Between October 1843 and February 1844 Henry Colburn's "United Service Magazine" contained a four part description of the Niger expedition. Pages 227 to 241 of the edition of February 1844 contained the fourth part.
NARRATIVE OP THE NIGER EXPEDITION. 1841—1842.
(Compiled from Official Documents).
On the 24th, communications were held with Bezzani, a Nufi village, on the left bank, a little above Gori, and containing about two hundred inhabitants. The latter were in a wretched state of poverty, being much harassed by the Fulatahs, to whom they were tributary, and who made such exactions upon the people in this part of the country as entirely to destroy all their energies, and to discourage any exertions on their part to better their condition. On the following day the Albert stopped at Kinami, to cut fuel. This village, on the right bank, inhabited also by Nufis, contained a population that was estimated at about one thousand.
Kinami, like Bezzani, is subject to the King of the Fulatahs, by right of conquest, and paid him an annual tax of 20,000 cowries. The due performance of this contract was rigidly enforced by the King’s messengers, the people being often obliged to sell their own clothes or agricultural implements; and if any deficiency existed, it was made up by taking some of the people as slaves to Rabbah. There were no slaves exposed to sale at Kinami; if they wanted any, they purchased at Egga, where a slave-market was held every fifth day. According to the Rev. Mr. Schön’s Notes, domestic slaves were kept in every village, and their condition differed very little from that of their own proprietors. No other punishment could be inflicted by their masters, for any offence, than flogging. In case the slave endeavoured to escape, he might be sold; or if he committed theft, or other offences, more than once, he might be sold also. Mutilation was not allowed. If a slave committed murder, his punishment was death, and his master was fined in cowries; but if a master should kill a slave, he would not be capitally punished, but fined in money.
The district of which Kinami is one of the principal towns is called Bushi, commencing on the right bank, opposite Bachinku, and extending as far as Egga, comprising about forty towns or villages, the inhabitants of which are said to amount to about 30,000. They are represented to be an industrious people, who make many country cloths, the weaving of which is excellent, considering the rude instruments. The cotton is bought from the Nufi people on the left bank, where the soil is better for its growth; little is grown in the Bushi district. They commence planting it after the first fall of rain, and five months afterwards it is fit for use. The value of a bag, containing about one pound and a half, with the seeds in, is about 6d. English, or 400 cowries. They collect a little bees’ wax, and generally grow much rice. The crop, however, of 1841 had been spoilt by the unusual height to which the river had risen. They have not much ivory, having no means of killing the elephants or taming these animals, which were said to be numerous in the neighbourhood. The people sell yams, sheep, and goats at Egga and other towns, obtaining their salt from Dohma. The Rabba people are said to obtain it from Yauri, to which it is brought from the interior of the Haussa country. Their religion was a mixture of Paganism and Mahomedanism.
They may marry as many wives as they are able to purchase. The average price of one is 20,000 cowries, or twenty-five shillings. This sum is paid to the parents of the young woman, whose consent is never required. The payment of the money, (which is of the first importance,) and eating and drinking together, constitute the whole marriage ceremony. The wife thus acquired may be sent away again by her husband, but cannot be sold as a slave by him. The Fulatahs marry Nufi women, but never give (alias sell) their daughters in marriage to Nufi men. The Fulatahs appear to observe the laws of the Koran, as regards the number of wives, and never marry more than four; and their Mallams solemnize the marriage by offering up some prayers. The natives of Kinami stated that the rainy season was healthier than the dry season, in which they were usually much troubled with fever, the small pox, and dysentery.
On the evening of the 27th September the Albert anchored in sight of Egga, and Mr. S. Crowther, the catechist, was despatched to announce the arrival to the Chief. The vessel anchored off the town on the following day.
Egga is one of the principal towns of the Nufi country, and the largest that had been seen since entering the Niger. The Nufi country has, for some years, been overrun by the Fulatahs; and the two native Kings, who were at this time disputing for the throne, were entirely subject to the King of Rabba, one of the most powerful Chiefs of the Fulatah tribes, though himself tributary to the Sultan of Socatu. Notwithstanding, however, the entire subjugation of the country, Rogang, a Nufi by birth, was allowed to hold the government of Egga, and it was understood that the office was hereditary in his family.
The first report of the appearance of the Albert had caused considerable alarm, as news had previously arrived of the seizure of the three Yarriba slaves, who had been purchased, as already stated, at Egga. But when the nature of the Treaty was explained, the Chief said, "he was anxious to see the Commander of the vessel; that he had heard of our coming before, and was very glad to hear that we had not come to make war, but to establish peace — but he was prevented from going on board from fear of the Fulatahs; that the King of the Fulatahs would soon hear of it, and as he was afraid of the white people he would say, 'Ah! Rogang has joined the white people,' and as soon as the white people had returned, he would have to suffer for it." He had heard before that the object of the Expedition was to abolish the Slave Trade; and he said that, as far as he was concerned, he was quite willing to do it, but would do nothing until his King had done something in favour of the measure. He stated plainly that the Fulatahs would not like it, and that God alone was able to bring it to pass. He hated the Fulatahs, and said he would be glad if they could be stopped in their ravages. He further stated that it would be useless to attempt to make a Treaty with Ezu-Issa, (or Edirissa,) one of the nominal Kings of Nufi, who resided only a few miles higher up the river, as he was altogether powerless, and quite dependent on the King of Rabba.
