Harold Michell.

An introduction to the geography of Sierra Leone online

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Africa collects rubber and palm produce, the native of
the Savannahs raises Hocks and herds, the desert man
transports teii and other produce, the Steppe dweller
su])plies horses and cattle, and the forest man supplies
t'urs, and even the Eskimo has been brought under the
influence of these energetic peoples and supplies them
too with furs.

Even the Chinese who for so many centuries have
cultivated the grass lands of Eastern Asia now^ produce
tea and silk for the Westerners as well.

In considering these main climatic regions, although
temperature has so far been the chief determining
factor, constant reference to rainfall has been neces-
sary ; it will be advantageous now to note the import-
ance of rainfall in determining these belts, and, fur-
ther, the connection between the temperature and

Clouds and Rainfall. — When wet clothes are hung
out in the sun and wind they soon dry. After a shower
of rain the pools in the streets gradually disappear,
and the dew on the grass and leaves soon disappears
when the sun shines.

What happens is that the water is converted into
vapour or gas, and being lighter than the surrounding
air this vapour rises.

The process of turning a liquid into its vapour or
gas is called " Evaporation." The hotter it is the more
rapidly evaporation takes place. A kettle of water
left boiling on the fire will soon empty itself in this way.

If a cold surface is held over a pot of boiling water,
drops of water collect on the surface. This is the
reverse process, the vapour is changed into the liquid,
and this process is called Condensation.

The formation of clouds and consequently rain
depends on these two simple processes.

Geogrci'pJnj of Sierra Leone. 33

The hot rays of the sun evaporate the sea-wa.ter,
and in the tropics this evaporation is considerable.
The vapour rises and meets the colder upper portions of
the atmosphere and is condensed into very tiny drops,
just as in steam, and thus forms clouds.

The clouds are blown over the land where they meet
the cooling effects of mountains, when further con-
densation takes place, the tiny drops unite and form
larger drops which, being too heavy for the air to
support, fall as rain.

Evaporation and condensation are proceeding con-
tinually, but the rain is deposited only where it is
carried by the wind.

The general principle on which wind depends was
noted in connection with land and sea breezes. In the
case of more extensive air currents or prevailing winds,
the heating of the land by the sun is spread over huge
areas, and large quantities of air come in to take the
place of the air which has expanded and ascended.

Where the heat is greater, to that place will be the
greatest rush of air. When the sun is vertically above
those parts in the southern tropics (during the months
of December and January), the tendency is for those
places to be the centres of lowest pressure.

The result is their heaviest rainfall occurs then.
When places in the north tropics are under a vertical
sun, to those parts are the air currents drawn, bringing
their rain.

The rainfall maps of Africa illustrate this in a
marked degree, and both the winds and the rainfall
swing with the sun.

The sun is vertically overhead the southern tropic
(Capricorn) on December 22nd, and during the annual
■journey of the earth round the sun the tropical lati-
tudes in turn are subject to the vertical rays. Thus
on March 22nd, the sun is vertically above the equator;
on June 22nd the northern limit (tropic of Cancer)
experiences the vertical rays. Then, in turn, areas
within the tropics come under the vertical rays in

reverse order. Thus the sun is overhead again at the


.■54 .1/1 Introduction to the

equator on September 2'2nd, and so on till the southern
limit is reached on December 22nd.

In the ordinary course of events the tendency of the
air currents would be to flow from the north and from
the south towards the heated tropical areas, but the
revolution of the earth causes the direction of these
currents to be deflected, and the constant winds are
north-east and south-east.

The earth is revolving in a direction from the west
to the east (places in the east are turned towards the
sun before places west of them), and the resultant
directions of the w^nds are consequently north-east
and south-east, since winds are named from the direc-
tion whence they come.

As the centre of low pressure moves north or south
of the equator, so these constant winds follow; hence
it is possible to experience the north-east wind south
of the equator, and vice versa.

