September had now arrived, and as its earlier days passed on, they left our party near the confluence of the rivers, full of hope, and thankfully encouraged by the success that had hitherto attended them. Satisfactory treaties had been concluded with the only two native chiefs with whom they had yet communicated; wherever they had landed, the chiefs and people had expressed a wish, for English to settle among them; and the attah had permitted them to purchase the land they desired for the proposed model farm near Addu Kuddu.
The unhealthy portions of the river had now been passed, and no sickness had appeared among them; and they were entering a country with, hills and fantastic rocks that reminded Mr. Schön of the ruined castles on the Rhine, and where there was every prospect of an increase of health and vigour. There was no reason to doubt their reaching Rabbah before the river began to fall; and if they could [72/73] prevail upon its king also to sign the treaty, this principal objects of the expedition would be effected.
But God, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, had willed it otherwise; dark clouds gathered round, and overcast their bright prospects; and there are few narratives more touchingly painful than the subsequent history of this expedition, especially when we consider its object and its aims. We must only glance at it.
A malignant fever broke out in one of the ships, baffling the skill of the medical officers to arrest its progress, till, on Sept. 17, we read of fifty-five on the sick-list, some of whom were officers, and almost all were Europeans. Six of these died in the course of the next two days, and were buried in the ground just purchased for a model farm; and thus a cemetery was formed where it had been hoped to lay the foundation of a living temple. [See Dr. Krapff's letter in Church Missionary Intelligencer for February, 1852, page 29.]
The sickness increased; Captain W. Allen and Captain Cook were both taken ill; and as there appeared no hope of amendment while they remained in that part of the river, it was decided that the Wilberforce and Soudan should take the invalids [73/74] on board and return immediately to the sea; while Captain Trotter and Captain B. Allen should still prosecute the original design, and, if possible, get up to Kabbah in the Albert. [Speaking of the Wilberforce at this time, Mr. Schön says, "It is more like an hospital than a man-of-war. Quarterdeck, forecastle, and cabins full of patients. The sight is enough to molt a heart of stone."] The ships parted company on the 21st of September; and as the Albert ascended the river, the spirits of all revived, the air felt fresh and clear, and they hoped they had left all malaria behind them. This was a delusive hope. Before night Captain B. Allen was laid low; and as they proceeded, another and another was added to the melancholy list. Nor was the aspect of the country through which they were passing calculated to raise their spirits. It was inhabited by the Nufi people, whose capital had formerly been Eabbah, tut the Fellatahs had taken Eabbah and overrun the country, and Sumo Sariki, the present Fellatah king, was frequently sending his soldiers to the towns and villages to exact money or to seize the people.
There were some Nufi people from Sierra Leone on board the Albert, and their hearts ached at the Bad condition of their countrymen; they spoke to them of the English, of Sierra Leone, and of Christianity; and the oppressed people anxiously intreated to be taken under British protection. In a few days the party reached the Nufi town of Egga, containing 7000 inhabitants. It was the best built and largest place they had yet seen, and as it had hitherto been [74/75] comparatively free from Fellatah exactions, the people were industrious and thriving.
Rogang, the chief, was an intelligent and well-disposed man, and professed himself willing to join in the treaty, were it not that he feared the displeasure of his master at Rabbah, who claimed from him allegiance and tribute. He had not himself embraced the religion of his oppressors, but many of his people had done so, and its baneful influence was very visible among them. The Albert was now 320 miles from the coast, the river was beginning to fall, the sickness continued, and Captain Trotter had begun to doubt whether it would not be necessary to give up Rabbah, and return at once to the sea. But at this juncture all doubt was removed, for he was himself seized with the fever, and only one officer remained who was able to take any duty.
But though he felt it impossible to proceed, yet neither illness of body nor prostration of mental power could divert Capt. Trotter from the great objects he had in view; and before he would give the order to return, he arranged a communication with the king of Rabbah through the friendly chief of Egga. Rogang readily undertook to convey to his master a friendly message from the Commissioners, stating the objects of the expedition, and their hope of reaching his capital in the course of the following year. The message was accompanied [75/76] by the present of a rich velvet tobe and a handsomely bound Arabic Bible.