In various parts of Egga it appeared that there were not fewer than two hundred country looms employed, sometimes as many as ten in one yard, or open space. These looms are extremely simple, and the cloth made is very narrow, only about three inches wide. Some of it is quite white, and other portions of it are striped white, blue, and red. They make it about fifty yards long, and afterwards sew it together to any width or length. In this way they make large and wide tobes, that would consume nearly fifteen yards of calico. They also manufacture the dyes — the blue of indigo and the red of camwood. The latter is beaten to powder in mortars of wood by the women, while the weaving is principally performed by the men. There are sometimes four standing around a mortar with large wooden pestles in their hands, keeping time together, so that from a distance the noise sounds like persons threshing corn. The powder thus obtained is mixed with clay and made up in balls about the size of an apple, and exposed to the sun to dry; they are afterwards chiefly used by females to "ornament" their bodies, by the hand being made moist and then reddened by the ball, and smeared all over the body. In truth, an Eggan belle, adorned in this manner, must appear,
" — Like a fair hot wench
In flame-coloured taffeta."
[Shakespeare; King Henry IV Part I, act I, scene II]
It was stated, further, that these rouge balls were used as medicine as well as ornament. The earthen country pots, of which they possess an enormous quantity, have the appearance, at a distance, of solid cast iron, and are used as cooking vessels. They cannot be very strong, however, as heaps of them are seen broken in almost every corner; and sometimes the pieces are used for paving the floors of the houses, which they improve very much.
The market was inferior to that of Gori. Some European beads and a piece of handkerchiefs were the only European articles Mr. Schön noticed for sale. He mentions, besides these, having seen there gunpowder, several horses, fifteen slaves, (said to have been taken in war by the Fulatahs,) three of whom were children under eight years of age, and the rest were women, a little rice, and some raw and some red silks, said to have come from the Haussa country. No firearms were exposed for sale in the market; but swords, made in the country, were seen, with a great abundance of spears, bows, and arrows.
The town is the largest the English had visited on the banks of the river, and the population may, it is said, be safely taken to be 8000. The houses are a little better than those of Iddah, and all of a conical shape. The walls are of clay, mixed with grass to render it more cohesive, and about fifteen inches thick; some, however, are only six, and others are painted with indigo, which improved their appearance very much; and if the colour could be made brighter it would be as good as English paint. There are sometimes two walls built for the same house, and the outer wall, about two feet distant from the inner, forms a kind of piazza, and is calculated to keep the inside dry and cool. The houses have generally but one door each; and windows in any shape are not yet introduced. Mr. Schön says that the town was, as far as he could perceive, entirely surrounded by water at the season of the year when the Albert was anchored off Egga; and all admitted that the mortality of the natives was sometimes very great when the river was at its lowest.
The people were either Pagans or Mahomedans; but fewer charms or other superstitions were observed among them than in the countries below the Iddah. In the mallam’s house Mr. Schön saw several Arabic books beautifully written, but the owner could not read them himself, and others who read them fluently did not understand one-tenth part of what they were perusing. The proportion of slaves (tlnree to one freeman) seems to have been much overstated. The Egga people seldom make or purchase slaves of their own (the Nufi) nation, preferring those "who do not know their mothers house," that is, whose countries are far away, and whose escape is thus rendered difficult. The slaves, however, appear to he well used. They are allowed half their time to work for themselves; for the other half, devoted to their master's service, he receives food and clothing, both of which are cheap. The clothing is a wrapper round the loins. The slave may sell the produce of his farm after his proprietor has disposed of his own; and if engaged in trading, and employed in the canoes visiting the various market-places, he may have his own articles of commerce and sell them. He is permitted to purchase as many wives as he can, and his offspring are free. If a slave can procure money he frequently purchases his own freedom, after which he may remain unmolested in the town where he has before been a slave, or return to his own country and nation. A domestic slave is only allowed to he sold when he is guilty of a crime; none taken for the debts of a master can be sold out of the country.
Sumo Sariki, the King of the Fulatahs, (to whom Egga pays an annual tribute of 400,000 cowries, while a still larger sum is squeezed from the people, chiefly by fines for alleged offences,) is said to allow his soldiers to sell or reap the profit of half the number of slaves they catch. It can, therefore, he no matter of surprise that they should be so zealous in their iniquitous pursuits.
The custom of painting their eyelids black with lead, much prevailed among the people in this part of the country. It gives the eyes a gentle appearance, and illustrates several passages of Scripture, (as Jer. iv. 30; 2 Kings ix. 30, &c.) Another ornament used very frequently by them is, dyeing the nails of their fingers red with the juice of a leaf, called in Nufi and Haussah, Lalleh; in Arabic, Hanna, or Herma.
Through Rogang, the Chief of Egga, a message was sent to the King of the Fulatahs, to the effect that the Commissioners were at present prevented from seeing him on account of illness and the falling of the river; but that they expected to return and see him next year, and deliver the message from the Queen of England to him. It was further stated to him that the chief objects were to prevent the exportation of slaves, and the establishment of a commercial intercourse between those countries and Great Britain. A drawing was sent him of the vessels composing the expedition, and a present (of a valuable silk velvet tobe and an Arabic Bible), as a sign of friendly feeling towards him. Rogang was glad this message and the presents were sent to his superior, the King, as the latter might, he said, have otherwise suspected that the minds of the Commissioners had been prejudiced against him by the Chief of Egga. The latter wished that the different invalids might soon recover their health and return ere long, as the river would be high enough again for the vessels to ascend in about seven months. He was requested to send some one with the Albert down the river, to state the names of the villages, as all farther proceeding up the Niger was now interrupted by the almost universal sickness on board the vessel. None, however, would agree to perform the desired service, as all were afraid of being taken out to sea. As Rogang had none acquainted with the various localities whom he could command to go, he regretted that he could not, in this instance, accede to the request made.
