
Garrison/HQRN Base, Zanzibar

Zanzibar was a naval command and base of the British Royal Navy established in 1890.[1] At various times it encompassed a shore base, naval formations and other ships not attached to other formations.


Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British Empire; part of the political impetus for this was the 19th century movement for the abolition of the slave trade. Zanzibar was the centre of the east African slave trade, and in 1822, the British consul in Muscat put pressure on Sultan Said to end the slave trade. The first of a series of anti-slavery treaties with Britain was signed by Said which prohibited slave transport south and east of the Moresby Line, from Cape Delgado in Africa to Diu Head on the coast of India. Said lost the revenue he would have received as duty on all slaves sold, so to make up for this shortfall he encouraged the development of the slave trade in Zanzibar itself. Said came under increasing pressure from the British to abolish slavery, and in 1842 the British government told the Zanzibari ruler it wished to abolish the slave trade to Arabia, Oman, Persia, and the Red Sea.

Ships from the Royal Navy were employed to enforce the anti-slavery treaties by capturing any dhows carrying slaves, but with only four ships patrolling a huge area of sea, the British navy found it hard to enforce the treaties as ships from France, Spain, Portugal, and the United States continued to carry slaves. In 1856, Sultan Majid consolidated his power around the African Great Lakes slave trade, and in 1873 Sir John Kirk informed his successor, Sultan Barghash, that a total blockade of Zanzibar was imminent, and Barghash reluctantly signed the Anglo-Zanzibari treaty which abolished the slave trade in the sultan's territories, closed all slave markets and protected liberated slaves. The relationship between Britain and the German Empire, at that time the nearest relevant colonial power, was formalized by the 1890 Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany agreed to "recognize the British protectorate over ... the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba".

In 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain. This status meant it continued to be under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar. The death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, whom the British did not approve of, led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War. On the morning of 27 August 1896, ships of the Royal Navy destroyed the Beit al Hukum Palace. A cease fire was declared 38 minutes later, and to this day the bombardment stands as the shortest war in history. From 1890 to 1913, traditional viziers were in charge; they were supervised by advisors appointed by the Colonial Office. However, in 1913 a switch was made to a system of direct rule through residents (effectively governors) from 1913. 20 On September 1914 the Battle of Zanzibar was an encounter between the German Kaiserliche Marine and the British Royal Navy early in the First World War. While taking on coal in the delta of the Rufiji River in German East Africa, the German cruiser SMS Königsberg learned that a British cruiser, HMS Pegasus, which had been part of the Royal Navy's Cape of Good Hope Squadron sent to counter Königsberg, had put in at Zanzibar for repairs. Königsberg's captain, Commander Max Looff, decided to attack Pegasus while she was in port.

The main port at Malindi, which handles 90 percent of Zanzibar's trade, was built in 1925. During the World War II there was not much economic development in the Malindi area.

In Command

Naval Officer-in-Charge, Zanzibar (1918-1919)

Naval Officer-in-Charge, Zanzibar
Rank Insig Name Term Notes/Ref
1 Commander RN Commander Rank Insignia.png Oswald C. M. Barry 20 November 1918–1919 [2] (later Captain).


  1. Lloyd, Christopher (2015). A Short History of the Royal Navy: 1805-1918. Cambridge: Routledge. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-317-39531-7.
  2. The Navy List. London, England: H.M Stationery Office. May 1919. p. 877.