The 1841 Niger expedition
The 1841 Niger expedition

Royal Navy1841 Niger expeditionpart 2 ◄►part 4

Between October 1843 and February 1844 Henry Colburn's "United Service Magazine" contained a four part description of the Niger expedition. Pages 591 to 598 of the edition of December 1843 contained the third part.


(Compiled from Official Documents).

(part 3).

On the 4th of September the Commissioners, having arranged lists of presents which were to be made to the King of Egarrah and the head men of Iddah, went on shore in the afternoon, attended by the Officers of the Albert and a marine guard, in order to hold a conference with the Attàh. A salute of five guns was fired on their leaving the ship. The procession, headed by a Tunmanee (a black man), dressed as a sailor, bearing the union jack, wended its way for nearly two miles, until the residence of the Princess Ammada Bue (sister to the King, before mentioned,) was reached. The Chief had ordered horses to be in readiness to take the Commissioners to his palace; but, by some mistake, they were not sent in time. The Princess at once despatched a messenger to her brother, to announce the arrival of the Commissioners.

An opportunity was taken in the interim to speak to her of the Christian religion, and of the wish entertained to send missionaries and teachers, which she appeared glad to hear. She was aware of the absurdity of the fetish ceremonies, though, as a woman, she was afraid to give them up, on account of the loss of property that would follow such a step. She acknowledged that human sacrifices took place on the death of a Sovereign, when it was customary to put to death the Chief's wife, and ten of his eunuchs and domestics. The Princess caused goora-nuts and country beer to be handed round, first tasting it herself, to show that no poison lurked beneath. At length the messenger from the King returned, and the Commissioners at once arose and proceeded to the palace, through various huts with narrow doorways, four feet by two. They at length reached the open court, where the judges, malams, and chief eunuchs, soon assembled.

The King’s throne was placed at the head of the court, hidden from view, — "music sounded, the curtain dropped, and the Attàh was seen seated on his throne." He was dressed in a rich fantastic tobe, on which was hanging in front a large brass breastplate with a raised figure of a human head, like the representation of a full moon. In his ears were large circular ivory ear-rings; and on his head he wore a cap, with feathers, coming over the ears. He first invited the Commissioners and Officers to shake hands, repeating the word Sinou as the ceremony was performed.

Captain Trotter then said that when the Attàh was ready to hear the message should be delivered. The Attàh replied that when strangers came to visit him he gave them water first, and that afterwards he would be prepared to listen. Goora-nuts and palm-wine, together with beer, were then handed round; and the King having been thanked for the refreshment, Capt. Trotter instructed the interpreter to say that our Queen was most anxious that black men should not be taken away from their country, their homes, their wives, their children, and friends, to be sold into slavery. That she wanted the traffic in slaves be done away, — an announcement which was received with a "(unreadable)". that seemed by no means to "give consent" to the proposition. However, the interpreter was further directed to state that the Queen wished, in doing away with that traffic, to establish in its stead a friendly commerce in palm-oil, camwood, ivory, and any other articles they could produce for sale. Hereupon the Attàh exclaimed that he was very glad; and his loyal attendants echoed his gratification with a shout.

It was also stated to him that our Queen wished her people and the Attàh’s subjects to be good friends; — that announcement was also received with loud applause. That the English traded with all parts of the world; and that they would he encouraged to go to Iddah to trade if the Slave Trade were abolished; and that if the King would consent to give up the traffic in slaves he should have one-twentieth part of all merchandize sold in the Egarrah country from British ships. The Attàh answered it was very good, and that he would get articles ready for traffic when the ships came.

Captain Trotter, through the interpreter, then informed the King that Her Majesty did not trade, though her people did, (this was stated, as the Attàh Ochejih is a great trader — one of the "merchant princes" of Africa,) and that it was our religion that made Her Majesty and people anxious to do good to the Africans.

That God’s word was contained in this book (presenting to him an Arabic Bible), and that the Commissioners would leave it with him, hoping that teachers would come and instruct his subjects. The Attàh again signified his royal pleasure at what was stated; and that signification was followed by the Bible being handed to one of the malams, or priests, by his people, to inspect. He was told that when teachers came to instruct his people in that book he must use them well; and that, if his subjects met a boat on his waters, carrying slaves, he must break the canoe and liberate the slaves. The King said he was willing; and his attendants gave another shout. It was added by the Commissioners that the Queen is powerful, and that the sun never sets upon her dominions. A list of the presents intended to be given was then read; and the King said he was "much obliged to the Commissioners, and, God save the Queen."