Sickness on board the Albert had, in the meantime, fearfully increased. Since leaving the confluence of the Niger and Chadda two seamen had died; those then on the sick list, instead of improving in health, had become worse, while others had been taken ill; and on the arrival at Egga, Mr. Lodge, the only engineer able at that time to do duty, was seized with fever. A supply of wood was taken in with the hope that at least one of the engineers would be able to take the vessel up the river, but none were in a fit state to attend to their duties; and the only stoker who, failing them, was competent to work the engine, was also disabled by fever.
On the 4th of October the state of health on board the Albert had become deplorable, and all idea of being able to make further progress up the river was, with reluctance, finally abandoned. Capt. Trotter himself had, the day before, been seized with fever; Commander Bird Allens attack continued unabated; and, excepting Mr. Willie, mate, one convalescent seaman, Dr. M‘William, Dr. Stanger, and the Rev. Mr. Schön, there were only five others among the white crew (none of them seamen) able to do duty — a number scarcely sufficient to wait upon the sick. The river had now fallen fourteen inches, and the swampy nature of the banks made it indispensable to move away before the drying up of the lands made the climate still more unhealthy.
On the 5th of October, Capt. Trotter, being too ill to go on deck, directed Mr. Willie to weigh, and, as there was nobody to work the engines, to drop the vessel down the stream. Thus all seemed prostrated by the dreadful effects of the climate. It also appeared as if the ship herself could not perform her duties in those deadly regions!
The mode of descending the river by dropping down the stream, though both tedious and attended with danger, must have been pursued the whole length of the river, had it not been for the spirited conduct of Dr. Stanger, the geologist, who, after the first day, undertook to work the engines, after consulting Tredgold’s work on steam, and getting some little instruction from the convalescent engineer. The heat of the engine-room affected that engineer so much as to throw him back in his convalescence, and prevent him from rendering any further assistance; but Dr. Stanger took the vessel safely below Aboh, without anything going wrong with the machinery; while Dr. McWilliam, in addition to his enormous pressure of duty as a medical officer, conducted the ship down the river in the most able and judicious manner, — steering entirely by Commander William Allen's excellent chart of the Niger, and being much assisted by Mr. Brown, clerk, a native of Africa, in the pilotage.
On the 6th of October they reached Buddu, on the right bank, the chief Kakanda town on the Niger, situated on the confines of the Attàh’s territories. Kakanda is the name of a small district, comprising five or six towns, besides Buddu, which has hitherto been called Kakanda on the maps or charts. "The Attàh of Iddah became King of this territory (says Mr. Schön) about 1837, and receives an annual tribute from it of one horse." But this cannot mean that the Attàh had only obtained the sovereignty of the district then, but must refer to the present Attàh coming to the throne, since they stated that they had been in the habit of paying this tribute to the Attàh "from the beginning of the world." The Fulatahs had been in the town of Buddu only three months before; but, as the inhabitants had agreed to pay them an annual tribute of 100,000 cowries, of which Riggido, a village just opposite, paid a proportionate sum, the Fulatahs had taken no slaves, and had killed no one. Every Fulatah was armed with a musket; and they had plenty of swords, spears, bows, and arrows, and a great number of horses. In case payment is not made of tribute due, these formidable marauders pay themselves by capturing and carrying away as slaves whoever happen to fall first into their hands; and the towns can never enter into any agreement with them as regards the number of individuals that should be taken. The Attàh had faithfully published the law of the abolition of the Slave Trade at Buddu. They all admitted the town to have been, before, a great slave-market; but said that they had given up selling any, since the King had made a law to that effect. They possess domestic slaves, but are not allowed to sell any of them, nor to purchase others for their work. These people denied ever having practised human sacrifices.
During the night of the 7th Mr. Wilmett (Clerk) jumped overboard, in a fit of delirium, but was saved (to die at Fernando Po, of fever, in November following) by William Guy, a native of Gambia, and Tom Osmond, Kruman, who gallantly rushed after him into the water, although the night was very dark, and the stream running very strong. The Humane Society has since awarded silver medals to these negroes for their brave and generous conduct on the occasion.
On the 9th they had descended as far as the model farm, where they found Mr. Carr, as well as Mr. Kingdon and Mr. Ansell, the only two Europeans who had been left behind, laid up with fever; and, as there was no medical man at the farm, it was necessary to take them on board for a passage down the river. The farm establishment were then placed under the charge of Ralph Moore, the American negro emigrant, who had been taken on board at Liberia. The Amelia was still left for their protection, under the charge of Mr. Thomas King, an intelligent man of colour, and a crew of twelve black men.
On the 10th of October the voyage down the river was resumed; and in the evening of that day the Albert anchored a few miles below Iddah. Early the next morning the Attàh sent to express his regret that we had not anchored in his waters, — meaning off his town; and to offer a bullock, which, at Capt. Trotter's request, was sent on hoard the Amelia instead. On the evening of the 12th the Albert reached Aboh, where, notwithstanding the forlorn condition of the Expedition, Obi was as friendly as before, both he and his son giving their best assistance in supplying the vessel with fuel. He breakfasted on board, and before leaving the ship paid Capt. Trotter a visit in his cabin, where he was still confined by fever.
