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Fifty Years in Western Africa
Being a Record of the Work of the West Indian Church on the Banks of the Rio Pongo

By A.H. Barrow, M.A.
Vicar of Billinghurst, Sussex

London: SPCK, 1900.

Chapter II.

The first Missionary--Kennebec Ali--King Katty--The missionary's hut--A wretched prospect--The old chief's sons' dream and story.

THE first offer to go out to Africa as pioneer of the Mission came from the Rev. Hamble James Leacock, Incumbent of St. Leonards' Chapel, Barbados, a man of saintly character, but already sixty years of age. Mr. S. H. Duport [Of Codrington, and subsequently Battersea Training College] (of African extraction) agreed to become his colleague as Catechist. After a brief stay in England, these two Missionaries sailed from Plymouth for West Africa, and, after a stormy passage, arrived at Freetown in November, 1855.

Mr. Leacock was much struck by the appearance of the town, nestling in the midst of innumerable tropical fruit trees and a perfect forest of exquisite foliage, at the foot of the 'Sierra Leone," or Lion Mountain. Its fine streets, eighty feet wide, intersect each other at right angles. Each house has a piazza, with pillars at intervals, supporting a verandah that forms a shady walk, even at midday, and is surrounded by a garden. The fruit trees growing in these town gardens give the city a very picturesque appearance. Oranges, limes, bananas, plantains, guavas, avocada pears, abound everywhere, and afford a very grateful shade, attracting the sea-breeze from the wide Atlantic. On landing, Mr. Leacock went to the post-office to despatch news of his safe arrival, to England and the West Indies. Here, to his great surprise, he was addressed by name, and greeted with expressions of great delight by the post-mistress. She informed him that she had lived in the house of some friends of his in the West Indies, many years before, and that, as a child, she had frequently seen him there. This strange and unlooked-for welcome to the shores of Africa impressed Mr. Leacock much, and, in this apparently trivial coincidence, he saw the sign of a good Providence going before him and preparing the way. During his stay in Freetown, he received great kindness from the governor, Lieut. Colonel S. J. Hill, who afterwards became governor of Antigua, and was for many years a warm supporter of the Mission. Mr. Leacock and Mr. Duport then started for the field of their new work, and on the next day anchored near the bar at the mouth of the Rio Pongo, 11th of December, 1855.

On the next day, the 12th of December, 1855, two well-manned and armed boats belonging to H.M.S. Myrmidon, took the missionaries up the Rio Pongo, and, turning into the branch of it called the Little Pongo, landed them at the village of Tintima, nine miles from the bar at the mouth of the river.

This was the home of the ill-famed chief and slave- dealer Kennebec All, a Mohammadan, and, judging from his behaviour afterwards, a man with but few, if any redeeming qualities in our eyes. I must describe, in Mr. Leacock's own words, the audience to which our friends were admitted. "We were soon ushered into the presence of the chief. Captain Buck of the Myrmidon, who accompanied us, requested me to appear in my gown, and, supported by him on one side, and Captain Fletcher of the 1st West India Regiment on the other, both of whom were in uniform, I was introduced to the great man. In long, loose, flowing robes gracefully descending to his naked and unadorned feet, his head crowned with a Kilmarnock cap, he received us with every outward mark of respect. He invited us into the piazza of one of his largest buildings, and desired us to be seated. Then he wished to know our business, wished to 'sabby whether our visit was for war palaver.' Our chief replied, with extraordinary gravity, 'No, your majesty, our visit is altogether friendly, and has for its object the advancement of peace.' He then told him of my profession, and explained the object of my coming. He stated that the English Government approved of my Mission, and asked him to afford me protection and encouragement in my work; But Kennebec All was not inclined to compromise himself, he only said, ' to-day! nutting to-day! To morrow palaver when de King come.' Messengers were instantly sent offm and, the next, day at ii o'clock, Matthias Katty, King of the Pongas country, arrived, accompanied by his suite. A palaver followed, at which King Katty expressed himself willing that the children should be taught; but added that he and his big people wanted no teaching. The crafty monarch was a Mohammadan, and knew well that the missionaries' teaching would require the discontinuance of poly gamy, and this he would not agree to. Shortly after wards eight Mandingo chiefs came in and asked for a private palaver with the two Kings, whereupon we could do nothing more with them, as they had been turned completely against us. After the palaver was at an end, I said to Katty in a private conversation, Captain Buck only being present, 'King Katty, I am come to you in God's name, to do you and your people good. I shall soon be alone with you. My friends who have come to protect me, will soon leave me, and I shall be then entirely at your mercy. Nevertheless, I am not afraid of you nor of your Mandingoes. You can do with me what you please; I am not afraid to die, whether it be by fever or by sword. I am come with a message of mercy, to you and your people; if you reject me and cut me off; I do not refuse to die--it will be better for me, for then I shall go home,' lifting up my right hand and looking upwards. How astonished was I, as well as Captain Buck, to hear this untutored savage's prompt reply, 'Aye yease; but if we reject you and send you off, de gret God will reject we and cut we off.' I replied, 'Certainly, most certainly.'