The bugleman here played the national air, the Commissioners and attendant officers, of course, standing. When the anthem was finished the Attàh asked to look at the bugle, and was much amused with its construction. He also asked for writing-paper to be added to the list of presents, which was promised. He was then informed that the Queen had heard he allowed the sacrifice of human victims, and that it was wished he should give up that custom, as it was contrary to the commandments of the Deity, — the God who made all men. He promised to drop human sacrifices; and was much pleased to hear that the English would endeavour to induce his enemies to make peace with him. This remark arose from the King stating that he was at war with a branch of his family. He agreed to give land for the establishment of a model-farm; to send his people to learn from the white men; to permit the building of a fort; and to let the English have an island in the river.

Upon being asked whether he would make a law to abolish slavery in forty-eight hours, Ochejih said he would; and, as it was by this time nearly dark, the conference was concluded by an arrangement being made that the treaty should be signed on the Monday, — the next day, being the Sabbath. The present may be a fitting opportunity to take a rapid glance at the nature of the country, capital, and people of Eggarah.

The kingdom of the Attàh is called Eggarah, and also Igalla, — the letters r and l being frequently interchanged with each other among the Africans. The capital of Ochejih’s possessions is either called Iddah or Addah; but the Rev. Mr. Schön (by whom this information was collected) says that the former seems more correct. The population is not overrated at 5000. Some of the houses are built of bricks, made by the natives, but not burned, being merely dried in the sun. Very little of the ground is under cultivation, though the soil appeared to be fertile. The people seemed of a harmless character; and Mr. Schön observes that "they never asked for rum; all they begged of me was writing paper. They were chiefly Pagans; but no idols were publicly set up in the town, though it contained many other signs of Pagan superstitions. The higher classes had embraced the Mahomedan religion, but they knew very little of it. The priests themselves were unable to read, and none of the King’s malams even could sign the treaty. The malams are not only teachers, but carry on trade."

The people in general appeared to be very healthy, and of strong constitution. Yaws and "craw-craws" are stated to be their principal diseases. Two accounts were given respecting the successor of the King in case of death. The first was that the Sovereign had the right to choose his successor; and the second, that his eldest brother succeeded, as a matter of course.

The Attàh of Eggarah appears to be a powerful Chief, claiming superiority over several on both banks of the Niger and on the Chadda. The native name of the former is Ujimmini Fufu, or, The White Water; and of the latter Ujimmini Dudu, or The Black (or Dark) Water. The first being always turbid, and the other clear.

Of the opposite shore of Iddah, Dr. Pritchett, of the Wilberforce, says, "This shore is low and swampy, but abounds with large trees, which we commenced cutting. A number of natives, armed with bows, arrows, and short broad knives stuck in a girdle, made their appearance, inclined to make some resistance, but were soon satisfied with our explanation. We proceeded to the town, five miles distant, by a good road, through a dry country, cultivated with plantains, yams, Indian corn, and cotton. The town is called Wappa. The Chief calls himself Egada Yabrelama; appears to be under the King of Benin, whose name is said to be Obah, who sacrifices three human beings every day, — one at sunrise, the second at noon, and the third at sunset. The Chief is said to be able to raise an army of ten thousand, if required."

On the 6th of September, the Commissioners resumed their sitting, and prepared the additional articles to the treaty, respecting the abolition of the custom of offering human sacrifices, and the cession of land for the erection of forts, &c. The success they had previously met with at Abòh, on the former point, was not remarkable, as the chief denied the existence of the practice. At Iddah, however, its regular recurrence was acknowledged, and as the influence of the Attàh was of wide extent, not only on the banks of the Niger, but over considerable inland districts, it was hoped that his example might have some effect on the neighbouring tribes. These additional articles being ready, the Commissioners proceeded to the shore to hold a second conference with the chief.

