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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 IV.

Farringia--The martyr of the Pongas--Samuel Higgs.

THE missionaries found Mrs. Lightburn a plain, humble-looking old lady, and were most cordially welcomed and kindly treated by her. She promised to allow Mr. Leacock to come and preach to her people. After two days they returned to Chief Faber at Sangha, who promised to give the Mission all the help in his power; and then, on May 6th, they started for Fallangia, and reached home safe and sound. Before proceeding to tell of Mr. Leacock's last days on the Rio Pongo, it may be well to supplement this story of his first and only missionary tour on the river, by giving some extracts from the unpublished journal of a naval officer who visited Mrs. Lightburn at the very time of which we have been speaking. They give a good description of this influential and wealthy person, with whom the future work of the Mission was to be intimately connected. The officer was cruising on duty in the river, and says--

"We reached a schooner anchored off Bangalong at sunset on May 1, 1856. Hospitality is a matter of course among white men in the rivers; I therefore in tended to seek a lodging on board this vessel, which I knew to be the property of one of the largest merchants of Sierra Leone. I was delighted to find on deck the very man I wanted--Mr. Leacock. I was struck by his- remarkable appearance. He told me that he wished to reach Farringia that evening; old Wilkin- son was with him. Wilkinson must be very old--a light mulatto, dressed in European clothes, and speaking English very well. They were travelling in a commodious boat, fitted in the stern like a sofa; but in spite of these comforts I was much impressed with the true heroism of a man at Leacock's time of life, exposing himself to the risks and hardships of travel ling and residing on a river noted for its unhealthiness, and for the purpose of founding a work that will cost many lives in continuing. Boat-travelling in African rivers is most fatiguing, and tests the youngest and strongest constitution severely. After a short time Mr. Leacock started for Farringia. Half an hour's pleasant pull up the river (Bangalong) brought us to Farringia, which I found to be a very considerable town, laid out as usual in shady lanes. Not wishing to disturb Mr. Leacock, who I thought might be tired after yesterday's journey, I went first to Mrs. C.'s, the wife of my particular friend the consul at Lagos; I found her up, but her daughter was not visible, so I promised to call again later. I then called at Mrs. Lightburn's. This most interesting old lady dwells in a commodious house surrounded by huts and stores, etc., which form quite a village. Standing on a large piece of ground, it is walled in by a stout stockade of mud and wood. One side of the establishment overhangs the river, the banks being high and precipitous. I was politely offered a seat by a mulatto who spoke good English, in a piazza that overlooked the yard, in which was collected a number of idle Fullahs and other traders from the interior, all curious to get a glimpse of me. In a short time Mrs. Lightburn made her appearance, followed by a large number of female attendants and three children, whom I ascertained to be her grand children. They were dressed in European clothes, and had had some education. Mrs. Lightburn herself, was dressed in strictly native style, that is, a large cloth wound round the body close up to the arms and reaching to the knees, bare-footed, and covered with massive gold ornaments. In her hair which, although woolly, was carefully dressed, she had a magnificent gold comb. She appeared to be about fifty years of age, possessing striking traces of beauty. Her colour, although very dark, had a depth and richness that cannot be understood by those who have never seen an African beauty; her hands and feet would be a study for a most imaginative sculptor. I had been told that she disliked English naval officers, and therefore, although herself well able to speak English, conversed through the medium of an interpreter, which always renders these visits tedious. I put, however, some home questions on the subject of the slave-trade. She answered that she considered that trade was broken up; referring to the numb of traders that filled her yard as a proof that legal trade now fully occupied her time; certainly a large trade appeared to be going on. I left Mrs. Lightburn in a good humour, having carefully avoided anything which I thought might ruffle her temper. An idea exists that she is not a slave-dealer; such an idea must be wrong. She was married many years ago to an American from whom she has her name, who was largely connected with the slavers of the river. Lately she has given up her direct support of the slave-trade; but her immense influence with the traders from the interior gives her the power of monopolizing any trade; consequently she is one of the leading heads of the Pongas country."

Mr. Leacock reached home on his return from Farringia, on May 6th, thinking himself very well, but soon distressing symptoms appeared, and again he became unfit for active duty. The fever had now left him, but his strength did not return; on the contrary, he felt himself gradually sinking. He proceeded to Sierra Leone in search of medical aid, and reached the house of his friend Mr. Pocock, on May 23rd, in a state of great debility. Thus ended Mr. Leacock's five months of missionary labour among the people of the Rio Pongo, whom he was now to see no more.

Shortly afterwards he was attacked with fever and ague, and in spite of every attention he gradually grew weaker until, on Wednesday, the 20th August, 1855, he fell asleep in Jesus.

The funeral took place the next day. The governor and staff, the clergy in and near Freetown, many Europeans and natives, followed his remains from the cathedral to the new burial-ground, where Dr. Weekes, Bishop of Sierra Leone, read the Funeral Service.

