To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
SIERRA LEONE: THE CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.
After a pleasant run, not in a ’sultry and tedious Pacific,’ covering 490 miles from Bathurst, we sighted a heavy cloud banking up the southern horizon. As we approached it resolved itself into its three component parts, the airy, the earthy, and the watery; and it turned out to be our destination. The old frowze of warm, water-laden nimbus was there; everything looked damp and dank, lacking sweetness and sightliness; the air wanted clearing, the ground cleaning, and the sea washing. Such on January 17, 1882, was the first appearance of the redoubtable Sierra Leone. It was a contrast to the description by the learned and painstaking Winterbottom. [Footnote: An Account of the Native Africans im the Neighbourhood of Sierra Leone, etc. London, Hatchard, 1803.] ’On a nearer approach the face of the country assumes a more beautiful aspect. The rugged appearance of these mountains is softened by the lively verdure with which they are constantly crowned (?); their majestic forms (?), irregularly advancing and receding, occasion huge masses of light and shade to be projected from their sides, which add a degree of picturesque grandeur to the scene.’
And first of the name. Pedro de Cintra (1480), following Soeiro da Costa (1462-63), is said to have applied ’Sierra Leone’ to the mountain-block in exchange for the ’Romarong’ of its Timni owners. He did nothing of the kind: our English term is a mere confusion of two neo-Latin tongues, ’Sierra’ being Spanish and ’Leone’ Italian. The Portuguese called it Serra da Leôa (of the Lioness), not ’Lion Hill.’ [Footnote: So the late Keith Johnston, Africa, who assigns to the apex a height of 2,500 feet.] Hence Milton is hardly worse than his neighbours when he writes–
Notus and Afer, black with thund’rous clouds From Serraliona;
and the old French ’Serrelionne’ was the most correct translation. The reason is disputed; some invoke the presence of the Queen of the Cats, others the leonine rumbling of the re-echoed thunder. The latter suggested the Montes Claros of the Portuguese. Cà da Mosto in 1505 tells us that the explorers ’gave the name of Sierra Leone to the mountain on account of the roaring of thunder heard from the top, which is always buried in clouds.’ But the traveller, entering the roadstead, may see in the outline of Leicester Cone a fashion of maneless lion or lioness couchant with averted head, the dexter paw protruding in the shape of a ground-bulge and the contour of the back and crupper tapering off north-eastwards. At any rate, it is as fair a resemblance as the French lion of Bastia and the British lion of ’Gib.’ Meanwhile those marvellous beings the ’mammies’ call ’the city’ ’Sillyown,’ and the pretty, naughty mulatto lady married to the Missing Link termed it ’Sa Leone.’ I shall therefore cleave to the latter, despite ’Mammy Gumbo’s’ box inscribed ’Sa leone.’
Presently the lighthouse, four to five miles distant from the anchorage, was seen nestling at the base of old Cabo Ledo, the ’Glad Head,’ the Timni ’Miyinga,’ now Cape ’Sa Leone.’ Round this western point the sea and the discharge of two rivers run like a mill-race. According to Barbot (ii. 1) ’the natives call Cabo Ledo (not Liedo) or Tagrin (Cape Sa Leone) ’Hesperi Cornu,’ the adjoining peoples (who are lamp-black) Leucsethiopes, and the mountain up the country Eyssadius Mons.’ All the merest conjecture! Mr. Secretary Griffith, of whom more presently, here finds the terminus of the Periplus of Hanno, the Carthaginian, in the sixth century B.C., and the far-famed gorilla-land. [Footnote: This I emphatically deny. Hanno describes an eruption, not a bush-fire, and Sa Leone never had a volcano within historic times. There is no range fit to be called Theôn Ochema (Vehicle of the Gods), which Ptolemy places on the site of Camarones Peak, and there is no Notou Keras, or Horn of the South. Lastly, there is no island that could support the gorilla: we must go further south for one, to Camarones and Corisoo in the Bight of Benin.]
Formerly the red-tipped lantern-tower had attached to it a bungalow, where invalids resorted for fresh air; it has now fallen to pieces, and two iron seats have taken its place. Over this western end of the peninsula’s northern face the play of the sea-breeze is strong and regular; and the wester and north-wester blow, as at Freetown, fifty days out of sixty. The run-in from this point is picturesque in clear weather, and it must have been beautiful before the luxuriant forest was felled for fuel, and the land was burnt for plantations which were never planted. A few noble trees linger beside and behind the lighthouse, filling one with regret for the wanton destruction of their kind. Lighthouse Hillock, which commands the approach to the port, and which would sweep the waters as far as the Sá Leone River, will be provided with powerful batteries before the next maritime war. And we must not forget that Sá Leone is our only harbour of refuge, where a fleet can water and refit, between the Gambia and the Cape of Good Hope.
The northern face of the Sá Leone peninsula is fretted with little creeks and inlets, bights and lagoons, which were charming in a state of nature. Pirate’s Bay, the second after the lighthouse, is a fairy scene under a fine sky; with its truly African tricolor, its blue waters reflecting air, its dwarf cliffs of laterite bespread with vivid leek-green, and its arc of golden yellow sand, upon which the feathery tops of the cocoa-palms look like pins planted in the ground. To the travelled man the view suggests many a nook in the Pacific islands. The bathing is here excellent: natural breakwaters of black rock exclude the shark. The place derives its gruesome name from olden days, when the smooth waters and the abundant fish and fruit tempted the fiery filibusters to a relache. It was given in 1726 by Mr. Smith, surveyor to the Royal African Company, after Roberts the pirate, who buried ’his loot’ in the Isles de Los, had burned an English ship. There is also a tradition that Drake chose it for anchoring.
Beyond Pirate’s Bay, and separated by a bushy and wooded point, lies Aberdeen Creek, a long reach extending far into the interior, and making, after heavy rains, this portion of the country
Both land and island twice a day.
The whole site of Sa Leone is quasi-insular. Bunce or Bunch River to the north, and Calamart or Calmont, usually called Campbell’s Creek, from the south, are said to meet at times behind the mountain-mass; and at all seasons a portage of a mile enables canoes to paddle round the hill-curtain behind Freetown. This conversion of peninsula into islet is by no means rare in the alluvial formations further south.
Aberdeen Creek abounds in sunken rocks, which do not, however, prevent a ferry-boat crossing it. Governor Rowe began a causeway to connect it with the next village, and about a third of the length has already been done by convict labour. Aberdeen village is a spread of low thatched huts, lining half-cleared roads by courtesy called streets. Murray Town and Congo Town bring us to King Tom’s Point. Here is the old Wesleyan College, a large whitewashed bungalow with shingled roof, upper jalousies, and lower arches; the band of verdure in front being defended from the waves by a dwarf sea-wall and a few trees still lingering around it. The position is excellent: the committee, however, sold it because the distance was too great for the boys to walk, and bought a fitter place near Battery Point. Thus it became one of the many Government stores. A deep indentation now shows Upper Town or Kru Town, heaps of little thatched hovels divided by remnants of bush. It is, despite its brook, one of the impurest sites in the colony: nothing can teach a Kruman cleanliness; a Slav village is neatness itself compared with his. This foul colony settled early in Sá Leone, and in 1816 an ordinance was passed enabling it to buy its bit of land. The present chief is ’King’ Tom Peter, who is also a first-class police-constable under the Colonial Grovernment; and his subjects hold themselves far superior to their brethren in the old home down coast. ’We men work for cash-money; you men work for waist-cloth.’ Again ’pig-iron and tenpenny nails!’
