Medical History of the 1841 Niger expedition
Medical History of the 1841 Niger expedition

1841 Niger expeditionMedical historyContents ◄► Section 2


Section I.

Preliminary History.

The ‘Extinction of the Slave Trade’ was the grand object contemplated by Her Majesty’s Government in sending out an Expedition to the Niger. It was hoped that by obtaining more accurate information as to the moral and physical condition of the countries bordering on this great river, commercial relations might be established with the native chiefs: and the efforts of Europe generally would be better directed, to strike at the root of the internal as well as the external slave traffic, and to the means for the extension of Christianity throughout Africa.

With this view Her Majesty’s iron steam-vessels Albert, Wilberforce, and Soudan were commissioned at Liverpool in September and October, 1840; the former by Captain Henry Dundas Trotter, who had the entire command of the expedition, and the two latter by Commanders William Allen and Bird Allen. The ships were built by Mr. Laird, of Liverpool, and their dimensions were as follows:

Decks, Engines, Holds, &c.H.M.S. Albert and Wilberforce.H.M.S. Soudan.
Length on deck139 ft. 4½ in.113 ft. 4 in.
Breadth between paddles27 ft. 2 in.22 ft. 2 in.
Depth of hold11 ft. 0 in.8 ft. 8 in.
Builder’s tonnage459 24/94 tons.250 58/94 tons.
Separate water-tight compartments5 in No.5 in No.
Power of engines70 horses.35 horses.
Diameter of cylinder2 engines, each 34 inches.1 engine, 34 inches.
Length of stroke3 ft. 6 in.3 ft. 6 in.
Diameter of paddle-wheels15 ft.12 ft. 6 in.
Draught of water, loaded5 ft. 9 in.4 ft.
Ditto ditto, light3 ft. 3 in.2 ft. 9 in.

The vessels were each divided by water-tight bulkheads (partitions) into 5 compartments. The accommodation for officers was good; and the lower deck, which was exclusively allotted to the ship’s company, was proportionally larger than in other vessels of the royal navy.

The whole of the decks below, with the exception of the engine-room, were covered with patent oil-cloth; and the vessels being constructed of iron, rendered it necessary to have their sides lined nearly throughout with wood, in order to modify the effects of extremes of heat or cold.

Each compartment was furnished with a stove.

A ventilating apparatus* was fitted up in each of the ships under the superintendence of Dr. Reid, (whose reputation in ventilation had been fully established, by the success of the system he adopted in the houses of Parliament,) by means of which a constant supply of fresh air could be kept up between decks, or the external atmosphere, by being passed through a large iron chamber on the upper deck, might he submitted to the action of chemical and other purifying agents previous to its diffusion below.

* For a particular description, see Chapter iii. Section 2

The provisions were of excellent quality, including, in addition to those usually supplied to vessels of war, preserved meats and vegetables of various kinds, pickled cabbage, cranberries, wines, beer, and spruce. In short, whatever was considered necessary to conduce to the health and comfort of the crews, was most liberally provided by the government.

For the purpose of affording the medical officers of the expedition the means of extending their services to the natives on the banks of the Niger, an extra supply of medicines and medical stores was furnished; and with the same view, vaccine lymph was obtained from the National Institution, and from various other sources.

Considerable pains were taken in the selection of the crews. They were, generally speaking, in the prime of life; a great proportion of them had already served in warm climates, and on every occasion, before a man was entered, he was made fully aware of the peculiar and dangerous nature of the service for which he was volunteering.

The Soudan was in a sufficient state of forwardness to leave Liverpool on the 26th of December, 1840. She was obliged from stress of weather to put into St. Mary's, Scilly, and having afterwards called at Plymouth and Portsmouth, arrived at Deptford on the 9th of January, 1841.

The Albert left Liverpool on the 12th of January, and anchored in Kingstown Harbour, Dublin Bay, the next morning. Leaving Kingstown on the 17th, she did not, by reason of strong south-west gales, reach Plymouth until the 20th. On her way up, she remained a few hours at Portsmouth, was detained by foul winds thirty-six hours at Sheerness, and reached Deptford on the 25th of the same month.

The Wilberforce was not ready before the 17th of February. She then proceeded to Dublin, Plymouth and Portsmouth, and got to Woolwich on the 5th of March.

The completion of the equipments was now proceeded with. Some additions were made to the ventilating tubes, and the medicating chambers were fixed on the decks. Experiments were frequently made to ascertain the power of the ventilating apparatus, to the admiration of all who witnessed them, among whom were many individuals distinguished in science. Indeed, it may be safely said, that no former expedition had excited so much interest. Thousands of all ranks flocked on board while the vessels were at Deptford and Woolwich.

The Soudan, and Harriott transport, the latter laden with stores for the expedition, sailed from Plymouth for the Cape de Verds on the 17th of April. The Albert and Wilberforce left Woolwich on the 21st of April, and reached Plymouth on the 28th, but, owing to the long continuance of southwest winds, did not take their departure from England until the 12th of May.

At this period the crews in the respective vessels were as follows:

◄Table scrolls horizontally►
H. M. Ships.Officers including Civilians and Engineers.No. of white Seamen.No. of Marines.No. of Sappers and Miners.No. of men of colour of various Nations.Total.
Total of each class and of whole536722828178

In addition to the above there were in the gunroom of the Albert the Ashanti Princes, John Ansah, and William Quantamissah, who were returning to Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, after having received their education in England.

* Albert. Africans 7, East Indians 2, West Indians 4, Nova Scotian 1.
Wilberforce. Africans 3, West Indians 4, St. John’s American 1, uncertain 2.
Soudan. Africans 2, West Indians 2.

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