When ships depended to such a great extent on the
wind to make their journeys over the sea in order to
carry on their trade, these constant winds were of the
utmost assistance, and hence they were called the Trade

When there is a constant motion of air from the
north-east and south-east, other air currents are set
up in the general tendency to even up the pressures,
and consequently north and south of the tropics there
are more or less westerly winds.

In the south about latitude 40°, this westerly wind
is known as " The Brave West Winds " or the " Roar-
ing Forties."

Thus the earth's surface may be divided up roughly
into areas of rainfall which, to a large extent, depend
on these winds.

Coastal districts are exceptional to the general rule
for the reasons already given in connection with land
and sea breezes, and the effects of the sea on the general
climate of these districts.

Rainfall is measured by means of rain gauges.
Usually a rain gauge consists of a cylindrical copper

Geography of Sierra Leone.


vessel placed in such a position that rain from any
-direction will fall into it. The vessel is examined
daily ; the amount of rain-w^ater it contains is measured
very carefully in a long graduated vessel, v^hich is so
arranged as to measure in inches and tenths of an inch
the amount of rainfall for the 24 hours.



The general arrangement of the apparatus will be
seen from the sketch. The construction is designed
to prevent undue evaporation, and the long narrow
measuring vessel permits of accurate measurement of
the water collected. Thus if the graduated vessel
registers one inch, it means that if the whole of the
rain which had fallen during the 24 hours had lain on
the surface of the earth, it would have been one inch

As a matter of fact, the rain soaks into the earth,
runs away to rivers and so on, but in the rain gauge it
is retained and measured.


iJG An I ntroductioii to iJte

An iiiL'li of 1'iianfali on a large area means that
thousands of tons of water have fallen as rain. For
example an inch of rainfall on one square mile is
equivalent to nearly seventy thousand tons of water.

Applying what has been learnt already, it will be
possible to consider the climate of Sierra Leone.

1. Temperature. — The Colony and Protectorate lie
between the latitudes 7"" north, and 10° north, and are
entirely within the tropics.

Every part of Sierra Leone is subject to the vertical
rays of the sun twice in each year.

Taking Freetown as an example, its latitude is
approximately 8J° N., or, roughly, midway between the
northern and southern limits of the Colony.

The sun is vertically above the equator on March
22nd, and vertically above the tropic of Cancer 23|°N.
on June 22nd, or three months later.

Therefore, Freetown comes under the vertical rays
of the sun for the first time in the year between these
dates, and as it is about one-third of the distance from
the equator to the tropic of Cancer the sun will be over-
head at Freetown about one month after the time it is
overhead at the equator, i.e., about April 22nd.

The sun is again overhead at the equator on Sep-
tember 22nd, hence it will be overhead at Freetown a
month before then, i.e., about August 22nd.

Rainfall. — The Colony has a coastal climate, as it is
subject to on-s.hore w4nds. During the northern
summer the central plateau of North Africa is subject
to the scorching heat of the vertical sun, and hence the
moisture laden winds are drawn in from over the sea.

The winds meet the hills of the Peninsula and are
forced up into the cooler regions of the atmosphere.
Consequently there is a great condensation and a heavy
rainfall, and this is spread over the whole country, with
a tendency to get less and less as it proceeds further
from the coast to the hinterland.

Thus, Sierra Leone has a hot, moist climate, with

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33 05

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f:::ii^70 inches






10 inches


The chart includes hoth temperature and rainfall.
From the Freetown temperature graphs it will be seen

38 .1/? iTifrodiiciion to the

that the mean temperature is approximately 80° F.
throughout the year.

There is a little variation. During the winter dry
season, there is a tendency for the temperature to rise
as the northern summer approaches, but the gathering
of clouds in April and May afford some protection
from the direct rays of the sun.

The rainfall begins in earnest in June and continues
till September and October, and the very heavy rainfall
experienced is sulBcient to lower the mean temperature.

As the clouds get less, the temperatures rise slightly
towards the end of the year.

