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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with the West Coast in more legitimate products than
human flesh was carried on under the local protection of
an Imperial flag.

Unfortunately, the long-indulged taste for spirits, and
the natural desire of the natives to possess firearms, gave
a predominance to these two articles of European export,
which up to the end of the nineteenth century continued
to produce deplorable results, and to lower alike the utility
and the value of European dealings with the coast. It
was not until the conscience of Europe, revolting at last
against this evil as against the slave trade, made itself
heard in the international agreements signed at Berlin
and Brussels in 1885 and 1890, that any determined effort
was made to restrict by legislation the limits of this in-
jurious traffic. The result of this movement of opinion


may already be very plainly traced in the different char-
acter which trade with West Africa has assumed within
the last twenty or five-and-twenty years. In the earlier
part of the century, when the British Government assumed
the duty of watching over the suppression of the slave
trade, other trade fell to an almost nominal figure. A
return presented to the House of Commons in 1865 shows
the total value of exports from the West African settle-
ments to amount to ;^650,ooo, while the total value of
imports into the settlements amounted to £5:^3,000. The
cost of the very elementary government which was main-
tained in the four settlements for the purpose of promoting
this trade and suppressing the slave trade, inclusive of the
squadron maintained in West African waters, amounted
to a charge on the Treasury of about ^320,000.

The later history of these colonies is sufficiently well
known to render it unnecessary for me to deal with it
here. I must only guard myself from seeming to attach
to modern traders with West Africa the slur which un-
doubtedly did attach to their predecessors of an earlier
period. The trade of the coast of late years has
been placed upon a much wider, and I think it may be
said without fear of contradiction by events, an ever-
widening basis. It is associated with some of the most
respectable names in commerce, and under enlightened
and beneficent direction may not improbably become one
of the most valuable fields of British industrial develop-
ment. Since the period of which I write, a body of
educated coast natives has also been developed which
would have a just right to be profoundly wounded were
they to be confused with the cannibal savage who lives
not far from them in the interior. In this connection,
the names of Bishop Crowther and Dr. Blyden will
occur to every mind, and if among the coloured officials
and professional men of the coast colonies all have not
attained to the same reputation, there are no doubt many
who merit the same distinction. But these are to be
met with only within the limits of the European settle-


ments. What I have said in regard to the earlier trade
is, I think, sufficient to prove the statement with which I
set out, that if the original native of the coast is inferior
to the native of the interior, the influence exercised by
Europe on the coast has been very different from that
exercised by Europe in the interior in days when black
poets were welcomed at the court of Cordova, and the
University of Timbuctoo exchanged knowledge with the
universities of Spain.

There is one other point to which I am anxious to
draw attention. It is that, with the exception of Mr.
Maclean's temporary extension of British influence on the
Gold Coast as Governor for the Merchant Government,
between 1838 and 1842, no colony up to the last decade of
the nineteenth century extended beyond the immediate
seaboard. From the date of the abolition of the slave
trade the constant policy of the British Government was
to withdraw as far as possible from any intermeddling
with native affairs, and from any attempt to establish
British influence, or to incur political responsibilities, upon
the coast. It was as a matter of duty, and mainly for
the purpose of enforcing the abolition of the over-sea
slave trade, that Great Britain in 1808 assumed the
government of Sierra Leone, and in 182 1, after the aboli-
tion of the existing Chartered Company, annexed to it
the settlements of the Gambia and the Gold Coast.
The greatest care was taken to repudiate responsibility
for native affairs outside the limits of the small English
settlements. As late as 1865, it was stated before a
Committee of the House of Commons that British ter-
ritory on the Gambia was so small, that when the native
tribes fought with each other, "all their bullets, without
meaning us any harm, came into the British barracks."
In the Gold Coast Colony, Fantees and Ashantees fought
with each other on the sea coast, and an English victory
obtained over them in 1827 took place, not in the interior,
but at Accra.

The settlement of the country and the policy of the


Government with regard to the West Coast were fully
expressed in the finding of a strong representative Com-
mittee of the House of Commons which sat for several
months in the early part of 1865, and, after a careful
examination of witnesses and consideration of reports
specially prepared and submitted to it by commissioners
charged with the investigation of the affairs of the West
African colonies on the spot, reported to the House
certain resolutions at which it had arrived.

