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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 IX.

Fotobah, Isles de Los--Bangalong--Effects of American War--French occupation--Want of labourers--Suspicious movements of slave- ship--Occupation of Rio Pongo by the French.

DURING 1865 some progress was made towards the occupation of the site of ten acres on the island of Fotobah, Isles de Los, granted by the Governor and Council of Sierra Leone. A survey was ordered by the acting Governor, Colonel Chamberlayne, with a view to making-over the land to the Society for the propagation of the Gospel, in trust for the Rio Pongo Mission. The death of the surveyor sent down to mark out the boundaries occasioned some delay; but a "location ticket" from Colonel Chamberlayne conveyed sufficient authority for taking possession and commencing operations. The S.P.G., with the view of assisting the Mission, granted a sum of £400 per annum for three years, towards the salaries of missionaries, and also (subject to a further report on the climate of the Isles de Los), a sum of £500 for the erection of a sanatorium and school there. The interest which had grown up amongst the general public, both in the West Indies and England, round the work of the Mission, was now very great, and in Sierra Leone itself great interest in the Mission was shown, the subscriptions contributed by the inhabitants during the year reaching £50. In the autumn of this year King Katty, who lived at Tiah, and who had treated Mr. Leacock so cruelly on his first arrival, died of delirium tremens.

Two stations were now (June, 1864) no sooner in full work than the opening for a third and a most important field, presented itself: one, however, which was not to be taken advantage of for some years to come. On July 7th Mr. Duport tells in the following words, of a remarkable visit which he paid to the Bangalong:--"I am in great hopes of obtaining a footing at Bangalong next year. I have visited the place and seen the present chief; he is inclined to give us a place near the town, but Mrs. Lightburn is our opponent. Bangalong is the town where the slave-trade was carried on in all its branches, and where John Ormond the incendiary lived some fifty years since. He burned out the first missionaries at Backia, and afterwards shot himself. I have visited the spot where he committed the deed. It is an important place, and a key to the interior. [On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 21st to 23rd of January, 1815 the settlement at Backia on the Fattalah River, under the charge of the Rev. Meichoir Rennet, was persistently fired again and again, by the emissaries of John Ormond, each time that the flames were got under. At last, homeless and without supplies, the Mission was withdrawn.] There are several towns near, such as Sangha, Farringia, Bacoro, Samucco, and others. I spent a long time with the chief endeavouring to persuade him. The morning after my arrival he called the people together and I preached to some thirty persons, from the text, "This day is salvation come to this house." The people were very attentive, and said to the chief after I had finished, that they were very glad to hear what they had heard, and that if the chief received the missionaries they would stand by him. One of the men grew eloquent as he proceeded with his speech. I left much satisfied, and am to return at the end of the rains; meanwhile we have free access to the town to preach there whenever we can. I am the first missionary that has preached at Bangalong. All its former chiefs were agents of Satan."

During 1864 a hostile demonstration Was made before the mission station at Fallangia, somewhat of the same nature as that which took place while Mr. Neville was there; but as on the former occasion, now too, it ended in nothing. About the middle of the year Cyprian, the schoolmaster, who had worked at Ijomingia, Yengisa, and Tiah began to break up in health, and on August 18th he died; at the last somewhat suddenly. He had done good work for the Mission.

As we have seen, the year just past was a very trying one for the missionaries, in consequence of the great unhealthiness of the season. In addition to this it was a time of very general and widespread depression caused by the American War, and the stoppage of American trade. This was felt upon the coast of Africa, as well as in other parts, as will be seen from the following extract from one of Mr. Duport's letters:--"I am sorry to say that on account of not being able to carry on legal traffic, the slave-trade is being revived. The chiefs tell me that they must live, and since no English merchants come to encourage trade amongst them, they must take the doubloons of the Spaniards. I am sorry to say, he adds, that there is a slaver now in the Dubrica River, consigned to King Jelloram." The distress caused by the war was widely felt. Articles of clothing rose 100 per cent. in value, and food was extremely dear in consequence of the failure of the rice-crop. So many of the children went about the town naked that Mr. Duport spoke to the chief about them, and his reply was a significant one. "We want commerce. The Christian religion, as it advances, creates wants previously unknown, and unless these wants are in some measure provided for, its progress is retarded." In spite, however, of all difficulties the work continued to advance and grow. The very aspect of the village of Fallangia was changed by the influence of the work which had now been going on for nearly ten years. The appearance of the people, the condition, of their huts, the town, the fields, the system of cultivation, the habits of the converts, the church, the school, the mission buildings all told of a great power at work--the result of planting the Gospel in that once benighted village.

In 1866 the French began to show a desire to occupy the river. They first erected batteries on the Rio Nunez, and established a colony there. They then visited the Rio Pongo in a gunboat, and paid King Katty's successor $500 per annum for anchorage rights, expressing a wish to send a consul; the people of the river were against this, preferring an English protectorate, but the Sierra Leone Government took no steps to support them in their opposition.

The latter part of 1866 was a sad time for the Mission: on September 30th, Dr. Caswall, the energetic English secretary was compelled to resign, in consequence of continued ill health, [His place was taken by the Rev, F, Bennett, Vicar of Shrewton] and on the same day, Mr. Maurice's connection with the Mission ceased; the cause of his resignation being the unhealthiness of the country. The chief missionary, again almost alone, wrote home to England thus:--"The Mission wants labourers. The work is arduous, the climate very trying, and the poor people benighted in the extreme; I myself am not now what I was, the climate has left its traces on me. I need help, and that speedily." From Domingia he wrote on November 2nd, describing a terrific tornado which swept over Fallangia on Sunday, October 21st, almost wrecking the town. Later on, in the same letter, he thus describes the following extraordinary occurrence:--"There is much excitement here at present owing to the fact that a French merchant is reported (though he himself indignantly denies the accusation) to be engaged in the slave-trade. One of the English cruisers visited the place, to get information as to the truth of the report. It appears that the king of the Nunez, expecting a slave-vessel, sent messengers to various chiefs here, (whom he knew to be in the habit of selling slaves), to assist in collecting a cargo speedily, so that the vessel might not be delayed on her arrival. A few of these chiefs sent slaves to Nunez. This fact has come to the knowledge of the commander of the man-of-war, stationed between this river and the River Nunez, and he is now on the alert, watching for the appearance of the said vessel. When the king of the Nunez was remonstrated with, he replied, "Black men do not build vessels; white men bring them here. White men come to buy produce; white men encourage us to buy slaves for them; if it were wrong, why should white men leave their country and families, and risk their lives to do it? Oh no! as long as white men come to buy, so long we must supply them!"

On St. Andrew's Day (Sunday) an officer from a French steamer which had just anchored in the river off Domingia, announced to us that he was commissioned by the governor of Senegal, to inform the missionary that the French had taken possession of the Rio Pongo, for the purpose of forwarding civilization, and that the governor would like to know some thing of the missionaries and their work. He inspected the church, school, and mission premises.

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