EXPEDITION TO THE RIVER NIGER
DURING THE YEARS 1841-2.
HISTORY OF THE EXPEDITION.
Journal of proceedings in the river until the arrival at Iddah, in the kingdom of Eggarra, that is, until the invasion of the fever.
Nun branch of the Niger.—August 13th, 1841. At 7.30 a.m. the Albert’s steam was up, and in a short time she was rolling heavily over the bar of the Nun, followed by the Soudan and Amelia. Viewed about a mile from the mouth, the Nun presents a noble broad stream, flowing smoothly until lost in the turbulent sea outside. Each point of the entrance is bordered by a white sandy beach of considerable extent. A little way up the vegetation is so dense and luxuriant as to represent a dark and uniformly level mass resting upon the ground. As we approach nearer, its character becomes more distinct, especially on the left bank, where the palms, in graceful magnificence, skirt the shore, and form a sort of fringework to the unvarying and somewhat dismal aspect of the wilderness behind. We anchored at a little after nine, in the middle of the stream, in six and a half fathom water, an old tree on east point, bearing south by east, and the extreme of the western point west-north-west. Next morning the ship was "kedged" in shore, and afterwards grounded on a sand bank in six fathom water, for the purpose of repairing the rudder-tails which had suffered some injury. Advantage was taken of the opportunity to scrub the ship’s bottom, and the damage being repaired we again got into mid channel on the forenoon of the 17th. The breadth of the river at the entrance is about three quarters of a mile.
On the 15th, William Bach, mathematical instrument maker, died of fever with tremors, supervening upon a dyspeptic attack. This man was a native of Germany, of somewhat irregular habits, and had been complaining for some days before we entered the river. Further than the general enervating influence of a hot climate there was no reason to believe that his disease was of endemical origin; possessing none of the characteristics of the fever that subsequently proved so fatal to the Expedition.
On the forenoon of our arrival in the river the Soudan steamed up towards Alburkah island, for the purpose of exploring a creek, in which she grounded and remained for the night but was floated off the next morning.
On the 15th the Wilberforce joined us, and was during two nights and part of one day afterwards beached on the sand on right bank to refit the rudder.
On the 16th, the Soudan recrossed the bar to communicate with the Harriott transport which was still anchored outside, and returned to the river on the morning of the 17th, having received on board the remaining stores. She was also aground for twelve hours to have her rudder-tails repaired.
There are two villages on the left bank of the mouth of the Nun, one close to the river, and the other about a mile in the bush, to which the common name of "Acassah" is given. They are governed by Emmery, a chief who is subject to King Boy of Brass. The natives trade in palm oil and ivory, and no doubt in slaves. The huts in the village near the water amount to fifty-seven, and in that inland to sixty-six; which, by admitting six as the probable average number inhabiting each hut, will give a population of 738 for the two villages. The huts are oblong quadrangles, formed of bamboos and palm leaves, and divided into two and sometimes into three compartments. The common dress of the natives consisted of a cheque shirt of English manufacture and a cloth wrapped round the middle. The men, who are rather tall, carry spears; and a sheathed knife or dagger is usually worn at the girdle. Emmery’s court costume was somewhat remarkable; on the occasion of his coming on board the Albert, and afterwards, on receiving a visit from Dr. Stanger and myself, he wore a uniform coatee that had belonged to the drummer of an English regiment, a plain black hat, and his lower man was only partially invested with a blue cotton handkerchief. He seems to be a quiet inoffensive man, about fifty years of age. With Emmery’s permission, and by his kind explanation to the mothers in the village, I vaccinated ten children.* Circumcision is practised at a very early age at Acassah; I saw several children, not more than six or eight months old, who had been subjected to this operation. Several very disgusting cases of syphilitic and leprous ulcers were seen. The bodies of those thus afflicted were besmeared with a red-coloured powder, probably camwood. Cocoa-nuts were offered here in abundance; fowls and eggs were also obtained, but in small quantities.