In reporting these resolutions, the Committee stated
first that the chief object of all undertakings on the
coast, since the passing of the Act for the abolition of
the slave trade, had been the suppression of the trade ;
secondly, that " if the promotion first, and afterwards the
suppression, of the slave trade had not been the ob-
ject of British West African establishments, commercial
enterprise would never have selected the Gold Coast
for its locality, nor would the British probably have
undertaken any settlement whatever in West Africa ;
still less would the Crown have implicated itself in
government there or in treaties of protection." The
Committee found that the slave trade, "the suppression
of which is now the chief object of the British establish-
ments in West Africa, was rapidly diminishing, that the
only demand remaining in 1865 was from Cuba, while
there was a good hope of its speedy and total extinction.
They also found, as regards the encouragement and
protection of other trade, that "in the sole interests of
trade the evidence of merchants is that it is better that
their agents should feel the necessity of keeping on
good terms with native powers than that they should be
backed by English governments, or even by consuls,
more than is necessary for a reference of disputes to
constituted authorities."

For these and for other reasons which are fully set
forward in the report, the Committee submitted as a
resolution to the House: "That all further extension
of territory or assumption of government, or new treaties


offering any protection to native tribes, would be in-
expedient, and that the object of our policy should be to
encourage in the natives the exercise of those qualities
which may render it possible for us more and more to
transfer to them the administration of all the governments,
with a view to our ultimate withdrawal from all, except,
probably, Sierra Leone." This resolution, with six others
arrived at by the Committee, was adopted and reported
to the House on June 26, 1865.


The Committee of 1865 may be taken to represent the
lowest ebb of British sentiment with regard to the West
African colonies. The evidence which was given before
it forms a bulky volume, and, in reading through its
pages, there is no escape from the conclusion that the
result of three hundred years of occupation and of trade
with the West Coast was to leave us with no interest
there which could appeal to the British public as justi-
fying the expenditure of British money, and the employ-
ment of British officials to defend. Upwards of two
centuries had been spent in developing the West African
slave trade, the better part of one century had been
spent in suppressing it, and when, in 1865, it became
possible to report that the over-sea slave trade was
practically abolished, the only proposal that appeared
to be warranted by the existing condition of affairs in
West Africa was that, with the exception of a coaling
station to be retained at Sierra Leone, Great Britain
should abandon a position of which the advantages
seemed to be purely nominal upon the coast. The
principal evidence which was given before the Com-
mittee went to show that British settlement had no
extension, that British administration claimed no authority,
and that British trade had no interests which the increase
of political influence could assist. The private trade
which remained outside the slave trade was small, and
was reported in two out of the four settlements to be
rapidly declining.

But though this is the position which is emphatically



presented by the findings of the Committee of 1865, there
is to be traced, even in the evidence which was taken
before the Committee, a faint indication of the coming
change which was soon to reverse the direction of public
opinion. In the examination of an important witness,
Colonel Ord, the Special Commissioner employed by the
Government to visit the four settlements and to prepare
a report from information collected on the spot, a question
was put as to the probable reasons for the maintenance
by France of the large military garrisons which he
reported as existing at Senegal and Goree. In reply,
Colonel Ord said that the only surmise which he had
heard expressed upon the subject was that "they" (the
French) "desire eventually to connect their Algerian and
their African possessions, and to become possessors of
the whole of the north of Africa."

Thus, in 1865, outside the circles of philanthropy and
philosophic Radicalism which still retained a predominat-
ing influence over British colonial policy, the first notes
had been already sounded of that international conflict of
diplomacy which was soon to be known under the name
of the " Scramble for Africa."

The Franco-German war of 1870 intervened, and de-
layed for a few years the development of ideas which were
already germinating in 1865, but, the war once over, its
effect was, perhaps, rather to stimulate than to crush the
ambitions of France and Germany to sustain their position
as colonial powers. Among non-political influences which
also tended to give an impetus to continental exploration,
no single element was perhaps more potent than the
application of steam to land and river transport. The
development of railways, which took place during the
middle of the century, had for the first time in history
rendered possible the commercial exploitation of the
centres of great continents. The discoveries of gold
which had been made in America and Australia, and of
diamonds and gold at a somewhat later period in South
Africa, revolutionised trading operations and raised ex-


pectancy to the highest point. Capital became available for
every enterprise, and in the last quarter of the nineteenth
century colonial apathy on the part of the western nations
gave place to a keen competition for the acquisition of
fields of commercial operation — which were known by the
political name of "spheres of influence" — in hitherto un-
developed portions of the world.

Africa became the scene of an international race for
territory and power. In the heart of the continent the
Congo Free State was brought into existence by mutual
agreement of the European Powers in 1885, and was
placed, with what were held to be due guarantees for free-
dom of trade, under the direction of the King of the
Belgians. The position of England was unchallenged in
the south. Portugal retained, and Germany made good
claims upon the east and west coasts. England too secured
from the east coast a position, which at a later period was
extended to the interior, and gave her the command of the
great waterways and the Valley of the Nile. France held
an undisputed position of predominant influence in the
north, as well as important centres of trade and of military
influence on the west coast.

