Flora Louise Shaw Lugard.

A tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria online

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valuable export trade of English goods to the West
Coast of Africa. It also, according to its own statement,
presented at a later date to Parliament, "furnished the
new American Colonies with frequent supplies of con-
siderable numbers of slaves at very moderate rates,
and that in so encouraging a manner that it sometimes


trusted the planters to the value of ^100,000 and
upward till they could conveniently pay the same."
Besides this three-cornered trade of goods to Africa and
slaves to America, the company also brought home
" ivory, red-wood, and gold dust in such quantity that it
frequently coined 40,000 to 50,000 guineas at a time,
with the elephant on them for a mark of distinction."
In fine, its trade not only produced a dividend, but
also "gave many other public and national advantages
to the whole kingdom, and the British plantations in

This flourishing state of things of course attracted
"interlopers," who, without regard for the company's
charter, carried on trade. The usual course followed.
Protests were made on the one side against interfer-
ence, on the other side against privilege. Every oppor-
tunity was taken by outsiders to find fault with the
company, and by the company to prove that, in the
best interests of the public, they should be allowed to
keep their monopoly. Finally, public opinion proved
too strong, and that happened which must always happen
to the best of chartered companies, when the field which
it exploits is widely profitable. The general trading
community insisted upon having its share, and in 1697
permission was granted to the "interlopers" by vote of
Parliament to trade to the West Coast, on payment of
a percentage to the Royal African Company for the
maintenance of its forts and castles for defensive pur-
poses. One of the principal arguments used in support
of the adoption of this policy was that the plantations
would be supplied with slaves in greater numbers and
at cheaper rates than could be expected from the company

Many traders profited by this permission. The result,
according to a somewhat rueful report of the company,
was that the natives advanced the price of slaves and
beat down the price of English manufactures, while the
American planters, having to pay a higher price for


their labour, advanced the price of sugar. The Royal
African Company had to raise ^180,000 of fresh capital,
and in 1707 we find the company petitioning Queen
Anne to recommend their case to the consideration of
the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations.
Nevertheless trade flourished, and notwithstanding the
strong presentation of their case by the company, and
the many evils which unquestionably attended the throw-
ing open of the coast, we may be permitted to doubt
whether West African trade would to-day be valued in
the substantial millions which its total has reached, if
the monopoly of the Royal African Company had been


The West African coast history of the eighteenth century
is mainly a history of trade, and as the most profitable
trade was done in slaves, it is hardly an over statement
to say that it is a history of the slave trade. It may be
remembered that one of the most valued privileges con-
ceded to Great Britain at the Peace of Utrecht in 171 2
was the Assiento contract, or the right to supply the
Spanish colonies on the American coast with slaves.
In that treaty, which may be said to have laid the
foundation of the British Colonial Empire, other British
colonies and settlements obtained other advantages. The
concession of a monopoly in the Spanish slave trade
was the special advantage pressed for by the section of
the country which was interested in the West African
trade, and was obtained for them by British diplomacy
in satisfaction of what was felt to be their legitimate
claim. Other European nations were no less active in
the same traffic, and thus it came about that whereas
in the interior the influence of ancient and medieval
civilisation, operating from the north, had been an in-
fluence tending to the development of all that is admir-
able in the history of nations, in the south the modern
relation of Europeans to the natives of the coast was simply
as the relation of beasts of prey to their victims.

The victims were generally of a very low order of
humanity. Europe made its settlements at the extreme
southern edge of what may be called the equatorial slums
of Western Africa. Europeans seldom lost sight of the
sea, and European influence scarcely extended beyond


the forts which protected it. The nearer to the coast
the worse was the native type. Barbot, who was of
course himself a slave-dealer, tells his readers patheti-
cally that " 'Tis hard to conceive what patience is
required to deal with these brutes." They were all gross
pagans, worshipping snakes, consecrated trees, the sea,
and many lesser objects. This was the fetishism which
had been driven southwards at an early period from Gao,
Daura, Kano, and other towns in the northern territories.
We find here also in the seventeenth century — as at the
present day — traces of the paganism which was expelled
by the Mohammedans from Ghana in the eleventh cen-
tury. *' Almost every town or village has near to it a
small consecrated g-rove to which the orovernors and
people frequently resort to make their offerings." And
here too we find, in the so-called monumental stones
carved to represent half a human figure, which are re-
vered to the present day, a reminiscence of the Teraphim
of ancient Egypt. The people of Benin were in the
seventeenth century "the most genteel and polite of the
coast," Barbot gives a very interesting account of their
capital town. But on festive occasions human sacrifices
were made on a vast scale.

