Project Canterbury

Samuel Crowther
The Slave Boy Who Became Bishop of the Niger

By Jesse Page

London: S. W. Partridge & Co., c. 1892.

Chapter VIII. A Voyage and a Wreck

"Speed Thy servants, Saviour, speed them,
Thou art Lord of winds and waves;
They were bound, but Thou hast freed them,
Now they go to free the slaves;
Be Thou with them,
'Tis Thine arm alone that saves."--KELLY.

A GREAT advance had been made. It was clear that the Niger was navigable, and that the natives were not unwilling to receive the representatives of the Christian faith. Crowther returned to Abeokuta, and having had a conference with Mr. and Mrs. Hinderer at Ibadan, and Mr. Mann at Ijaye, the plan of missionary effort in the Yoruba country and elsewhere was fully discussed.

Soon afterwards Mr. Göllmer, who had been his coadjutor in establishing the Christian church at Abeokuta, returned to Europe, and Crowther was compelled to take his place at Lagos, with the supervision of the mission stations on the coast. Here he laboured hard at his translation of the Bible into the [85/86] Yoruba language, and also prepared a primer, a vocabulary, and several extracts from the Word of God in the Ibo language.

In the year 1856 his old teacher and guardian, Mr. Weeks, returned to Africa, as we have already mentioned, as Bishop of Sierra Leone. After a very profitable visitation of the mission field up the river, he fell ill, and to the grief of all, and especially of Crowther, died at Sierra Leone.

The time had now arrived when in the judgment of the Church Missionary Society another expedition should be arranged to establish a Niger Christian Mission. The Committee made an appeal by deputation to Lord Palmerston, and in 1857 the Dayspring started on her way. It was at first intended that six different stations were to be established as the basis of future mission work, and for this purpose half-a-dozen native ministers were to accompany Mr. Crowther and his fellow European missionaries. This, however, was not to be; Bishop Weeks died, as We have seen, and with him passed to his rest, Mr. Frey, one of the hard-working ministers of his diocese. Another heavy loss was occasioned by the death of Mr. Beale, one of the mission staff who had conferred with Crowther about the approaching expedition of the Dayspring. Thus the mission work at Sierra Leone was unable to spare the native teachers originally allotted to the work, and the vessel had to start with Crowther, a native pastor, Rev. J. C. Taylor, from Ibo, Crowther's old friend Simon Jonas, and two youths who had been residing with Mr. Schön. Of all the expeditions this was, humanly speaking, the least prepared for such a great and difficult enterprise, and [86/87] yet it was from the Dayspring that the first stations were planted of the Niger mission. The importance of this journey up the river cannot be over-estimated; and although it came to an abrupt termination at Kabbah, we shall find its record, as described in Crowther's journal, full of interest.

One of the principal features of the new plan of campaign was to establish a strong station at Abo, where the old king Obi, as we have already seen, showed such a willingness to receive the European guests. They had already on a previous occasion visited Tshukuma, who was favourably disposed towards the mission, but now they made the acquaintance of Aje, his brother, and certainly the impression of him was not happy. When invited on board he demanded rum, and was evidently chiefly disposed to lay his hand upon whatever he could get. He appears to have been a fine example of the acquisitive heathen. Much of his impertinence and bad manners Crowther charitably attributes to his familiarity with Europeans from an early age. Common honesty was clearly not one of his virtues, for he successfully purloined, or attempted to do so, Crowther's slippers, the dinner bell, the cushion against which his royalty leaned, and a cigar which one of the party incautiously held in his hand during the interview.

When the party landed, and prepared to secure a piece of ground for premises of the mission, with the joint consent of these two rival dignities, Aje was furiously jealous of Tshukuma's presents, and was finally pacified with a pink cocked hat, and umbrella of a like gaudy hue. Poor human nature! Subsequently Aje, with all his wives dressed in ships [87/88] bunting, tried to make an impression of his greatness, and what was much more serious, opposed and interfered with the establishment of the mission in his country. And yet Crowther makes this fair note of this individual on leaving him. "Before quitting Abo for the present I think it is right and just to say a word in favour of Aje's faithfulness in one respect, whatever his failings may be in other matters. It will be remembered that through an interposition in 1854, the prisoners who were confined and would have been either killed or sold for their offences, were then released. Since that time they have never been touched, and really pardoned, according to Aje's promise to us. One of these men on seeing me, fell on his knees in thankfulness for his deliverance, and on the return of his companions, who had been absent, they brought me some palm wine as an acknowledgment of their gratitude. Had not these men introduced themselves three years after it might have been doubted whether Aje had fulfilled his promise."

