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LITTELL's LIVING AGE.-No. 229–7 OCTOBER, 1848.
From the Spectator.
CAPTAIN ALLEN AND DR. THOMPSON ON THE
For purposes of adventitious popularity, the Narrative of the Erpedition to the Niger in 1841-2 should have appeared some years ago, before the public at large had recovered from the shock which the disastrous failure of such a vaunted scheme with its terrible loss of life had produced. “Better late than never” will, however, properly apply to the work. The publications of Doctors M'William and Pritchetti were chiefly limited to the facts of the fever, which defeated the expedition, or to hypotheses connected with its origin and treatment ; but, however important those accounts and discussions might be, they wanted the general interest of descriptions of African scenery, sketches of African peoples and their rulers, with the incidents attendant upon an expedition into a region so little known and so long a wonder to the world as the mysterious river. This voyage, too, was not like that of a geographical explorer or a mere colonial or mercantile adventurer: the four commissioners had a sort of “roving commission” for all and sundry. They were to lecture the naked and half naked chiefs and headmen on ethics, philanthropy, politics, and political economy, more especially free labor, t and finance.) They were to negotiate treaties for the abolition of the internal slave-trade with the different chieftains they met ; and if they could get up a sort of Holy Alliance on the banks of the Niger for this purpose, so much the better. They were to introduce the subject of human sacrifices and discourse thereupon ; they were to buy land, with permission to build a fort or forts, paying what is called “earnest-money” down, but leaving the completion of the purchase to the option of her majesty: and “31. If the sovereignty over any country or place should be offered to Great Britain through you, you will engage to submit the proposal to your sovereign.” That the delay occasioned by the diplomatic “palavers” consequent on these instructions contributed to the fatal catastrophe, cannot be affirmed. Although the Delta of the Niger is said to be the place where the seeds of the disease are sown, there is no proof of its being
much more deadly than the upper parts of the river; and indeed, fever among the natives seems more rife in the higher regions than the lower; while the diplomacy, by delaying the ascent, kept the vessels nearer the sea, and possibly saved them from being entangled in the interior among the difficulties of navigation which, after the close of the rainy season, would have arisen from the decreasing waters. However, there is no doubt but that the formal and elaborate negotiations, with the moral and political exposés, tedious as these latter seem to have been to the victims of them, bring the courtly life and great men of Niger's banks more distinctly before us than would have been the case in a common expedition. The authority of the diplomatists, rendered evident by the force at their disposal, (credentials seem to have been dispensed with,) also gave facilities for observation and exploration, which private individuals without the same physical power would not possess. Hence, though Lander and Laird had already passed along the line of the river, and indeed further than the government expedition with all its appliances, there is a good deal of freshness and novelty of view in the subject-matter, from the different circumstances under which her majesty's commissioners appeared. In these volumes there is much more than the Niger. The authors give a sketch of the voyage out; and, though Madeira and similar islands might have been dispensed with, the notices of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the condition and character of the Negro races along the coast, are informing. Not the least interesting part of the book is the narrative after the failure of the expedition. Thoroughly broken down in health by the distressful scenes around him, the anxieties of his position, and the severity of the fever which at last attacked him, Captain Trotter, the commander of the expedition, returned home from Fernando Po, leaving Captain Allen in his place to wait for orders from England. To keep the men employed and change their air, the interval was occupied in cruising round Fernando Po, the adjacent islands, and the Cameroon coast, as well as some other districts. In the course of these various trips, Captain Allen ascended the Cameroon river for some little distance, and made excursions through several of the islands; and he gives many striking sketches of their physical features, as well as of the customs, condition, and character of the colored people, both individual and national. The narrative is animated, and agreeably written. The authors have observed the social condition of the Negro race, and the forms of government that obtain among them ; they have more literature than commonly belongs to travellers in uncivilized countries, with enough of skill to present the characteristics of scenes and persons without obtruding the efforts of the writer. The pen depicts in a lifelike manner the richness of tropical vegetation, the broad expanse of the flowing Niger glittering in sunshine and animated by African traffic, the grotesque pretensions and burlesque pomp of black and barbaric royalty, combined with some common sense, a good deal of cunning, and no small amount (we fear) of roguery. The darker scenes of the gloomy-looking channels of the Delta, with their slimy mangroves and miasma-breeding swamps—the distressing scenes of sickness, death, and failing hope—with, last of all, the burials and the burial-ground at Fernando Po—are equally successful. Although Captain Allen accompanied Laird's expedition by desire of the Admiralty, in order to survey the river, and consequently knew by experience the deadly nature of the climate, he yet seems to have been an enthusiast in the cause of the African Civilization Society. But his own narrative, notwithstanding his obvious leanings, shows that a wilder or more ill-founded scheme never was conceived, putting climate out of the question. Had a philanthropic power analogous to Great Britain existed in the days of the Heptarchy, she