The sorrow caused by the sad tidings in the West Indies, North America, and amongst Mr. Leacock's friends in England, was most profound. From all sides were heard expressions of sorrow, and of sympathy for the work. From the Danish island of St. Thomas, from Madeira, from Charlotte Parish, St. Vincent, and from Toronto (where committees were formed to collect subscriptions), from Madras, came the same encouraging message: "Go forward in the strength of the Lord God." From Fallangia, Chief Wilkinson wrote to Bishop Weekes on the 15th of September, thus: "After a lapse of time I have now taken up my pen, with a trembling hand and sorrowful heart, to inform your lordship of the great loss we have sustained in our beloved champion of the Cross, the Rev. H. J. Leacock; and may the great Disposer of all events raise up many Leacocks in the West Indies to come over and help us poor miserable, benighted Africans."

A sum of money was subscribed by friends both in England and the West Indies for the purpose of erecting a Memorial Church, and in 1865, £250 was invested in the name of the S.P.G. in Barbados. [The estate into which this sum was put went into Chancery, and the capital sum became greatly reduced. In the present year (1900) the S.P. G. has generously given £500 in place of it, to be spent at once on church-building in the Mission.] In the Cathedral Church of Freetown a tablet still recalls the memory of this good man, who was willing even to lay down life for his Master, in the attempt to convert the heathen of the Rio Pongo from darkness unto light. In the parish church of Figheldean near Salisbury, a stained-glass window was erected in memory of the martyr and his visit to that parish before starting from England in 1855. [The window cost £21 10s. In it there is a medallion representing St. Philip baptizing the Ethiopian, with the words "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." "H. J. Leacock, of Barbados, preached the word of God in this church, MDCCCLV. An Evangelist at Fallangia, in Western Africa. He died for Christ and the Catholic Faith, MDCCCLVI. Aged LXII."]

The death of Mr. Leacock was, humanly speaking, a great blow to the Mission, which was now left under the charge of the young catechist Duport. He was, however, admitted to Holy Orders before the year was out, and on his return to Fallangia, he brought with him Cyprian and his wife, the schoolmaster and mistress engaged by Mr. Leacock just before his death.

The new deacon set to work with great energy to carry out the plan which Mr. Leacock had proposed to himself of building a church at Fallangia. It was begun at once, the foundation or chief corner-stone (of mud) being laid on December 8th by Chief Fab of Sangha, in the presence of old Mr. Wilkinson, Charles Wilkinson of Domingia, his son, and William Gomez, Chief of Backia. The plan proposed was for a building feet long by 30 feet wide, to be erected on a beautiful site near Fallangia, 100 feet above the river, whence a view could be got of the Bramaia and Sangaree hills to the south.

The day of the ceremony was a very memorable one. A great multitude collected, and Mr. Faber delivered a speech in which he reminded the Mohammadans that they had done nothing for the real welfare of the country, and that now the people determined to follow Christ. After the corner-stone was laid, the multitude exclaimed three times at the top of their voices, "God bless this house."

On the day before (December 7th) Mr. Duport baptized twenty-seven persons, and a month later (on January 11, 1857) thirty-two more. On each occasion all the candidates were clothed in white garments. "The scene," says Duport, "was solemn and heartrending. Many of them cried bitterly during the whole service. Never shall I forget it. The people in their white garments reminded one of those who have passed through great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

Early in 1857 an offer was received by the Board from Mr. Samuel Higgs, of Nassau, in the Bahamas, to join the Mission. His testimonials were of the highest character, and he seemed in every way fitted and likely to become a valuable missionary. He was appointed catechist, and reached Sierra Leone on April 19th.

On May 11th, he started with Duport in an open boat for Fallangia. The voyage was a most disastrous one: for five days they battled against violent storms of rain and wind, entirely without shelter of any kind, and on the 16th landed at Fallangia, wet, and thoroughly worn-out. Their baggage was damaged by sea-water, and on arrival, the mission house was at best but a damp and ill-ventilated place in which to seek for rest.

Two letters of his are preserved, both addressed to the President of the Board, bearing strong testimony to the efficiency of the work which had been done. "I hardly expected," he wrote, "to have found the work here so far advanced. There is, indeed, a great work being done in Fallangia, especially in the school. The discipline of the school is admirable. There are fifty-two children on the books, and there is an average attendance of forty-eight. The congregation varies from 120 to 140."

But it pleased God to ordain that the hopes of the many friends of the Mission should be once more blighted. On the 8th of June Mr. Higgs was attacked with fever, the result of his exposure, and the hardships he had undergone. On the 21st he died.

Dark clouds seemed to be thickening round the struggling Mission, for on the 25th March previous, it had sustained another severe loss in the removal by death, of its good friend, Dr. Weekes, Bishop of Sierra Leone. His successor, Dr. Bowen, was consecrated third Bishop of the diocese on 2 September, 1857.

During this year the church and mission house were well pushed forward, so as to be covered in before the rains came in June; and, on the 15th November, the seventh anniversary of the day on which the Mission was first proposed, the first church in the Rio Pongo was opened for divine worship, and dedicated to Almighty God under the name of St. James' Church, at Fallangia. In addition to his other missionary labours, Mr. Duport was engaged during the year in preparing a translation of the church service into Susu, and also a Susu primer.

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