A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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small esteem, but now, seeing that the white men
are such adepts at them, they study the art, through
their love of imitating their superiors, and soon the
village is filled with envy, hatred, malice, and all

The missionary, in the mean time, sends home
his report, which he has to colour highly to draw
subscriptions and keep up the religious enthusiasm.
The philanthropist does not care much for this,
because he prefers looking after the welfare of men's
minds and bodies in this world to making preparations
for a doubtful future ; but it is received by the Exeter
Hall army with joy, and speeches are made about
the glorious work of spreading Christianity ; whereas,
as a matter of fact, if that creed consists of anything
more than an outward ceremonial, there has not been
gained to it one convert, and the natives have been
transformed from good heathens, with many excellent
qualities, into accomplished liars, hypocrites, and
scandal-mongers. This fact is so universally acknow-
ledged by Europeans living on the spot, and accord-
ingly well qualified to judge, that, when one of them
wishes to engage a servant, he always asks each
candidate for the situation whether he is a Christian,
and if he has been taught at a mission school.


Should either of these questions be answered in the
affirmative, the candidate is shown to the door, and
an unadulterated heathen looked out for.

The missionaries have at the present time the
moulding of the character of the rising generation
of semi-civilised negroes in Africa entirely in their
hands, and, unless we wish that generation to be
one of the most detestable that the world has yet
seen, it is quite time that this power was taken from
them, and some system of Government education
adopted. Many, perhaps most, of the missionaries
are exceedingly conscientious, but that does not
render their proceedings any the less ill-advised.
The fact is that liberal-minded men of high culture,
and possessed of great tact, are required for such
posts, whereas now anyone thinks that he is good
enough for a missionary. Too many of them are,
besides, of very humble origin, frequently ignorant
and bigoted in addition, and, finding themselves
suddenly sprung from nobodies into persons of in-
fluence, abuse their jDower and become tyrants of
the worst stamp. Such men often become fomenters
of strife between tribes, and draw us into numerous
petty wars. At Lagos they encouraged the natives
to resist the British, and our force sustained a
disastrous defeat ; and it was at the request of
missionaries, the professed teachers of a gospel of


peace, that the town of Old Calabar was bombarded
by our fleet. There is always a suspicion of leather
about these gentry, for there seems to be something
about that material, perhaps the smell, which drives
those who work in it into extremes, and your cobbler
either becomes a rabid Methodist, or missionary, of
the fire and brimstone class, or an atheistical Radical.
The Roman Catholic missionaries, being all men
specially selected for the duty, and generally gentle-
men, do least harm to the natives ; but they do not
gain many converts, because they are too fond of
dilating upon the torments of hell, and the negro
does not care to change his supreme deity, who is,
at the worst, only indifferent about his welfare, for
one who is going to punish him. I once saw a
Roman Catholic missionary show to a chief an
immense picture showing forth the cooking arrange-
ments and ingenious devices for torture popularly
believed to obtain in Hades, thinking to make a great
impression on him, and perhaps frighten him into
professing Christianity. The chief said :

"Does your fetish order all these people to be
treated like that?"

" Yes," replied the priest.

" What for ? "

" Because they have disobeyed his word."


The chief looked round with an air of pitying
superiority, and remarked :

" I would not like to have a fetish like that. We
have no fetish so bad as that in this country."

When the trader and the missionary have between
them thoroughly demoralised the natives, some wire-
pullers manage to have the territory declared British,
A few gunboats appear off the coast, and the natives
are made to sign a treaty which they do not under-
stand ; or a chief, who has no authority except in
time of war, is bribed with a few puncheons of rum
and a hogshead of tobacco to hand over the territory,
which is not his property, to the British. Sometimes
we take it without going through any preliminary
little farce, and in spite of the protests of the natives ;
as was done in the case of the Agbosomeh territory
on the Slave Coast in 1873. Then all the cadets of
good families and broken down men-about-town, who
have nothing left but a little interest, go out as
colonial officials, and are thus happily provided for
out of the sums wrung from the natives in the way
of import duties. Next an armed police force is
raised to terrorise the natives and put down any
popular tumult, and is officered by officers who have,
for reasons not to be too closely inquired into, been
requested by their colonels to resign their com-