might as well have supposed that Saxon Fngland might have been metamorphosed into modern England by treaties against serfdom and in favor of commerce, with a “model farm” and factory. The distance which the slave kafilas travel was well known. If the three principal chiefs of the Niger had signed the treaties in good faith, they might have stopped the traffic on the main stream ; but, intersected as is the whole of the western coast of Africa from the Senegal to the Congo and even still more southward by rivers or branches, the sole effect would have been to turn a river trade into a land trade, and divert the present business from the Niger to its branches or to other countries—that is, if much foreign slave-trade exists upon the Niger, which does not seem to be the case. The potentates, however, were not in earnest : they signed under a species of duress at the sight of the fire-ships, and of temptation at the prospect of the presents. The whole thing was a piece of humbug, apparently seen through by the commissioners; if not, they soon had proof of it. Within a month from the agreement with the king of Iddah, something like a slave-trade was found going on : the slaves were seized and carried to Fernando Po. Further search was stopped by the progress of the fever, and the necessity of escape from the region. On the ascent of one of the steamers the following year to bring away the settlers at the “model farm,” the trade seemed to be going on as usual ; but nothing beyond remonstrance was then attempted. Time was too precious ; the experience of 1841 had shown the dangers to which the vessels were exposed from an attack of the natives should the white crew be prostrated by sickness; and very proper orders
had been given by Captain Allen to go no further than “palaver.” The “model farm” was a more egregious failure. At the time of the occurrences, a paragraph from the coast of Africa went the round of the papers, representing that no sooner was white superintendence removed by fever and accident, than the colored philanthropists, who were to set an example to Africa in morals and freedom, fell into the “domestic institution,” and possessed themselves of the driver's badge of authority, the whip. There was a tone about the narrative that suggested the idea of some exaggeration : but it seems to have been too well founded. Here is the softened official narrative.
On strict inquiry into the conduct of the settlers generally, it was ascertained that, except Thomas King, who had been left in command of the Amelia schooner, they had been guilty of continued insubordination, and gross indulgence in the worst vices of the natives. They were lazy and indolent, not one of them willing or disposed to manual labor, yet ready enough to exercise authority over the negroes they had hired, and whom they employed on the most trifling occasion rather than exert themselves. As a proof of their love of power and proneness to abuse it, it may be mentioned that a number of the surrounding natives had been hired to assist the people at the farm, in transporting the stores from the hill to the vessels; and two of the settlers were found to have furnished themselves with whips, apparently for the purpose of urging those under them to greater exertion. These instruments were immediately laid aside by Lieutenant Webb's injunction ; and although he had not seen them actually applied in punishing the natives, yet he had every reason to believe that they were in the habit of carrying these instruments, which even if never used could not fail to inspire the natives with terror, and alienate their good feelings, to the great injury of the British character, inasmuch as they were reputedly under the English flag. Of the whole number (thirty-two) who had been left there in charge of the model farm and the Amelia tender, nine were willing to remain, but only on condition of receiving increased wages and having an European superintendent to protect them. All these circumstances combined, obliged Lieutenant Webb to act on the discretionary power vested in him, and to abandon the settlement.
But even had the plan had a direct success— that is, had the chiefs exerted themselves to put down the slave-trade, had the “model farm” really been an example, and the climate admitted of an English commerce up the river—African habits and character, if not human nature itself, seem to interpose an obstacle to civilization and industry per saltum. What African free labor is, we see in the West Indies; what it is at home may be seen in the neighborhood of the Cameroons. This is comparatively a healthy spot: Mr. Jamieson of Liverpool had an establishment there ; and a considerable trade had grown up, to fall back again.
On the suppression of the slave-trade, the Cameroons towns rose rapidly into importance by the export of palm-oil; and for some years there was a flourishing trade, which might be increased to any amount if the energies of the people were equal to the resources of the country and the favorable position of the place. It had, however, recently been on the decline, owing to the listlessness and rapacity of the people and chiefs, who are as insolent as they are exacting. This is probably the result of, to them, a useless prosperity, since they appear to be gorged with wealth, of which they neither feel the want nor comprehend the use. The naturally dilatory transactions of the native traders are prolonged with a fraudulent intention. Thus the practice appears to be, on the arrival of a ship, to trust the goods in advance to purchase a cargo, originally with the view of forestalling other ships; but as this becomes general, there is occasionally a regular scramble for the palm-oil as it is brought down the river in canoes. The delay is most injurious, and sometimes the captain falls a sacrifice to the climate or to disappointment; when his death is considered by the natives to absolve them from all obligations. The mate not being able to procure his cargo, takes away an empty ship. This gives rise to arbitrary and summary proceedings on the part of the whites, and continual disputes—“bad bobs.” Some of these Captain Allen had to settle ; but in one case his decision was reversed by a fight on shore, in which there was gain to both parties of numerous broken heads.