The banks of the mouth of the Nun are from a foot and a half to two feet above the level of the river. This elevation is continued only a short distance in the bush, for the land speedily becomes low and swampy. Each side terminates in a sandy flat, which is overgrown with weeds from above water mark to the outskirts of the forest. A short distance up the river lagoons and creeks strike into the land on both sides, and here the mangrove is the most prominent feature of vegetation. The branches of these trees meeting from opposite sides of the lagoons exclude the light, forming archways which give them a sombre and inauspicious appearance. Small bays are formed by the sea, during the rising of the tide, running into indentations in the sand, which communicate with the lagoons. Crocodiles and a host of reptiles abound in these swamps, and the roots of the mangrove are covered with shell-fish and animal matter of various kinds. During low water a disagreeable odour was perceptible in some of the lagoons entered by Dr. Stanger and myself, but the most delicate tests failed to give any evidence of the existence of sulphuretted hydrogen in the waters of any of them.*
While the ships of the expedition were at the mouth of the Nun, rain fell nearly every day, accompanied sometimes by thunder and lightning. The sea breeze set in about nine in the morning, and blew sufficiently strong to ventilate the ships thoroughly. Fish was caught in considerable quantity, and served out to the ships’ companies.
August 19th. five p.m. The necessary arrangements for pursuing the objects of the expedition being now completed, the Albert with the Amelia in tow, proceeded upwards, leaving the Wilberforce and Soudan to follow next day. As we approached Alburkah island, the river which had varied in breadth from three quarters of a mile to a mile, at once expanded to a spacious sheet, four thousand yards broad, by micrometric measurement. By the time we entered Lewis’s creek (between Alburkah island and the left bank) the sun was fast setting; the shade thrown over the water by the gloomy mangrove, became more and more deep, and at a little past seven we anchored at the top of the creek: the moon rose shortly afterwards. At seven next morning we weighed, and steamed up the Nun. The number of palms soon increased; the mangrove was growing densely to the water’s edge; large grasses and juncas were abundant on the banks; plantains of a large size were also seen. We were often so close to the bank that the yards rustled among the branches. A great quantity of vegetable matter, including trunks of large trees, were seen floating down the stream; some of the larger masses were more than two thirds immersed. Having passed a few scattered huts, on both sides, we reached Sunday island about half-past one p.m. This island is sixteen miles from the sea, and is the limit of the mangrove. A short way above it the water ceased to give evidence of the presence of chlorides, and little or no trace of salt was found on evaporation; a fact corroborative of the statement that the mangrove does not vegetate beyond the reach of salt water.* At four p. m. landed at small village on the right bank, called Paraboli. An Ibu pilot, whom we had seen at Acassah was here at this time, and the captain wished him to accompany us, but he wanted three hundred bars for his services, which we were not in need of. The women of the village when we (Dr. Stanger and myself) first landed, manifested considerable alarm by running into the bush. They, however, soon returned, when they saw the men talking to us.** In addition to the marks on the face, the more prominent parts of the body, as the breasts, abdomen, and hips, were tattooed with dark circles. The clay here contained mica, hence Dr. Stanger concluded that granite would be found higher up the river. At this village, the bank was about three feet above the river.
In the evening anchored in four and a half fathoms of water in mid-channel, a short way below a village on the right bank, to avoid a swamp that was near it. The Wilberforce and the Soudan, which had joined in the forenoon, came to, a short distance from us. Some heavy rain, from which the people were protected, fell during the early part of the day; the afternoon and evening very fine. Temperature of atmosphere 82°, of river 82°.20.
