William Winwood Reade.

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College of Liberal Arts

graduate school
african studies



Vol. II.







Vol. II.




All rights rest rveU






The Krus

The French Commandant. A Tah


The Bleeding Heart. A Talc


The Missionary. A Tale
The Battle of the Volta




3 1





The Bights

• • 176

Lagos Bar. A Talc

. . 1S4


. 21*

The Amazon. A Talc

• 2y,







• 247

History of a Chameleon. A Tale.

. 262

Cavalla . . . . K

. 302

Sierra Leone .

• 321

The Pastor's Daughter. A Tale .

- 327


The Swanzy Expedition

• 349

Appendix I. — My Exploring Journey .

• 505

,, II. — The History of Africa .

. 511

III.— The Negro

• 520

„ IV.— African Literature.

■ 524





Gold Coast

to face I

The Bights




Major Laing's Map ....


Author's Route ....


Map of African Literature .

{at end of Vol. II)


Waters of Niger ....


Very Suggestive , to face 120

The Pirates' Nest ,, 172

The King's Foot on the Foe ,,428






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I RETURNED to England in 1863 ; and in 1868 Mr,
Swanzy, a merchant connected with the Gold Coast,
commissioned me to revisit Western Africa with the
view of making scientific researches, and also a journey

of exploration into the interior.


On the Grain, or Pepper Coast, within the territory
of the Liberian Republic, a little to the west of Cape
Palmas, is the town of Garraway, inhabited by a clan of
those people who hire themselves out as sailors, and are
known to Europeans as the Krus,

One gloomy evening in the autumn of 1S68 there


was much excitement in this small community, and all
the inhabitants, young and old, scampered down to the
beach. A large vessel approached the town, drew nearer
and nearer, and at last anchored in the roads. It was
evident that she wished to communicate with Garraway.
Perhaps she wanted Krumen, or perhaps she had lost
her reckoning, or perhaps she wanted a pilot for Cape
Palmas. These latter conjectures were not wide from
the mark. Our captain had mistaken Garraway for
Cape Palmas, and now hoisted the English flag as a
signal to the people on the shore.

A canoe came off, manned by Krus, who paddled in
a frantic manner, screaming .and shouting as if they in-
tended to cut all our throats as soon as they arrived on
board. However, the head-man alone came up, and as
soon as he stepped on the deck became sedate in his
demeanour. His only garment was twisted round his
head to keep it dry ; he took it off on the forecastle, tied
it round his waist, and then came aft to us upon the
poop. He carried a wooden bandbox of native manu-
facture, on which was rudely carved with a knife, ' Jolly
Nose, Good Pilot: He produced from its interior a red
penny account book, of the kind which housekeepers use
in London, and which, for reasons unknown to bachelors,
are deposited by shop-boys in the letter-box. It con-
tained certificates of his having piloted vessels in safety
to Cape Palmas ; and so we engaged him for some rum
and cloth to perform a similar office for ourselves. He
called his boys, the canoe was hauled up on board, the


anchor was weighed, and the bark turned her head again
to the sea. Jolly Nose gave directions to the helmsman,
who stared at his naked adviser with a grim air.

Having arranged the vessel's course to his satisfac-
tion, Jolly Nose requested me to read out what was
written on the box. I read it out — ' Jolly Nose bad
pilot.' Upon which he gave a merry, running laugh, and
said, ' Ah, you no sabby book (you don't know how to
read). I tink you bushman ! '

He then inquired what we had come out for. My
fellow passenger, one of Mr. Swanzy's clerks, said he
had come for trade, which Jolly Nose approved of with
an upward toss of his chin, intended for a nod. I then
told him to guess what I had come for. ' You no come
for trade,' said he. I shook my head. ' Then you god-
man, eh ? ' ' No, I am not a missionary.' ' Pr'aps you
officer for queen ? ' I again replied in the negative, and
Jolly Nose became perplexed ; these being the only
three classes of white humanity which had hitherto come
within his notice. I then announced the object of my
travels, expecting he would give the pitying smile which
I had so often observed in Portuguese, and even some-
times in English traders, when I had been introduced to
them as an explorer. But if Jolly Nose had lived in
literary circles all his life he could not have exhibited
less surprise. It appeared to him a very natural pro-
ceeding. l Ah, you travel for sabby,' said he ; and at
once suggested that I should 'come and see We country,
put him for book and catch money for him.' He further-


more observed, that ' Book make men's head fine ; ' and
looked at me with the keenest interest when he saw me
making notes of his brilliant remarks.