Beyond this point, at a bend of the bight, we anchor a few hundred feet from the shore, and we command a front view of roadstead and ’city.’ St. George’s Bay, the older ’Baie de France,’ would be impossible but for the Middle Ground, the Scarcies Bank, and other huge shoals of sand pinned down by rocks which defend the roadstead from the heavy send of the sea. It is supplied with a tide-rip by the Tagrin, Mitomba, Rokel, or Rokelle, the Sá Leone River, which Barbot makes the ancients term Nia (Nia), and which the Timni tribe call Robung Dakell, or Stream of Scales. Hence some identify it with Pliny’s ’flumen Bambotum crocodilis et hippopotamis refertum.’ Its northern bank is the low Bullom shore, a long flat line of mud and mangrove, on which all the fevers, Tertiana, Quartana, and Co., hold their court. The sea-facing dot is Leopard, anciently Leopold, Island, where it is said a leopard was once seen: it is, however, a headland connected by a sandspit with the leeward-most point of the coast. The Bullom country takes a name after its tribe. A score of years ago I was told they were wild as wild can be: now the chief, Alimami (El-Imám) Sanúsi, hospitably receives white faces at his capital, Callamondia. Moreover, a weekly post passes through Natunu to Kaikonki via Yongro, Proboh, and Bolloh.
Inland (east) of the Bulloms, or lowlanders, dwell the Timnis, who drove to seaward the quondam lords of the land. Kissy, Sherbro, and Casamansa are all named from their ’Reguli.’ They retain a few traditional words, such as ’potu,’ meaning a European: similarly in Central Africa the King of Portugal is entitled Mueneputo. Butter is also ’Mantinka,’ the Lusitanian Mantêiga, and a candle is Kandirr. Although ’the religion of Islam seems likely to diffuse itself peaceably over the whole district in which the colony (Sá Leone) is situated, carrying with it those advantages which seem ever to have attended its victory over negro superstition,’ [Footnote: Report of Directors of Sierra Leone Company to the House of Commons, quoted by Winterbottom and the Rev. Mr. Macbriar.] the tribe has remained pagan.
Buttressing the southern shore of the Rokel’s débouchure is a dwarf Ghaut, a broken line of sea-subtending highlands, stretching south-south-east some eighteen miles from Cape Sá Leone to Cape Shilling. Inland of these heights the ground is low. The breadth of the peninsula is about twelve miles, which would give it an area of 300 square miles, larger than the Isle of Wight. There are, besides it, the Kwiah (Quiah) country, British Sherbro, an important annexation dated 1862; the Isles de Los, the Bananas, and a strip of land on the Bullom shore,–additions which more than treble the old extent.
The peninsula is distinctly volcanic, and subject to earthquakes: the seismic movement of 1858 extended to the Gold Coast, and was a precursor of the ruins of 1862. [Footnote: For the older earthquakes see Winterbottom, i, 34-5.] Its appearance, however, is rather that of a sandstone region, the effect of the laterite or volcanic mud which, in long past ages, has been poured over the plutonic ejections; and the softly rounded contours, with here and there a lumpy cone, a tongue of land, and a gentle depression, show the long-continued action of water and weather. This high background, which arrests the noxious vapours of the lowlands and of the Bullom shore, and which forbids a thorough draught, is the fons malorum, the grand cause of the fevers and malaria for which the land has an eternal ill fame. The ’Sultan’ of the Ghauts is Regent Mountain, or Sugarloaf Peak, a kind of lumpy ’parrot’s beak’ which rises nearly 3,000 feet above sea-level: one rarely sees even its base. The trip to the summit occupies two days; and here wild coffee is said to flourish, as it does at Kwiah and other parts of the lowland. The ’Wazir’ is Wilberforce, which supports sundry hamlets set in dense bush; and Leicester Cone, the lioness-hill, ranks third. The few reclaimed patches, set in natural shrubbery, are widely scattered: the pure, unsophisticated African is ever ashamed of putting hand to hoe or plough; and, where the virgin soil would grow almost everything, we cannot see a farm and nothing is rarer than a field. Firing the bush also has been unwisely allowed: hence the destruction of much valuable timber and produce; for instance, tallow-trees and saponaceous nut-trees, especially the Pentadesma butyracea, and the noble forest which once clothed the land from Sá Leone to the Niger.
Looking towards the Rokel River, we see the Fourah Bay and College, a large and handsome building, now terribly out of repair. This establishment, the ’Farran’s House’ of old maps, is well known to readers of propagandist works; it opened on February 18, 1828, with six pupils, one of whom was the ’boy Ajai,’ now Bishop Crowther of the Niger territory. The Church Missionary Society has spent upon it a small treasury of money; at present it ranks as a manner of university, having been affiliated in May 1876 to that of Durham. Sealed papers are sent out from England, but perhaps the local examiners are easy distributors of B.A.s and so forth to the golden youth of Sá Leone. It is free to all, irrespective of religious denomination, a liberal concession which does it high honour. The academical twelve-month has three terms; and there are three scholarships, each worth 40l. per annum, open for competition every year. Not bad for a maximum of sixteen students, whose total is steadily diminishing. College evening-classes are held for the benefit of those who must work by day; and charges are exceedingly moderate, the admission fee being 10s. 6d. The Society proposes, they say, to give it up. It may be wanted half a century hence. [Footnote: An annual report is published. Those curious on the subject will consult it.]
West of Fourah College, and separated, longo intervallo, by an apparently unbroken bush, is Bishop’s Court, where the Right Reverend lives as long as he can or will. Nearer the ’city’ lies the deep little bight called Susan or Sawpit Bay. It is also known as Destruction Bay–a gloomy name–where ships caught carrying ’bales,’ or ’dry goods,’ or ’blackbirds,’ were broken up. Twenty years ago traces of their ruins were still seen. Susan is now provided with a large factory: here ’factories’ do not manufacture. A host of boats and dug-outs, a swarm of natives like black ants, a long wooden jetty, and some very tall houses denote the place where Messrs. Randall and Fisher store and sell their Kola-nuts. This astringent, the Gora of old writers (Sterculia acuminata), acts in Africa like the Brazilian Guaraná, the Kát (Catha edulis) of southern Arabia, the Betel-nut of Hindostan, and the opium of China, against which certain bigots, with all the presumption of utter ignorance, have been, and still are, waging an absurd war. Sá Leone exported 3,445l. worth of Kola-nuts in 1860; in 1870 10,400l.; and, in 1880, 24,422l. The demand therefore increases and will increase. [Footnote: Mr. Griffith says, ’The Mohammedans of Africa have a singular belief that if they die with a portion of this nut in their stomach their everlasting happiness is secured.’ This must be some fanciful Christian tale. Amongst them, however, the red Kola, when sent to the stranger, denotes war, the white Kola peace.]