Again turn to Sierra Leone, where for a quarter of a century the philanthropists dictated, and where they are still powerful. What is the result of all their schemes, and of the lives and money that have been sacrificed to carry them out ! Let Captain Allen, in principle though not in ignorance one of themselves, answer.
It must appear a matter of surprise that this thickly-peopled colony should not produce anything fit for exportation. The trade in African oak and camwood seems to be a wanton neglect of the rich capabilities with which this region is endowed by nature. This surely is a subject for deep consideration. The Africans collected here in such multitudes ought to furnish abundant and cheap labor; and yet there is no cultivation on a grand scale, such as to create a staple in the colony. Much diligence is excited in converting and educating, to a certain extent, the liberated Africans, but without any beneficial influence on the mass, nor on the neighboring tribes. This is not very satisfactory; and it proves that the original and main object contemplated on the formation of the colony, namely, to form a nucleus of civilization, and to rear a body of free laborers, whence they might be diffused to the surrounding nations, has not been advanced. The liberated Africans, on their arrival, are apprenticed to a planter till their twentieth year; after that a piece of land is apportioned to them, which procures a maintenance, scanty it is true, but sufficient for their absolute wants; and thus they fall back into a state of animal existence, little if anything better than their original barbarism. No Englishman can visit the settlement without a feeling of honest pride that his country should have been the first to attempt to atone for the deep miseries inflicted on Africa by the inhuman traffic in her children. But while he also reflects how much reparation he owes her for his more extensive complicity, he will not fail to confess that in this attempt the result falls infinitely short even of the instalment proposed to be given. Sierra Leone has in fact reached that point in its
career at which, unless some more energetic measures be adopted to carry forward the original design, its usefulness must cease and its retrogression will be rapid. Already it wears the aspect of premature decrepitude. An abundant population neglects its resources; and in addition to the natural increment, it receives large numbers every year, in recaptured slaves; yet its wealth and means of advancement do not keep pace with even a natural increase in population.
In fact, these various projects for civilizing the Africans in Africa, have ended in nothing but death to those who were ordered to attempt them; and the last vaunted scheme, which implicated the prince consort in its hobbies, combined rival parties in a common movement, and really controlled the resources and opinion of the government, not only did nothing, but did a public mischief. Though no direct pledges were made, the very presence of the commissioners, and, above all, the treaties, spoke of forts, settlements, British residents, and an extensive trade. When not one iota of all these understood promises were fulfilled, or had even an appearance of fulfilment, what must the residents on the Niger think of the British government, but as animated by some ulterior objects mysteriously baffled, or as triflers without purpose and without faith.
But let us pass from the main to the miscellaneous matter of the book. The following description of the mouth of the Niger has an interest from the associations with the name.
Nothing can be more deceiving than the outlets of the mighty Niger. While broad and imposing branches are seen in various directions, the only navigable channel hitherto discovered is so narrow that our vessels could not turn in it. Yet the embouchure which we had entered would appear to justify the most extravagant anticipations that could be formed of the river. This is, however, a mere reservoir, of which nature has provided no less than twenty along a coast of more than one hundred and fifty miles in extent—the delta, in fact, formed by the deposit brought down by the floods. The small rise and fall of the sea in this part—hardly six feet—appears to require such reservoirs to collect the prodigious volume of water which is deposited on so large a surface of Africa, and of which the river is the drainage, in order to discharge it at several points into the universal receptacle. * * *
The water of the river is of a loamy color, and is sweet to the taste. Mr. Roscher tested it chemically with the nitrate of silver, and other reagents, in order to detect sulphureted hydrogen, and did not find it to be in the least discolored by them. After having been exposed two days to the atmosphere, it was quite clear, but then began to smell of sulphureted hydrogen, which he discovered by the above-mentioned agency. After having been kept a greater length of time, the odor ceased, the taste was good, and there was no indication of this
aS. * * * * In the swampy parts of the right bank, the mangrove rhyzophora abounds, with its peculiar fructification. There are two species of this tree; one growing very low, and having a white wood ; the other is a rather high tree, with a fine red wood,
which burns well as fuel. The bark is very astringent. The numerous arching roots of this tree are favorable for the deposition of sand and mud. In the woods on this bank, which were visited for the purpose of procuring specimens, the water was upwards of two feet deep in most parts, and the air close and confined. The greater portion of the underwood was rhyzophora or mangrove. The stillness of this solitary region was occasionally broken by the halcyon Senegalensis, or grey-headed king-hunter; which, in its rich blue and cinereous grey plumage, flitted from tree to tree, almost the sole occupant of the place.
