Chapter V. The Niger Expedition "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."--Phil. ii. 4,
The Niger! How strange the mystery that hung for centuries over this celebrated river! Its source, its termination, and even the direction in which it flowed, were all unknown! Herodotus mentioned it between two and three thousand years ago, and he, as well as succeeding geographers of the ancient world, spoke of it as flowing from west to east; though, while some considered it as a tributary of the Nile, others supposed that it lost itself in a lake or deep morass in the centre of the continent.
The Arab writers of the middle ages, and the European geographers down to the middle of the last century (with scarcely an exception [We believe only D'Anville and Rennell.]) maintained that it rose near the sources of the Nile, and, after flowing across the continent in a westerly direction, emptied itself into the Atlantic; asserting that there was no river that ran towards the east.
It was not to be wondered at that amidst all these [55/56] conflicting opinions the very existence of the river of Herodotus began to be considered as a fable, but towards the end of the century a spirit of inquiry was again aroused, and in 1788 the African Association ' was formed, one of the first attempts of which was to trace the Niger from its source to its termination, and its ultimate object was to introduce Christianity and civilisation into the heart of Africa. We shall pass over its earlier proceedings and disappointments, and only refer to the discoveries made by Mungo Park. How, as we write his name, do the recollections from early years come vividly before us! the eagerness with which we read his journal; our sympathy with all his hardships and sufferings; our admiration of his unflinching courage, his gentleness, and patience; how we rejoiced with him when he attained the object of his search, and found himself standing on the brink of that river which had for so many ages eluded the researches and perplexed the [56/57] minds of all the learned--"the long-sought majestic Niger, glittering in the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened," he goes on to say, "to the brink, and having drunk of the water, lifted up my fervent thanks to the Great Euler of all things, for having thus far crowned my endeavours with success." Sickness, suffering, and want soon compelled the traveller to retrace his steps, but one great point had been gained, and the direction of the river was placed beyond a doubt. [Especially were we moved by the touching incident of the piece of moss near Kooma, and Park's own description of it. "I saw myself," he says, "in the midst of a vast wilderness, in the depth of the rainy season, naked and alone, surrounded by savage animals and men still more savage. I was five hundred miles from any European settlement. My spirits began to fail me, and I thought I had no alternative but to lie down and perish. The influence of religion, however, supported me, for I was still under the protecting eye of God. At this moment, painful as my reflections were, the extraordinary beauty of a small moss in fructification caught my eye. The whole plant was not larger than the tip of one of my fingers, but I could not contemplate the delicate conformation of its roots, leaves, and capsule without admiration. Can He, thought I, who planted, watered, and brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world, a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern on the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after His own image? Surely not. I could no longer despair. I started up, and disregarding both hunger and fatigue, travelled forwards, assured that relief was at hand, and I was not disappointed."]
Then came his second journey, his attempt to follow the river throughout its course till it should reach the sea, and the melancholy event of his death at Boossa. Conflicting opinions again arose as to its termination, some reviving the old opinion of its being lost in the interior; others, among whom was Mr. Park himself, supposing that it joined the Congo; while a very few adopted the idea that perhaps it might flow into the Gulf of Guinea. Among the [57/58] last was the lamented Captain Clapperton, who had, however, no means of confirming his belief. But we shall not stop to cross the river with him in 1825, or to accompany the intrepid Landers, in 1830, in their adventurous passage down its stream from Yaoorie to the sea; we shall only remind our readers that the discoveries of the latter set the question at rest for ever, as they found that it did really flow into the Gulf of Guinea; but that, long ere it reached the sea, it was, like its Northern sister, divided into a number of smaller streams, forming what is now called the Delta of the Niger. [The existence of this Delta removed the chief difficulty in the supposition of the river taking this course, for there was no single stream along this well-known coast that could at all correspond in size with the upper portion of the Niger, where it is occasionally five or six miles across.]
Thus far had the objects of science been attained; and it remained to apply the discovery to a higher end, and to make it subservient to the cause of religion and humanity. We need not recall to our readers the origin of the Niger Expedition; how the conviction by degrees forced itself on the minds of the friends of Africa, and especially on that of Sir Fowell Buxton, that, important and even necessary as our cruisers were to check the slave-trade on the coast, yet the remedy, to be effectual, must be applied to the source of the evil; and that Christianity and civilisation, carried into the heart of Africa, would [58/59] alone avail for its deliverance. [See Sir T. F. Buxton's Memoirs.] Nor need we tell them of these convictions resulting in the plan of sending an exploring expedition up this mighty river to obtain accurate information of its hitherto almost unknown shores, and to make any arrangements that might be practicable.