In Susan Bay there is a good coal-shed with a small supply for the use of the colonial steamer. A store of compressed coal is on the town-front and heaps used to lie about King Tom’s Point. A hulk was proposed and refused. It is now intended to increase the quantity, for the benefit of future companies, especially the ’Castle Line,’ which talks of sending their steamers to Sá Leone. I hope they will so do; more competition is much wanted. But the coal-depôt may prove dangerous. The mineral in the tropics produces by its exhalations fatal fevers, especially that exaggerated form of bilious-remittent popularly known as ’Yellow Jack.’ It is certain that in places like West Indian St. Thomas the neighbourhood of the coal-sheds is more unhealthy, without apparent reason, than the sites removed from it.
And now we reach Freetown proper, which may be called Cathedral-Town or Jail-Town. At a distance the ’Liverpool’ or ’London of West Africa,’ as the lieges wildly entitle it, is not unpicturesque; but the style of beauty is that of a baronial castle on the Rhine with an unpensioned proprietor, ruinous and tumbledown. After Las Palmas and Santa Cruz it looks like a dingy belle who has seen better and younger days; and who, moreover, has forgotten her paint. She has suffered severely from the abolition of the export slave-trade, in whose palmy times she supplied many a squadron, and she will not be comforted for the loss.
The colours of the houses are various; plain white is rare, and the prevailing tints are the light-brick of the fresh laterite and the dark rusty ochre of the old. But all are the same in one point, the mildewed, cankered, gangrened aspect, contrasting so unfavourably with the whitewashed port-towns of the Arabs. The upper stories of wood-work based on masonry, the fronting piazzas or galleries, the huge plank-balconies, and the general use of shingle roofs–in fact, the quantity of tinder-timber, reminding one of olden Cairo, are real risks: some of the best houses have been destroyed by fire; and, as in Valparaiso and the flue-warmed castles of England, it is only a question of time when the inmates will be houseless. Thanks to the form of ground, the townlet is well laid out, with a gradual rake towards the bay. But there is no marine parade, and the remarkably uneven habitations crowd towards the water-front, like those of Eastern ports, thinning off and losing style inland. The best are placed to catch the ’Doctor,’ or sea-breeze: here, as at Zanzibar, the temperature out of the wind becomes unendurable.
Freetown lies upon a gentle declivity, a slope of laterite and diluvium washed down from the higher levels. The ground is good for drainage, but the soft and friable soil readily absorbs the deluging torrents of rain, and as readily returns them to the air in the shape of noxious vapours. The shape is triangular. The apex is ’Tower Hill,’ so named from a ruined martello, supposed to have been built by the Dutch, and till lately used for stores. The barracks, which lodge one of the West India regiments, are six large blocks crowning the hill-crest and girt with a low and loopholed wall. In winter, or rather in the December summer, the slopes are clad in fine golden stubbles, the only spectacle of the kind which this part of the coast affords. Though not more than four hundred feet or so above sea-level, the barracks are free from yellow fever; and in the years when the harbour-town has been almost depopulated the only fatal cases were those brought up from below. Moreover, the disease did not spread. The officers’ quarters, with cool and lofty rooms, twenty feet high, are surrounded by shady and airy piazzas or verandahs, where the wind, when there is any, must find its way. For many years they had jalousies and half-windows instead of glass, which forced the inmates to sit in outer darkness during tornadoes and the Rains. The garrison, like the town, owes an eternal debt of gratitude to Governor J. Pope Henessy. Seeing the main want of Sá Leone, he canalised in 1872, with the good aid of Mr. Engineer Jenkins, a fine fountain rising below ’Heddle’s Farm,’ enabling the barracks to have a swimming-bath and the townsfolk to lay on, through smaller pipes, a fair supply of filtered water. For this alone he amply deserves a statue; but colonies, like republics, are rarely grateful.
The sea-front of the triangle, whose lowest houses are sprinkled by the wave-spray, is bounded on the east by Battery Point. It is a grassy flat with a few fine trees, and benches ever black with the native lounger. Here the regimental band plays on Wednesdays; an occasional circus pitches its tents, and ’beauty and fashion’ flock to see and be seen. The many are on foot; the few use Bath-chairs or machilas, –fautenils hung to a pole. The only carriage in the place belongs to the Governor, and he lost no time in losing one of his horses. Riding is apparently unknown.
The Battery is the old Fort Falconbridge. A worm-eaten gun or two, far more dangerous to those in rear than to those in front, rises en barbette. The affair would fall in half an hour before the mildest of gunboats. Yet by fortifying three points at an expense of some 6,000£ to 8,000£ Sá Leone might be decently defended. The first is Lighthouse Point, along which ships entering and leaving perforce must run; the second would be King Tom’s Point, flanking the harbour-front; and the third would be Johnson’s Battery, where salutes are now fired, a work lying above Government House upon a spur of Barrack Hill. Needless to say all three would want the heaviest guns.
Running the eye west of the Battery, a few wooden houses or sheds, some of them overhanging the dwarf cliff, the black rocks, and the red-yellow sands, lead to Taylor’s warehouses, a huge pile of laterite still unfinished. Here the traditional ’man and boy’ may sometimes be seen working in the cooler and more comfortable hours. Beyond it, on a level with the water, stands the new camber, where we shall land. Then comes the huge block built by Mr. Charles Heddle, of Hoy, who by grace of a large fortune, honourably made at Freetown, has become proprietor of a noble château and broad lands in France. It has now been converted into the Crown commissariat-store. The sea-frontage has a clear fall of eighty feet, whereas, from the street behind the wooden upper story, it appears below the average height. Very mean are the custom-house and adjoining coal-shed. Governor ’Dangan’s Wharf,’ a contemptible jetty, and its puny lighthouse have at length made way for a quay, along which ships, despite sunken rocks, were expected to lie; but the sea soon broke down the perpendicular wall, and now it is being rebuilt with a ’batter.’ A hollow square behind it shows the workmen blasting the material, a fine-grained grey granite, which seems here, as at Axim, to be the floor-rock of the land. No wonder that the new harbour-works have cost already 70,000l., of which 50,637l. are still owed, and that the preposterous wharfage-duty is 10s. per ton. To avoid this and the harbour-dues, ships anchor, whenever they safely can, in the offing, where the shoals are Nature’s breakwaters. West of the quarry-hollow, in my day a little grassy square, are the old Commissariat-quarters, now a bonded warehouse. This building is also a long low cottage viewed from inland, and a tall, grim structure seen from the sea. On a higher level stands St. George’s, once a church, but years ago promoted to a cathedral-dignity, making Freetown proud as Barchester Towers. We shall presently pass it and its caricature, the pert little Wesleyan church to its east. The extreme west of the triangle-base is occupied by the gaol. No longer a ’barn-like structure faced by a black wall,’ it is a lengthy scatter of detached buildings, large enough to accommodate half the population, and distinguished by its colour, a light ashen grey. Behind this projecting site lies King Jimmy’s Bridge, a causeway through whose central arch a stream of sparkling water winds its way seawards.