With as short a stay as possible the downward course was again resumed; and, when about a hundred miles from the sea, Capt. Beecroft made his appearance in the Æthiope steamer, having been requested to ascend the river and communicate with the Albert, by Commander William Allen. It was most fortunate he did arrive; for had any accident, however trivial, happened to the engines, they could have been worked no longer, as Dr. Stanger had no knowledge of the manner of rectifying it. Fever still prevented Capt. Trotter going on deck, and there was no executive officer to take the vessel over the bar, and only one convalescent sailor doing duty, and no black sailor who could properly take the helm. Capt. Beecroft, however, came on board with an engineer, and not only took the vessel over the bar, but took her across to an anchorage in Clarence Cove, Fernando Po, a distance of 160 miles, where the Albert arrived on November 17th, the Soudan arriving on the following day. The latter vessel met the Albert off the bar of the Nun, having been sent to reascend the river under the charge of Lieut. Strange. She was in a very inefficient state, and having returned to Fernando Po, Lieut. Strange was put in charge of the Albert as well as of the Soudan, the officers of the former ship, of every rank, being in sick quarters, with the exception of Mr. Mouat, assistant clerk, doing duty at the hospital. This complete state of inefficiency of both vessels precluded any attempt to proceed beyond Fernando Po. The sick were, therefore, all landed the day after their arrival, at the West African Company's establishment; but soon five officers and one man sunk under the influence of the disease. Among the former was Commander Bird Allen, who died on the 25th of October; and Mr. Lodge, the second engineer, who threw himself overboard in a fit of delirium, and was drowned. Such was the position of affairs with the Albert and Soudan at the end of October. It wilt now be requisite to revert, for a short time, to the proceedings of the Wilberforce, on leaving the confluence on the 21st of September, — merely remarking that, between the 1st of September (the time of the vessels getting through the Delta of the Niger) and the 25th October, twelve officers and men had died on board the Albert, and eight on the Soudan.
On the 21st of September, when, it will be remembered, the Albert weighed anchor to proceed towards Rabbah, the Wilberforce commenced her return to the mouth of the river, on her way to Fernando Po, — it having been decided that she, as well as the Soudan, should make no delay in removing the sick from the Niger climate. She arrived at the mouth of the river in four days and a half; and crossed the bar in safety, after having been obliged to remain four days to cut wood. On the 1st of October the Wilberforce reached Fernando Po, where Capt. W. Allen's first care was to get the Soudan ready to send to the assistance of Capt. Trotter, up the river. Very fortunately, also, Mr. Beecroft, in a merchant steamer, offered his services; and his exertions were, perhaps, the means of saving the Albert (as has been related) when he met that vessel coming down the Niger in great distress, and with a disabled crew of sick men.
Finding some fresh cases of fever had occurred, Capt. Allen hastened to leave Fernando Po, with every officer and nearly all his men in the sick list. He proceeded by short voyages, touching at the islands of Princes, St. Thomas, and Anno Bono, to Ascension, which latter place be reached on the 17th of November. At each of those stations the beneficial effects of change of air on the invalids was immediately apparent, especially at the comparatively salubrious little island of Anno Bono, where they remained eight days, so that by the time they arrived at Ascension the officers and men were nearly all restored to health.
The whole loss of deaths from fever belonging to the Wilberforce amounted to six, that is to say, one officer and two men in the Niger, and three on the passage from the river to Anno Bono; besides one coloured man, who died of coast-fever, before entering the Niger. There had previously been two deaths by accident. Dr. Vogel, the botanist, died of dysentery, at Fernando Po, having been taken ill there after leaving the Wilberforce, though resulting, probably, from the Niger fever. Besides Capt. W. Allen, (who had it but slightly,) eight persons in the Wilberforce never had the fever; viz., Mr. Commissioner Cook, Lieut. Strange, the three medical officers, and three men; and, says Capt. Allen, "it is a curious fact, that of the remaining five surgeons in the Expedition four died, and the fifth, Dr. M‘William, had a severe attack after leaving the river."
At Ascension every despatch was used to get the vessel ready for sea, so as to have it prepared for returning up the Niger. In the mean time the Albert and Soudan had arrived at Fernando Po. On the 5th of November the Pluto reached the latter place, having left the Wilberforce at St. Thomas's, and brought back Lieut. Fishbourne and Mr. Bowden, both of whom, having partially recovered, had volunteered to return to the coast, with the intention of rejoining the Albert, expecting that she was still up the river.
Mr. Carr, the superintendent of the model farm, had by this time recovered from his late attack of fever, and had in the most spirited manner resolved, if possible, to return to his post in one of the canoes trading between Brass and Aboh. As the Pluto was about to sail on a cruise, Commander W.S. Blount kindly offered him a passage to the mouth of the Rio Bento, the nearest water access to Brass Town. Mr. Carr, therefore, left Fernando Po, accompanied by his servant, Henry Bulmer, a liberated African; and Capt. Trotter sent with him a boat and crew from the Albert, under the orders of Mr. Brown, the negro clerk, giving the latter instructions to take Mr. Carr to Brass Town, and deliver a message to "King Boy," whom he (Mr. Brown) had formerly known, with a request that he would have Mr. Carr conveyed safely to Aboh; which Capt. Trotter knew the Chief had the power of doing if he were willing.
