Rare photos of Sheikh Zayed in archives acquired by Abu Dhabi University
When John Barrett Kelly arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1957, few could imagine what to expect. The emirate found oil within a year and 10 years later Britain announced it was leaving the Gulf.
Kelly was an expert on the borders of the Arabian Peninsula and Sheikh Zayed, when he became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, hired him to help draw the borders of the emirate and what would become the Arab Emirates. United.
Kelly amassed a unique collection of rare images, cards and letters during her time in the area.
He photographs fishing villages, forts and the Liwa Oasis, while his private papers offer a candid and vivid perspective on the British retreat.
The photos represent the houses in which people lived and they lived the same kind of life as those of their ancestors. That time is over now
He also took several striking photographs of Sheikh Zayed, including one of him holding a desert majlis. He sits on a carpet, coffee is poured and hawks are admired, while in the background is a classic car. New York University Abu Dhabi has now acquired the collection and made it accessible to everyone.
“The photos are important because they tell what life was like before the sudden surge of oil,” said Dr Saul Kelly, son of JB and professor of history at King’s College London. “They describe the kind of houses that people lived in and they lived the same kind of life as their ancestors. That time is over now.
JB Kelly was born in New Zealand in 1925 and of Irish descent: his grandfather emigrated there at the end of the 19th century. When World War II broke out, he participated in the construction of aircraft hangars for the American forces.
Kelly then worked as a teacher, spending time in England and Cairo. His academic talent brought him back to England where, in the 1950s, he obtained a doctorate on Great Britain and the Gulf.
He made his first trip to what were then the Truce States in 1957. In Abu Dhabi, he met the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Shakhbut, and his brother, Sheikh Zayed, who at the time was the representative of the sovereign in the eastern region. He has formed strong friendships with the two.
When Britain announced in 1968 that it would be leaving in 1971, Sheikh Zayed hired Kelly to help him establish the borders of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Zayed will become president of the United Arab Emirates on December 2, 1971.
“He had a lot of respect for Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Shakhbut,” said Dr Kelly.
“They inherited oral traditions and here is a man who could add to that knowledge. He would have long discussions with them about the history of the family. I think it was appreciated by the leaders.
His articles also offer an honest take on how he personally viewed the British withdrawal.
According to his son, JB Kelly was a “man who spoke brutally … who didn’t have much time for the guys from the Foreign Office in the Gulf” during his time there and who he said didn’t appreciate it. the responsibility they had. He compared those who moved to Abu Dhabi in the 1950s and 1960s for a posting of only two or three years unfavorably with British personnel who served prior to 1947, when the Gulf was administered by the British India Service.
“[The Foreign Office] arrived late to administration in the Gulf and didn’t have much affinity for it as they were diplomats and used to haggling and bartering, ”said Dr Kelly. “It’s basically my father’s criticism of them. [He felt] most … were there to pay the tuition fees at home.
After his work with Sheikh Zayed, he continued to advise the Omani government, worked in Washington, and published several respected books. His first visits to Abu Dhabi laid the foundation for his founding book of 1964, Borders of Eastern Arabia. He died in 2009 at the age of 84.
After Dr Kelly edited and completed his father’s last book, Desert Conflict: The Diplomacy Of The Creation Of Borders In Southeast Arabia, he felt that the collection should rightly find a home in Abu Dhabi. In 2019, NYUAD acquired the collection, which includes nearly 50 archive boxes each containing dozens of documents.
“What really appealed about the collection was knowing that JB Kelly was a pioneering historian of Eastern Arabia,” said Brad Bauer, head of archives and special collections at the NYUAD library.
“I felt he had a lot of research potential,” Mr. Bauer said.
“[These collections] can be mosaic stones to see a richer picture. It was important that the collection be in Abu Dhabi and we are very happy to have it.
The archives have not yet been digitized but it could happen in the future, while a guide to the collection is online. Some of this information informed the recent exhibit at the Etihad Museum in Dubai on UAE-UK relations.
“It’s a unique collection and you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in the world, I don’t think so,” Dr Kelly said. “I am impressed with the work done by NYUAD. I am grateful to them for making it available to academics and interested members of the public in Abu Dhabi. “