Below King Jimmy’s Bridge is the only antiquity which Sá Leone knows. Here, according to some, Sir Francis Drake, the discoverer of California and her gold, the gallant knight of whom the Virgin Queen said that ’his actions did him more honour than his title,’ left his name upon the buttress of primitive rock. Others have (correctly?) attributed the inscription to Sir John Hawkins, the old naval worthy whose name still blossoms in the dust at Sá Leone as the ’first slaver.’ The waters and the tramp of negro feet have obliterated the epigraph, which was, they say, legible forty years ago. The rock is covered with griffonages; and here some well-cut square letters easily read–
M. A. RVITER. VICE-AMIRALL- VAN-HOLLANT.
Near this ’written rock’ is King James’s Well, a pure stream which in former times supplied the shipping.
The scene in the harbour is by no means lively, although the three or four dismantled merchant-craft, dreary as the settlement, have now disappeared. A little white-painted colonial steamer, a dwarf paddle-wheeler, the Prince of Wales, lies moping and solitary off foul Krutown Bay. At times a single gunboat puts in an appearance. There may be a French steamer with a blue anchor on a white flag bound for Sherbro, or the Isles de Los; and a queer Noah’s Ark kind of craft, belonging to Mr. Broadhurst, a partner in Randall and Fisher’s, runs to the river Scarcies and others. These are the grandees of the waters. The middle class is composed of Porto Loko [Footnote: Porto Loko–not Locco–derives its name from a locust-tree, whose fruit is an ingredient in ’palaver sauce;’ and Winterbottom (I.4), who calls it Logo, derives the word from the land of that name.] boats, which affect the streams and estuaries. Originally canoes, they were improved to the felucca-type of the Portuguese, and the hulls reminded Cameron and myself of the Zanzibarian ’Mtepe.’ A strong standing-awning of wood occupies the sternward third; the masts number two or three, with a short jib, and there are six oars on each side, worked by men on foot, who alternately push and pull–a thoroughly novel process in rowing. The Sá Leone boats which carry passengers on shore are carefully named, but apparently never washed: they want the sunshades of the Bathurst craft. The commonalty of the sea is the host of dug-outs, in which the sable fisherman, indolently thrown back, props his feet upon the gunwales and attaches a line to each big toe. These men land little more than enough for their own subsistence, and the market-supply is infinitesimal compared with what industry and proper appliances might produce.
The background of the ’city’ is a green curtain of grass and fruit-trees, amongst which predominate the breadfruit, an early introduction; the prim dark mango, somewhat like an orange multiplied by two, or three, and palms, ever present in equinoctial lowlands. On the heights above the settlement there is room for cool country-seats, where European exiles might live comparatively safe from fever and the more deadly dysentery. A white lodge peeping from a densely wooded mountain-flank, originally Carnes’s Farm and now Heddle’s Farm, was called Mount Oriel (Oriole?) by Mrs. Melville, the wife of a pensioned judge of the Mixed Customs Court, who lived here seven years. Her sketch of a sojourn upon the Lioness Range is not tempting: young gentlemen who intend leading brides to the deadly peninsula should hide the book from their fair intendeds. I cannot, however, but admire the ’word-painting’ of the scenery and the fidelity of those descriptions concerning which I have a right to form an opinion. The book [Footnote: A Residence in Sierra Leone. By a Lady. London: Murray, 1849.] was edited by the late Mrs. Caroline Norton.
Though not more than 550 feet above sea-level, the climate of Heddle’s Farm is said to be wholly different from that of the lower town. The property was bought by Government for a song, and now it occasionally lodges a sick governor or a convalescent officer. During my last visit the Sa Leonites spoke of building a sanatorium at Wilberforce village, alias Signal Hill, where a flag announces the approach of vessels. The tenement rose to nearly the first story, when it stopped short for want of funds. Now they talk of a white regiment being stationed at the ’White Man’s Grave,’ and propose barracks high up the hills beyond sight of the town-frontage. The site was pointed out to me where the artillery-range now is, and beyond where a dwarf thatch shows the musketry-ground of the West India regiment. We shall sight from afar, when steaming out southwards, the three white dots which represent quarters on Leicester Cone; now they are hidden in frowsy fog-clouds. But all these heights have one and the same disadvantage. You live in a Scotch mist, you breathe as much water as air, and you exchange fever and dysentery for rheumatism, and lumbago, and all that dire cohort.
Presently the health-officer with his blue flag gave us pratique, and the fort-adjutant with his red flag carried off our only soldier. The latter, with a hospitality rare, it is to be hoped, in British regiments, would hardly recognise his quondam shipmates. We were duly interviewed, in most civilised style, by a youth who does this work for Mr. George A. Freeman, manager of the ’West African Reporter.’ Then the s.s. Senegal was attacked and captured by a host of sable visitors, some coming to greet their friends, other to do a little business in the washing and the shoreboat lines.
The washerwoman lost no time in showing up, although her charges have been greatly reduced. She formerly demanded nearly treble as much as in London; now, however, she makes only sixteen to twenty shillings a month, not bad pay in a place where living costs threepence, and comfortable living sixpence, a day. These nymphs of the wash-tub are painfully familiar and plain. The dress is a bright cotton foulard bound on like the anatomy of a turban and garnished, as were our grandmothers’ nightcaps, with huge front bows. Gaudy shawls cover white cotton jackets; and skirts of bright, showy longcloth suggest the parrot or the cockatoo. The ornaments are large gold earrings and necklaces of beads or coral. I could not but remark the difference of tone. There was none of the extreme ’bumptiousness’ and pugnacious impudence of twenty years ago; indeed, the beach-boys, nowhere a promising class, were rather civil than otherwise. Not a single allusion to the contrast of ’white niggahs and black gen’lemen.’ Nor did the unruly, disorderly African character ever show itself, as formerly it often did, by fisticuffing, hair-pulling, and cursing, with a mixture of English and Dark-Continent ideas and phraseology, whose tout ensemble was really portentous.
The popular voice ascribes this immense change for the better to the energetic action of Governor S. Rowe (1876); and if so his statue deserves to stand beside that of Pope Henessy. We could not fairly complain of the inordinate noise, which would have been the death of a sick traveller. Niger cannot speak without bawling. The charge for landing was only threepence; en revanche the poor fellows stole every little thing they could, including my best meerschaum.
Cameron and I went ashore to hire Krumen for the Gold Coast, and herein we notably failed. We disembarked at the camber, a huge pile of masonry, whose weight upon an insecure foundation has already split the sea-wall in more than one place. The interior also is silting up so fast that it will constantly require dredging to admit boats. In fact, the colony must deeply repent not having patronised Mr. Jenkins’s project of a T-headed pier, on one side of which landing would have been practicable in all weathers.