My fellow-passenger, like most young Londoners,
was prone to chaff, and now began to make inquiries of
Jolly Nose respecting his connubial relations. Jolly
Nose told us with an air of honest pride that he pos-
sessed six wives. Mr. then delicately hinted that

possibly in his absence they might receive the attentions
of six gentlemen; on which Jolly Nose flew into a rage,
and I was about to remind my young friend that these
people had their feelings as well as ourselves, when I
found that my sympathy was entirely misplaced. Jolly
Nose was angry at its being supposed that he placed
any trust in his wives fidelity. ' You tink me fool ! '
he cried. ' Of course, when I come for ship, I set my
brother to watch 'em, and look 'em good.' Then as
Jolly Nose reflected on the annoyance which this pre-
caution must have caused his wives, he chuckled to him-
self and laughed, and we all laughed, and his good
humour was restored.

As the ship sailed away we saw fires on the beach,
lighted by the women as a guide to their husbands in
case they returned that night ; for canoes often lose the
land in the dark, and thus new countries have been dis-
covered and colonised by savages.

We touched at the Cape for letters. Jolly Nose
and company were paid off, and returned in their
canoe, and we went on for our Krumen to a village


called Victoria, lower down the coast. This time the
natives came off quietly ; they knew that we wanted
men, and did not wish to seem too glad. It was
arranged that the Boys should be brought on board the
next day, and I asked for a passage to the shore. The
canoe was a mere trough, such as that in which I went
a-turtling at Corisco, and there was a sea on at the
time. It was a curious sensation being so close to the
surface, that I felt as if I formed part of the waves.
Once when the Krus were talking, a sea took them by
surprise ; for a moment I saw nothing but water : we
had gone through a wave like a hunter through a hedge.
The water was baled out partly with the hands, partly
kicked out by a dexterous movement of the heel. How-
ever, there would have been no danger even if we had
been capsized. Two of the men would have held
me up, and perhaps picked my pocket in the water,
while the others would have righted the canoe. The
sharks in these parts are not man-eaters, and live with
the natives upon friendly terms — apropos of which I
heard at Cape Palmas from an American skipper an
interesting anecdote, which the reader can believe or not
as he prefers. My informant was going off to his vessel
in the long-boat, when one of the Krumen looked over
the side, and saw a shark which had caught a large fish
by the head. The Kru jumped into the water and
seized the fish by the tail : the shark pulled one way,
the Kruman the other, the head came off in the shark's
mouth, and the fish was safely landed in the boat.


The shark and the Kruman were each about six feet

There was a crowd on the beach delighted to see a
moneyed guest in the canoe. Aged men in a state of
avaricious joy yelled aloud, and pointed out the passage
in the surf: a huge roller swept us in between the rocks.
I was caught up like a baby, carried on shore, and then
escorted to the chieftain's hut ; a chest was opened, and
I was offered (being wet through) a French admiral's
uniform with a cocked hat. I asked for something
more subdued, and was accommodated with a check
shirt and pair of white duck trowsers. In a short time
signs of dinner appeared : a box which served as the
mahogany was covered with a piece of carpet for a
cloth ; a water-bottle, a glass, and a knife and fork were
laid upon it; and a piece of honey soap, a towel, a tooth-
brush, and a comb were also produced from the State
chest, which seemed to be filled with odds and ends
obtained by thrift and theft in the service of the white

Dinner was served in a basin : boiled fowl, plantains,
maize, and cassada. How familiar it all appeared !
More than five years had passed since I left these
shores, and yet it seemed but yesterday, and I felt
myself at home.