For purj^oses of comparison, the temperature graph
of London is drawn on the same chart. It will be
noticed how well this graph conforms to the swing of
the sun north and south of the equator.

Further, compare the extremes of temperature ex-
perienced in London with the more or less even tem-
perature of this country.

Note also that the highest mean temperature in
London is much low^er than the lowest mean tempera-
ture of Freetown.

The rainfall diagrams show the (i) rainfall month
by month (1916), and (ii) the rainfall per quarter.

From both diagrams it can be seen that by far the
greatest proportion of the rain fell during the third
quarter. The line marked London in the quarterly
diagram show^s the proportion of rainfall in London
during the same months. It W7II be seen that in
England the rainfall is more evenly distributed
throughout the year.

The average rainfall in Sierra Leone is, roughly,
loO inches per year. From w^hat has been learnt this
means that if all the water could have remained just
where it fell, it would have covered the land to a depth
of 121 feet.

There are only a few places in the world where the
rainfall exceeds that of Sierra Leone. The average
rainfall in England is, roughly, 30 inches; thus in the


Geograiihy of Sierra Leone.


one month of July, 1916, nearly twice this amount fell
in Sierra Leone.





I 20





ir\r\ '





■ — 1













yy^ ' '/


i*r >^ a;

^ £ s


Jan. Apr. July Oct. Dec.


At the beginning of the rainy season there are often
violent storms, sometimes called tornadoes, but they arc
usually of short duration and rarely do much harm.
These storms occur again when the " rains " are finis-h-
ing, but to a somewhat lesser extent.

During the period of winter drought or the " dry
season," occasionally there are heavy showers, but it is

40 *1" J nlrodnciiou to the

not unusual for there to be no rain for a couple of
months at a time.

In the months of December and January, and even
February, a ver}- dry north-east wind blows over from
the Sahara. This wind is called the Harmattan, and
is usually accompanied by a distinct " mist " consist-
ing chietiv of minute particles of dust and the smoke
from many inland grass fires.

It is felt chiefly in the mornings and evenings as a
rather cold (comparatively) and dry wind which
parches the skin, makes the eyes smart and even the
skin of the lips crack. For people accustomed to a
humid heat, it produces extreme discomfort.

The same wind is known in Egypt, where it is called
the Khamsin, and in North Africa, where it is known
as the Sirocco. The prevailing winds, however, are
on-shore winds, and in the neighbourhood of the coast,
although the air is more humid than that inland, the
breezes afford some relaxation from the oppressive heat.
Where the land is raised above the general level a
slightly different climate is experienced.

The European residents who are unaccustomed to
the general high temperatures endeavour to build their
houses on this rising ground, not only because of the
temperature, but so that they may obtain the full
Vtenefits of what breezes are blowing.

Hill Station, about five miles from Freetown hj rail,
is on an average about 900 feet above sea level. The
actual temperatures experienced there are but a few
degrees lower than those in Freetown, but the station
has the advantage of cooling breezes from all

Districts like parts of the Koinadugu and Konnoh,
which are between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above the sea
level, frequently experience quite cold nights. Simi-
larly districts which are further removed from the
coast have a lower average rainfall than the coastal

Geography of Sierra Leone. 41

Generally the hot moist climate has a most relaxing
effect, both on the natives and settlers; it tends to sap
the vitality and renders the inhabitants liable to the
many diseases which are prevalent.

It is particularly unsuitable to Europeans and
frequent and extended furloughs are necessary to
recoup their lost vigour.

42 -1" Introduction to the

Chapter III.

Boundaries. — The Colony and Protectorate extend
from about 7^ North Latitude to 10° North. On the
South it is bounded by the Republic of Liberia, the
Mano River forming the boundary for a part of the

The remainder of the Eastern boundary between the
Protectorate of Sierra Leone, and Liberia and French
Guinea has been more or less settled by various
boundary commissions, and follows an irregular line
running north and south between 11° West longitude
and 12° West longitude (See map).