The scheme was taken up by persons of all ranks and parties; the Prince Consort strongly favoured it; and the Government, with Lord John Russell at its head, consented to make it a national undertaking. Bold and hazardous as was the enterprise, from the known unhealthiness of the climate, and the very doubtful disposition of the natives, it commended itself to many British and Christian hearts; and there was no want of either officers or men to enter on this service.
Captains Trotter, William Allen, and Bird Allen, were placed in command of the three new steam vessels, the Albert, the Wilberforce, and the Soudan; and, in conjunction with Captain Cook, were appointed Her Majesty's Commissioners for the management of the whole undertaking. [Well known as commanding the Cambria, when, in 1825, she so gallantly and generously rescued the passengers and crew of the Kent.] The commissioners, and most, if not all, the officers, were men of decided Christian piety; many of the crew partook of their views and feelings; a valuable chaplain [59/60] accompanied the vessels, and a general union for prayer was entered into for a blessing on the enterprise.
The vessels sailed in April, 1841, and never surely did any expedition leave the shores of Britain with a more single-minded aim, or with brighter prospects. Its object was not one of public or of private aggrandizement; no love of lucre was mingled in this generous effort to rescue Africa from degradation, misery, and bloodshed, and to introduce Christianity, civilisation, and peace; while the character of those to whom it was entrusted gave an earnest of the manner in which all would be conducted. The language of many a heart was:--
"Heaven speed the canvass, gallantly unfurled
To rescue and to renovate a world;
Soft airs and gentle heavings of the wave
Impel the fleet whose errand is to save.
Let nothing adverse, nothing unforeseen,
Impede the bark that ploughs the deep serene,
Charged with a freight, transcending in its worth
The gems of India, nature's rarest birth;
That flies like Gabriel at his Lord's commands,
A herald of God's love to pagan lands!" [Cowper's Poems.]
On June 24, the vessels entered the harbour of Sierra Leone, where, as might be expected, their arrival awakened the liveliest interest. "The whole colony," we are told, "was in a state of excitement; nothing else was talked of among either Europeans or natives; the latter of whom began eagerly to speculate on the facilities it might open to them of [60/61] returning to their own kind, if only they could be accompanied by an European missionary.
Twelve young Christian natives were taken as interpreters to the various tribes with whom the party might come into contact--such as the Brass, the Iboe, the Egarra, Kakanda, Yoruba, Haussa, Fellatah, Nufi, and Bournou people. Mr. Thomas King, a Yoruban, went as schoolmaster and catechist. The Rev. J. F. Schön, one of the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, was received on board the Albert, and Mr. Samuel Crowther, who at this time was a teacher in the Fourah Bay Institution, sailed in the Soudan.
During the week of their stay at Free Town, much prayer for the safety and success of the expedition was offered up by Christians of various denominations; and on one occasion, at the invitation of the chaplain of the colony, the Rev. D. F. Morgan, no less than 1,500 Negroes assembled for Divine service in the Free Town church.
On the 2nd of July, the ships again set forward, and the prayers and blessings that had risen from so many British hearts on their departure from England, were now repeated again and again from the mingled tribes of Africans at Sierra Leone--God speed the vessels, and their noble-minded crews!
We shall pass over the incidents of the voyage to Cape Palmas, and along the coast of the Gulf of [61/62] Guinea; we will not even dwell upon the landing at Cape Coast of the two converted Ashantee princes, who had been brought to England by a Wesleyan missionary, and were now returning with the hope of benefiting their native land.
But we shall take the opportunity of giving our readers a more definite idea of the principal objects aimed at in this expedition, and which the Commissioners were to further as far as possible. The most simple of these was to obtain a knowledge of the climate, soil, and inhabitants of the countries bordering the Niger, and to inspire the people with confidence in our friendly intentions towards them. The more important object was to prevail on the native chiefs to enter into a treaty with Great Britain to suppress the slave-trade in their own dominions, and discourage it in others; to abolish human sacrifices; to enter into commercial relations with us, and to allow missionaries and merchants to reside among them. And there would be the less difficulty, it was hoped, in forming these treaties, as it would only be necessary to conclude them with the three principal chiefs--the kings of Iboe, on the western bank, of Egarra on the east, and of Rabba, 500 miles from the sea, which it was intended should be their final point of destination. The two first of these were heathen, but the last was a Fellatah; and if our readers remember what we said of [62/63] the Fellatahs in our second chapter, they will be aware that more difficulty in making these arrangements was to be expected from him than from the Others. And, if it should be found practicable, land was to be purchased on some convenient spot for the establishment of a model farm.