August 21st. So early as half-past five the vessels were again in motion, and at eight we were at a group of huts called Kiambli, where the chief sent a present of two fowls and some plantains. The trees are now larger and more umbrageous. Some magnificent bombax, palm-oil (Elais Guieenensis), and cocoa-nut trees were seen in the morning; plantains and yams were also more extensively cultivated. At ten passed a branch of the river leading to Benin. At twelve the temperature of the water was 82° Fahr., of specific gravity 1002°; depth three fathoms. About one p.m. Injiamma, a considerable village on the left bank, was passed, and in an hour afterwards, another branch, leading, it was supposed, to the Benin. We were soon at a large village on the left bank called Atchaimanna. Here Captain Trotter threw some handkerchiefs overboard, which were soon picked up by the natives, who had assembled in great numbers. In a few minutes a canoe came alongside, in which there was a young female, evidently of rank by her authoritative tone to the canoe-men. She brought all the handkerchiefs with her, desiring to know, whether they had been accidentally lost overboard, or if they were intended for them. As a reward for her honesty, the captain presented them to the sable damsel herself. The chief afterwards came off, dressed in that favorite garb of distinction, a drummer’s coat. Just as he was nearly alongside, it was found necessary to steam more into the middle stream, and the commotion in the water, caused by this manoeuvre, so alarmed him, that he gave orders to the canoe-men to paddle to the shore, and could not be persuaded to return. In the afternoon we had an opportunity of observing the dexterity of the natives in the water. Some handkerchiefs were thrown overboard, in the middle of the river, opposite a small village; two canoes were at once manned, and in a trice were paddling with all speed after the booty, which was being rapidly carried down the stream. Others, more impatient, at once dashed into the river, and struck out after the canoes, which they soon came up with, and held fast, until the prize was reached by one of their own party, who bore it on shore in triumph. Some more handkerchiefs were thrown, and there was soon a general scramble; more canoes were launched, and more swimmers dashed in. One canoe, containing five men, was upset in their eagerness to seize a handkerchief. The swimmers were borne a long way down by the force of the current, but we were under no apprehension for their safety, being by this time well persuaded of their semi-amphibious nature.
Several of the villages were surrounded by water. In the evening at half-past six, anchored in the middle of the river, which was here 361 yards in breadth, at a village on right bank, called Atachai or Assassai. There was a little rain in the morning, but the day throughout was beautifully fine. The crew in excellent health.
The next day being Sunday, was a day of rest on board all the ships. In the afternoon some of the officers landed at the village; the natives came down at first armed with muskets, spears, and knives, but they were soon convinced of our peaceable intentions, and shook hands with great delight. Here I dressed some bad ulcers, for which the poor people seemed grateful.
August 23d. Again landed at Atachai, and at Captain Trotter’s request presented a "dash" to Apiro the chief, in return for some plantains which he had sent on board. On our passage to the village we could not but admire the tall Gramineae and Cyperaceae, as well as Convolvuli and Leguminosae, growing in the swamps. I endeavoured to purchase two bullocks from the chief, who, however, would not part with them without a "dash" or present of rum being preliminary to the bargain. Apiro, who was rather an old man, seemed to be well furnished with wives; several of them were peeping at us through a small bamboo trelliswork; others were walking about the court-yard behind his hut; some of them were young and good-looking. A cotton handkerchief passed round the loins was their sole covering; they wore massive ivory wristlets. The marks on the face were here deeper than we had as yet seen in the river. In general, these marks seemed to have been formed ty a succession of lineal scratches or punctures. Here they resembled the cicatrices of long deep incisions filled up by granulation.
|Longitude by Chronometer, 6° 12.30 East.
|Barometer (Newman) at the Village 30°.1090
|Temperature of River 81.400
At ten a.m. weighed, and descended the river to look after the Wilberforce, which we had left behind on the 21st, to explore a channel on the right bank. This we entered about twelve, and in an hour we had reached a very clean and neatly-built village, where the natives were collected in great numbers. Several other villages of the same description were seen, at most of which heaps of palm-oil pots were lying, filled and ready for sale. At three p.m. we turned round to regain the river, as the channel was observed to be trending to the eastward, and it was hence inferred that there was a passage to the main stream in that direction, through which the Wilberforce had in all probability passed. It rained heavily in the afternoon, and about seven in the evening we rejoined the Amelia, which we had left in the morning at Atachai. After taking the Amelia in tow we proceeded upwards, but soon got aground on a bank, where we remained half an hour. At nine, came up with the Soudan aground.
August 24th. The crew were employed from half-past five until eight in the morning getting the Soudan afloat. At half-past nine entered a creek leading to Brass, about 175 yards wide. Here we found a large canoe belonging to King Boy, laden with palm oil, on its way from Ibu to Brass. At eleven a.m. passed a village on the right bank, called Ian, where three canoes came off to us, in the largest of which was the chief, dressed in a soldier’s coat. About half a mile above Ian we came to Aki, a small cluster of huts on the left bank; and adjoining to it was a village called Binnemah, which, as well as the others, we were told belonged to the kingdom of Hippotiamah. Here the current swept the ship alongside the bank, and the people soon assembled, armed with cutlasses and long knives. These they, however, in a short time threw away, and with much merriment united their efforts to push the vessel off. Some cowries (small shells, the current coin of the country, 'cypraea moneta') were thrown on shore, which they would not touch. At first we imagined that some spirit of fanatic bigotry had inspired them with a dread of anything belonging to a white man; but they afterwards explained to us that a present could be received only from the hand. A quantity was then given them in the manner they desired, when the rejected cowries were speedily picked up. Binnemah contained only thirty-five clay huts, and it was completely surrounded by swamp. As usual, yaws, lepra, craw craw, and other cutaneous diseases prevailed among the inhabitants. Circumcision is practised. Proceeding upwards the vessel touched the ground at half-past six in the evening, but was got off by "backing the engine." Shortly afterwards anchored in five fathoms water, as did also the Soudan and Amelia. Temp. of atmosphere 80°.70, of river 82°.00.