The Northern boundary between Sierra Leone and
French Guinea follows the line of latitude 10° North,
until it meets the Great Skarcies which then becomes
the boundary.

The Western boundary is the sea along a coast line
from the mouth of the Great Skarcies to the mouth of
the Mano River; this coast line extends for 210 miles.

The extreme depth from north to south is a little
more than 200 miles, while the greatest breadth from
west to east is 180 miles. The approximate area of the
Colony and Protectorate is 30,000 square miles.

The Colony proper consists of the Peninsula of Sierra
Leone, about 24 miles long with a mean width of about
14 miles, and Sherbro Island with a few isles and islets
such as the Banana Islands, York Island and the islets
of Plantain, Kortimo, Tasso, Leopard and Yellaboi.

The Peninsula of Sierra Leone is one of the few
points on the Coast of Africa where there is high land
near the sea. This high land consists of a range of
mountains from 1,000 to 3,000 feet in height, running
parallel to the sea, intersected by deep ravines and
vallevs throus^h which the mountain torrents find their
way to the sea.

Geography of Sierra Leone. 43

Some of the better known peaks which rise in conical
formation are Sugar Loaf 2,500 feet, Leicester Peak,
Picket Hill 2,700 feet, Mount Horton 2,400 feet. Good
Luck Hill, 2,300 feet, etc.

The rivers are naturally short and rapid, and are
unimportant except for purposes of supplying water.
During the dry season they are little more than chains
of pools, but in the rainy season they become rushing
torrents with many falls and cataracts.

Leicester Peak is the catchment area for the main
water supply of Freetown ; this supply of water is
perhaps the best on the whole West Coast of Africa. It
is augmented from a reservoir at the foot of Sugar Loaf
in the Babaduri Valley.

The eastern side of the Peninsula sinks towards the
mainland and there are considerable tracts of level land.
Advantage has been taken of these level spaces to con-
struct the railway from Freetown into the Protectorate
(the line of least resistance).

The mountains are of very old formation consisting
chiefly of Norite, and generally they are thickly wooded.
The Gumah Forest stretches along the range from the
slopes of Sugar Loaf towards Kent ; this is one of the
few remaining tracts of virgin forest remaining in the

The general rocky nature of the soil is not well
adapted to cultivation, but a certain amount of farm-
ing is carried on in the neighbourhood of the villages
such as at Gloucester, Eegent, Sussex, Kent, and so on.
Excellent coJBFee is grown on the slopes, and cassava, a
staple food of the people, is cultivated wherever there
is a small patch w^iich will lend itself to the purpose.

In addition to the Peninsula of Sierra Leone the
Colony includes the Island of Sherbro and York Island.
Sherbro Island is low and swampy and owes its import-
ance to the fact that it is situated near the mouths of
several large rivers which flow down through the

The Colony was founded in 1788. The main ])urpose
of the Colony originallv was to found a home for

44 .1" 1 niroduciion to the

parties of African natives who through various causes
had been separated from the countries of their origin.
Many of these were struggling waifs and strays in and
about London. Later on the Colony was used as a
settlement for Africans rescued from slave-ships at sea,
and from time to time bands of Africans were brought
from the West Indies, Newfoundland, and so on, and
settled in the country under the protection of the
"British Government.

The first portion of land to be set aside consisted
chiefly of the Peninsula, which was bought from King
Xembana in 1788, and from time to time the Colony
was extended by various concessions from the Native

In 1896 the hinterland was declared a Protectorate
and arrangements were made to provide for its admin-
istration. Although the facts connected with the early
history of the Colony, the vicissitudes of the settlers,
including the rebellion of the natives of the hinterland
in 1898, form a most interesting and absorbing study,
they are really without the province of this book.

Generally the historj^ and geography of a country are
closelv connected and interdependent, but the unique
foundation of the Colony, and the absence of earlier
historical records render the geographical and his-
torical studies independent of one another.