missions in the army. Thus the glorious work of
civilisation goes on, until tlie natives, from being
surprised at finding everything thrice as dear as it
was when they were independent, become annoyed.
Then they try to smuggle; the armed police interfere,
and a collision ensues : thus friction is engendered,
and at last, finding that their old customs are set at
naught, while new customs and strange laws are
forced down their throats, and that they are in every
w^ay much w^orse off" than they were before, they
endeavour to win back the independence which they
allowed unwittingly to be taken from them, and
rebel. A war ensues, ^vhicli costs half-a-million or
so out of the pockets of the British tax-payer ;
thousands of lives are sacrificed and homes
devastated ; the natives are crushed, and all goes
on happily again till there is another outbreak.
In this manner, in 18G1, the Governor of Sierra
Leone induced Bey Cantali, the King of Quiah, to
hand over his territory to the British. The in-
habitants protested, but without avail, and an armed
force was sent to occupy the ceded territory. A
few days after the entire people rose in arms. A
war ensued ; the lives of some dozen Englishmen
and several hundred natives were sacrificed, and
all opposition w^as crushed. I am glad to say, how-
ever, for the honour of my country, that some years


later Quiah was restored to its native owners, and
is now independent.

In years bygone the Isles de - Los were notorious
for the part which they played in the slave trade,
for vessels of light draught could lie under the shelter
of the land, where no man-of-war could venture, and
where the slavers could not be detected unless armed
boats actually went in search. In such cases the
slave-dealers did not always get the worst of the
engagement. The Camperdoivn, a brig of sixteen
guns, destroyed the British sloops Rambler and
Trial ; the Paz, which was under the American
flag, beat off the Princess Charlotte, and killed
several of her crew ; and the crew of the Venganza
resisted the boats sent to take her until the last
extremity, when being boarded, they blew themselves
up with their assailants. The Sierra Leone brig was
the greatest terror to slavers on this part of the West
Coast, for she was constantly roving about the Isles
de Los and the adjacent rivers, while the men-
of-war usually only stayed a short time in that
neighbourhood. She captured such a number of
vessels engaged in the trade, that two brigs, the
Dolores and the Temcrario, were avowedly fitted
out for her destruction ; but were fortunately
captured before they could compass it, the former

by H.M.S. Ferret, and the latter, which had a



complement of eighty men, by H.M.S. Bann, after
an action of two hours.

In order to put a stop to the traffic a detachment
of troops was stationed at Crawford Island, where the
ruins of the barracks, now overgrown by a dense
mass of tropical vegetation, are still discernible.
The soldiers belonged to the Royal African Colonial
Corps, a force which was composed of Europeans, and
the mortality amongst them was so excessive, either
from the unhealthiness of the situation, or from their
own intemperate habits, that in the years 1812 and
1813, more than half the number in garrison died.
Even at the present day, long, low, piratical-looking
craft, decked over the stern, and with raking masts
carrying large lug-sails, may be observed running
cargoes of domestic slaves from Sherbro and other
localities, into the rivers which here discharge into
the sea. If boarded by a Government vessel, the
head man in the boat at once declares that the
women on board are his wives, and the men, if any,
and boys, his sons or servants. So apathetic are
the slaves that they do not claim their freedom,
but, frequently, when questioned, corroborate the
falsehood of the dealer. Owing to this it is ex-
tremely difficult to put a stop to this species of
slave-trading : for, except on the very rare occasions
on which the slaves are found manacled, there is


not sufficient evidence to make a conviction before
a court of law a matter of tolerable certainty, and
Government officials do not care to run the risk of
having to pay heavy damages for the illegal seizure
and detention of a craft.

