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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 III.

Mr. Leacock's warning--A witness for God--Requests for help.

THE attack of fever which drove Mr. Leacock to Freetown so soon after his arrival on the Rio Pongo, was to him a most serious warning. He could not help feeling that his life in Africa, considering his age, was, to say the least, precarious, and that he must strike quickly and do whatever lay in his power while his strength lasted.

On January 14, 1856, just six days after his return, a school was opened at Fallangia. Out of the thirty children then in the village, twenty presented themselves; and not only children, but several grown men came and asked to be taught with the children. Chief Wilkinson gave every possible assistance. He told his people that he would not compel them to send their children to school, but that they were quite at liberty to do so if they wished it. "At the same time," he added, "I send my own, and shall be glad to see yours come." The result of this wise course was that the school excited great interest, not only in Fallangia, but throughout the country. The chiefs, although as yet for the most part indifferent to religion, were still anxious to obtain for their children (but not their slaves) the advantages of a good education. The prosperity of the little school was very remarkable, much to the joy of good Mr. Leacock, who, when referring to it in one of his letters, says, "May our heavenly Father bless and prosper this His own work. I know by this that many prayers are being offered for us." Such a happy state of things was not to continue long un checked. On January 17th, Mr. Leacock fell ill again with fever, and was able to do but little for several days. When he began to recover, John Duport was seized with it. Still, in his journal, Mr. Leacock writes most hopefully: "I think we are passing from the Barbados climate into that of Africa very nicely. As exotics, we are doing pretty well; we are gradually taking root in the soil, and hope presently to be as verdant and flourishing as any of the indigenous plants around us." With an earnest and persevering faith the two devoted servants of God toiled on, making the very most of the intervals between repeated attacks of fever. On Mr. Leacock this naturally told with most severity. He was really too old to battle successfully against such an enemy. John Duport, having African blood, youth, and a good constitution on his side, gradually became acclimatized, and with his strength, his zeal in the work to which he had put his hand increased.

About this time Chief Wilkinson's first wife (he had five), professedly a heathen woman, named Martha, who had begun to take a great interest in Mr. Leacock, was taken ill, and one day when the chief went to see her she addressed him thus:--"Now you have got the book man. God has sent him to you. You must hear what he says: if you don't, it will go hard with you to-morrow." On my asking what she meant by to-morrow, Mr. Leacock said, the chief's answer was, "the next world." Not long after this, Mr. Leacock and Wilkinson were sitting together, when old Martha came in. Mr. Leacock invited her to be seated, and soon the following conversation took place, Wilkinson acting as interpreter:--"Martha, you and I are both advanced in years, and must expect soon to leave this world: what is your hope for the next? Do you know to what place you are going?" "No, I know not the place to which I am going; but my trust is in God. I never trusted in anything else, never in any greegree (a heathen charm), nor in any god, but the great God, from my youth. My father and mother died when I was a child, and from that time I have trusted in God." "What makes you trust in the great God?" "He has been good to me in feeding and taking care of me, when I knew it not, and could not take care of myself He raised up friends for me." These instances show us that even among the heathen Susus, God did not leave Himself without a witness; and that there is some groundwork upon which the Christian teacher can build, viz, a knowledge of the one true God, and also of a future state, although it may seem buried amidst a mass of gross superstition and error. This they may, perhaps, have learned during their intercourse with the Mohammadan traders, or probably it is all that is left among them, of the teaching of early Christian missionaries. Even this small light seems, however, to have been fanned into a flame at once on Mr. Leacock's coming into their midst.

But the influence of the work was not confined to the immediate neighbourhood of Fallangia. On February 1st, Mr. Leacock received a very kindly message of welcome from Jelloram Fernandez, King of Bramaia, which was twenty miles south of Fallangia, and the chief town of the district in which Fallangia is situated. He thanked him for having come to live among his people, and asked him to pay a visit to Bramaia. He promised to send pupils, and to give what assistance he could towards erecting buildings both for pupils and teachers. In the year 1887, thirty-two years after this kind invitation, Bramala was occupied as a mission station, under the charge of a catechist. The good news had sped also along the rivers far up the coast, for one day Mr. Leacock received a visit from a Greek, Mr. Columbini de Wasky, who had come 18o miles by sea, to beg that a teacher might be sent to his people--a married man, he said, for the people wished their daughters as well as their sons to be educated. He came with a Roman Catholic as a guide; and at the hour of service Mr. Leacock invited them to attend.

They both spoke English a little. The Roman Catholic declined the invitation, but Mr. de Wasky came. The piazza was crowded, and after service Mr. de Wasky said to Mr. Leacock, "Sir, I have come from Cassini in an open boat, and had to encounter many tornadoes to seek the word of God for my people." He had come, as he said, from Cassini, or rather the villages on the banks of the Cassini, a river north of Cape Verga, between the Rio Nunez and Rio Grande. There he had heard of our Mission; and his father-in-law and all the neighbouring chiefs had deputed him to come and say how greatly they needed religious instruction for themselves and their children. What made this case doubly interesting was that he was a Greek, who was thus seeking to find Jesus. His touching request could not be granted, and with sorrow, be it said, the circumstances of the Mission have never yet allowed it to take up this work.

These two invitations from a distance made Mr. Leacock anxious to become personally acquainted with other parts of the country. Accordingly an expedition was arranged, and Chief Wilkinson agreed to accompany him. Chas. Wilkinson (Chief Wilkin son's son), the Chief of Domingia, fitted up his six- oared boat for them, a very comfortable little vessel, with an awning and a place for Mr. Leacock's water proof bed. On Monday, the 28th of April, the two friends started from Fallangia, and were rowed down the beautiful Little Pongo to Mangrove Island, at which point it joins the Great Pongo or Sarnucha. Thence, they ran up with the flood tide to Domingia, and finding that Chas. Wilkinson was away from home, they slept that night on board an American schooner in the river. The next day, as soon as the tide served, they started on their way, and leaving Devil's Island and the mouth of the Fattalah river on their right, in a few hours landed at Sangha, a village which stands on a creek running into the Bangalong. This was the home of a chief named Faber, a wealthy coloured gentleman, son of an American by a native woman, and one of the most influential chiefs in the country. Here they were received very kindly, and with great hospitality, by Mr. Faber. Not far from this, on the Bangalong River, is a ruined but once flourishing village called Liverpool. The name has come down from the days of the old slave-trade, and suggests the thought that possibly the great city of that name had something to do in former times with the trade between the Bangalong village and Barbados.

As Mr. Leacock was beginning to feel a slight return of fever, he rested quietly all that day, and on the next (May 1st), being better, they again went on their journey, and ascended the stream to Farringia, a town of i 500 inhabitants and the home of Mrs. Lightburn.

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