August 25th. The river now increased in width, and the character of the vegetation was changed, chiefly in the greater abundance of bombax, palm-oil, and cocoa-nut trees, on both banks, which now varied in height from four to seven feet above the level of the river. The villages were also more numerous than we had yet seen; and the extent of ground under cultivation was proportionally greater. At twelve o’clock we were at Stirling island. The Soudan passed between the island and right bank, while we took the left bank passage. The vegetation on the island was of the same kind as that on the banks of the river, tall grasses and juncas growing to the water’s edge all around. At three p.m. we were at a cluster of villages on the right bank, called Imbilamma, where a canoe came off with yams, bananas, plantains, &c. It contained two traders, one from King Peppel of Bonny, and the other from King Boy of Brass. They had collected a good deal of palm oil, but stoutly denied having any slaves. About seven in the evening we reached Truro island, and shortly afterwards stopped for the night.
August 26th. There was a general haze over the land in the morning, which disappeared as the sun rose. About seven a spacious branch leading to Benin was passed. A short way above this the main stream was upwards of a mile in breadth. At eight the sun shone with unusual splendour, the trees on each side, now of larger growth, displayed their ever-varying tints of foliage, while those in the distance, ahead, ranged over each other, indicating undulation in the land. Several large plantain and yam plantations, and many large canoes were seen in the course of the day. At three p.m. we were approaching Ibu, and at four we were off the creek leading to the town, when Atché, a tall, fine-looking young man, came on board to welcome us to his father’s dominions. Atché (whose only covering was a yellow striped shirt) was accompanied by one of Obi’s wives, and her female slave. Many canoes were soon alongside. The Wilberforce had arrived the previous evening; Obi had been on board of her great part of the day, and was delighted and astonished at everything he saw. Temp. of atmosphere 80°.5, of river 82°.5.
August 27th. In the morning Ali Hare, a smart young fellow, came on board from Obi, to announce that he would visit the ship in the forenoon. Ali Hare was accompanied by about a dozen remarkably fine boys, sons of Obi, all about ten years of age. I say all, for if not born within the same month, they were certainly nearly coeval. They were all in a state of complete nudity, and presented unequivocal evidence of having been subjected to a certain ritual of Jewish origin. Many of them had the hair cut close, or shaved, so as to leave it in tufts and lines, describing diamonds and other angular figures over the head.
|Abstract of Meteorological Observations from Aug. 9, 1841, until our arrival at Aboh.
|Outside the river Aug. 9 to 12, 1841
|In the Nun, and ascending to Aboh
Ibu, or more properly Aboh, so called from its proximity to the water, is in latitude 5°.43 north, and longitude 6°.34.30 east. It is situated on the right bank of the Niger, is 120 miles from the sea, and about 40 miles below the apex of the Delta. The creek which leads to the town from the river
is about a mile and a quarter long. The outer limit of the creek is formed by a narrow strip of land covered with tall grasses and clumps of bush, which was completely overflowed. Leading from this main creek, a number of lateral branches run up to the town, reaching the huts during the rainy season, and often inundating them. The huts are seldom built in continuous rows: the most common arrangement seemed to be a quadrangular court, with separate dwellings, with verandahs in front, on each side of the square. The huts were in general raised some feet from the ground, resting either upon an elevation of clay, or supported on strong wooden pillars from four to eight feet high. In the latter case access to the hut is gained by a ladder leading to the principal aperture. They all seemed to be remarkably clean and well matted. The actual number of huts in Aboh is estimated by Laird at from 800 to 1000.* Obi’s palace consisted of a confused assemblage of huts, arranged in a similar manner to those in the town. The court in which Obi received us contained a rude portico, covered partly with matting. In an apartment which extended along one side of the square there were a great number of Obi’s wives, who kept gazing at us, and bursting into fits of uncontrollable laughter. Their mirth brought from another part of the building about twenty damsels of more mature age, who, the interpreter told us, were "superannuated wives" of Obi, whom he permitted to live within the precincts of his palace. At the farther end of the portico there was a mud elevation, surrounded on both sides by fetishes of various kinds, one of which was described by the interpreter as the "Ju Ju" for war.