At the back of Cape Verde, between the Senegal
and the Gambia, the Fulani had a "little empire"
inland, and the natives reckoned their king to be the
"most potent prince in all those countries." It was said
that he could put from 40,000 to 50,000 men into the
field. The coast was, however, densely wooded, and
swarmed with wild beasts. The character given by
Barbot of the coast natives at this district has been
already quoted. Sorcerers, idolaters, robbers, and
drunkards, they were indeed "no better than their
country." At the back of the Gambia the natives were
" very savage, cruel, and treacherous;" they were "gross
pagans, said to worship demons more than any other
blacks ; " and a cannibal people, driven southwards about
the year 1505 — which we may remember was the date


of some of the great Askia's conquests — perpetually-
warred upon the older inhabitants. "On the Ivory
Coast the natives," says Barbot, "are very savage canni-
bals who file their teeth. The place might yield a good
trade," he adds, "but for the savagery of the natives,
who have massacred at different times English, Dutch,
and Portuguese." Though for the sake of the ivory all
European nations traded at this coast, no setdements
were made and the ships' crews "dared not land." On
the Gold Coast, where the natives were among the most
civilised with whom the Europeans dealt, few or none
were to be trusted. They were gross pagans, and, like
the people of Benin, made human sacrifices. They were
generally " of a turbulent temper, very deceitful and crafty,
and so continually at war with one another that this was
the best part of all the coast for slaves as well as gold,"
the prisoners being sold immediately on their capture.
After some of their quarrels with their neighbours a
trader might " ship prisoners as fast as they could be
fetched from the shore in a boat." The natives of the
Slave Coast were the greatest and most cunning thieves
that can be imagined, " therein far exceeding our Euro-
pean pick-pockets, and on the least outrage received
would poison the offender." The inhabitants of Biafra
farther east were "very gross pagans of a wild temper,"
and made human sacrifices to the devil. Inland from
New Calabar and the Cross River the natives were
cannibals, and southwards from this district the country
was inhabited by "very low class naked natives" to
Gaboon, where the inhabitants, "very savage and animal
in their habits," were "barbarous, wild, bloody, and
treacherous." These were the most wretchedly poor and
miserable of any in Guinea, They were excessively
fond of brandy, and " married indifferently any female
member of their family, including their mothers."

These wretched beings were worth ^40 apiece in
the market of Jamaica, and with the ideas that then
prevailed it is hardly perhaps surprising that they were


regarded as fair prey. Synods of the Churches— Pro-
testant as well as Catholic — countenanced the trade.
Two Synods of the Protestant Churches held in France,
at Rouen and Alen9on in 1637, to consider a question
raised by certain "over-scrupulous persons " who "thought
it unlawful that many Protestant merchants who had
lono- traded in slaves from Guinea to America should
continue that traffic, as inconsistent with Christian
charity," decreed after long discussion that slavery, always
acknowledged to be of the right of nations, "is not
condemned in the Word of God." Therefore they con-
tented themselves with exhorting merchants who had
liberty to trade not to abuse that liberty contrary to
Christian charity, and not to dispose of those poor infidels
except to such Christians as will use them with humanity,
and above all will take care to instruct them in the
true religion. The "inestimable advantage which the
slaves may reap by becoming Christians and saving
their souls," was put forward by the righteous of that
day as one of the strongest arguments in favour of con-
tinuing a traffic which was so profitable as to enlist very
powerful support.