Domestic slavery in this part of the world is,
however, very unlike the popular idea of slavery in.
Great Britain. The slave here is one of the family,
and lives on equal terms with its members ; a state
of thino^s resultinof from the fact that all the women
are slaves, and that a slave is considered almost as
good as a free man. The slave eats with his
master, and smokes and drinks at his expense.
Should there be any work to be done in the cassava
field or corn patch, master and slave work, hoe in
hand, side by side. There is here no overseer with
a heavy-thonged whip to stir up the lazy and get the
utmost work out of the human cattle. The slave has
a good deal of time at his own disposal, and can
earn money and buy a wife, frequently one of the
daughters of his owner. There being no human
sacrifices here such as prevail in Ashanti and
Dahomey, where a certain number of slaves are
always slaughtered at the decease of their master,
he has nothing to fear ; and he is so well off that he
refuses to accept his liberty, which he could obtain at
any time by appealing to a magistrate.


I do not know if the negroes in the United States
are anything like those described in Mrs. Beecher
Stowe's highly-coloured romances, but certainly those
in Africa are not hampered much by domestic
affection. No heartrending separations of husbands
and wives, or parents and children, can take place
in Africa, for they care very little for each other.
There is no confidence and affection between man
and Avife, for the wife is simply the property of the
husband, as much as his mats and calabashes. He
does not treat her well as a rule, making her do all
the hard work, beating her when he is in a bad
temper, and selling her when she begins to weary
him. There are, besides, three or four more wives,
so that domesticity, in our sense of the word, is
impossible. Like the average European, the male
African regards woman as an animal inferior to him-
self. The former is much too polite to say so openly,
though by his actions, customs, and laws he evinces
this opinion in a hundred ways ; but the African has
no such scruple, he loudly proclaims his superiority,
and his women, in revenge, give full scope to that
genius for intrigue which is so peculiarly the attribute
of the negress.

The maternal instinct is not so highly developed
in African women as in their European sisters. In
common with the lower mammals, they arc very fond


and careful of their children while they are little an
incapable of taking care of themselves ; but this
interest gradually dies out as the children grow up.
For European parents to sell their offspring to
strangers would be regarded as monstrous ; but it
is a common practice with the African, who sells his
sons whenever he may be in want of the wherewithal
to purchase rum or tobacco. The girls, in any case,
are invariably sold on arriving at a marriageable age,
to any suitor willing to pay the " head money."

The opponents of Mr. Wilberforce's bill for the
abolition of the slave trade endeavoured to make
great capital out of the fact that the majority of the
negroes shipped for the West Indies were slaves in
their own country, and that those procured from
Ashanti and Dahomey would, if suffered to remain in
their own country, be liable to be put to death at any
time. These premises were denied by the supporters
of the bill, but a more extended acquaintance with
Western Africa has now shown that they were strictly
accurate. The deductions, however, drawn by the
opponents were utterly fallacious, for they assumed
that the conditions of slavery were the same in Africa
and in the West Indies, Now, in the former, in ninety-
nine cases out of a hundred, the slave suffered no
hardships, and did nothing that could really be called
hard work : while in the latter, day after day, he


was subjected to wearying manual labour, than which
nothing could be more irksome and hateful to the
naturally indolent African. That the abolition of
the slave trade was at once followed by an alarming
increase in the number of human sacrifices in Ashanti
and Dahomey cannot be denied ; but, because the
kings and chiefs of those two states were addicted
to customs of horrible barbarity, was no reason why
a nation should sanction the continuance of an
unnatural traffic. But none of the beneficial results
that were to have followed the cessation of the trade
have occurred in West Africa. Slavery still flou-
rishes, internecine strife has not diminished, and the
kidnapping of persons still goes on. The mainland
opposite the Isles de Los, and the numerous petty
states surroundino; the British settlement of Sierra
Leone, are kept in a constant turmoil of chronic
warfare. In the eastern districts of Sierra Leone
the traveller continually meets Mendis and Kossus,
armed with swords and spears, going about in couples,
hunting for slaves. If asked what they are doing,
they answer without hesitation that they are waiting
to try and catch somebody, and they hold up the
roll of braided cord, which they carry to bind their
captive, as a proof that they are not common agri-
culturists, but hond Jide slave-hunters. These men,
using the frontier of the colony as a base, kidnap


Timmanees living" over the border, carry them across
British territory, where their friends or fellow-
countrymen dare not follow in pursuit, and sell
them to chiefs in the Sherbro country. Some are,
it is said, sold to the Mohammedan rice-growers
dwelling on the banks of the great rivers between
Sierra Leone and the Gambia, where a system of
slavery is supposed to prevail similar to that which
formerly existed in the British colonies, the slaves
being daily driven out to work in the rice-fields,
under overseers. I have my doubts as to the truth
of this latter, and also of the current belief that the
labour is so distressing that such slaves rarely live
longer than three years.