We wish we could tell our readers what had become of this Bible. We know that it reached the king, and was, with the other present, graciously received by him. We know too that, a few years later, the Nufi tribes combined against their oppressor, made war on Rabbah, and destroyed it; and drove Sumo Seriki to take refuge in Sokatu. Beyond this we know nothing; but we can scarcely think that this solitary copy of God's Holy Word was suffered to perish in the flames that consumed the capital.
Perhaps the conqueror seized it, and now in the new capital of Ladi, on the opposite bank of the Niger, the ear of Dasaba, the present Nufi king, may sometimes catch a word of truth from its sacred pages. Or perhaps it was carried away by the vanquished; and is it not possible that it may have fallen into the hands of some poor pilgrim bound for Mecca, and may even now, as he journeys through the burning desert, be refreshing his soul with its life-giving streams, and gradually leading his heart from Mahomet to Christ?
One thing we do know--that Jehovah himself has said, "My Word shall not return unto me void," and we trust he may have granted that this blessed volume, sent by a Christian heart from the couch of [76/77] sickness, sorrow, and anxiety, shall have prospered "in the thing whereunto it was sent," and have led some perishing sinner to Him who came to seek and to save that which is lost.
It was on the 4th of October that the unwelcome order passed along the ship: "Draw up the anchor, and return quickly to the sea." The anchor was duly heaved, and the ship's head turned round, but the latter part of the order was not so easily complied with. The engineers had fallen sick; for two anxious days and nights no steam could be got up; and the only progress the vessel made was slowly drifting with the stream. What would have become of them we cannot think, had not Dr. Stanger, who had accompanied the expedition for scientific purposes, made a determined effort, and by means of a treatise on engineering, and with the feeble help of one of the engineers who was beginning to recover, succeeded at last in getting the engines to work.
It was still, however, a time of intense anxiety, for the navigation became every day more difficult as the waters fell, and discovered shoals and sandbanks over which they had passed safely on their upward course. The greatest watchfulness was needed to prevent the vessel from running aground; for had she done so, there was not strength left among the whole crew to get her off again.
Death continued to thin their numbers; the two [77/78] commanders were still dangerously ill, and now Mr. Willie, who had for some days been the only efficient officer on board, was seized with what proved to he his last illness. We cannot wonder to find Mr. Schön at this time, October the 8th, writing thus: "I have endured personal sufferings, family afflictions sore and grievous, and have witnessed and shared in the calamities of others during my eight years' residence at Sierra Leone; but nothing that I have hitherto seen or felt can be compared with our present condition. Pain of body, distress of mind, weakness, sorrow, sobbing and crying, surround us on all sides. The healthy, if so they can be called, are more like walking shadows than men of enterprise. All human skill is baffled, all human means fall short. Forgive us, O God, if on them we have too much depended, and been forgetful of thee; and let the light of thy countenance again shine upon us that we may be healed."
But these "walking shadows" had hearts of British strength and Christian energy; and it was owing, under God, to their unflinching exertions, that the 'Albert' and any of those on board were saved.
Mr. Willie's illness left no one to navigate the ship along its dangerous course; but this important office was undertaken by Dr. Mac William, in addition to the constant attention required by his now [78/79] twenty-six patients; while Dr. Stanger, whose days were still devoted to working the engines, gave up part of every night to the assisting Dr. MacWilliam in his medical duties. Mr. Schön and Mr. Crowther watched by the beds of the sick and dying, and found ample employment in ministering to their bodily and spiritual necessities.
And yet how brightly in those dark days shone out the lustre of Divine grace! Some who had thought but little on salvation, were now led to cry in earnest, "What must I do to be saved?" while in those who had already given their hearts to God, this fiery trial served but to purify "the fine gold." Captain Trotter, in the prospect of a speedy dissolution, was calm and collected; his mind indeed set on heavenly things, but alive to all that was going on around him; and, as far as strength would allow, aiding by his valuable counsel and advice. Mr. Schön had to.rejoice, though with weeping, over the dying beds of several; of Captain Bird Allen in particular, he says: "All the Christian graces shine put in him. He feels with the Apostle, 'To me to live is Christ, to die is gain;' and if there be a prevailing desire in his mind, it is to be absent from the body and present with the Lord."