Mr. Carr was strongly urged to take few things with him, in order that the natives might have no temptation to molest him. This recommendation, however, he disregarded; so much so, indeed, that Lieut. Blount found it necessary, on his arrival off the Bento, to send one of his boats, in addition to the Albert's, to carry the luggage over the bar. The two boats went five miles up the river, to the creek that was supposed to lead to Brass Town. Here they met several canoes, and on Mr. Brown asking the way to Brass Town, he was told he had no business there, and that King Boy had gone up to Aboh. Mr. Brown would still have gone on to Brass Town, but the canoemen, probably supposing him to be on a search for slaves, would not allow the boat to pass, and a scuffling ensued, in which Mr. Brown lost some of his clothes. Some men, however, belonging to a canoe that was going up the river, and which Mr. Brown thought belonged to a place near Aboh, offered a passage to Mr. Carr, who accepted it. He accordingly transferred his property to this canoe; but such was the number and bulk of the packages, that the canoemen were obliged to throw overboard some of their own goods to make room for them. Mr. Carr was unhappily imprudent enough to trust himself and his servant to the care of these natives, and soon after proceeded up the river, strongly against the recommendations of those who had safely conveyed him so far. They had not long been departed, before Mr. Brown was warned by some of the people that Mr. Carr’s canoemen were not to be trusted, and he consequently endeavoured, though unsuccessfully, to overtake them; after which, he returned to Fernando Po.
On the 25th October, Capt. Trotter wrote to the Colonial Secretary, from Fernando Po, stating that the steam-vessels of the Expedition had been obliged to return from the Niger; and that he felt it to be his duty to return to England by the first opportunity, in order to lay before the Admiralty the exact state of the various ships, together with the opinions of the Commissioners on the feasibility of further operations up the Niger. With that letter, Capt. Trotter forwarded full details of the unfortunate voyage of the Albert towards Rabbah, and her return, in consequence of the great increase of fever on board, expressing — towards the close of his despatch — the conviction, "that the Albert and Wilberforce could not proceed to England with safety, excepting in the summer months; and I consider the Soudan as quite incapable of returning to Europe at all."
On the 23rd November, Capt. Trotter left Fernando Po, with Mr. Schön, Dr. Stanger, &c., on board the Warree, merchant schooner, for Liverpool. The Albert and Soudan were left at Fernando Po, with orders for the latter to be housed over and laid up for the winter, and the former to proceed to Ascension, to join the Wilberforce.
Upon the arrival of the Albert at Ascension, Commander W. Allen and Mr. Cook, the only remaining Commissioners, consulted on the expediency of returning to the coast, with a view of going up the Niger to the relief of the settlers, sinister reports having meanwhile reached them respecting the model farm, and the fate of Mr. Carr. It was, in fact, rumoured that the infant settlement had been attacked, and every one murdered by the natives. These reports came in Her Majesty's brigantine Buzzard, by the circuitous route of Benin, and were therefore not entitled to much credit; but the voice of humanity, as well as the honour of the nation, called on the Commissioners to communicate as early as possible with those persons, and to assure their safety.
At a meeting of the Commissioners, therefore, on the 3rd of February, 1842, on board the Wilberforce, at Ascension, it was agreed that an attempt should be made to enter the river as early as possible; that the commands of Her Majesty’s Government should be carried into execution; that the Wilberforce and the Soudan (being lightened as much as possible) "should communicate with the Ossai of Aboh, with the Attàh of Iddah, with the settlers at the model farm, and make a treaty with the King of the Fulatahs at Rabbah, and then return, unless every thing should prove favourable; in that case, an attempt might be made to explore the Chadda." Whatever may be thought of the caution and prudence of this plan, (so contrary to the advice of Capt. Trotter, who advised that no steps should be adopted till July, but who, certainly, was not acquainted with all the various motives for action that now existed,) but one opinion can be entertained of this brave, energetic, and most, admirable devotion of the remaining energies of the Expedition to the noble cause for which it was intended. The determination of the two Commissioners was announced to Lord Stanley, (who had then become Colonial Secretary,) in a despatch of the 12th February.
Early in the following month, accordingly, the two Commissioners sailed from Ascension for the coast of Africa, with the officers and men of the Wilberforce, in excellent health. Soon after their arrival at Fernando Po, however, newspapers were received, containing Lord Stanley's speech, that declared it was "not the intention of Government again to attempt the navigation of the Niger with white crews." Capt. W. Allen, as Commander of the Naval part of the Expedition, therefore resolved to wait for instructions from the Colonial Secretary, or from the Admiralty, before adopting any further steps in the contemplated return up the Niger. In the meantime, he directed Lieut. Earle, of Her Majesty's brig Rapid, to ascertain if any credit could be attached to the rumours of the danger to our settlers at the model farm. On the return of that officer to Fernando Po, he reported that Mr. Hope, the European agent in the river Formosa, had assured him that no information had arrived there of any attack upon those settlers, and that the natives of the village at the mouth of the Nun, also had positively denied the murder of Mr. Carr.