Leaving this place, the Dayspring passed on to a very important town, Onitsha, which is 140 miles up the river, and on Ibo territory. At first, in alarm at the first sight of white men and their ships, the natives appeared with their weapons in their hands; but they were soon reassured, and led the party along a road to their town.

The cotton, yams, and Indian corn were very well cultivated, and the conduct of the king Akazua and his headmen showed no small amount of intelligence. The visitors were entertained by the king and his councillors, who heard with respect all their proposed [88/89] plans; and, after a conference together, the king stepped forth and appealed to the people whether they agreed to them or not. A spot was agreed upon where the Mission buildings could be erected, and a hired house was taken in preparation for a factory. The town itself is embosomed in trees, and pleasantly situated; and the houses are arranged in twenty-sis groups. Each comprised about 250 persons, so the population as a whole is not far short of 6500 souls. Here, however, they were in fear of their enemies, and to prevent a surprise have look-out posts established in high trees, where a constant vigilance is displayed. One day, when the visitors entered the place, there was great rejoicing, beating of drums, dancing and frantic gestures and moving. Crowther says, "When we came to our lodging, one of the headmen paid us a visit, and I asked him the cause of this amusement, and was told it was in honour of the burial of a relative of our landl rd who died some six months ago. Simon Jonas, who remained on shore last night, had heard that a human sacrifice was to be made to the manes of the dead, anl he told the people of the wickedness of the practice. On my putting the question as to the cause of the amusement, the headman was conscience stricken, and told Simon Jonas that the victim was not yet killed. We then took the opportunity, and spoke most seriously to the headman in the hearing of many people, who stood in the square, of the abomination of this wicked practice, the more so, as the victim was a poor, blameless, female slave. He then assured us that he had not known that it was wrong to do so; but as we had now told them, the human sacrifice should not be performed, [89/90] but a bullock should be killed in its stead.. He proposed that we should buy the woman, that they might buy a bullock with the cowries in her stead. This we refused to do, as we are not slave traders. He then said that the woman should be sold to somebody else, which we thought was better than to kill her. Before we returned to the ship, Simon Jonas was told that the poor woman was loosed from her bonds."

Here Crowther left Mr. Taylor to prepare the work and settle the mission at Onitsha.

We follow the voyagers through various experiences until they reach Idda. Here, after much delay and parade of heathen dignity, the party were admitted to the Atta, who received them in great state, seated on his throne and dressed in a rich silk-velvet robe of light green hue. The conference was much assisted by the presence and sympathy of the Lady Adama, a dowager queen, and a site for mission buildings was secured in a very favourable situation. The position of this town, standing on a high cliff, and overlooking the confluence of the Kworra and Tshadda rivers, marked it-«s a point of great value in the future plan of work.

Passing up the Kworra the Dayspring soon found itself on the friendly waters of the Galadima, and here they were shown an old copy of the Koran. The importance of a knowledge of Arabic was evident; and Crowther makes a note at this point, that their native catechists should be taught this language at the seminary at Sierra Leone. He tells us how in the town of Gbebe he began teaching the natives:--"Besides my English, I took an Arabic Bible and [90/91] Schön's translations of Matthew and John into Haussa, and an Ibo primer, out of which to teach the alphabet. Taking my seat in the Galadima's ante-hall--which is the common resort of all people, holding from forty to fifty persons--a number of both sexes, old and young, soon entered as usual to look on. Having carefully placed ray books on the mat, after the custom of the Mallams, Mr. Crooke sitting on my right, and Kasumo on my left, I commenced my conversation by telling them that to-day was the Christian Sabbath, in which we rest from our labour, according to the commandment of God. The Galadima came in, and to him I read some verses from the third chapter of St. John in the Haussa language, in the hearing of the people, which he understood, and which by further explanation became more intelligible to him. In the meantime some Mohammedans walked in, and desired to see the Arabic Bible, which I delivered to Kasumo to read and translate to them. The Galadima, who reads Arabic, expressed a wish, as soon, as the school is opened, to learn to read Haussa in Eoman or Italic character. There was an intelligent young man present who could read Arabic, who was also very anxious to read our translations in the Italic character.