After dinner I was taken for a walk. They showed
me near the village a small lagoon with ducks swimming
on the surface, and in the background a hill covered with
primeval forest trees. It was a charming scene, and as


I gazed upon it, endeavouring to paint its image in
my mind, the natives watched my face, and said with
a smile, ' Massa, that fine, eh ? ' thus showing that
savages possess in a rudimentary degree that feeling for
landscape, which in modern times has become a passion
for the poets, and a fashion for the crowd.

It began to rain, and so we went into the palaver
house, which also served as the village club. They
showed me a woman who sat on a log, rigid as a
statue, and stared at me with her round fixed eyes.
She was the wife of a chief in the backwoods who
had sent her to the coast to purchase salt with dried
plantains and smoked meat. Such is the kind of
trade which has for ages been conducted between the
people of the beach and the people of the bush.

They also pointed out a man who sat at a little
distance from her. He, like Jolly Nose's brother, had
been sent to supervise her actions. The African
duennas are invariably males, for the women cannot
be trusted to betray each other : they are like the people
of a subject nation, faithfully allied against their lords.

I soon became an object of attention to the children.
The little girls looked at me askant, and ran away when
their eyes met mine. Even the grown-up damsels ap-
proached me with reluctance, and shrieked when I took
them by the hand. Their timidity was natural enough,
for the ghosts and gods of the Africans are white, and
at this witching hour they are wont to ascend into the
upper world. But the boys were not afraid ; they clam-


bered on my knees, inspected my hands, and peeped
under my sleeves, encouraged by their parents, who
brought them to the white man, on whom they were
afterwards to live, as setter puppies are broken in to

One of these children had a sixth finger. I caught
up its hand to examine it, and was then sorry I had
done so, for the other boys gave an outcry of derision,
and the poor little fellow hung his head. But the father,
who was sitting by me, drew the child gently towards
him, and said a few words in a tone of inexpressible
tenderness and pity.

The more I see of these Africans, the more I am
inclined to believe that Europeans have underrated their
parental love. The words ' father and ' mother ' are
applied by slaves to their owners, and thus, doubtless,
many travellers have been misled.

Respecting the sixth finger, I was told by a German
missionary a charming story, which I will here relate.
In that part of Africa the sixth finger is regarded as an
abomination, and children so deformed are exposed in
the forest ; but the German missionaries adopt these
infants whenever they are able. On a certain occasion
of that kind, one of these excellent men invited the
mother to his house. She entered, and saw her infant
on the lap of the missionary's wife, who was a negress
from the West Indies, and was at that time nursing a
child of her own.

The woman stood still, and looked at the little crea-


ture she had cast away. Love and horror mingled in
her eyes. The babe began to cry. ' It is hungry,'
whispered the missionary. " ' God has filled your breast
with milk, Adua ; He gave it you for that poor child,
whom you laid on the cold ground to die.'

' No, no ! ' cried the woman, shuddering. ' I cannot.
The child is cursed by the spirits. It is an abomination.'
And she turned her eyes away.

' Give it the breast,' said the missionary to his wife.

Then the woman's face began to work, her eyes filled
with tears, and at last, when she saw her child feeding at
a stranger's bosom, she gave a piercing cry, plucked it
away, and pressed it to her own. The child's life was
saved, and Adua became a Christian.



GRAND BASSAM and Assinie are the westernmost set-
tlements upon the Gold Coast. Taken by the French,
under Louis XIV., but soon afterwards abandoned, they
were occupied again in 1843. Each 'poste' consists of
a fortified house, containing a commandant, a surgeon,
some non-commissioned officers, and a handful of Tirail-
leurs Senegalais — negro soldiers levied from the warlike
tribes of Senegambia. The Governor of the French
Gold Coast is also the Governor of the Gaboon, and the
Admiral of the coast squadron. Once a year he comes
in a frigate to Grand Bassam and Assinie, and inspects
the troops, whom he outnumbers with his staff.