As the Wilberforce and the Soudan were ready for sea by the 1st of May, Capt. Allen cruised about, as the best means of securing the health of the crews, while awaiting orders from England, and made some surveys in the Bay of Amboises, and the river Cameroons. In a conversation with the chiefs, Bell and Aqua, at the mouth of that river, he learnt that it had been the practice to sacrifice a human being on the death of a chief; and although, from the great intercourse with Europeans, this appeared to be falling into disuse, yet there existed no positive obligations to prevent its recurrence. It was therefore deemed advisable to conclude agreements with those Sovereigns, (A'Lobah, one of the two chiefs of Dualla, and commonly called King Bell, of Bell Town, Cameroons; and Gandon, the other chief of Dualla, and commonly called King Aqua, of Aqua's Town, Cameroons,) for the total abolition of this inhuman custom.
The young chief, A'Lobah, stated that, on the death of his grandfather, his father had made war on the "Bush people," for the express purpose of killing some one; and on the death of his own father, A'Lobah hung up the broken pitchers in the Fetish house, whence they could not be removed, nor could he shave his head until he had complied with the custom of the country. This ought to have been done within the year; but he had happily been too much engaged in lawful trade to attend to its fulfilment. This Sovereign readily acceded to the request made by Capt. Allen, and assented to his arguments for the abolition of the custom, to which his people also listened with satisfaction; and, in proof of sincerity, he at once removed the broken pitchers, and promised to build a new house upon the spot.
The other chief, Gandoh, or King Aqua, was an old man, and has been trading with the English all his life. He required no inducements to abandon what he acknowledged to be a bad practice. However, in order to strengthen his good resolves, and to bind his son, the Commissioner entered into the agreement with him, and gave him the same amount and kind of presents as had been given to King Bell, which would prevent jealousy, though they were but trifling in amount. These agreements were afterwards confirmed and ratified by Her Majesty.
On the 24th of June, Her Majesty's steamer the Kite arrived at Fernando Po, with the long-looked-for instructions from Government, announcing that it was not their intention to renew the Expedition; but that a communication should be had with the model farm, so as to afford to the persons left there the means of coming away, should they be so disposed. A single vessel, however, would be, in Lord Stanley’s opinion, sufficient for that purpose, and it should be manned, as far as possible, by black or coloured men.
Having thus become acquainted with the wishes of Government, Capt. Allen lost no time in carrying them into effect. He despatched the Wilberforce at once up the river, manned by a black crew, and a limited number of officers, viz., one Lieutenant, one Assistant-Surgeon, one Clerk in charge, two Warrant Officers, and three Engineers, who very handsomely volunteered from the Expedition. The Kite towed the Wilberforce to the mouth of the river, and saw her safely across the bar, on the 2nd of July. The Kite then received on board the remaining officers and men of the Expedition, and proceeded at once to England, where all arrived on the 2nd of September.
Lieut. Webb, on the 6th of July, anchored the Wilberforce off Aboh, where he had an interview with King Obi, who was dressed in the habiliments given him by the Commissioners on signing the treaty for the suppression of the slave trade. Inquiry was made of him respecting Mr. Carr, and whether he knew of any white man having ascended the river in a canoe, at the time about which Mr. Carr had entered Brass or St. John's River. He answered that no such intelligence had reached him, and "he was confident Mr. Carr had not gone up, or it must have come to his knowledge." King Boy was on the river at this time; and Lieut. Webb immediately proceeded to his canoe, demanding of that chief any information he might have regarding the missing superintendent of the model farm. He positively stated that he had never heard of Mr. Carr’s arrival in Brass River; but thought it most probable that if he had landed or passed through there, a son of the late King Jacket, a co-chief in the same river, might have been aware of the circumstance. This reply, considering they were such near neighbours, convinced Lieut. Webb that King Boy knew more of Mr. Carr than he was disposed to say. "Boy’s fawning and abject behaviour," (writes that officer,) "greatly disgusted me, and confirmed my fears as to Mr. Carr’s fate. I fully resolved, should I be spared, to make him account on my return for Mr. Carr, or to carry him a prisoner to Fernando Po."
The steamer then proceeded to Iddah, where she arrived on the 10th, having met on the way an Aboh canoe, to the bottom of which was chained a slave, bearing Houssa marks, thus showing that the purchased treaty was not kept inviolate.
On the 11th, the Attàh’s mallam, Massabah, went on board, bringing a box of letters from the settlers, dated January, describing their anxiety for the return of the vessels, as the Foulahs had threatened an attack on one or two occasions. Afterwards Madogbie, the old Queen of Iddah, came on board, bringing with her two goats as a present from the King, and an assurance that he would supply any want of provisions. The Queen was so pleased with the reception, and what she saw about her, that she prolonged her visit to the extent of twenty hours, when she left, and proceeded down the river, landing the mallam on a rock, whence he was soon brought on board the Wilberforce by a canoe of Iddah, that had been to a market higher up the river. In this canoe were discovered two female slaves from Kakanda; and on the mallam being reminded, in pretty severe terms, that his master was breaking the treaty of last year, he instantly pushed off, and no more was seen of him.
On the 18th, the vessel anchored off the settlement, and found the settlers unmolested from without, but in a state of disorganization. Some time was here occupied in repairing the steamer, that had been much injured by striking on a reef, near Beaufort Island. Fever also now made its appearance, which induced Lieut. Webb to hasten his departure.