How far this reason and the mild advice offered by
the Synods of the Churches was likely to influence the
Europeans of different nationalities who were locally en-
gaged in the coast trade, may be gathered from the
descriptions which are given by Barbot and other con-
temporaries. The conduct of the Portuguese has already
been described. Of the English, Barbot says that the
trade of the Royal African Company "daily decays
through the ill management of their servants in Guinea,
who, to their own vices, add those of the people among
whom they live and converse. . . . The fondness of the
English for their beloved liquor, punch, is so great, even
among the officers and factors, that whatever comes of
it, there must be a bowl upon all occasions, which causes
the death of many of them. Consequently the garrison
(of Cape Coast Castle) becomes very weak, the survivors


looking poor and thin, not only the soldiers, but the officers
and factors, whose countenances are shrivelled and dis-
mal through ill diet and worse government." The con-
duct of all Europeans towards the black women was as
discreditable as it was injurious to themselves. Rum
and spirits were sold in great quantities by the English
and Dutch. The Prussians and Danes were even fonder
of strong liquor than the English, and their conduct
generally was equally bad. The governors of the Danish
stations were often men of the meanest extraction, a
gunner from the fort being sometimes raised to that
position. The unfaithfulness to the Danish Company
of their servants was such that "scarce any one of in-
tegrity " sent out from Denmark was allowed to live.
The Dutch treated the natives with arbitrary cruelty.
In return the blacks were often uncivil to strangers, and
this "put Europeans upon ravaging the country, destroy-
ing their canoes, and carrying off some of their people
into captivity." " If," says Barbot, "the negroes be
generally crafty and treacherous, it may well be said
the Europeans have not dealt with them as becomes
Christians, for it is too well known that many of the
European nations trading amongst these people have
very unjustly and inhumanly, without any provocation,
stolen away from time to time abundance of the people,
not only in this (the Sierra Leone) coast, but all over
Guinea, and when they came on board their ships in a
harmless and confiding manner, carried great numbers
away to the plantations, and there sold them with the
other slaves they had purchased for their goods. ..."
"Certain it is," he says in another place, "that few who
can live well at home will venture to repair to the Guinea
Coast to mend their circumstances, unless encouraged by
large salaries. . . . This must be said, once for all, that
the generality of those who look for such employments
are necessitous persons who cannot live at home, and
are, perhaps, most of them of a temper to improve
all opportunities of mending their worldly circumstances



without much regard to the principles of Christianity.
For without reflecting on particular persons, it may be
said that what I have here asserted is sufficiently made
out by the irregularity of their lives in those parts, and
particularly as to lewdness and excess of drinking. It
is almost incredible how many shorten their days by
such debauchery."

Ao-ents of this character were not likely to deal over
tenderly with their human merchandise. Ships of 300
and 400 tons burden usually took cargoes of from 500
to 800 slaves. A ship carrying 500 slaves needed to
take in 100,000 yams, the slaves generally sickening and
dying upon any other food. The space which was left
for the slaves when such provision was made for feeding
them, and for storing a proportionate amount of water,
was not great. Here is Bosman's description of the
manner in which slaves were shipped at Whydah. After
explaining that they were usually prisoners of war, he
says : " When these slaves come to Whydah they are
put in prison all together, and when we treat concerning
buying them, they are all brought out together in a large
plain, where, by our surgeons, whose province it is, they
are thoroughly examined, and that naked, too, both men
and women, without the least distinction or modesty.
Those which are approved as good are set on one side.
. . . The invalids and the maimed being thrown out, as
I have told you, the remainder are numbered, and it is
entered who delivered them. In the meanwhile a burning
iron, with the arms or name of the companies, lies in the
fire, with which ours are marked on the breast. This is
done that we may distinguish them from the slaves of
the English, French, or others, which are also marked
with their mark. . . . They come on board stark naked,
as well women as men." Bosman, proud of the superior
organisation of the Dutch ships, which he described as
being "for the most part clean and neat," while the ships
of the English, French, and Portuguese are always "foul
and stinking," explains that on these better-class Dutch