That under these circumstances the directors of French
colonial policy should have cherished the ambition ascribed
to them of joining their possessions on the coast of the
Mediterranean to their possessions in the west, and thus
becoming the possessors of the whole of North-West
Africa, was in no sense to be wondered at. The intro-
duction of railways had abolished distance, and there was
no apparent obstacle to obstruct the spread of French
influence from the Mediterranean seaboard to the equator.
A'map showing the limits of the West African colonies of
Great Britain, which was prepared and submitted to the
Committee of 1865, gave practically no dimensions to the
British settlements. They are indicated simply as pink
lines upon the sea coast, with here and there a dot, of which
it appeared in evidence that one mile might be taken as
the greatest extent inland. Only on the Gold Coast there


was an indication of protected territory lying inland from
the pink line, and there had been a public declaration of
the intention to withdraw from that territory. In the
interior there was therefore no bar whatever to the con-
tinuous extension of French influence.

When, after the conclusion of the Franco-German war,
French policy began to declare itself in West Africa, the
movement, co-ordinated with traditional intelligence, and
supported by brilliant personal initiative on the part of
individuals entrusted with its execution, would appear to
have included a design of steady extension from the north
towards the south, accompanied by supplementary expedi-
tions of penetration to be directed inland from all portions
of the western coast which were not held by any other
foreign power.

The English settlements of the Gambia, Sierra Leone,
the Gold Coast, and Lagos, covered certain strips upon
the seaboard. Between these were found points of pene-
tration in some instances for official military expeditions,
in others for expeditions of trade and exploration. To the
south-east of the English colonies, and lying between them
and the French colony of the Gaboon, there was situated
the very important highway which British exploration of
the early part of the century had shown to exist in the
course of the Lower Niger. It will be remembered that
Mungo Park lost his life at Boussa in the attempt to follow
the course of the river from the interior in the year 1805,
and that Clapperton's servant, Richard Landor, finally
established the connection of the Niger with the Atlantic
in 1832. From that date onward a certain amount of
British trade had existed upon the river, and notwithstand-
ing disastrous experiences of climate, the courses of the
Lower Niger and the Benue had been explored, and a
small trade settlement maintained at the native town of
Lokoja at the confluence of the two rivers.

The Niger, of which the many mouths flowed to the
sea through a politically unprotected coast, and of which
the upper courses in the back country of Sierra Leone


were already the object of French exploration, was natu-
rally selected as one of the lines to which the French
policy of penetration was to be applied. In this instance
the policy took a commercial form. A French company
was started upon the lower river, and the commercial
attack was met quite simply by British commercial oppo-
sition. English traders had no friendly feelings towards
foreign competition, and in mere self-defence were well
inclined to oppose French intrusion, but in the earlier
years of the movement there was a lack of leadership,
and no very definite intention animated the action which
was taken.

As the struggle for Africa waxed hotter, and all
parties to it became more clearly aware of the objects
at which they were aiming, the value of the Niger as
a commercial highway, and of the territories included
in the watershed of the Niger and the Benu6, became
more apparent. There was still no opposition to French
activity in Western Africa, except that which was privately
sustained by British trade, but the opposition took a more
active form. The British companies trading on the river
began to feel that it was becoming a matter of life and
death to them to overcome the foreign competition, which
threatened them with extinction, and under the pressure
of their struggle for self-preservation they found a leader
and evolved a policy which had for its result to revolu-
tionise the entire position of Great Britain in West Africa.

In 1879, under the inspiration of a young engineer
officer, Mr. Taubman Goldie, whose tastes for travel had
led him to acquire some personal knowledge of the interior
of the Soudan, and whose interests, owing to family cir-
cumstances, had become involved in West African enter-
prise, the British companies trading upon the Niger were
induced to amalgamate, and took the name of the National
African Company. The effect of amalgamation was to
abolish personal rivalries between them, and to enable
them to present a united front to the advances of French
enterprise upon the river. In the sharp round of com-


mercial war which ensued, Mr. Goldie, afterwards Sir
George, became the acknowledged leader on the British
side of a movement which, under his guidance, rapidly
assumed an overtly political character.

