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To the Gold Coast for Gold by Richard F. Burton

Part 5 out of 5

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Immediately beyond this grim and grisly reminiscence are the neat
dwelling-house and the store of the Honourable Mr. Sybille Boyle, so
named from a ship and from her captain, R.N., who served in the
preventive squadron about 1824. He is an unofficial member of Council
and a marked exception to the rule of the 'Liberateds.' Everybody has a
good word to say of him. The establishment is the regular colonial,
where you can buy anything between a needle and a sheet-anchor. Bottled
ale is not wanting, and thus steamer-passengers learn to congregate in
the back parlour.

We then walked to the top of Gloucester Street, expecting to see the
Duke of Edinburgh's memorial. I left it an arch of sticks and timber
spanning this main cross-line, which leads to Government House. The
temporary was to be supplanted by a permanent marble _arc de
triomphe_, commemorating the auspicious occasion when the black
colony first looked upon a live white Royal Highness. At once
700_l_. was subscribed, and only 800_l_. was wanting; but all
those interested in the matter died, and the 350_l_. which remained
in the chest was, I believe, transferred to the 'Willyfoss.' The august
day is still kept as a public holiday, for the people are, after their
fashion, loyal-mouthed in the extreme. But the memorial is clean
forgotten, and men stare if you ask about it. Half-way up the street is
the post-office, whose white chief is not a whit more civil than the
negro head in 1862.

Upon this highly interesting spot we stood awhile to note the
peculiarities of the place and its position. The soil is a loose clay,
deep-red or brown, impregnated with iron and, where unclothed with
humus, cold and infertile, as the spontaneous aloe shows. The subsoil is
laterite, also highly ferruginous. Soft and working well with the axe
while it retains the quarry-water, it soon hardens by exposure; and,
thus weathered, it forms the best and ugliest of the local building
materials. Embedded in the earth's surface are blocks and boulders
apparently erratic, dislodged or washed down from the upper heights,
where similar masses are seen. Many are scattered, as if by an eruption;
others lie in slab or dome shape upon the shore. The shape is usually
spheroidal, and the material hypersthene (a hard and close-grained
bluish granite) or diorite, greenstone-trap blackened by sun and
rain. In the few cuttings of the higher levels I afterwards remarked
that detached 'hardheads' are puddinged into the friable laterite; but I
nowhere found the granitic floor-rock protruding above ground. The
boulders are treated by ditching and surrounding with a hot fire for
forty-eight hours; cold water, not vinegar, is then poured upon them,
and causes the heated material suddenly to contract and fracture, when
it can easily be removed. Magnetic iron also occurs, and specimens have
been sent to England; but veins have not yet been discovered.

Our walk had furnished us with a tolerable idea of 'the city's' plan,
without referring to the printed affair. Fronting north with westing, it
is divided into squares, blocks, and insulae, after the fashion of a
chessboard. This is one of the oldest as well as the newest mode of
distributions. The temples of the classical gods, being centrally
situated, required for general view broad, straight approaches. From
Washington to Buenos Ayres the modern cities of the New World have
reverted to this ancient system without other reason but a love of
regularity and simplicity. Here the longer streets flank the sea and the
shorter run at right angles up the inner slopes. Both are bright red
lines worn in the vegetation between the houses. The ribbons of green
are the American or Bahama grass; fine, silky, and creeping along the
ground, it is used to stuff mattresses, and it forms a good substitute
for turf. When first imported it was neglected, cut away, and nearly
killed out; now it is encouraged, because its velvety plots relieve the
glaring red surface, it keeps off the 'bush,' and it clears the surface
of all other vegetation. Looking upon the city below, we were surprised
to see the dilapidation of the tenements. Some have tumbled down; others
were tumbling down; many of those standing were lumber or board shanties
called 'quarter-frames' and 'ground-floors;' sundry large piles rose
grisly and fire-charred, and the few good houses looked quite
modern. But what can be expected in a place where Europeans never expect
to outstay the second year, and where Africans, who never yet worked
without compulsion, cannot legally be compelled to work?

We then walked up to Government House, the Fort Thornton of old charts,
whose roof, seen from the sea, barely tops the dense curtain of tree and
shrubbery that girds and hangs around it. Passing under a cool and shady
avenue of mangoes and figs, and the archway, guarded by a porter's lodge
and a detachment of the three hundred local police, we came in sight of
the large, rambling residence, built piecemeal, like many an English
country-house. There is little to recommend it save the fine view of the
sea and the surrounding shrubbery-ground. I can well understand how,
with the immense variety of flower and fruit suddenly presented to his
eyes, the gentleman fresh from England required six months to recover
the free and full use of all his senses and faculties.