"After a long talk I ran over the alphabet from the Ibo primer several times, with the Galadima and the young man, at which they showed much quickness and intelligence. I then gave this Arabic copy of the Bible as a present to the Galadima. This was so unexpected that he did not know how sufficiently to express his gratitude in words, and, contrary to the usage of the Mohammedans, he actually was going [91/92] to throw dust on his forehead, as a token of the value he placed on the gift, when Kasumo stopped him by saying it was not our custom to do so. He said his father would be able to read it fluently. May the Lord bless this small and feeble beginning of an attempt to introduce the religion of Christ into this benighted part of Africa! May the prayers of the Church be heard on its behalf."

We shall see later on that this prayer was answered.

At Egga or Eggan, as it is there pronounced, they found an aged chief who remembered the 1841 Expedition, and received them very cordially. His town is filthy, and after a shower of rain almost impassable with soft mud. His Majesty used high clogs under the circumstances; while his guests, sinking at every step far above the ankles, panted after him in vain. Picking their way through the streets they heard a little boy rehearsing his lesson in Arabic; and further on, seeing what they thought to be a mosque, they found a barber's shop, in which the operators were shaving the head, the eyebrows, the armpits, and the nostrils of their customers with marvellous facility and safety.

As they passed Fo-Fo, the mate of the Dayspring breathed his last, and was buried on the sand beach. Arriving at Rabbah the Dayspring unhappily struck upon a rock, and within a very short time settled down aft on her starboard side. Crowther and his companions escaped in time upon the shore; and under the discomfort of a severe tornado made a tent of mats, into which they gathered such effects as they could rescue, and began to look very anxiously for the [92/94] steamer Sunbeam, which was to follow them. To add to the danger of the situation, the native Kroomen were insubordinate, and the headman had to be threatened with irons to save a revolt.

The native chiefs into whose hands they had fallen were not very friendly; and in addition to the disappointment occasioned by the loss of the ship and the termination of the enterprise, they had much to unsettle and distress them. But one day, in the midst of a crowd of warriors, a strange voice saluted them with, "Good morning, sir!" and the speaker proved to be Henry George, a Sunday scholar at Abeokuta who had joined the army of Dasaba, and had passed through many trials. This providential meeting led to the man being engaged by Crowther as guide and servant, and he accompanied them on their overland journey to Abeokuta.

Beaching Ogbomosho they were delighted to meet with the Bev. Mr. Clark, a Baptist minister, who entertained them. Shortly afterwards they spent Christmas Day on the banks of the Niger, one of the party concocting a plum pudding. After a narrow escape from the attack of a leopard, and other stirring incidents, they had the melancholy duty of burying Mr. Howard, the purser, and one of the Kroomen, who had died.

At one time they were passing through a Mohammedan district at the time of the Eamadan, and much conversation ensued upon the observation of the Christian Sabbath and the obligation of fasting. "Do not the Anasaras fast?" was a constant query. Crowther's reply was, "Yes, they do fast; but the fast of the Anasaras is of a more private and [94/95] conscientious kind than your public one. Thousands of the Anasaras may fast to-day, and their neighbours know nothing of it; but their fast is known only to God and themselves. Just so is their prayer in secret, as Christ has taught us! "The reply always received was, "You are true persons; and your religion is superior to ours."

It is noticeable how frequently these poor heathen expressed their appreciation of the advantage of the Christian religion as compared with their own, even when mixed with those inducements which to the natural man would be so attractive in the creed of Mohammed. The truth is, in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ they heard the voice of a herald proclaiming good news of liberty to the captive, not merely as regards slavery, but with respect to those galling bonds which a false religion had thrust upon them. They had endured a yoke, but had never known a peace; and to them at last came One who bade them come unto Him in their weariness, and He would give them refreshment of soul and rest.

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