Between Grand Bassam and the frontier of the Libe-
rian Republic is a wild tract of coast divided into little
village states, of which Victoria may serve as an ex-
ample. This region belongs to the natives alone. It
possesses no navigable rivers ; it is thinly populated, and
its trade is unimportant. White men seldom go ashore,
and merely anchor off the villages long enough to hire the
Kruboys, and to purchase the palm-oil and ivory which
the natives sometimes bring off in their canoes. But there
is one place called Jack- Jack, not far from Grand Bas-
sam, where the Guinea-palms grow in abundance, where
the people export much oil, and where some English


vessels may always be seen lying in the roads, for har-
bour there is none. As soon as a ship arrives, the master
gives to the natives a shake-hand dash, or preliminary
present, in lieu of custom-house fees, and then the busi-
ness begins. Goods are given out on credit, and the
produce, as a rule, is faithfully paid in ; if not, the cap-
tain threatens to go and fetch a man-of-war, of which
the people stand much in dread, as their town is close
to the sea-shore.

Now there was a certain Admiral de Neuville, a rest-
less and enterprising man, who wished to make unto
himself a name, and to extend the French possessions
on the coast. He ascended the Gaboon as far as it
could be navigated by a steamer, interviewed the Fans,
and planted a hulk at Nenge-Nenge. He formally took
possession of Cape Lopez, in the name of France ; sur-
veyed the Ogowai River, and steamed up the Fernand
Vaz, where he made a treaty with Quengueza. In the
Bights he was not less active ; paid a visit to Porto
Novo, in order to counteract the encroachments of the
English ; and stimulated by the example of Commodore
Wilmot, went up to Abomey, where he witnessed the
customs of the king. Finally, arriving on the Gold
Coast, he cast his eyes on the waste region lying be-
tween Liberia and Grand Bassam. Here was a ' Xo
Man's Land' — the natives, of course, went for nothing —
which might be easily annexed. By way of a beginning,
he made a treaty with the people of Jack-Jack for the
building of a fort, representing to them that if the


French flag waved over their village, no English man-of-
war would venture to bombard them. This kind of
protection was much desired by the natives, for reasons
already explained ; and when they found that the Ad-
miral was willing to make them a handsome present into
the bargain, they at once consented to receive the flag.
But, as not unfrequently happens when treaties are
made between Europeans and natives, the parties con-
cerned had different views regarding the nature of the
contract. The Admiral supposed that Jack-Jack had
become a French possession ; the natives supposed that
they had merely sold a plot of building-ground. Nothing
could equal their delight when they saw a vessel arrive
with stones, timber, and artillery. They gave the French
their cordial assistance in the construction of the fort,
and laughed in the faces of the English traders, who did
not neglect to warn them of their danger ; for they, in
their innocence, imagined that these great masses of
stone were being raised, and these guns fitted into em-
brasures, merely to shoot at the English man-of-war,
which had so long been the bugbear of debtors ; and
though they could not but observe that some of the guns
were turned towards the land, yet this the commandant
explained. In the first place, it was always the custom
to build forts in that manner ; secondly, the English
might attack the fort from the land side ; and thirdly,
the bush-tribes, with which the natives of Jack-Jack
were frequently at war, might attempt to invade the


The name of this commandant was Guillaume
Blanchard ; he was a captain in the Colonial infantry,
and had served all his life in the transmarine lands,
Algeria, Madagascar, Pondicherry, and Cayenne. When
the fort was finished, and everything settled, his manner
of life was as follows : He rose at daybreak, took his
coffee with goat's milk, and inspected the soldiers. At
eight he was served with a cup of chocolate and a rusk.
He then wrote letters or despatches, and ordered his
breakfast. At ten he took a tumbler of absinthe and
water. At eleven he sat down to table with the doctor,
and rose from it at one. From one o'clock till three he
remained in the company of Martha, his femme-maitresse
or country-wife, who had emigrated from the States to
Liberia, and from Liberia to Jack-Jack. In the after-
noon the commandant strolled out into the village and
conversed with the native gentlemen, who offered him
absinthe, cognac, or liqueurs, of which he seldom de-
clined to partake. At seven he dined, and at nine
retired to his couch.