The Attàh, attended by his head men, and some of the principal people of the town, was ready to receive them. After the customary salutations, Ochejih was asked to guarantee the safe conveyance of messengers and letters through his dominions, by land and water; and he immediately gave his consent to the request. The King then appointed Hackah, the second judge, Massabah, a malam, and Bajè, his secretary, to be the agents to accompany the Commissioners to make over to them for the Queen of Great Britain, any portion of land they might require, Capt. Trotter informing the Attàh that they wanted an island and a portion of land near to the confluence of the Niger and Chadda. The proposition to establish themselves in the country was received with marked approbation by the chief and his head men, who offered to give land in whatever quantity and position might be found most convenient. Ochejih further evinced a desire to cede to the Queen the sovereignty as well as the proprietorship of any land that might be purchased, being, doubtlessly, anxious (observes Capt. Trotter,) to interpose a powerful ally between the Falatahs and his once populous, but now abandoned, town of Adda-Kuddu, which they had frequently destroyed. The Commissioners, considering that much valuable time might be saved by accepting, conditionally, this offer, agreed to the proposal, inasmuch as they then had an opportunity of carrying up accredited agents to define the boundaries, and make over the land. They also thought that it would be highly conducive to the views of Her Majesty’s Government to seize this fair opportunity of forming a nucleus of civilization in a beautiful but almost deserted territory, to which they might easily invite a fugitive population to return and live in freedom under our laws.

The treaties were then signed in triplicate by the Commissioners, by Lobo, the chief judge of Iddah, Hackah, the second judge, and by Gibberean, a malam, on behalf, and in presence of Ochejih, Attàh of Eggarah — it being contrary to custom for the Sovereign himself to sign any document. The presents were, immediately afterwards, given to the King, who was much pleased with them. They included (besides weapons and useful tools,) a silk-velvet tobe, a velvet cap, necklaces of cut garnet, &c., one large and twelve small looking-glasses, twelve coronation medals, twelve nuptial medals, one quire writing paper, ("by express desire,") twelve spectacles, &c. The King particularly admired the green silk-velvet tobe. Presents were also made to his head men. The Master-at-Arms from the Albert, dressed in the First Life Guards’ uniform, with cuirass and helmet, attracted the attention of the monarch very much, who sent for him, in order to inspect the costume. It was then announced that the people in all the ships would pray to God to bless the Attàh and his people; — an announcement that was received by loud shouting and clapping of hands. The Commissioners having taken leave of the King, retired with their attendants, and the conference closed.

Being anxious to make as rapid a progress into the interior as possible, the Expedition quitted lddah on the 8th September, accompanied by the second judge, the Attàh’s secretary following in his canoe; a mallam, or priest, a confidential friend of the chief, also took a passage in the Albert on his own business. On the 10th, after passing along a romantic part of the river with lofty hills on each side, rising at times from the water’s edge, they reached the confluence of the Niger and the Chadda; and on the 11th, all the vessels were assembled off the ruins of the town Adda-Kuddu. Here, on the 13th and 14th, a deed of cession was signed by the Attàh's agents, and attested by the Commissioners, (suitable presents being made to the agents themselves and the chiefs of the districts.) The land thus ceded to Her Majesty, is situated on the right bank of the river, and has a commanding position fit for the erection of a fort at either extremity. That to the north is the table mountain called Pattèh, 1200 feet above the level of the river; and near the southern extremity there is a hill on Beaufort Island, commanding the united stream of the Niger and Chadda — a position of great importance from its vicinity to the great slave-market at Kiri. This district, extending sixteen miles along the river, and about four miles in width, contained several towns and villages, but being exposed to the predatory incursions of the Falatahs, a large portion of it, including the market-town of Addah Kuddu, was then totally abandoned. The Commissioners were of opinion that the mere occupation of a station or two by a few British subjects would have the effect of establishing confidence among the natives, who, once assured of the protecting care of Great Britain, would be easily induced to build up their former habitations, and thus furnish a useful population, and have a beneficial effect on the surrounding tribes; and they therefore determined to secure, at once, possession of a district so well calculated to carry out the beneficent objects of Her Majesty.

The soil, though not of the best quality, grew a considerable quantity of cotton; and the agent for the Model Farm Society, (meeting in Mincing Lane, London,) requested to be landed upon it. That request was complied with, and the Commissioners rented 500 acres to the said society, for five years, subject to Her Majesty’s approval, "for the annual sum of one penny per acre, payable by the society to Her Majesty’s Treasury." The consideration-money for the entire grant was 700,000 cowries, or goods to that amount, to be paid to the Attàh; and fourteen bags, containing 160,000 cowries (about 10l. value,) were delivered at once to his agents, as the first instalment.