The discussions between the two principal potentates with whom treaties were entered into are reported pretty fully, in the form of question and answer. We give some extracts from that between the commissioners and King Obi, the chief on the lower part of the river.
Commissioners—“Does Obi sell slaves for his own dominions!” Obi—“No ; they come from countries far away.” Commissioners—“Does Obi make war to procure slaves?” Oli—“When other chiefs quarrel with me and make war, I take all I can as slaves.” Commissioners—“What articles of trade are best suited to your people, or what would you like to be brought to your country?” Obi—“Cowries, cloth, muskets, powder, handkerchiefs, coral beads, hats—anything from the white man's country will please.” “ ” * * Obi-" I will agree to discontinue the slave-trade, but I expect the English to bring goods for traffic.” Commissioners—“The queen's subjects cannot come here to trade unless they are certain of a proper supply of your produce.” Obi-‘‘I have plenty of palm-oil.” Commissioners—“Mr. Schön, a missionary, will explain to you in the Ibu language what the queen wishes; and if you do not understand, it shall be repeated.” Mr. Schön began to read the address drawn up for the purpose of showing the different tribes what the views of the expedition were ; but Obi soon appeared to be tired of a palaver which lasted so much longer than those to which he was accustomed. He manifested some impatience, and at last said—“I have made you a promise to drop this slave-trade, and do not wish to hear anything more about it.” “ “ ” “ Obi—“I believe everything you have said, and I once more consent to give up the slave-trade.” Some of the presents were now brought in : which Obi looked at with evident pleasure. His anxiety to examine them completed his inattention to the remainder of the palaver. Commissioners—“These are not all the presents that will be given to you. We wish to know if you are willing to stop boats carrying slaves through the waters of your dominions.” oi—" Yes, very willing; except those I do not see.” Commissioners—“Also, to prevent slaves being carried over your land?” Obi—“Certainly; but the English must furnish me and my people with arms, as my doing so will nvolve me in war with my neighbors.”
Obi then retired for a short time, to consult with ls head men.
Commissioners—(on his return.) “Have you
power to make an agreement with the commissioners in the name of all your subjects!” Oli—“I am the king ; what I say is law. Are there two kings in England?—There is only one here.” < * * * The commissioners requested Mr. Schön, the respected missionary, to state to King Obi, in a concise manner, the difference between the Christian religion and heathenism, together with some description of the settlement at Sierra Leone. Mr. Schön—“There is but one God.” Obi—“I always understood there were two.” Mr. Schön recapitulated the decalogue and the leading truths of the Christian faith, and then asked Obi if this was not a good religion; to which he replied, with a snap of the fingers, “Yes, very good, (makka.)”
We need not quote the treaty with its seventeen articles, but the conclusion is quite dramatic.
The important treaty having been at length sufficiently explained, was signed by the commissioners on the part of her majesty, properly witnessed; and by Obi, witnessed by his eldest son and two brothers. Captain Trotter then requested the Rev. Theodore Müller, chaplain to the commissioners, to ask a blessing of Almighty God on this successful commencement of our labors. The nature of the ceremony we were about to perform having been explained to Obi, with an intination that he might remain or retire, he signified his wish to join us, and imitated our example in kneeling to the Christian's God—to him an unknown and inappreciable being.
In that solemn moment, when the stillness was unbroken save by the reverential voice of the clergyman, and all were devoutly engaged, Obi became violently agitated. On the conclusion of the ceremony, he started up, and uttering a sudden, fearful exclamation, called aloud for his Ju-ju man to bring his protecting “Arrisi,” or idol; being evi, dently under the impression that we had performed some incantation to his prejudice, the adverse tendencies of which it would be necessary to counteract by a sacrifice on his part. He stood trembling with fear and agitation; the perspiration streamed down his face and neck, showing how great was the agony of mind he endured. The priest had heard the cry of his sovereign, and, rushing into the cabin with the idol—a piece of blackened wood enveloped in cloth—which the king placed between his feet, was about to offer the customary libation of palmwine, &c., when Captain Trotter, also much disconcerted at the idea of a heathen ceremony being performed in our presence and in opposition to the rites of our holy religion, interrupted him, and called for Captain Bird Allen, who had just left the cabin. It was an interval of breathless anxiety; the king became every moment more alarmed, and desirous to continue his sacrifice, till it was explained to him that we had asked the great God, who was Father of us all, to bestow his blessing alike on the black people and on us. This immediately pacified him ; he desisted from the operations, and his good-humor as quickly returned. The remainder of the visit was spent very much to his gratification, in pouring down his own throat the palm-wine, intended for Ju-ju, as well as that of good Spanish growth, which was placed before him, and afterwards in visiting every part of the vessel.
The fever is not treated at length; a reference being made to the works of Doctors Pritchett and M'William. What there is, partakes of a general