The women of the better class were in general encumbered with heavy ivory anklets, weighing several pounds. I have seen them on mere children, and am sure that their enormous weight must have distorted the limbs, and retarded their proper development. The men wore wristlets of ivory, and, occasionally, leathern ones ornamented with couries and the teeth of various animals. Their anklets were in general of iron or copper.
Disease seemed to me to be less common at Aboh than in other African towns, notwithstanding its insalubrious locality. I saw no cases of confirmed lepra, although two or three in an incipient stage came under my notice. Craw Craw, or aggravated itch, was, however, very common. I was very desirous of operating upon a case of squinting, but the mother of the child, who at first consented to the operation, afterwards refused, as she was afraid of its effects.
The number of wives a man has at Ibu seems to be regulated by his rank. When Obi and his staff were on board the Albert, I collected the following information on this head from Ajeh, his brother, and some of the other "Headmen."
|1. Ajeh, king’s brother
|2. Amorama, judge, and king’s mouth
|3. Ozama, headman
|4. Omenibo, headman
|5. Amebah, headman
|6. Magog, bugler
|7. Ambili, headman
|8. Ogrou, headman
|9. Obi, king
Human beings are occasionally offered in sacrifice at Ibu. Twins are in all cases put to death, and it is said that children who cut their upper-jaw teeth first were instantly destroyed. Obi is said to be respected or feared throughout the lower Niger. His appearance is certainly prepossessing; he is upwards of six feet high, and stout in proportion; his forehead is large, and his countenance generally indicates acute perception; his features, with the exception of his nose, which is large, slightly snubbed, and flattened, are well formed; his hands were small, and his feet well arched. He had a great quantity of red pipe-coral round his neck, wrists, and ankles: his dress was wholly of a scarlet colour, but I must leave a more particular description to another narrative, which will in due time appear. An instance of his firmness was shown one day on board of the Albert: while he was engaged with the commissioners, I was amusing his brother and some of the Headmen by performing some experiments with Smee’s galvanic battery. Obi came up to us just as the instrument was fitted for giving shocks; Amorama the judge, a little man, touched the cylinders at the end of the conductors, and as the battery was at the moment acting rather powerfully, he dropped them with rapidity, and would not again come near. Most of the others looked upon this new and extraordinary agent with suspicion and awe; even Obi himself stooped somewhat doubtingly to take the shock, but he seemed determined to show no signs of irresolution or fear before his people. He took a firm grasp of the cylinders, and held them upwards of a minute, although I could perceive the muscles of the shoulders and chest in strong electric excitation. To his brother I presented an ear of wheat inclosed hermetically in a piece of glass tube, and desired the interpreter to tell him that it was one of the kinds of corn grown in the country of the white men. This information he said was so far good; but he wanted to know how the corn got into the tube, seeing that there was no opening; and received, with much doubt, the explanation, of the glass being melted by fire, and then moulded to any form. Another portion of tube containing water, and likewise hermetically sealed, excited his astonishment still more, and he could not be made to believe that anything so wonderful could be effected by other than supernatural power.
The soil of Aboh consists of sand and clay, with vegetable mould. At Afgub, an island opposite Aboh, the upper end of which is parallel with the entrance of the creek, the soil contains more sand than clay, and a proportion of mica. This island was so overflowed when the expedition was at Aboh that landing was effected with much difficulty. Yams are cultivated extensively on the island for the supply of the Bonny, Brass, and other traders, who resort to Aboh. Here, on the 27th of August, the height of barometer and thermometer were, At 11a.m. 30.176 At noon 30.100 At 1 p.m. 30.139 Thermometer 79.000 Thermometer buried three feet underground for three hours 79.500
At three p.m. of the 28th of August, Obi and his headmen left the Albert, and the squadron proceeded up the river. At five p.m. a branch to Bonny was passed, and shortly afterwards a village marked in Captain Allen’s chart as the "Hostile Town." The river above this seemed widened to upwards of a mile, when we anchored for the night and following day, being Sunday. It rained heavily in the course of the afternoon, but cleared away beautifully towards the evening.