It was off Tamara Island that, in 1813, was fought
the most sanguinary single-ship engagement of the
age, between the British 3 8 -gun frigate Amelia and
the French 40-gun frigate Arethuse. On the 27th of
January in that year the two French frigates Ruhis
and Arethuse arrived off the Isles de Los, w^here the
British gun-brig Daring was cruising. The com-
mander of the latter, mistaking them for English
ships, allowed them to approach so close that it was
impossible for him to extricate his vessel, which,
however, to save from falling into the enemy's hands,
he ran ashore at Tamara and burned. Proceeding
then by boats to the mainland, he and his crew


hastened to Sierra Leone, where the Amelia was
lying, to report the arrival of the French force.

The crew of the British frigate, which had been
some time on the station, were much debilitated from
the effects of the climate ; however, on the morning,
of the 3rd of February, she made sail for the Isles de
Los, but, owing to head winds and calms, did not
arrive there till the mornino; of the Gth. The French
ships were observed at anchor off the north end of
Tamara ; the Arethuse considerably north of the Ruhis,
which appeared to Captain L'by to be unloading a
Portuguese prize, but which really was in a sinking,
condition, she having, on the 4th, struck on one of
the coral reefs in the neighbourhood of the islands,,
and sustained very serious injury. On observing the
British frigate the Arethuse weighed and made sail,
but owing to the light winds the day passed without
either vessel being able to get within range of the
other. At daybreak on the 7th the Amelia discovered
the Arethuse about eight miles distant to the south-
east, but a dead calm kept both vessels stationary..
About noon a light breeze sprung up, and Captain
Irby made sail, hoping to draw the Arethuse away
from the Ruhis, of whose condition he was, of course,,
ignorant, so that he might, if possible, engage the
enemy in detail. About five p.m. the wind began to-
fail, and Captain Irby endeavoured to close. It was.


not until nearly eight p.m., liowever, that the action
commenced, when, it being a bright moonlight night,
with the sea as calm as a millpond, the Amelia arrived
within pistol-shot of the Arcthuse. The latter at once
opened fire, which was hotly returned from the British
frigate, until, after three broadsides had been ex-
changed, the Amelia, having her rigging damaged,
fell on board the enemy. The French immediately
commenced a heavy fire of musketry from their tops
and mast-heads, and threw several hand grenades
upon the Amelia's decks, hoping to be able to board
in the confusion ; but the British Marines kept up so
steady a fire, that boarding was impossible, and the
Aretliuse dropped clear.

About nine o'clock the Amelia again got her
head towards the Aretliuse, but in attempting to cross
her again fell on board of her, and the two ships now
swung close alongside, the muzzles of their guns
almost touching. A scene of mutual slaughter ensued.
The two crews snatched the sponges out of each
other's hands through the portholes, and cut at one
another with their cutlasses. The British endeavoured
to lash the two frigates together, but were unable,
through the heavy fire of musketry kept up by the
enemy, which fire soon nearly cleared the Amelia's
quarter-deck of both officers and men. The first and
second lieutenants and a lieutenant of Marines war


shot dowm ; Captain Irby was so severely wounded as
to be obliged to leave the deck in charge of the third
lieutenant, who was almost immediately killed at his
post, and the sailing-master finally took command.

The mutual concussion of the guns at length forced
the frigates apart, and in the calm state of the weather,
they gradually receded from each other, exchanging
broadsides till they were out of range. The Amelia
was much damaged, and had lost forty-six killed and
ninety-four wounded (five mortally) out of her crew
of three hundred and forty-nine. The Arethuse lost
thirty-one killed (eleven being officers) and seventy-
four wounded out of a crew of three hundred and
forty. At daylight next morning the Amelia made
sail for Madeira, and the Arethuse stood back to the
Isles de Los.