On Sundays he always invited one of the chiefs to
breakfast, and appeared at table clad in snowy linen,
his iron-grey moustache twisted and waxed at the ends,
and the cross glittering upon his breast. He was not a
man of polished manners or of cultivated mind ; he often
swore, and spoke in a louder voice than was requisite,
especially towards the close of a repast ; he bullied the
doctor unmercifully, and sometimes beat a tirailleur. On
the other hand he had distinguished himself in action ; he


worshipped his country ; he was kind to Martha ; and
his open, boisterous, vulgar manners had made him a
favourite among the natives. They did not precisely
respect him ; for it is only the slaves or ' niggers ' who
resemble the Christy's minstrels in their gaiety and
noise : the African gentlemen are grave as Spaniards ;
polite, calm, silent, and reserved. They, therefore,
looked upon this laughing bawling man as little better
than a mountebank ; but they liked him, humoured
him, flattered him, and made him imagine that they
revered him as a king.

The fort had been established six months before
anything happened to disturb the agreeable misunder-
standing between the natives and the French. A long
article appeared in the ' Revue Coloniale,' describing the
new possession ; and the people of Jack-Jack took their
friends from the bush to look at the new building, and
said, ' How do you like our fort ? What do you think
of our big guns ? ' But one day the captain of a Bristol
vessel at anchor in the roads sent a boat's- crew on shore
to fill the water-casks from the river. The natives de-
manded payment for the same, declaring that the river
belonged to them. The captain inquired whether they
would not like also to be paid for the air which he
breathed, and after a long and angry dispute appealed
to the commandant.

Blanchard having first ascertained that only a
trifling payment was required, persuaded the natives
to let the water go, undertaking that they should be



remunerated. He then invited the captain to spend a
few days at the Poste, and after a little while asked him
as a favour to let the people have the two or three
pieces of cloth which they demanded. The captain
at once complied with his request. He said that, after
all, he had no great reason to complain ; his oil had
been duly paid in, the ship was full, and in two days
he should sail . for England, leaving his Krumen at
Cape Palmas.

' What ! ' cried Martha, ' you go Cape Palmas ? '
1 Yes,' said he ; ' can I take a letter to your friends ? '
She looked down and replied after a little hesitation :
' If you please I will give you something to take.'
The next day, being alone with the captain in the
afternoon, she said that the something she wished him
to take to Cape Palmas was herself. She liked the
commandant very much, and she knew that he was
fond of her. But one thing weighed upon her mind ;
she was doing wrong in living there with him. Her
scruples did not arise from the fact of their not
being married. What troubled her was this ; the com-
mandant was a Papist ; he went out shooting on
Sundays ; he often wore a nasty cross (the Legion of
Honour) on his breast ; and there was no chapel at Jack-
Jack which she could attend. She wanted to go home
to get religion, and now that an opportunity had come
she wolild not lose it on any account.

The captain replied that if the commandant him-
self made the request he would be happy to give her


a passage. She clapped her hands with joy, and at
once ran into the bureau. In three hours they came out
together ; the commandant's eyes were red, and Martha
also had been crying.

' Captain,' said the Frenchman, ' here is my sweet-
heart — is not that what you call it— my sweetheart who
is going to abandon me. I pray her to stay : well, she
is not happy, she must go. Take care of her, my friend,
and you will see her put on shore over the bad bar at
Cape Palmas — is it not ? '

' I'll see to that, commandant.'

' What time you go ? ' said Martha.

' To-morrow morning early with the land breeze ; so
you must come aboard with me to-night.'

' Then I run pack up,' said she, and hastened to her

Blanchard's lips quivered ; he looked after her sadly,
and then bowed down his head upon the table and
covered his face with his hands.

It seems hard and unjust that this man, who had
served his country all his life in the most unhealthy
regions of the world, should be condemned when his
hairs were grey, and his body enfeebled by disease, to
undertake such a service, to live in such a place. Per-
haps, if the truth were known, his faults of manner and
his fondness for cognac and absinthe had something to
do with his appointment. Be that as it may, his position
was not to be envied ; his only European companion was
the doctor, a poor creature from the south of France,


who toadied and detested him. Such a companionship
was simply demoralising ; that of the natives was not

Online LibraryWilliam Winwood ReadeThe African sketch-book (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 34)