The ships were safely brought to the mouth of the river Nun, and on August the 13th, they crossed the dangerous Bar. Steaming rapidly up the river, they soon left behind them the swamps and mangroves of the Delta; and on entering the main stream found themselves in a better peopled and better cultivated country.
The period of the annual rising of the river had been chosen as likely to be less unfavourable to the constitutions of the Europeans, but it added much to the difficulty of intercourse with the people, as many of the villages were inundated, and the inhabitants had removed for a time to higher ground. The communication among themselves was not, however, at all suspended; boats were continually passing and re-passing; and it was curious to see the surprise awakened by the sight of the steamers.
They bad evidently, in this part of the river, been accustomed to the sight of white men, though their constant inquiry for "rum" showed too plainly what had been the character of their intercourse. [Capt. Cook, in a kind communication lately made by him, says, "We found the character of the natives improve as we advanced into the interior; they were more straightforward, simple and honest in their dealings, and careless about rum or tobacco, for which the natives near the coast were incessantly asking,--an evident proof how much the moral character of the people near the sea-coast had been deteriorated by their intercourse with Europeans."] But [63/64] a steamer they had never seen; and they stared with astonishment as the apparently self-moving monster floated on against the stream, and in some cases they expressed their delight by dancing to the movement of the paddles. One of the chiefs, higher up the river, gravely inquired whether the English always lived on the water, or whether they had lands and houses like other people.
Yams, and the few other vegetables this part of the country produced, were readily brought to the ships to barter for trifles of European manufacture; and a little incident occurred on one of these occasions which we will not pass over. It was soon after they entered the river, and a number of canoes had crowded round the "Albert," when the Brass interpreter was struck with the countenance of a man in one of them, whose features he thought he recognised. Many years had passed since the interpreter had been an exile from his native country; all recollections of the scenery around had been effaced from his memory, and the man he thus singled out had passed from middle life to declining [64/65] age; yet his heart beat truly when it suggested to him that he knew him.
The village on the bank was Anya, where the interpreter had passed the first years of his captivity; and this man had been his faithful nurse and doctor through a long and suffering illness. We may imagine the astonishment of the man at being thus recognised; he knew that his young friend had been taken to the coast and sold to the white men, by whom he believed he had been killed and eaten, and now to see him standing before him in European dress, and with much of European manner and intelligence, and to hear his narrative of all that had befallen him, was almost too much for the old man to bear. "If God himself," said he, "had told mo this, I could not have believed it, but now I see it with my own eyes." [Several incidents of this kind occurred during the passage up the river, and must have left a favourable impression on the minds of the natives.]
The first place of any importance that they came to was Aboh, the capital of the Iboe country, on the western bank; and a deputation was sent to the king, Obi, explaining to him the objects of the expedition, and inviting him to come on board the steamer the following day.
Simon Jonas was the Iboe interpreter, and when [65/66] he explained to him that one of the articles of the treaty would be the suppression of the slave-trade, Obi hesitated, saying, "That is a hard thing to do." With great readiness, Jonas acknowledged that it was a hard thing to give it up, but asserted that it was harder still to continue it. He drew a vivid picture of the misery it was even then causing in the Iboe country itself--the desolating wars, the separation of parents and children, the ruined villages, the uncultivated fields, the want of confidence between man and man; then referring to his own experience, he described the sufferings of himself and two hundred other boys on their way from the interior to the coast; told of many that had died from hunger and fatigue, of others that had been offered up as sacrifices by the king of Bonny, and of some among these poor lads who had committed suicide. He spoke of the slave-ship in which he had been embarked, of the bad provisions, the want of water, the crowded hold, the deaths of many, and the throwing overboard of some still alive, who were considered past recovery; and wound up his frightful narrative with the thrilling question, "Is it not harder to continue it than to give it up?"