The sun, despite the mist, seemed to burn our backs, and the glare from the red clay soil roasted our eyes as we toiled up the ramp, bad as those of ’Gib.,’ which leads to Water Street, the lower line subtending the shore. Here we could inspect St. George’s Cathedral, built, they say, at a cost of 10,000l. to 15,000l., which would be reduced to 5,000l. in England–contracts in such ’colonies’ cost more than stone and slate. The general aspect is that of its Bombay brother, and the order is called, I believe, neo-Gothic, the last insult to ecclesiastical architecture. A single rusty tower, with toy-battlements, pins down along ridge-back, evidently borrowed from a barn; the light yellow-wash is mildewed and weather-stained, and the windows show unseemly holes. Surely Bishop Cheetham could have afforded a few panes of glass when exchanging his diocese for a rectory in England. Let me here note that the Catholic bishop at Goa and elsewhere is expected to die at his post, and that there is an over-worldly look in this Protestant form of the ’nolo episcopari.’ East of the cathedral, and uncompromisingly ’Oriented’ to the north, stands the unfinished shell of a Wesleyan chapel, suggesting that caricature which has intruded itself into the shadow of York Minster. Some 5,000l. were spent upon this article by the locals; but the home committee wisely determined that it should not be finished, and now they propose to pull it down for building-material.
We then entered the fruit and vegetable market, a neat and well-paved bazar, surmounted by a flying roof and pierced for glass windows. The dead arches in the long walls are externally stone and internally brick. The building was full of fat middle-aged negresses, sitting at squat before their ’blyes,’ or round baskets, which contained a variety and confusion of heterogeneous articles. The following is a list almost as disorderly as the collection itself.
There were pins and needles, yarn and thread, that have taken the place of the wilder thorn and fibre; all kinds of small hardware; looking-glasses in lacquered frames; beads of sorts, cowries and reels of cotton; pots of odorous pomatum and shea-butter nuts; feathers of the plantain-bird and country snuff-boxes of a chestnut-like fruit (a strychnine?) from which the powder is inhaled, more majorum, through a quill; physic-nuts (tiglium, or croton), a favourite but painful native remedy; horns of the goat and antelope, possibly intended for fetish ’medicine;’ blue-stone, colcothar and other drugs. Amongst the edibles appeared huge achatinae, which make an excellent soup, equal to that of the French snail; ground-nuts; very poor rice of four varieties, large and small, red and dark; cheap ginger, of which the streets are at times redolent, and which makes good home-brewed ’pop;’ the Kolá-nut, here worth a halfpenny and at Bathurst a penny each; the bitter Kolá, a very different article from the esculent; skewered rôts of ground-hog, a rodent that can climb, destroy vegetables, and bite hard if necessary; dried bats and rats, which the African as well as the Chinese loves, and fish cuits au soleil, preferred when ’high,’ to use the mildest adjective. From the walls hung dry goods, red woollen nightcaps and comforters, leopards’ and monkeys’ skins, and the pelt of an animal which might have been a gazelle.
Upon the long counters or tables were displayed the fruits and vegetables. The former were the custard-apple or sweet-sop (Annona squamosa), the sour-sop (A. muricata), the Madeiran chirimoya, (A. cherimolia), citrons, sweet and sour limes, and oranges, sweet and bitter, grown in the mountains; bananas (M. paradisiaca), the staff of life on the Gold Coast, and plantains (M. sapientum), the horse-plantains of India; [Footnote: The West Indian plantain is apparently unknown or unused] pine-apples more than half wild; mangoes terribly turpentiney unless the trunk be gashed to let out the gum; ’monkey-plums’ or ’apples’ and ’governor’s plums.’ The common guavas are rank and harsh, but the ’strawberry guava,’ as it is locally called, has a delicate, subacid flavour not easily equalled. The aguacáte, or alligator-pear (Persea gratissima), which was not ’introduced by the Basel missionaries from the West Indies,’ is inferior to the Mexican. Connoisseurs compare its nutty flavour with that of the filbert, and eat it with pepper, salt, and the sauce of Worcester, whose fortune was made by the nice conduct of garlic. The papaw [Footnote: The leaves are rubbed on meat to make it tender, and a drop of milk from the young fruit acts as a vermifuge.] should be cooked as a vegetable and stuffed with forced meat; the flesh of the granadilla, which resembles it, is neglected, while the seeds and their surroundings are flavoured with sherry and sugar. There is an abundance of the Eriobotrya Japonica, in Madeira called the loquat and elsewhere the Japanese medlar: it grows wild in the Brazil, where the people distil from it. [Footnote: I cannot yet decide whether its birthplace is Japan or South America, whose plants have now invaded Western India and greatly altered the vegetation.]
The chief vegetables were the watercress, grown in private gardens; onions, large and mild as the Spanish; calavances, or beans; okras or gumbos, the bhendi of India (Hibiscus esculentus), the best thickening for soup; bengwas, or egg-plants; yams (Dioscorea bulbifera) of sorts; bitter Cassada (Jatropha manihot) and the sweet variety (Jatropha janipha); garlic; kokos (Colocasia esculenta); potatoes, which the steamers are beginning to bring from England, not from Madeira; tomatoes like musket-balls, but very sweet and wholesome; and the batata, (Convolvulus patatus, or sweet potato), which whilom made ’kissing comfits.’ The edibles consisted of’ fufu’ (plantain-paste); of ’cankey,’ a sour pudding of maize-flour; of ginger-cake; of cassava-balls finely levigated, and of sweetened ’agadi,’ native bread in lumps, wrapped up in plantain-leaves. Toddy was the usual drink offered for sale.
The butchers’ yard, near the market, is no longer a ’ragged and uncleanly strip of ground.’ The long-horned cattle, small, mostly humpless, and resembling the brindled and dun Alderney cow, are driven in from the Pulo (Fulah) country. I have described the beef as tasting not unlike what one imagines a knacker’s establishment to produce, and since that time I have found but scant improvement. It is sold on alternate days with mutton, the former costing 6d., the latter 9d. a pound. Veal, so bad in England and so good in Southern Europe, is unknown. The long, lean, hairy black-and-white sheep do not supply an excellent article. Goats and kids are plentiful, and the flesh would be good if it had any taste. Hogs abound, as in Ireland; but no one eats pork, for the best of reasons. The poultry-list comprises small tough fowls (l0d. to 2s.), partridges, ducks (2s. 6d.), geese, especially the spur-winged from Sherbro, and the Muscovy or Manilla duck–a hard-fleshed, insipid bird, whose old home was South American Paraguay–turkeys (10s. to 15s.), and the arripiada, or frizzly chicken, whose feathers stand on end. Milk is scarce and dear. Englishmen raw in the tropics object to milch-goats and often put up with milch-pigs, which are said to be here kept for the purpose. I need not tell all the old tale, ’Goat he go die; pig he go for bush,’ &c. Butter (1s. 8d. in 2-lb. tins) is oily and rancid, with the general look of cartgrease, in this tropical temperature. It is curious that the Danish and Irish dairies cannot supply the West African public with a more toothsome article.