The description he gives of the state in which he found the settlement, is of the most painful character; but space will not allow any details here. Suffice it to say that Mr. Moore, the director, pro tempore, had no authority or influence over the others; that the most complete disorganisation had ensued; and that there was not an entire absence of malversation among some of the settlers, whose conduct generally was found to be highly reprehensible for indulgence in the worst vices of the natives, and insubordination. Lieut. Webb, from all these causes, determined to abandon the settlement, regretting, however, the necessity of that decision, because (he says) "I felt that we were retiring from a position of great advantage, whether regarded as an inland point from which commerce and civilisation might be expected to diffuse their blessings through the neighbouring countries, or as a point of refuge for the fugitive negroes, seeking to avoid slavery, when they might become acquainted with the advantages of our protection, and possibly in time form a considerable colony under our rule, objects for which the Expedition was planned, but which cannot be realised unless one or two able Europeans could remain to conduct affairs."
It was stated by the King, that he had sometimes seen from the schooner as many as fifty canoes go down the river in one day, laden with slaves. The settlement had already afforded an asylum to upwards of three hundred fugitives, many of whom were left residing among the neighbouring hills, under the government of Kulema, a Bahah Chief, and of Sumana, Chief of the village of Pandaïki. To Sumana Lieut. Webb gave the model-farm buildings, and to Kulema the growing crops of cotton (on account of their friendly disposition to us and agreement with each other); and of the moveables, Kudajah, a chief of the Bahah people, received a horse, and the natives had about 33,000 cowries (about 2l. 1s.) distributed among them, in payment of their services. Having done this, the Wilberforce quitted the settlement at dark, on the 22nd of July, having the Amelia in tow. Thus failed one of the most important objects of the unfortunate Expedition.
Having been unable to obtain hitherto any information respecting Mr. Carr, the steamers returned down the river, and arrived off Aboh on the 25th. Two messengers from King Boy here came on board (their master being encamped on a sand-bank near Aboh creek), to say that he wished to see Lieut. Webb respecting the white man who had entered his river about seven or eight moons since. It will be remembered that he previously denied all knowledge of such a circumstance. He would not come on board, but insisted on Lieut. Webb seeing him on shore. He then acknowledged that a white man (doubtlessly Mr. Carr) had entered his river about seven or eight moons since, though not under his protection, and that he (the King) had in his possession at Brass Town some of the white man’s clothes, together with two prisoners, Bassa men, from whom the clothes had been taken about that period. He said he had no positive evidence of Mr. Carr’s murder, yet that he believed him to have been killed by the Bassa people.
Finding it impossible to obtain any satisfactory elucidation of the matter, Lieut. Webb would have carried the Chief to Fernando Po, but be was unable, having only a weak and unarmed boat's crew to oppose his numerous followers, who were strongly encamped, and supported by three large canoes, with swivels in the bow. That officer, therefore, returned on board, and got the vessel underweigh, with a view to interrupt King Boy’s retreat to Aboh, and so intimidate him into a compliance with his wishes, without recourse to actual hostilities, on friendly ground. Owing, however, to the confusion and delay in clearing the vessel of the numerous canoes which surrounded it, the King took advantage of the delay, and escaped into Aboh Creek, across which the vessel was laid, in ignorance of the King’s movement.
Disappointed in securing King Boy, the next step was to obtain the two Brass men (Boy's messengers), yet on board. A message was then sent to Obi, to visit the vessel, which he promised to do if the Captain fetched him. Lieut. Webb accordingly proceeded up the creek in the galley, with Mr. Hensman, intending to disembark at the landing-place, where there were many canoes. They had to pass on their way thither several war-canoes, which were lying near the bank, on each side of the creek. They had passed the first two of these, when the Lieutenant’s attention was drawn by some of the boat’s crew to the movement of the canoes astern, as if intending to close upon them, and to the people in them having taken up their firearms. Lieut. Webb at once winded the galley, and pulled up alongside the nearest canoe, presenting his pistols (the only arms in the boat) at the chief, who instantly dropped his musket, begging by gestures for mercy, and calling aloud, "King Obi! King Obi!" The other canoes immediately pulled away towards the landing-place, but the right bank was simultaneously covered with armed men, who till that moment had not shown themselves. Some of them pointed muskets at the boat’s crew, but the appearance of Lieut. Webb’s pistols aimed at them, seemed to deter them from further violence; and the party rejoined the vessel without other molestation. "Black Beard," the messenger from King Obi, remained on board the Wilberforce; but seeing the galley on her way back, he hastily quitted the vessel, and gained his canoe. Mr. Webb, the Clerk-in-charge, however (by order of the Lieutenant to prevent its escape), sprang forward with a musket, which being pointed at the fugitives, they all jumped overboard, and swam for the bank, the high grass of which would effectually have concealed them, had they succeeded in reaching the shore. At this juncture, one of the Kroomen of the steamer’s crew threw a boarding-pike at the royal messenger, who avoided the stroke by diving, and continued his course; but the galley coming up at this moment, he was seized, taken on board, and placed in irons, on the presumption that he had been sent as a decoy for Lieut. Webb. Having waited a short time, but in vain, for a further communication from the shore, (during which delay a canoe belonging to King Boy was seized, by way of reprisal,) the schooner was taken in tow by the Wilberforce, and they both proceeded on their way down the river.