ships the lodging-place of the slaves is divided into two
parts, one for the women and one for the men, and that
"here they lie as close together as it is possible for
them to be crowded." Barbot, who traded for himself,
chiefly in the neighbourhood of New Calabar, says nothing
about cleanliness nor separate compartments. He tells
us that in that neighbourhood the slaves were "a strange
sort of brutish creatures, very weak and slothful, but
cruel and bloody in their temper, always quarrelling,
biting, and fighting, and sometimes choking and murder-
ing one another without any mercy." Both traders were
much disturbed by a widespread belief among the natives
that "we buy them only to fatten and afterwards eat
them as a delicacy." Barbot tells us that "natives
infected with this belief will fall into a deep melancholy
and despair, and refuse all sustenance, though never so
much compelled and even beaten to oblige them to take
some nourishment, notwithstanding all which they will
starve to death. . . . And, though I must say I am
naturally compassionate, yet have I been necessitated
sometimes to cause the teeth of those wretches to be
broken, because they would not open their mouths or
be prevailed upon by any entreaties to feed themselves,
and thus have forced some sustenance into their throats."
Many of the slaves came from the back country, and had
never even seen the sea.

Those of us who have crossed the Bay of Biscay in
bad weather on a return journey from the Tropics, with
all the alleviations that can be given by swift transit,
comfort, and warm clothing, are in a position to imagine
what some of those naked shiploads must have suffered.
The death-rate amounted to two, three, and even four
hundred out of every five hundred shipped in Guinea.
Yet so profitable was the trade that ten ships might often
be seen loading slaves in the same port.

The slaves being commonly prisoners of war, the trade
had of course the indirect effect of putting a premium upon
intertribal fighting. There was indeed scarcely a vice


which it did not encourage alike in slaves and slavers.
It is interesting to observe, from the records of European
intercourse with the coast, that the evil of trading in arms
and spirits was very early apparent to the intelligent.
Barbot and Bosman both deplore the trade in arms, but
the one speaking for the French and English and the
other for the Dutch agree in regarding it as inevitable,
"since should one nation abstain from the profit of the
trade, other nations would only sell the more." "Abund-
ance of firearms, gunpowder, and ball," says Barbot, "are
sold by all the trading Europeans, and are a very profit-
able commodity when the blacks of the coast are at war,
yet were it to be wished they had never been carried
thither, considering how fatal they have been and will
still be upon occasion in the hands of the blacks to
Europeans who, for a little gain, furnish them with knives
to cut their own throats ; of which each nation is sensible
enough, and yet none will forbear to carry that commodity
which proves so dangerous in the hands of those blacks.
The best excuse we have for this ill-practice is that if one
does not sell the other will sell them, if the French do not
the Dutch will, and if they should forbear it the English
or others would do it." The idea of the delegates of
seventeen European nations assembled for the purpose
of agreeing to limitations to be placed upon the trade of
their respective countries was one which had not presented
itself to the eyes of the seventeenth century. The Inter-
national Conferences of Berlin and Brussels belonged to
another age.

The effect of the slave trade upon the coast was felt
into the far interior, and in the later records of the Haussa
States we hear of slaves being hunted for purposes of sale
to the black traders from the south, who in turn sold them
to Europeans on the coast, Mungo Park's account of his
travels in passing from the Gambia to the Niger at the
end of the eighteenth century gives a sufficiently sorrow-
ful picture of the condition of populations which had then
been ground for two hundred years between the oppression


of the European slave trade on the south and the Moorish
conquest on the north.

It was only very gradually that the conscience of
humanity revolted against a means of making profit so
opposed to every conception of freedom and justice. But
the movements of thought of the eighteenth century,
which emancipated Europe, had also their result upon
the West Coast of Africa. There wanted still a few
years to the centenary of the Treaty of Utrecht, when
the slave trade was abolished, at least in name, in 1807.
Tt was unfortunately far from being abolished in fact,
and the greater part of the nineteenth century saw
unavailing efforts made by European governments to
put an end to the exportation of slaves from Africa
by sea.