Near the meat-market is the double row of houses with shops upon the ground-floor, not unlike a Banyan’s street in outer Bombay, but smaller, dirtier, meaner far. Here the stranger can buy dry goods and a few curiosities of Mandenga manufacture–grigris (teraphim or charms), bows, spears, and saddles and bridles like those of the Somal, both perfectly useless to white men. The leather, however, is excellent as the Moroccan, and the work dates from the days when the Saracens pushed southwards from the Mediterranean to the Niger-valley. Wild animals are at times offered for sale, but Darkey has heard exaggerated accounts of prices paid in England for grey parrots, palm-birds, monkeys, bush-antelopes, mongooses, ground-pigs, and other ’small deer’ brought from the rivulets behind Freetown. Sundry snakes were offered for sale, the Mandenga, 4 to 5 feet long, with black marks upon a yellow ground, and the spitting serpent, between 5 and 6 feet long, with a long head, also dark above and silvery grey below. I doubted the fact of its ejecting saliva till assured by the Rev. John Milum that two missionaries at Lagos, Messieurs J. B. Wood and David, had suffered severely from inflamed eyes after the contemptuous ophine crachat. All along the coast is a cerastes (horned snake), whose armature is upon the snout and whose short fat form suggests the puff-adder. The worst is a venomous-looking cobra, or hooded viper, with flat, cordate head, broad like all the more ferocious species. It is the only thanatophid whose bite I will not undertake to cure. We carried on the A.S.S. Winnebah, for the benefit of Mr. Cross, of Liverpool, a big black ape, which the Sá Leonites called a ’black chimpanzee.’ Though badly wounded she had cost 27l., and died after a few days of the cage. The young chimpanzees were valued at 61.
I looked in vain for the old inn, the only thing in the place, a dirty hovel, kept, in 1862, by a Liberian negro, inscribed ’Lunch-house’ on a sign-board flanked by the Union Jack and the U.S. ’oysters and gridiron.’ Nothing has succeeded to this ’American hotel,’ and visitors must depend upon the hospitality of acquaintances. A Frenchman lately opened a Gasthaus, and lost no time in becoming bankrupt. There is, however, a manner of boarding-house kept by a Mrs. King.
Turning south from Water Street, we passed the Wilberforce, or rather the ’Willyfoss,’ memorial, a colossal scandal noticed by every visitor at Sá Leone, a ’folly’ which has cost 3,000l. Its condition is exactly what it was two decads ago–a chapel-like shell of dingy, mouldy laterite with six lancet-windows and metal pillars. Its case is a complicated concern. The ecclesiastical authorities wanted it for their purposes, and so did the secular civilians, and so did the military. At last the Sá Leonites, hopeless of obtaining a Government grant, have set on foot a subscription which reached 500l.–some say 700l. There are, therefore, certain fitful signs of activity, and bricks and fire-bricks now cumber the ground; but it is all a ’flash in the pan.’ The present purpose is to make it a library, in place of the fine old collection which went to the dogs. It is also to serve as a lecture-room. But who is there in the ’African Liverpool’ that can lecture? What is he to lecture about? Who will stand or sit out being lectured?
Immediately beyond this grim and grisly reminiscence are the neat dwelling-house and the store of the Honourable Mr. Sybille Boyle, so named from a ship and from her captain, R.N., who served in the preventive squadron about 1824. He is an unofficial member of Council and a marked exception to the rule of the ’Liberateds.’ Everybody has a good word to say of him. The establishment is the regular colonial, where you can buy anything between a needle and a sheet-anchor. Bottled ale is not wanting, and thus steamer-passengers learn to congregate in the back parlour.
We then walked to the top of Gloucester Street, expecting to see the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial. I left it an arch of sticks and timber spanning this main cross-line, which leads to Government House. The temporary was to be supplanted by a permanent marble arc de triomphe, commemorating the auspicious occasion when the black colony first looked upon a live white Royal Highness. At once 700l. was subscribed, and only 800l. was wanting; but all those interested in the matter died, and the 350l. which remained in the chest was, I believe, transferred to the ’Willyfoss.’ The august day is still kept as a public holiday, for the people are, after their fashion, loyal-mouthed in the extreme. But the memorial is clean forgotten, and men stare if you ask about it. Half-way up the street is the post-office, whose white chief is not a whit more civil than the negro head in 1862.
Upon this highly interesting spot we stood awhile to note the peculiarities of the place and its position. The soil is a loose clay, deep-red or brown, impregnated with iron and, where unclothed with humus, cold and infertile, as the spontaneous aloe shows. The subsoil is laterite, also highly ferruginous. Soft and working well with the axe while it retains the quarry-water, it soon hardens by exposure; and, thus weathered, it forms the best and ugliest of the local building materials. Embedded in the earth’s surface are blocks and boulders apparently erratic, dislodged or washed down from the upper heights, where similar masses are seen. Many are scattered, as if by an eruption; others lie in slab or dome shape upon the shore. The shape is usually spheroidal, and the material hypersthene (a hard and close-grained bluish granite) or diorite, greenstone-trap blackened by sun and rain. In the few cuttings of the higher levels I afterwards remarked that detached ’hardheads’ are puddinged into the friable laterite; but I nowhere found the granitic floor-rock protruding above ground. The boulders are treated by ditching and surrounding with a hot fire for forty-eight hours; cold water, not vinegar, is then poured upon them, and causes the heated material suddenly to contract and fracture, when it can easily be removed. Magnetic iron also occurs, and specimens have been sent to England; but veins have not yet been discovered.
Our walk had furnished us with a tolerable idea of ’the city’s’ plan, without referring to the printed affair. Fronting north with westing, it is divided into squares, blocks, and insulae, after the fashion of a chessboard. This is one of the oldest as well as the newest mode of distributions. The temples of the classical gods, being centrally situated, required for general view broad, straight approaches. From Washington to Buenos Ayres the modern cities of the New World have reverted to this ancient system without other reason but a love of regularity and simplicity. Here the longer streets flank the sea and the shorter run at right angles up the inner slopes. Both are bright red lines worn in the vegetation between the houses. The ribbons of green are the American or Bahama grass; fine, silky, and creeping along the ground, it is used to stuff mattresses, and it forms a good substitute for turf. When first imported it was neglected, cut away, and nearly killed out; now it is encouraged, because its velvety plots relieve the glaring red surface, it keeps off the ’bush,’ and it clears the surface of all other vegetation. Looking upon the city below, we were surprised to see the dilapidation of the tenements. Some have tumbled down; others were tumbling down; many of those standing were lumber or board shanties called ’quarter-frames’ and ’ground-floors;’ sundry large piles rose grisly and fire-charred, and the few good houses looked quite modern. But what can be expected in a place where Europeans never expect to outstay the second year, and where Africans, who never yet worked without compulsion, cannot legally be compelled to work?
We then walked up to Government House, the Fort Thornton of old charts, whose roof, seen from the sea, barely tops the dense curtain of tree and shrubbery that girds and hangs around it. Passing under a cool and shady avenue of mangoes and figs, and the archway, guarded by a porter’s lodge and a detachment of the three hundred local police, we came in sight of the large, rambling residence, built piecemeal, like many an English country-house. There is little to recommend it save the fine view of the sea and the surrounding shrubbery-ground. I can well understand how, with the immense variety of flower and fruit suddenly presented to his eyes, the gentleman fresh from England required six months to recover the free and full use of all his senses and faculties.