It is consoling, too, to find Mr. Schön afterwards adding: "There has not been one whom I have attended in their sickness and at their death, who did [79/80] not know perfectly well that the climate was dangerous in the extreme, and had counted the cost, before engaging in the hazardous undertaking. And, to their honour be it spoken, no expressions of disappointment or regret did I ever hear; on the contrary, they appeared in general to derive no small consolation from the conscious? purity of their motives, and the goodness of the cause in which they had voluntarily embarked."
In a few days they again reached the model farm, but to their grief, found that all the Europeans who had been left there were ill also, and that it was necessary to take them on board. The prospects of the farm itself were most encouraging, but as it was found necessary to relinquish the undertaking altogether in the course of the next year, we shall not enter into any particulars.
As they pursued their melancholy voyage down the river, they felt it was a token for good to them, that on their anchoring again off the town of Aboh they received, notwithstanding their altered circumstances, the same ready kindness from Obi and his people as they had experienced before. They did all in their power to help them, bringing wood, goats, fowls, yams and plantains. "Obi's prompt assistance," says Dr. Mac William, "was of the highest importance. He is a fine character, and assuredly did not discredit the high opinion we had formed of [80/81] him. He was melted into pity when he saw the two captains sick in their cabins." [At Aboh they took again on board Simon Jonas, who had, it will be remembered, been sent back at the desire of the chief (page 69). He gave a very encouraging account of all that had passed during the three weeks he had sojourned there. The treaty had been faithfully adhered to in Aboh itself, and had been proclaimed in all the distant towns. Jonas had been most kindly treated by Obi; had spoken of Christianity to willing listeners among old and young, and had begun to teach English to the children, who flocked to him every day in great numbers. He was quite delighted with all that occurred, and would willingly have remained there. Obi again and again repeated his wish for teachers, and for a regular trade with England. Alas! his wishes are not yet complied with.]
At this time only one white sailor remained to assist Dr. Mac William in the navigation of the ship; Dr. Stanger's hard work and constant exposure had considerably affected his health; they were still 100 miles from the mouth of the river, and when they should reach it there would be the bar to be passed, which in their disabled state seemed scarcely possible; and we may imagine what gloomy forebodings must have filled the minds of all, when suddenly the unexpected and joyful cry was heard--"A steamer in sight!" It proved to be the Ethiope, commanded by Mr. Beecroft, ever active and ever ready to give assistance wherever assistance is needed. He came on board with his own engineer, and now the Albert passed so swiftly down the stream, [81/82] that on the evening of October the 14th, she reached the sea, and was safely carried across the dreaded bar. "On Mr. Beccroft," says Mr. Schön, "and on his exertions, our safety and the safety of the Albert, under God, depended." The Albert remained at Fernando Po some little time, and many of the invalids regained their health and strength, but Captain Bird Allen, and several other officers and men died soon after their arrival: out of the 190 Europeans who embarked in this service, 41 fell victims to the fever. [There were, besides the Europeans, 108 Africans on board, and not one of these suffered severely.]
Thus ended the Niger Expedition. By some it was spoken of as a failure; and to those who look only on the surface of things, it might possibly at the time have appeared so; but those who love to trace the developments of God's purposes of mercy will look on it as the germ of spiritual and temporal blessings to Central Africa. [The immediate advantages of the expedition were also very important; it brought us into friendly intercourse with the people of three hundred miles of country, inspired them with confidence in the English, and showed them practically the fruits of Christianity.]
In the Yoruba mission, the Christian sees with thankfulness one plant of vigorous growth that promises to spread its branches far and wide over the lands on the western border of the river; and [82/83] surely we may believe that it will not be long before, on its eastern side, another slip shall be planted of that "Tree of Life," whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, beneath whose shadow not only the kings of Iboe and Egarra may find a "sure resting place," but whose boughs may stretch over those populous nations of whose existence we are only beginning to be acquainted. [Through Drs. Barth, Overweg, &c.]
The banks of the Niger have, as it were, already been taken possession of for Christ by the bodies of his faithful people who sleep beneath them; while the record of all who lost their lives in this noble enterprise is with Him in whose sight the death and sufferings of His saints are "precious." And we would praise His name that He is permitting the survivors to see, even in this life, His acceptance and blessing of their labour of disinterested love for His name's sake.