The early part of the nineteenth century witnessed
also determined efforts made by European exploration
to penetrate the mystery of Central Africa. England took
a brilliant part in this movement on the West Coast, and,
in the early part of the century, the principal exploring
parties were led by Englishmen. Mungo Park, sent out
by the Royal Geographical Society, made his first jour-
ney, travelling in from the Gambia, in 1 796, and struck
the Niger at Segou. His second journey ended fatally
at Boussa in 1805. Between 1810 and 1825 English
expeditions made many attempts to reach the interior
from the coast. When Rene Caillie, the French explorer,
who eventually reached Timbuctoo in 1828, disembarked
at St. Louis in 18 16, with the intention of penetrating,
if possible, to the Niger, he found that "nothing was
talked of there but the English expeditions into the
interior." It was with the expedition of Major Grey in
1818 that he first started for the interior. I find it stated
in a French account that England spent upwards of
^760,000 at this time upon exploration.

Efforts to reach the interior were made from the north
coast as well as from the south. Hornemann attempted
in 18 10 to cross the continent from Tripoli to Ashantee,


and reached the Haussa States, travelHng by the Tripoli-
Fezzan route, but died of dysentery in Nupe. A little
later Lyon and Ritchie went in from Tripoli, and in the
years 1818-20 explored the Fezzan as far south as lat. 23°.
Ritchie died at Murzuk, but Lyon brought back a good
deal of information about the Fezzan and the country to
the south, including Bornu and the Haussa States. Their
work was carried further by Major Denham, Captain
Clapperton, and Dr. Oudney, who went in together by the
Tripoli-Fezzan road, and succeeded in the years 1822-23
and 1824 in reaching Bornu and the Haussa States,
travelling as far west as Sokoto, and as far south as the
tenth parallel of latitude. The others returned safely —
Oudney died in Bornu. Captain Clapperton, making a
second journey by way of the West Coast in 1826, died at
Sokoto. Major Laing, going in also from the north,
reached Timbuctoo, and was murdered in the desert a
little way from the town in 1828, The most famous of
the expeditions from the north was that carried out by
Dr. Barth and Mr. Richardson at the instance of Lord
Palmerston between the years 1850-55, in which, though
Mr. Richardson died, Dr. Barth was able to collect a
mass of valuable information, afterwards published in
five bulky volumes, which form the standard work upon
the interior of the West African Soudan.

It was reserved for Clapperton's faithful servant,
Richard Landor, to navigate the Lower Niger from the
Boussa Rapids to its mouth in 1832. From this time
onwards, expeditions were renewed upon the coast. The
French took an active part in exploring the territory in
which they were politically interested, and a certain
amount of information with regard to the interior was

The change of civilised opinion with regard to the
slave trade led in the meantime to corresponding changes
in the administration of European settlements on the
West Coast. Already in 1 783 the trading rights of
France in the Gambia had been made the subject of


exchange for the trading rights of England in the
Senegal, thus preparing the way for the modern system
of "spheres of influence." Shortly after the conclusion
of the war with France in 18 15, the British Government
took over from the merchant companies the various forts
and stations established by British enterprise, and created
a colony of " West Africa Settlements" that included the
whole of the coast in which English trade was interested.
This initiated the system, which, however, was not for
some time fully carried into effect, of Crown Colonies upon
the coast.

In 1843 the colonies of Gambia and the Gold Coast
were erected by letters-patent into separate colonies,
having each their executive and judicial establishments.
In 1850 the Danish forts on the Gold Coast were pur-
chased by Great Britain from the King of Denmark, and
with the forts the Danish Protectorate was transferred to
England. In 1861 Lagos became British by cession from
the natives. In 187 1 the Dutch finally abandoned to
Great Britain the whole of their rights upon the coast.
With various changes in the administration of the settle-
ments themselves the existing colonies of Gambia, Sierra
Leone, Gold Coast, and Lagos, came into being, and trade

Online LibraryFlora Louise Shaw LugardA tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria → online text (page 27 of 41)