The Expedition having now arrived at the confluence of the rivers Niger and Chadda, Capt. Trotter stated that it appeared to him most desirable that some of the Commissioners should be detached to open friendly communications with the chiefs on the banks of the Chadda, and that the remainder should proceed up the Niger for the same purpose. The Commissioners, after conference, resolved that two of their number should proceed up the Chadda, with power to act in making treaties or agreements with such chiefs as lay beyond the immediate reach of the whole Commission; such treaties or agreements to be held subject to the sanction of the Commission.

Up to the time of the arrival at Iddah the officers and men engaged in the Expedition continued in the enjoyment of perfect health, there being no case of fever in any of the ships; but, on the 18th September, the Commissioners wrote a despatch to the Colonial Secretary, that announced the gloomy commencement of sickness and death among the Expedition — the sad beginning of the desolation that ensued.

Chapter IV.

Sickness and Deaths — The Soudan sent down the Niger to Fernando Po — Conference of the Commissioners — The Wilberforce follows the Soudan — The Albert proceeds towards Rabbah — Arrival at Gori — Description of the Market and Manufactures — Trial of a Chiefs son for dealing in Slaves — Account of Kinami — Curious Marriage Customs — Price of a Wife — Arrival at Egga — Fears of the People — Manners and Customs of the Natives — Ornaments of the Ladies — Remarkable Houses — Presents to the King of the Falatahs — Great increase of Fever — Return of the Albert — Difficulties of the Voyage — Kakanda — Arrival at Fernando Po. [This is the only chapter heading present in these articles, and would seem to have been included in error]

Since the arrival of the Expedition at Iddah, sickness had prevailed to a considerable extent, both among officers and men; and, in their despatch of the 18th September, the Commissioners announced that one officer, Mr. Nightingale, Assistant-Surgeon, and four men of the Albert, two of the Wilberforce, and one of the Soudan, had died. As the fever was then proceeding, and sixty men were on the sick list of the three vessels, Capt. Trotter, in conformity with the opinion of Dr. McWilliam, the head Surgeon, deemed it necessary to send the Soudan to Fernando Po, and if requisite, to Ascension, with such of the sick and convalescent as were considered by the Surgeons to need change of climate. Dr. McWilliam thought that the other two vessels might proceed further up the river, believing that such a step might prove beneficial.

Differences now existed among the Commissioners as to the course that should be adopted; and a special meeting was held by them on the following day, the 19th. Commander William Allen stated it to be his conviction, from the experience he had had of the climate, the advanced period of the season, the increasing sickness in the Wilberforce, and, as he understood, in the Albert also, and the difficulty and danger of having to remain in unhealthy parts to cut wood when the coals were expended, — that the reduced state of the Expedition could no longer warrant a perseverance in the prosecution of its objects, more especially should the sickness continue to increase, as they were led to infer it would, from present and past experience; and as the moral effect of appearing before the town of Rabbah in a state of prostration, would be most prejudicial to the mission. He therefore proposed that the Expedition should return without delay to the sea-side, in the hope of being able to carry out its objects at a more favourable season, and with renewed strength.

Capt. Bird Allen (who acted as Secretary; Mr. Bowden, the Secretary, being ill with fever) thought that as the Albert was able to proceed, and as by concluding a treaty at Rabbah the greater part of the duties of the mission might be concluded this year, those duties should be prosecuted so long as the Albert was in an efficient state; the increased sickness on board the Wilberforce having rendered it necessary for that vessel to return immediately to the sea.

Capt. Trotter was of opinion that Dr. McWilliam’s idea of finding a better climate as they advanced higher up the stream, was worthy of consideration; and it was ultimately decided that Commander Bird Allen should proceed with Capt. Trotter, in the Albert, with the view of making further treaties up the Niger, &c.; and that Commander William Allen and Mr. Cook should proceed to the coast in the Wilberforce, with power to carry out the instructions of Her Majesty’s Government in making treaties with chiefs in the Bights of Benin and Biaffra, if opportunity offered.

At Mr. Carr’s request, the Amelia was left at anchor off the model farm, for its protection during the absence of the steamers up the river. Mr. Ansell, collector of plants, was also allowed to remain at the model farm, at his own particular desire.