It was essential to the existence of British trade that
French competition should be driven from the native
markets on the banks of the river ; but the immediate
French reply to the amalgamation of the British com-
panies was the formation on the river of another and
more powerful French company, which was known to
have the support and encouragement of the French
Foreign Office. For two or three years the National
African Company sustained the brunt of an international
duel, of which the end was clearly seen to be the with-
drawal of one or other of the combatants from the scene.
The French company yielded. They were finally bought
out by the National African Company in 1884, and the
British representative at the conference opened in Berlin
in that year was able to announce that no other Power
but Great Britain owned any trading establishments on
the Lower Niger. The result was that the conference
adjudged to Great Britain the duty of watching over the
application of regulations laid down for the navigation
of the Niger, and in the same year Great Britain notified
to the Powers her assumption of a Protectorate, under the
name of the Oil Rivers, over that portion of the African
coast which lay between the British colony of Lagos and
the territory now known as the German Cameroons.

The first round was won, but the conflict, which had
hitherto been waged upon the coast, was now carried
into the interior. Throughout the period of its existence
the National African Company had found it necessary
to secure its commercial position by the negotiation of
treaties with native chiefs. Upon the lower river, where
the political organisation of the natives was of a primi-
tive character, the number of petty independent chiefs
was very great, and the treaties negotiated by the Com-
pany were counted by hundreds. It was known that



in the interior chiefs of more importance commanded
the submission of wide areas of territory, and the value
of obtaining treaties of amity and trade with these
potentates was obvious. But if obvious to the British
company, it was of course equally obvious to French
and German competitors; and from 1884 onward the
influence of Germany, which in that year established
itself in the Cameroon territory, to the east of the British
Protectorate, became no less active in the back country
than that of France. The position of the British com-
pany, in presence of this double rivalry, is described in
a speech made by the Governor at a much later date.
"We knew," he said, "that the Haussa States were by
far the most valuable region of equatorial Africa. We
were aware that Germany was organising an expedition
to deprive us of them, and we knew that the acquisition
by any other European Power of political influence over
this empire would before long entail our complete retire-
ment from our position on the Middle Niger and the
river Benue to the district south of Lokoja, and probably
even to Asaba, only 150 miles from the sea." It was
constantly pointed out by the Governor of the Company,
in his speeches to his shareholders, that the prosperity
and success of trading operations upon the coast de-
pended on the maintenance of British influence, with its
accompaniments of peace and security, in the interior.
Animated by this view of their own higher interest, the
Company adopted and maintained, in the first instance
at their private cost, the policy of sending missions into
the interior to negotiate treaties with distant Moham-
medan states. But it had early become evident that
British interests could not be maintained unless the com-
mercial position of the British company were strengthened
by some sort of political sanction. So long as their
treaties were made only by a private company, they
were of the nature of private and individual agreements,
which carried no weight as against the official treaties
of foreign Powers.


In 1886 the political sanction, of which the need had
made itself more urgently felt with every extension of
competing- foreign influence towards the interior, was
accorded by the grant of a Royal Charter, By the charter
the Company acquired, under the new name of the Royal
Niger Company, the international position of a recognised
government, whose treaties with native chiefs were pro-
tected by Great Britain, and from this date the flag
of the Company became for international purposes the
equivalent of the British flag. Where it flew, the authority
of Great Britain was held to be established, and where
the company negotiated a treaty of protection with a
native power, such treaties were held to exclude any
political treaties from being made in the territories of
the same potentate by other European nations. The
charter also conferred upon the Company the power to
levy taxes to a limited extent for the purpose of meet-
ing the expenses entailed upon it by its political expendi-
ture. Chief among the items of this expenditure was the
raising of a small native military force.


Thus from 1886 the Royal Niger Company took the
position, familiar in the annals of British history, of a
commercial body endowed with political powers, extend-
ing over a territory of which the limits were undefined,
and in which the character, the numbers, and the history
of the native populations were unknown. England, in
general, knew as little of Nigeria and its possibilities at
the end of the nineteenth century as it knew of India
in the sixteenth century. The territories over which
these powers were granted were at first known by the
name of the "Territories of the Royal Niger Company."
A little later this title was changed for the more con-
venient name of Nigeria.

Sir George Goldie, acting first as Vice-President and
afterwards as President of the Chartered Company, con-
tinued to direct a policy, in which the legitimate and
commercial interests of the Company in the lower reaches
of the river were safeguarded and developed by a system
of political missions, extending inland for 500 miles, to
the Emirates of Sokoto and Gando in the north, to
Yola and Adamawa in the east, and finally to Borgu,
lying in the back country of Lagos, in the west. As a
result of these political missions, treaties were negotiated,
and in many instances subsidies were given to native
chiefs. The disturbed condition of the territories and
the hostile attitude of native chiefs, combined with
the difficulties of penetrating to the interior, through
unknown tropical country, laid waste in many districts by

centuries of slave-raiding and inter-tribal war, rendered



these missions in most cases expeditions of no little

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 28 of 41)