A policeman–no longer a Zouave of the West Indian corps–took in our cards, and we introduced ourselves to Captain A. E. Havelock, ’Governor-in-Chief of Sierra Leone and the Gambia.’ He is No. 47 since Captain Day, R.N., first ruled in A.D. 1803. I had much to say to him about sundry of his predecessors. Captain Havelock, who dates only from 1881, has the reputation of being slightly ’black.’ The Neri and the Bianchi factions here represent the Buffs and Blues of a land further north. He is yet in the heyday of popularity, when, in the consecrated phrase, the ruler ’gains golden opinions.’ But colonial judgments are fickle, and mostly in extremes. After this smiling season the weather lowers, the storm breaks, and all is elemental rage, when from being a manner of demigod the unhappy ruler gradually becomes one of the ’meanest and basest of men.’ Absit omen!
We returned at sunset to Government House and spent a pleasant evening. The ’smokes’ had vanished, and with them the frowse and homeliness of morning. The sun, with rays of lilac red, set over a panorama of townlet, land, and sea, to which distance added many a charm. Mingling afar with the misty horizon, the nearer waters threw out, by their golden and silvery sheen, the headlands, capes, and tongues stretching in long perspective below, while the Sugarloaf, father of mountains, rose in solitary grandeur high above his subject hills. On the nearer slope of Signal Hill we saw the first of the destructive bush-burnings. They are like prairie-fires in these lands, and sometimes they gird Freetown with a wall of flame. Complexion is all in all to Sá Leone, and she showed for a few moments a truly beautiful prospect.
The Governor has had the courage to bring out Mrs. Havelock, and she has had the courage to stand firm against a rainy season. The climate is simply the worst on the West Coast, despite the active measures of sanitation lately taken, the Department of Public Health, the ordinances of the Colonial Government in 1879, and the excellent water with which the station is now provided. On a clear sunny day the charnel-house, I repeat, is lovely, mais c’est la mort; it is the terrible beauty of death. Mrs. Melville says, with full truth, ’I felt amidst all the glory of tropic sunlight and everlasting verdure a sort of ineffable dread connected with the climate.’ Even when leaving the ’pestilent shore’ she was ’haunted by the shadowy presence.’ This is womanly, but a little reflection must suggest it to man.
Even half a century ago opinions differed concerning the climate of the colony. Dr. Madden could obtain only contradictory accounts. [Footnote: See Wanderings in West Africa, for details, vol. i. p. 275.] There is a tradition of a Chief Justice applying to the Colonial Office for information touching his pension, the clerks could not answer him, and he presently found that none of his predecessors had lived to claim it. Mr. Judge Rankin was of opinion that its ill-fame was maintained by ’policy on the one hand and by ignorance of truth on the other.’ But Mr. Judge died a few days after. So with Dr. Macpherson, of the African Colonial Corps. It appears ill-omened to praise the place; and, after repeated visits to it, I no longer wonder that the ’Medical Gazette’ of April 14, 1838, affirmed, ’No statistical writer has yet tried to give the minutest fraction representing the chance of a surgeon’s return from Sierra Leone.’
On the other hand, Mrs. Falconbridge, whose husband was sent out from England on colonial business in 1791, and who wrote the first ’lady’s book’ upon the Coast, pointed out at the beginning that sickness was due quite as much to want of care as to the climate. In 1830 Mr. John Cormack, merchant and resident since 1800, stated to a Committee of the House of Commons that out of twenty-six Europeans in his service seven had died, seven had remained in Africa, and of twelve who returned to England all save two or three were in good health. We meet with a medical opinion as early as 1836 that ’not one-fourth of the deaths results merely from climate.’ Cases of old residents are quoted–for instance, Governor Kenneth Macaulay, a younger brother of Zachary Macaulay, who resisted it for twenty years; Mr. Reffall for fifteen years, and sundry other exceptions.
In this section of the nineteenth century it is the custom to admit that the climate is bad and dangerous; but that it has often been made the scape-goat of European recklessness and that much of the sickness and death might be avoided. The improvement is attributed to the use of quinine, unknown to the early settlers, and much is expected from sanatoria and from planting the blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), which failed, owing to the carelessness and ignorance of the planters. A practical appreciation of the improvement is shown by the Star Life Assurance Society, which has reduced to five per cent. its former very heavy rates. Lastly, the bad health of foreigners is accounted for by the fact that they leave their own country for a climate to which they are not accustomed, where the social life and the habits of the people are so different from their own, and yet that they continue doing all things as in England.
But how stand the facts at the white man’s Red Grave? Mrs. Havelock and the wife of the officer commanding the garrison are the only Europeans in the colony, whereas a score of years ago I remember half a dozen. Even the warmest apologisers for the climate will not expose their wives to it, preferring to leave them at home or in Madeira. During last March there were five deaths of white men–that is, more than a third–out of a total of 163. What would the worst of English colonies say to a mortality of 350 per thousand per annum? Of course we are told that it is exceptional, and the case of the insurance societies is quoted. But they forget to tell us the reason. A mail steamer now calls at Freetown once a week, and the invalid is sent home by the first opportunity. Similarly a silly East Indian statistician proved, from the rare occurrence of fatal cases, Aden to be one of the healthiest stations under ’the Company.’ He ignored the fact that even a scratch justified the surgeons in shipping a man off on sick leave.
I quite agree with the view of Mr. Frederick Evans: [Footnotes: The Colonies and India, Dec. 24, 1881.] ’Let anyone anxious to test the nature of the climate go to Kew Gardens and sit for a week or two in one of the tropical houses there; he may be assured that he will by no means feel in robust health when he leaves.’ The simile is perfect. Europeans living in Africa like Europeans as regards clothing and diet are, I believe, quite right. We tried grass-cloth, instead of broadcloth, in Western India, when general rheumatism was the result. In the matter of meat and drink the Englishman cannot do better than adhere to his old mode of life as much as possible, with a few small modifications. Let him return to the meal-times of Queen Elizabeth’s day–
Sunrise breakfast, sun high dinner, Sundown sup, makes a saint of a sinner–
and especially shun the 9 A.M. breakfast, which leads to a heavy tiffin at 1 P.M., the hottest and most trying section of the day. With respect to diet, if he drinks a bottle of claret in England let him reduce himself in Africa to a pint ’cut’ with, water; if he eats a pound of meat he should be contented with eight ounces and an extra quantity of fruit and vegetables. In medicine let him halve his cathartics and double his dose of tonics.
From its topographical as well as its geographical position the climate of Freetown is oppressively hot, damp, and muggy. The annual mean is 79.5° Fahr.; the usual temperature of the dwellings is from 78° to 86° Fahr. Its year is divided into two seasons, the Dries and the Rains. The wet season begins in May and ends with November; for the last five years the average downfall has been 155 inches, five times greater than in rainy England. These five months are times of extreme discomfort. The damp heat, despite charcoal fires in the houses and offices, mildews everything–clothes, weapons, books, man himself. It seems to exhaust all the positive electricity of the nervous system, and it makes the patient feel utterly miserable. It also fills the air with noxious vapours during the short bursts of sunshine perpendicularly rained down, and breeds a hateful brood of what the Portuguese call immundicies–a foul ’insect-youth.’ Only the oldest residents prefer the wet to the dry months. The Rains end in the sickliest season of the year, when the sun, now getting the upper hand, sucks the miasmatic vapours from the soil and distributes them to mankind in the shape of ague and fever, dysentery, and a host of diseases. The Dries last from November to April, often beginning with tornadoes and ending with the Harmatan, smokes or scirocco. The climate is then not unlike Bombay, except that it lacks the mild East Indian attempt at a winter, and that barometric pressure hardly varies.