On the next morning (the 26th), the Brass men and Obi’s messenger were separately questioned respecting Mr. Carr. The sum of their statements was, that some time ago King Boy had taken two Bassa men prisoners, who had in their canoe some white men's clothes; that these prisoners and clothes were now at Brass Town; that they had heard from the Bassa prisoners that the white man was tied to a tree and shot at Bassa Town (a small place situated in a narrow creek of the lower Benin branch, and about forty miles from the mouth of the river), and that his servant was sent into the country. The white man's property was described as "plenty of clothes, and plenty of books;" thus affording a presumptive proof that the effects described belonged to Mr. Carr. No answer could be obtained to the question, "If the white man was murdered at Bassa Town, how came the canoe with his clothes in Brass Creek, nearly sixty miles apart?" Though, however, the men were examined separately, their testimony agreed in all the material points; but there was much prevarication, and Lieut. Webb believed them to have been prepared by King Obi to answer any questions.
Lieut. Webb made an attempt to reach Bassa Town, to investigate the matter; but, after proceeding some few miles, the vessel grounded, and there were so many difficulties, that he (July 26th) resolved to return. On the following day at daylight, he proceeded down the river, and a little below the Benin branch, he heard several volleys of musketry from a village on the right bank. The distance at which the firing was first observed, together with the circumstance of the vessels passing the people on the river’s bank unmolested, left the real disposition of the people towards them doubtful; but, as a measure of precaution, they beat to quarters. They arrived at the mouth of the river at 10 a.m. on that day; victualled the schooner for nine days; crossed the bar, and shaped a course for Fernando Po, where the two vessels arrived on the 29th.
From that time to the 16th August, was occupied in clearing out the two ships, and with the assistance of the two engineers and artificers of the Soudan (the whole of the crew of the Wilberforce being sick), making the latter steamer sea-worthy. While under refit, Mr. Becroft paid them a visit, of which Lieut. Webb took advantage, knowing that gentleman’s experience of the African character, to endeavour to obtain further information from the prisoners. They confirmed their former statements as to King Boy being in possession of the white man's clothes, but they denied their ever having heard of the white man's murder, and expressed a belief that King Boy had had nothing improper to do with the business. Finding that he could not elicit anything satisfactory from these people, Lieut. Webb determined to discharge them before quitting Fernando Po for a passage back to their own country. Lieut. Webb, however, continued to believe that King Boy was acquainted with all the particulars of Mr. Carr's fate, and that he took an active part in the business.
After a cruize towards the Isle of Princes, for the restoration of the crew, the Wilberforce left Fernando Po, on the 18th of September, and reached Plymouth on 17th of November after a boisterous passage.
Thus closed the Niger Expedition. From the time of its first ascent of the river, the number of cases of "River fever," on board the various vessels, was 137; the number of deaths, in consequence of that ascent, 41. The Albert was 64 days up the river, the Wilberforce (on her two separate ascents) 72 days, and the Soudan 38.
It is not here intended to enter into any general observations on the merits or effects of the Expedition; but we cannot conclude this narrative without quoting the following remarks by Capt. W. Allen, on the charge that has been loudly made against it, of having been "a total failure":—
"This I may boldly say is not true; for although the lamentable loss of life which it had suffered, had the effect of preventing the accomplishment of all the objects for which it was equipped, the success, until our exertions were paralysed by sickness, was complete; since we were able to make satisfactory treaties with two of the three most powerful chiefs that are known. The nations on the banks of the river Niger, as far as my knowledge of it extends, viz., from the sea to Rabbah, nearly five hundred miles, and, I believe, far beyond, are under the influence of only three powerful and independent chiefs. First, Obi, King of Ibu, or Eboe; second, the King of Eggarah, whose capital is lddah; and third, the King of the Fulatahs, at Rabbah, who is in connection with, if not dependent on, the Sultan of Sukatuh. With the first two of these chiefs we succeeded in carrying out the views of Her Majesty’s Government, by making treaties for the suppression of the foreign Slave-trade; and although the facility with which we made those treaties was chiefly attributable to the expectation of presents, and the prospect of future gain, — and although, also, the infraction of them may be expected, if left to themselves, — still the first grand step was gained; and I have no doubt but that if the climate had not opposed a barrier to frequent intercourse, those treaties would have been mainly instrumental in putting an effectual stop to the traffic in slaves in the waters subject to those chiefs. The principles of humanity, so new to them, which we expounded, were received with great satisfaction, and all classes earnestly desired the presence of British influence, as the surest means of ameliorating their condition, and of procuring a cessation of the wars which now desolate the country.”
Sir T. Fowell Buxton, in a letter to Lord Stanley, in March, 1842, says, with respect to any future Niger Expedition:—
"Allow me to say, that it appears to me that one point has not been sufficiently noticed. Lieut. Webb, in a letter to myself, dated 12th inst., says, — 'As far as I could gather from the settlers, they had not materially suffered in point of health; indeed, the climate seemed to be no obstacle whatever to their prosperity. One or two of the black crew of the Wilberforce had a slight attack of intermittent fever, which I attributed to the effect of hard and trying work when we were on the rock; for instance, baling the coals out of the fore-hold, up to their middles in water, which exposure would, in all probability, have led to the same results on any other part of the coast.' I (continues Sir T. F. Buxton) think this fact of sufficient importance to be put upon record, because, though I do not expect that we shall again send out an expedition principally composed of white men, yet it may be a contemplation hereafter to make the same effort with a crew composed of persons of colour, in which case it would be very desirable that a fact so decisive relative to the climate, and resting upon such good authority, should be known."