Kennebec and Katty could speak a little English and understand an Englishman who spoke "in their fashion." Soon everything was arranged, King Katty signed an agreement, and then we separated. We returned to our boats, and in seven hours reached the Myrmidon still lying at anchor outside the bar of the river. On Monday, the 17th, Mr. Leacock and Mr. Duport left the ship, and again returned to Tintima, this time in a small and by no means safe canoe. On reaching Tintima the missionaries took possession of a wretched cone-shaped hut, which was allotted to them according to agreement. Tintima was very similar to the large negro villages in the West Indies during the days of slavery. There was no street, the houses being purposely placed in an irregular manner to prevent their being so easily seen by an enemy suddenly attacking them during the night. The cottages were all very miserable, generally circular, and having only one room; the rafters of the roof were covered with immense cobwebs and black from the smoke of a fire made in the centre of the room to destroy the insects which were harboured in the thatch. Such was the new home of Mr. Leacock. It was not long before our friends found themselves beset by troubles, their first reception being a mere blind to deceive the British officers. They now met with every kind of discouragement, and were even treated with neglect and indignity. Provisions were withheld with the object of extortion. No one could be found to act as servant, and they had to manage as best they could.

Kennebec had retired to a small village near Tintima, and was ill in bed, On the 19th December Mr. Leacock walked out to see him, leaving Duport to keep guard over their property. On his way the guide enlivened him with stories of the tiger-cats, wild cattle, and venomous snakes which he said swarmed in the district through which they were passing; it was all part of one plan to get rid of him again from the country. Mr. Leacock saw the chief and spoke to him on the subject of his mission, but with no result. He showed no interest, and made no reply to any question put to him. Day after day the prospect seemed to get more hopeless. Children were promised as pupils, but not a single one was sent. Two boys constantly lounged about the house, and John Duport began to teach them their letters; but they were immediately ordered not to go to the white man. Most patiently the old missionary waited amid the very greatest discouragement, for the showing of God's hand.

At last, on St. Thomas' day, a canoe was seen coming down the Little Pongo, and drawing near to Tintima. A young black man stepped on shore, and at once went to the hut occupied by the missionaries. He introduced himself to Mr. Leacock most respect fully, and speaking excellent English. "Sir," he said, "my name is Lewis Wilkinson, and I am a son of Mr. Wilkinson of Fallangia. I bring an invitation from my father, and an apology for his not having called to see you before. He is now very sick, but wishes to know when it will suit you to come to him."

Mr. Leacock was himself in a state of great suffering, his face, hands and feet being sore, and swollen from the bites of the mosquitoes, but most thankfully did he accept the invitation. Leaving Duport at Tintima, to look after the baggage, Mr. Leacock was soon in the boat with young Wilkinson, and on his way up the river to Fallangia.

