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The Romance of the Black River
The Story of the C.M.S. Nigeria Mission

By F. Deaville Walker

London: Church Missionary Society, 1930.

Chapter XI. Lagos Becomes the Mission Headquarters

IN a previous chapter we have seen how, after its capture by the British squadron in 1851, Lagos was occupied by Gollmer and the other C.M.S. workers, and, owing to its advantageous position as the key to the whole country it soon grew to be an important station. When Bishop Vidal visited it in 1854 he was overjoyed at the progress that had been made. At the south end of the town, Gollmer had built Holy Trinity Church, a large and in every way suitable building, though made only of mud and grass thatch. Its whitewashed walls gleamed in the sunshine and made it a clearly recognizable landmark to vessels entering the lagoon. It was opened by the bishop on this visit, and he conducted a confirmation service in it. That afternoon the bishop's heart again thrilled as he stood in the open air and preached to a great crowd of people in front of the chiefs "palace." The chief of Lagos, dressed in his finest robes, sat under the veranda, surrounded by his war chiefs and councillors, who squatted under huge umbrellas. To the chiefs right and left were his male and female slaves and their children; further to the right were the Christians, and to the left his numerous wives and their little ones. A large crowd of curious onlookers stood around. Before this assembly Bishop Vidal and Mr. Gollmer, with the interpreter, sat at a table placed on a grass mat, and under the blue African sky the bishop preached to chief, courtiers, and people from the words: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Another church had been built at the north end of the town on the very spot where the old slave barracoon had been only a few years before, the very barracoon in which Crowther had been chained to his fellow captives! Schools had been opened, and the foundations of a growing and promising work well and truly laid.

It was, however, becoming evident that Dosumo, the chief (son of Akitoye, whom the British had restored in 1851), was unequal to the task of suppressing the slave trade, and in 1861 he ceded Lagos to Britain. With annexation the real development of Lagos began, and so rapid was its progress that a few years later the island city was referred to as the "Liverpool of West Africa." Whatever may be our opinion of Captain Glover's Yoruba policy, there can be no question as to his energy in developing Lagos. From being a squalid place and a nest of slave dealers, it became a busy centre of lawful commerce, with wharves and warehouses and government buildings, beside the several churches and schools of the C.M.S. and Wesleyan Missionary Society. Along the "Marina," facing the lagoon, Europeans built their houses and places of business. In ever-increasing numbers, large ships lay at anchor off the bar, not many of them venturing to cross the white line of breakers. Their cargoes from England were brought up the calm lagoon by canoes and unloaded at the wharves. In like manner loads of Yoruba cotton and palm oil were taken out to the ships for export to Europe. So rapidly did the trade increase that in three years (1866 to 1869) the value of exports rose from £262,000 to £670,000.

The merchants and traders of Lagos were by no means all Europeans. Many were Sierra Leonians, numbers of whom were Christians, and this gave strength to the churches, for many of them were men in good positions and well able to contribute generously to church funds.

Then, in 1867, came the outbreak in Abeokuta, and the expulsion of missionaries. These troubles led to Lagos becoming the centre and stronghold of the mission. For some years all the missionaries resided there, and many Egba Christians came from up-country to settle near their fathers in the faith of Christ. Other Christians settled in villages along the lagoon, such as Ebute Meta, and this led to the extension of the work to the regions around Lagos. The training institution and the female institution, formerly at Abeokuta, were re-established in Lagos. New churches were built at suitable points: Christ Church, Faji, for the English-speaking community (both European and Sierra Leonian); St. Peter's, Faji, for Yorubas; Palm Church, Aroloya; Trinity Church, Ebute Ero; and one at Ebute Meta on the mainland. With increased numbers and increased means, the Lagos churches soon began to meet the cost of the mission schools and so relieved C.M.S. funds to that extent. Then, in 1871, the first four Yoruba clergymen received ordination from Bishop Cheetham, and three more were ordained in 1876. [One of these, Charles Phillips, subsequently became a bishop.]

The growth of the work may also be evidenced by the fact that in 1872, the C.M.S. had a Christian community of over 2000 in Lagos, 200 at Badagry and places on the coast and lagoon, and over 2000 at Abeokuta and Ibadan and other places in the interior. In that same year the gifts of the churches of Lagos amounted to £1400 and those of the interior (in spite of their troubles) to £250.

Unfortunately in the Lagos-Yoruba Mission, as in Sierra Leone, not a few missionaries, owing to the unhealthy climate and tropical diseases, laid down their lives, some after a very brief term of service. The Government had to face the same problem, and found it wise to allow its representatives very short terms of service and frequent furloughs. After many painful experiences the C.M.S. resolved to adopt a similar policy, but it is exceedingly difficult to say how far it has been justified by results. It has so often happened that new missionaries have died within a few weeks or months of landing, and not a few of those who have survived have lived for many years. It is very remarkable that three of the pioneers were spared for exceptionally long terms of service: Townsend (forty years), Gollmer (twenty-one years), and Hinderer (twenty-eight years)--all of whom retired from the Mission owing to ill health during the period dealt with in this chapter, Gollmer in 1862, Townsend in 1876, and Hinderer in 1877. Such continuity of experience and policy undoubtedly had a very marked influence on the growth and development of the Mission, and it would have been still greater had it not been for the disturbances in the Yoruba Country.

Not until 1880 was it possible again permanently to station European missionaries in the interior.

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