During all this time Obi listened with the deepest attention, and when the interpreter went on to speak of his liberation, of Sierra Leone, of the English, and of the love of Christians towards the Africans, [66/67] he appeared much moved; he rose up and shook hands with all the Europeans present, as if to tell them how much he felt their kindness to his people. He readily agreed to go on board the Albert on the following morning, when the Commissioners entered fully into the objects of the expedition, and the terms of the proposed treaty. When it was about to be signed, Obi was told that it was the custom of Christians to ask the blessing of God before they proceeded to any important undertaking; and the whole party present knelt down, while the chaplain offered up a suitable prayer. They were quite unprepared, however, for the effect this had on the Chief; he had knelt down with the rest, but hearing a prayer in a strange tongue offered up with earnestness and devotion, he became dreadfully alarmed, imagining that they were using some incantations against himself or his people. When they rose from their knees, they found him trembling like an aspen leaf, and with the perspiration rolling down his cheeks from agony of mind; he called out loudly for his "arrisi," or charm; and his head-man, who was on deck, hearing his cry, hastened down to his succour, and was about to commence the performance of some counteracting heathen rites in the cabin. [Mr. Schön, in relating this, mentions it as not an unfrequent occurrence at Sierra Leone, when a newly arrived African enters a place of worship for the first time.] He was [67/68] however stopped, and the interpreter with some difficulty succeeded in quieting his mind.
By degrees Obi quite recovered his serenity, entered into friendly conversation with the party present, and finally signed the treaty with evident sincerity. Captain Trotter, whose views rose far above even the most important temporal advantages, lost no fitting opportunity of bringing forward the subject of Christianity. Obi, with great simplicity, confessed his utter ignorance of God, and expressed a strong desire that teachers should be sent to himself and his people. No promise could be made to him that any white men could be sent, but a hope was held out that he might perhaps be visited by some black people from Sierra Leone, who had learnt to know and love God.
Mr. Schön then desired Jonas to read a few verses from the English Bible, and translate them into Iboe. The portion selected was the beginning of the fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, and Mr. Schön adds: "Obi was uncommonly taken with this. That a white man should read and write was a matter of course, but that a black man, an Iboe man, one who had been a slave in times past, should know these wonderful things, was more than he could have anticipated. He seized Jonas's hand, squeezed it most heartily, saying, 'You must stop with me; you must teach me and my people; the [68/69] white people can go up the river without you, they must leave you here till they come back, or till other people come.' "
Jonas could not be left behind just then, but a few days afterwards, when his services as interpreter were no longer needed, he went back to Aboh, and remained there till the expedition returned down the river.
This request of Obi's was doubly satisfactory, as it not only proved the sincerity with which he had promised to proclaim the abolition of the slave-trade throughout all his dominions, but as it showed that Negroes are not unwilling to receive instruction from their own people, as has sometimes been supposed.
The next important place they arrived at was Iddah on the eastern bank, the capital of Egarra, (or Igalla,) and the residence of the Attah, (or king,) whose dominions extend northward to the confluence of the Tchadda and Niger, and who claims also the country of Kakanda, on the opposite side of the river.
The Attah of Egarra showed the same friendly disposition as Obi had done, the same willingness to enter into the treaty, and the same desire for religious teachers to be sent to him. He had, however, a much higher sense of his own importance; for when the deputation waited upon him as they had [69/70] done upon Obi, and invited him on board the steamer to receive a message from the Queen of England, he peremptorily refused, as being beneath his dignity, "lama king," he exclaimed, "and the king never puts his foot into a canoe. If the captain of the canoe wishes to see me, he must come on shore, or not see me at all; the king follows nobody. God made the king to be like himself, and it was never known that the king went into a canoe." He complained of the presents not being good enough, for as "he was like God, the present ought to be worthy of him and of God!" &c. And this from a man who could neither read nor write, who appeared in state with bells round his legs, a quantity of glass beads round his neck, and "a pair of carpet slippers large enough for an elephant," and whose only really good article of clothing was a red velvet robe that had been given him by some previous traveller! But pride is never at a loss for materials on which to build a temple to itself!
Captain Trotter and his friends did not think it worth their while to contend this matter with the great man; they went on shore, and this homage being paid to his dignity, he signed the treaty as readily as Obi had done.
The Attah also very readily agreed to the purchase of land on which to form an English settlement, and to commence a model farm; and a tract of [70/71] twenty miles along the banks was formally taken possession of for these purposes in the name of the Queen. A few Europeans and several Africans, with Mr. T. King from Sierra Leone, were landed as quickly as possible with provisions and implements of various kinds, and it was very encouraging to see with what joy the inhabitants of the newly-purchased land welcomed the prospect of having white men for their neighbours and protectors. [They had suffered much from the inroads of the Fellatahs, and within the limits of the newly-purchased land there still remained the ruins of what had evidently not long before been a large and populous town--Addu Kuddu.]