The inhabitants of the Colony consist chiefly of the
descendants of the earlier settlers, together with many
immigrants from the various tribes of the hinterland.
These early settlers, sometimes erroneously called
Creoles, but more correctly Sierra Leoneans, had
adopted the use of the English language; owing to cir-
cumstances outside their own control they had long lost
their original tongue. Originally their chief occupa-
tion was farming, but with the spread of education the
tendency has been gradually to settle in Freetown and
become traders or enter clerical service.

The total population of the Colony, including those
who have come from adjoining territories, is about
75,000, of whom roughly 34,000 reside in Freetown.



Geograijhii of Sierra Leone. 46

^- Freetown, the capital and chief port, owes its import-

I ance entirely to its fine natural harbour and strategic

position. The town is situated on the left bank of the

river Rokelle or Sierra Leone river, about four miles

from where it ioins the sea. The estuarv of this river

j has an average width of four to five miles and a deep

/channel fully a mile wide, with the result that the

largest ships can anchor in safety.

It is the finest harbour in West Africa, with its
entrance free from sandbanks, yet practically nothing
has been done to develop the harbour. However, a
scheme for constructing docks with wharves and quays
further up the river near Cline Town was contemplated
and the work only delayed on the outbreak of war.

Freetown is a first-class Naval Station, and a most
important coaling station, both for the Navy and the
Mercantile Marine. The coal has to be brought here
from afar, but possibly with the development of the
coal in Nigeria at Udi, and near the Cross R-iver, Free-
town will benefit because of its position.

The towm itself is built on rising ground with broad
streets, and is generally well planned.

There are several fine buildings, but the hilly nature
of the site makes the upkeep of the streets somewhat
difficult, and although there is practically no heavy
traffic, the roads present a very poor appearance.

Some attempt is now being made to make the main
roads more permanent and the tendency to introduce
motor traffic should do much to further this scheme.

The position of the town makes it very hot, as it is cut
oil by the hills from possible cool breezes from the
south-west. It has, however, a splendid water supplv,
the catchment area is situated in the hills with the
surrounding land reserved, the water is good and
practically free from contamination.

Attempts have been made with considerable success
to put the town in a sanitai^v condition, and efficient
drainage and constant supervision have eliminated to a
large extent the possible breeding places of mosquitoes.
The conservatism and ignorance of a large proportion

46 A?i Iniroduciion to the

of the inhabitants are the only stumbling blocks to
further success in the eradication of malaria, which is
prevalent, but it is not too much to hope that in time
these will be overcome just as was achieved in parts of
the West Indies, where at one time Yellow Fever took
such a heavy toll.

The people in Freetown are drawn from many
branches of the African negro family.

The original settlers were from many tribes, and
their descendants, called Sierra Leoneans, are the chief
inhabitants of the Colony. With the opening up of the
Protectorate many of the natives of the hinterland
naturally w^ere drawn to the town, the shipping brought
people from other parts of the coast, and hence in the
streets of Freetown can be seen representatives of many
different tribes, many of them in their native dress,
speaking many different languages and almost all of
them engaged in petty trading or doing the work
incidental to trade.

Freetown has no industries ; it is chiefly a place of
transit, a depot for the trade and produce of the

Consequently the bulk of the educated Sierra
Leoneans are clerks or traders, or engaged in Grovern-
ment work. Much of the petty trading is carried on by
the women, and hundreds of these may be seen along
the streets with their wares displayed on the side-walks.

Sierra Leoneans who have entered various profes-
sions have been markedly successful, and these and
other successful men of the town take a keen interest
in the welfare and progress of the people.

The town has a municipal council which is
responsible for the general administration of the town,
it elects the Mayor and has representatives on the
Legislative Council.

Education, although not compulsory, is fairly popu-
lar, and is largely in the hands of Missionary' bodies,
who receive grants from the Government. From a
population in the Colony of about 80,000, there are

Geography of Sierra Leone. 47

about 8,000 children attending the schools, which are

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Online LibraryHarold MichellAn introduction to the geography of Sierra Leone → online text (page 3 of 10)