The Ruhis sank off" Tamara from the injuries she
had received in striking ; and to this day relics in the
shape of ringbolts, buttons, buckles, and brass plates
are frequently brought up from the wreck through be-
coming entano-led in the hooks and lines of native



Intelligent Port Officials— A Collision— Porto Grande— A Game
of Billiards— A Fandango- A Nice Quiet Night — Keasonable
Hotel Charges— Famine— The Cape Verde Islands — Derelicts-

Towards the close of the year of grace 1873, I found
myself on board a hired transport, bound, with a
liberal cargo of army surgeons, for the Gold Coast.
Three days out from Madeira we sighted San Antonio,
one of the Cape Verde Islands, and, about four hours
later, passing a conical rock, 273 feet high, known as
Bird Island, and which at a distance looks exactly
like a ship at anchor, we dropped anchor in Porto
Grande, the principal port of St. Vincent. While we
were looking at the straggling street of low, white
houses following the curve of the bay, and the cindery-
looking hills and barren mountains behind it, the
pratique boat, flying the Portuguese flag, and con-
taining two unclean half-castes, who represented the
port-officers, came alongside. They went through the


usual performance, pretended to examine the ship's
papers, made a few notes, and then, to our intense
disgust, told the captain to hoist the yellow flag, and
that we were quarantined. Now we were going to
coal here, an ojDeration which would occupy at least a
couple of days ; and, as we did not want to lie at
anchor all that time, looking at a barren volcanic
island and longing to stretch our legs on shore, with-
out being able to satisfy that longing, we induced
the captain to remonstrate with these officials. He
stepped on to the ladder, and said :

" Here, I say, you Porty-goos. There ain't no
call for you to quarantine this here ship. Them
papers show that we come from ]\Iadeira, and there's
no sickness aboard."

The health officer replied :

" It would appear from ze papers that you are
ejoinc: to ze Gold Coast."

" Yes, that's so."

"Well, ze Gold Coast is a vare unhealthy place."

" AVhat's that got to do with it ? We ain't come
from there ; we're a-going there."

" Senhor, we are well acquaint with our duty ; we
cannot permit ze contagion to be introduce. Good

As they went away, the captain permanently con-
signed them to a certain sultry locality ; and we all


felt how exceedingly satisfactory it was for England
to liave to depend upon islands in the possession of
such idiots as these for coaling stations.

All that afternoon and evening we walked rest-
lessly up and down the deck, looking at the sea, the
sky, the inhospitable shore, and the neighbouring
island of San Antonio, which quite land-locks the
harbour of Porto Grande, and wondering w^hat on
earth could have been the matter with Nature, when
she designed such an animal as a Portuguese. Next
morning we did not feel any more resigned ; and we
positively hated the luckier people who were going
ashore from the whalers lying in the harbour, and
whose captains, wiser in their generation than ours,
had, as we afterwards learned, primed the health officers
with brandy ; but our deliverance was close at hand.

An English barque, the Wcdsgriff, of Scarborough,
that was lying between us and the shore, got under
weigh, and drifted slowly down towards us on her
way out to sea. The current carried her on to us,
and we soon saw that a collision was inevitable. As
the barque was barely moving through the ^vater, I
thought there would not be much damage done, and
stood quite close to the bulwark to look on. She
glided up quite gently, and then her bow struck us
amidships with a shock that caused our vessel to heel
over violently. Then she bumped away towards the


stern, smashing in the iron pLating of the side, opening
up a row of cabins, and twisting the solid iron davits
like wire ; while her bowsprit raked away a deck-
house, and made matchwood of a boat. Then she
drifted round our stern, carrying away the taffrail and
a few odds and ends, and went off quietly on her

When the excitement had subsided, and we had

satisfied ourselves that none of the jars of sulphuric

acid which were on deck had been broken, and there

was no immediate danger of a conflagration, we began

to realise the full horrors of the situation. What

with the repairs, Board of Survey, and one thing and

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 7 of 22)