It is necessary here to go back and tell of a remarkable circumstance which had occurred a little before this time. Twelve miles above Tintima, on the i bank of the Little Pongo, and by the side of a creek called Fallaniah, is the village of Fallangia, with a population of about 530 inhabitants. The chief of the place at that time, although a perfect African, bore the English name of Richard Wilkin son. Wilkinson was born in the year 1795, and was the same age as Mr. Leacock. Early in his life he had been brought to England, taught to read and write, and instructed in the elements of the Christian religion, in the house of the Rev. Thomas Scott, the well-known Bible commentator. On his return to his native land, in 1813, he relapsed into his former state of heathenism. In the year 1835 he was struck down with severe illness, and during this time, his recollections of his early Christian training in England revived, and he made a solemn resolution that if God spared him, he would pray daily that a missionary might be sent to teach him and his people the way of salvation. He kept his vow; but the answer was long delayed, and now, in 1855, he had prayed earnestly and perseveringly for twenty long years, but still there was no prospect, apparently, of the answer which he so longed for. While Mr. Leacock was in England, preparing to start for Sierra Leone, early in October, Charles Wilkinson of Domingia, a son of the old chief; had a remarkable dream, which he told to his father the next morning, in the presence of several witnesses. He said "Father, a missionary is coming; I saw him in a dream, walking from the landing-place to this house." Old Wilkinson, in common with the people of his race, was very superstitious, and placed great confidence in dreams. At once he accepted this as an omen that his long- delayed wish was about to be realized. When then he heard, in the month of December, of Mr. Leacock's arrival at Tintinia, he was indeed filled with joy. This part of our story points the characteristic feature of the history of the Rio Pongo Mission, viz, that it is Almighty God's own work amongst these poor people; His own gift to them; His special answer to the prayer of faith offered before His throne by a black man, one who had known Him, who had deserted Him, and who then for twenty long years had knelt before His footstool as a true penitent.

To return to Mr. Leacock, whom we left on his way with Lewis Wilkinson of Fallangia. One of his letters describes fully his first interview with the aged chief: "The old man met me, and, taking my hand in both of his hands, pressed it cordially, and before releasing it, said, "Welcome, dear sir, thou servant of the Most High, you are welcome to this humble roof." I attempted to apologize for having come that evening. He said, "No apology, sir; if you will be satisfied with my humble board, you are welcome;" and he ordered supper immediately. He seemed greatly agitated, and, a few moments after, rising from his chair, broke forth with that incomparable song of praise the "Te Deum Laudamus," repeating it with great solemnity and accuracy. At the conclusion, after a short silence, he said, "Sir, this requires explanation." Thereupon he told Mr. Leacock the story of his life; his fall, and his long attempt to wrestle with God, and added, "You are, sir, an answer to my prayers. You are the first minister of the Gospel I have beheld since 1835. And now I know that God hears prayer, and that a blessing is come to my house. Here you are welcome. I know the misery you must have endured at Tintima, left to the mercy of those creatures. It is the most unfit place for a stranger in the Pongas; and if you resolve on remaining there during the wet season, you are a dead man. As you have come to our country, I will find plenty of work for you. The king of this country is Jelloram Fernandez; I am his cousin, and my son is married to one of his daughters. I know all the chiefs, and I will go with you to visit them as soon as I am able. There are in Fallangia over thirty children, which will be the beginning of a school for you. You can use my house; and next fall I will assist you in putting up a house for you to reside in, and a place of worship. In the mean time I will divide my house with you, and not charge you house-rent. You can have a private table if you prefer it; and if you should be sick, I will help to nurse you." When Charles Wilkinson saw Mr. Leacock, he at once told his father that he was the missionary of his dream.

On Sunday, 23rd, Mr. Leacock began his work at Fallangia, the pioneer station of the Mission, He held service in the piazza of Mr. Wilkinson's house, read "Morning Prayer," after which the hundredth psalm was sung, and he preached on the words "My son, give me thy heart." The next day, Christmas Eve, Mr. Leacock returned to Tintima for John Duport, and that evening they were both settled in Chief Wilkinson's house, as his honoured guests. On Christmas Day, that great trial of the African missionary began to visit them. Mr. Leacock was attacked by fever, and was too unwell to officiate. On St. Stephen's day Duport was seized, but they were in the hands of kind friends, by whom they were tenderly nursed and well cared for.

Meanwhile one of Her Majesty's vessels, the Teazer had arrived at the mouth of the river, and her commander sent an officer to Fallangia, to inquire after the missionaries. Both were ill, and they determined to avail themselves of the opportunity of returning to Sierra Leone, for a short trip, in order to escape for a time the deadly influence of malaria. The fresh sea breeze soon restored them, and after a few days spent in Sierra Leone, they returned to their new home on the Rio Pongo, reached Fallangia on the evening of January 8, 1856.

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