August 29th. The sky was this day beautifully clear, and the water had the stillness of the most placid lake. In the morning, three young damsels came on board from a village on left bank, called Ogou. Being Sunday all was quiet on board the vessels. No canoes were seen on the river; no sound was heard on the shore. Heavy showers during the day.
August 30th. Weighed at five a.m.; the Albert took the Soudan in tow, while the Wilberforce did the same to the Amelia. We were soon at Bullock’s island, and about nine we had reached its upper extremity. The island seemed to be swamped throughout. An egret and a few other birds were the only living things appearing on it. A short way above this a human body was seen floating downwards with the stream; on coming near to it, we found the face downward, the nates and abdomen distended, the viscera of the latter protruding; the hands and feet seemed blanched; the back appeared as if it had been scorched. A band ornamented with beads crossed the loins, and a cincture round the head was similarly adorned. At twelve, the Albert entered a passage between the left bank and a group of islands in the middle of the river. This delightful passage was about four or five miles long, and varied in breadth from fifty to sixty yards, and its banks were richly clothed. The stately bombax from its enormous trunk reared its wide-spreading branches in the midst of cassiae and other shrubs and trees of endless variety of tint and shade. The amount of cultivation of yams, bananas, .and plantains indicated more extensive habitation than we had yet seen, with the exception of Aboh. We landed for a few minutes at one of the villages called Osochai. Here the chief was sitting under the verandah in front of his hut. Some articles of Fetishe were nailed to the verandah, among which were skulls of oxen and monkeys. We were anxious to purchase some bullocks from him, but the old man, like all other Africans, was slow in his negociation, and we had no time to wait. A short way above this village, at a sudden turn of the river, the Albert was swept among the bushes on the left bank. The Soudan’s hawser was cast off when she passed ahead, the Albert following her. At this place we were surrounded by about sixty canoes returning from the Kirri market. That of our friend Atché, one of Obi’s sons, was distinguished by a red flag with yellow edging, and contained not less than thirty canoemen. Atché soon came on board, and told us that he had made "good market," having purchased plenty of ivory at Kirri.
August 31st. A large crocodile was observed this morning at eight, floating ahead of the ship. The monster was first taken for a log of wood. Several others were afterwards seen at the water’s edge basking in the sun. The soil here was found to be sandy intermixed with fine scales of mica. The banks were now clear and well defined, about three feet above the level of the river, and high land to the northward was distinctly seen in the distance. In the evening we were off a town on the left bank, called Damagu, in the kingdom of Iddah. Here the river had encroached upon the banks and inundated many of the huts so as to render them uninhabitable. These were the first in the Niger that we had seen built in a circular form. It was at this place that M‘Gregor Laird lost many of his men from fever. A fine tall man, dressed in a long blue tobe, came on board; he introduced himself as a trader, and stated that he had a great many elephants' teeth for sale.
Sept. 1st. Weighed at six in the morning, and at seven passed a walled town on left bank, called Oodjem; above this the bank was low and flat, without trees, overflowed and detached in strips from the land by long narrow creeks running parallel with the spacious main stream, now a mile and a half broad. About eleven the Albert anchored, and the Soudan proceeded into the Edoh branch for the purpose of exploring it. The Wilberforce, with the Amelia in tow, joined the Albert, and the Soudan came out of the Edoh in the evening by moonlight.
Sept. 2d. The steam was again up this morning at six. At one p.m. we were at Lander's islands, where, and on the main, the land was completely inundated. Most of the huts in the villages were more than half under water. About half-past four the red cliffs of Iddah were seen from the deck. As we approached nearer, high land of conical and tabular form appeared in the distance. These were features in nature new to us since entering the Niger. The evening was beautiful, and the effect of the whole scene was that of general exhilaration, with a feeling of thankfulness and gratitude that we had advanced thus far on our mission with the whole of the crews in the enjoyment of perfect health.