On the 21st September, the Albert weighed, to proceed towards Rabbah, — the Wilberforce commencing, at the same time, her return to the mouth of the river. The course of the latter shall be described hereafter; and we will now proceed with the voyage of the Albert on her bold and perilous destination.

She had at this time thirty-nine Europeans on board; seventeen officers, and twenty-two men: six of these, including two engineers, were slightly ill with fever. All the rest were well, excepting three or four, who had had the fever, but were convalescent. In the course of the first day, Commander Bird Allen showed symptoms of fever, and on the following morning was totally disabled from duty. Other cases, both among officers and men, continued to occur.

On the 22nd, the Albert arrived at the Gori-market, on the right bank of the river. The town contained about eighty or ninety houses, and had a market that was held, according to some, every thirteenth day, while others alleged it to be every fifth day. No European articles of trade, however, were exposed in it. The native articles of commerce consisted of salt, packed in grass bags, said to have come from Rabbah, each containing about one bushel; straw hats, as large as a common umbrella; a little cam-wood, supposed to have come from the Abòh country; some large grass bags of cotton, the seeds still in them; beautifully made large tobes, carved calabashes, earthen pots of native manufacture, yams and tumatahs, several calabashes of shea butter, and one of cow butter. It was admitted that slaves were commonly sold at this market. Gori, with some other towns, Akoka, Atshira, Egbu, and Area, were said to form an independent state, which, however, was contradicted afterwards, when it was fully proved that the Attàh was their Sovereign. These towns were stated to pay an annual tribute to the King of the Filatahs of 360,000 cowries, and to the Attàh one horse. The latter Sovereign may levy troops at Gori; and, in seasons of distress, they call upon him for help. Aduku, son of the Attàh, proclaimed the law his father had made relative to the abolition of the Slave Trade, to the Headsman, Mallam, Judge, King’s mouth, Chief Messenger, and principal people of the town.

The morning after the arrival of the Albert at Gori, the 23rd September, a number of canoes came alongside, and among them one belonging to Ajïmba, son of Ajiddi, the Chief of Mùye, a village of the Kakanda country, under the jurisdiction of the Attàh of Eggarah. This canoe was returning from the Egga market, further up the river, in the Nufi country, where, besides a cargo of horses and goods, Ajïmba had purchased three slaves (one male and two females), whom he was bringing with him. This was the first instance of a traffic in slaves that had come under Capt. Trotter's notice; and as Egga, where the slaves were purchased, was out of the Attàh’s territories, the carrying them from one country to another was a decided breach of the Treaty of Iddah. Capt. Trotter accordingly detained the canoe, and after a formal investigation on the quarter-deck, liberated the slaves, keeping them on board the Albert. It, however, appeared that Ajïmba was in ignorance of the existence of the treaty, and the confiscation of the canoe and her cargo, to which penalty he had subjected himself was not enforced. Two statements were made respecting the price that had been paid for these slaves: the first was, that the healthiest and strongest woman cost 40,000 cowries, and the other two slaves 20,000 each. The other account was, that Ajïmba had paid for all three "six muskets, a keg of powder, and three fathoms of red cloth." The value either way, says Mr. Schön, might be about 5l. for three persons.

This, of course, was a considerable loss to the owner; but it was imperative under the treaty that the slaves should be liberated, and Ajïmba at once acquiesced in the justice of the decision, as did also the son of the Attàh, who happened to be on the spot, and, at the desire of the First Commissioner, attended the trial as his father's representative. Ochejih himself afterwards sent a message expressing his entire concurrence in all the proceedings.

This transaction, taking place as it did when at anchor off a considerable market, whence the news would be widely spread, no doubt had a beneficial effect, as evincing a determination on the part of the English to enforce the conditions of the treaty. Capt. Trotter eventually took the three slaves he had thus liberated to Fernando Po, "thereby, indeed, risking (as he observes) in some degree the misconstruction of my motives on the part of the natives who witnessed the transaction; but there was no alternative. I had no opportunity of returning them to their own country, and I knew, were I to land them at Gori, where we then were, or at any of the other places which we afterwards reached, they would in all probability be seized again, as they were natives of a distant part of the Yarriba country, and totally ignorant of the languages spoken in this part of the Niger." Commander Bird Allen's advice could not be had on this occasion, as he was too unwell to be spoken to upon the subject.

Top↑part 2 ◄►part 4 
Valid HTML 5.0