During my last visit to Sá Leone I secured a boat, and, accompanied by Dr. Lovegrove, of the A.S.S. Armenian, set out to inspect the lower bed of the Rokel and the islands which it waters. Passing along Fourah Bay, we remarked in the high background a fine brook, cold, clear, and pure, affording a delicious bath; it is almost dry in the Dries, and swells to a fiumara during the Rains. Its extent was then a diminutive rivulet tumbling some hundreds of feet down a shelving bed into Granville Bay, the break beyond Fourah. On the way we passed several Timni boats, carrying a proportionately immense amount of ’muslin.’ Of old the lords of the land, they still come down the river with rice and cocoa-nuts from the Kwiah (Quiah) country, from Porto Loko, from Waterloo, and other places up stream. They not unfrequently console themselves for their losses by a little hard fighting; witness their defence of the Modúka stockade in 1861, when four officers and twenty-three of our men were wounded. [Footnote: Wanderings in West Africa, vol. i pp. 246-47.] Some of the boats are heavy row-barges with a framework of sticks for a stern-awning; an old Mandenga, with cottony beard, sits at each helm. They row simplices munditiis. At Sá Leone men are punished for not wearing overalls, and thus the ’city’ becomes a rag-fair. The Timni men are dark negroids with the slightest infusion of Semitic blood; some had coated their eyebrows and part of their faces with chalk for ophthalmia. They appeared to be merry fellows enough; and they are certainly the only men in the colony who ever pretend to work. A Government official harshly says of them, ’I would willingly ascribe to the nearest of our neighbours and their representatives in Freetown, of whom there are many, some virtues if they possessed any; but, unfortunately, taken as a people, they have been truly described by able and observant writers as dishonest and depraved.’ Mr. Secretary evidently forgets the ’civilising’ and infectious example of Sá Leone, versus the culture of El-Islam.
Arrived at Bishopscourt, we disembarked and visited the place. Here in old days ’satisfaction’ was given and taken; and a satirical medico declared that forty years of rencontres had not produced a single casualty. He was more witty than wise; I heard of one gentleman who had been ’paraded’ and ’winged.’ Old Granville Town, which named the bay, has completely disappeared; the ruins of the last house are gone from the broad grassy shelf upon which the first colonists built their homes.
From Granville Bay the traveller may return by the ’Kissy Road.’ Once it was the pet promenade, the Corso, the show-walk of Freetown; now it has become a Tottenham Court Road, to which Water, Oxford, and Westmoreland Streets are preferred. The vegetation becomes splendid, running up to the feet of the hills, which swell suddenly from the shelf-plain. The approach to Sá Leone is heralded by a row of shops even smaller and meaner than those near the market-place. There are whole streets of these rabbit-hutches, whose contents ’mammy,’ when day is done, carries home in a ’bly’-basket upon her head, possibly leaving ’titty’ to mount guard upon the remnant. The stock in trade may represent a capital of 4l., and the profits 1s. a day. Yet ’daddy’ styles himself merchant, gets credit, and spends his evenings conversing and smoking cigars–as a gentleman should–with his commercial friends.
Passing the easternmost end of the peninsula, and sailing along the Bullom (’lowland’) shores, we verified Dr. Blyden’s assertion that this ’home of fevers’ shows no outward and visible sign of exceeding unhealthiness. The soil is sandy, the bush is comparatively thin, and the tall trees give it the aspect of a high and dry land. We then turned north-east and skirted Tasso Island, a strip of river-holm girt with a wall of mangroves. It had an old English fort, founded in 1695; the factors traded with the Pulo (Fulah) country for slaves, ivory, and gold. It was abandoned after being taken by Van Ruyter, when he restored to the Dutch West Indian Company the conquests of Commodore Holmes. The rich soil in 1800 supported a fine cotton plantation, and here Mr. Heddle kept a ’factory.’ The villagers turned out to gaze, not habited like the Wolofs of Albreda, but clad in shady hats and seedy pantaloons.
After clearing Tasso we advanced merrily, and at the end of two hours’ and a half actual sailing and pulling we landed upon Bance, which some call Bence’s Island. A ruined jetty with two rusty guns, buried like posts, projected from the sand-strip; and a battery, where nine cannon still linger, defended the approach. There is a similar beach to the north-east, with admirable bathing in the tepid, brackish waves and a fine view of the long leonine Sierra. The outlying rocks, capped with guano, look like moored boats and awnings. The sea-breeze was delicious; the lapping, dazzling stream made sweet music, and the huge cotton-trees with laminar buttresses gave most grateful shade.
The island resembles Gambian James multiplied by four or five. Behind the battery are the ruins of a huge building, like the palaces of old Goa, vast rooms, magazines, barracoons, underground vaults, and all manner of contrivances for the good comfort and entertainment of the slaver and the slave. A fine promenade of laterite, which everywhere about Sá Leone builds the best of roads, and a strip of jungle rich in the Guilandina Bonduc, whose medicinal properties are well known to the people, leads to the long-deserted graveyard. We pass an old well with water thirty-five feet deep, and enter the enceinte, that contains four tombs; the marble tablets, which would soon disappear in India for the benefit of curry-stuffs, here remain intact. One long home was tenanted by ’Thomas Knight, Esquire, born in the county of Surrey, who acted eighteen years as agent for the proprietors of this island, and who died on August 27 of 1785,’ beloved, of course, by everybody. Second came the ’honourable sea-Captain Hiort, born in 1746, married in 1771 to the virtuous lady Catherine Schive, and died in 1783, leaving two good-natured daughters, which his soul is in the hands of God.’ The third was Mr. John Tittle, who departed life in 1776; and the last was Captain Josiah Dory, a ’man of upright character,’ who migrated to the many in 1765.
Barbot (ii. 1) describes Bance’s Island as defended by a small fort on a steep rock of difficult access, ascended only by a sort of stairs cut in the stone, and acting as the store-house of the Royal African Company. The low walls of lime and ashlar had a round ’flanker’ with five guns, a curtain with embrasures for four large cannon, and a platform just before it for six guns, all well mounted. The only good buildings were the slave-booths. Winterbottom, who places it over eighteen miles above St. George’s Bay (Baie de France) and north of Tasso Island, thus describes Bance: ’This is a small barren island considerably elevated, with a dry, gravelly soil; but being placed as it were in the midst of an archipelago of low marshy islands, the breeze, from whatever quarter it blows, is impregnated with moisture and marsh effluvia, which render it sickly. The air also is very much heated, and the thermometer generally stands 4° or 5° higher on this island than it does at Freetown.’
We regained the steamer shortly after dark, delighted with our picnic and resolved always to take the same advantage of all halts. In those days the interior was most interesting. The rivers Scarcies, Nunez, and Ponga were unknown; the equestrian Susu tribe had never been visited; and, the Timbo country, the great centre whence arise the Niger, the Rokel, and the Senegal, awaited exploration.
End of the First Volume.