A policeman--no longer a Zouave of the West Indian corps--took in our
cards, and we introduced ourselves to Captain A. E. Havelock,
'Governor-in-Chief of Sierra Leone and the Gambia.' He is No. 47 since
Captain Day, R.N., first ruled in A.D. 1803. I had much to say to him
about sundry of his predecessors. Captain Havelock, who dates only from
1881, has the reputation of being slightly 'black.' The Neri and the
Bianchi factions here represent the Buffs and Blues of a land further
north. He is yet in the heyday of popularity, when, in the consecrated
phrase, the ruler 'gains golden opinions.' But colonial judgments are
fickle, and mostly in extremes. After this smiling season the weather
lowers, the storm breaks, and all is elemental rage, when from being a
manner of demigod the unhappy ruler gradually becomes one of the
'meanest and basest of men.' _Absit omen!_

We returned at sunset to Government House and spent a pleasant
evening. The 'smokes' had vanished, and with them the frowse and
homeliness of morning. The sun, with rays of lilac red, set over a
panorama of townlet, land, and sea, to which distance added many a
charm. Mingling afar with the misty horizon, the nearer waters threw
out, by their golden and silvery sheen, the headlands, capes, and
tongues stretching in long perspective below, while the Sugarloaf,
father of mountains, rose in solitary grandeur high above his subject
hills. On the nearer slope of Signal Hill we saw the first of the
destructive bush-burnings. They are like prairie-fires in these lands,
and sometimes they gird Freetown with a wall of flame. Complexion is all
in all to Sa Leone, and she showed for a few moments a truly beautiful

The Governor has had the courage to bring out Mrs. Havelock, and she has
had the courage to stand firm against a rainy season. The climate is
simply the worst on the West Coast, despite the active measures of
sanitation lately taken, the Department of Public Health, the ordinances
of the Colonial Government in 1879, and the excellent water with which
the station is now provided. On a clear sunny day the charnel-house, I
repeat, is lovely, _mais c'est la mort_; it is the terrible beauty
of death. Mrs. Melville says, with full truth, 'I felt amidst all the
glory of tropic sunlight and everlasting verdure a sort of ineffable
dread connected with the climate.' Even when leaving the 'pestilent
shore' she was 'haunted by the shadowy presence.' This is womanly, but a
little reflection must suggest it to man.

Even half a century ago opinions differed concerning the climate of the
colony. Dr. Madden could obtain only contradictory accounts. [Footnote:
See _Wanderings in West Africa_, for details, vol. i. p. 275.]
There is a tradition of a Chief Justice applying to the Colonial Office
for information touching his pension, the clerks could not answer him,
and he presently found that none of his predecessors had lived to claim
it. Mr. Judge Rankin was of opinion that its ill-fame was maintained by
'policy on the one hand and by ignorance of truth on the other.' But
Mr. Judge died a few days after. So with Dr. Macpherson, of the African
Colonial Corps. It appears ill-omened to praise the place; and, after
repeated visits to it, I no longer wonder that the 'Medical Gazette' of
April 14, 1838, affirmed, 'No statistical writer has yet tried to give
the minutest fraction representing the chance of a surgeon's return from
Sierra Leone.'

On the other hand, Mrs. Falconbridge, whose husband was sent out from
England on colonial business in 1791, and who wrote the first 'lady's
book' upon the Coast, pointed out at the beginning that sickness was due
quite as much to want of care as to the climate. In 1830 Mr. John
Cormack, merchant and resident since 1800, stated to a Committee of the
House of Commons that out of twenty-six Europeans in his service seven
had died, seven had remained in Africa, and of twelve who returned to
England all save two or three were in good health. We meet with a
medical opinion as early as 1836 that 'not one-fourth of the deaths
results merely from climate.' Cases of old residents are quoted--for
instance, Governor Kenneth Macaulay, a younger brother of Zachary
Macaulay, who resisted it for twenty years; Mr. Reffall for fifteen
years, and sundry other exceptions.

In this section of the nineteenth century it is the custom to admit that
the climate is bad and dangerous; but that it has often been made the
scape-goat of European recklessness and that much of the sickness and
death might be avoided. The improvement is attributed to the use of
quinine, unknown to the early settlers, and much is expected from
sanatoria and from planting the blue gum (_Eucalyptus globulus_),
which failed, owing to the carelessness and ignorance of the planters. A
practical appreciation of the improvement is shown by the Star Life
Assurance Society, which has reduced to five per cent. its former very
heavy rates. Lastly, the bad health of foreigners is accounted for by
the fact that they leave their own country for a climate to which they
are not accustomed, where the social life and the habits of the people
are so different from their own, and yet that they continue doing all
things as in England.

But how stand the facts at the white man's Red Grave? Mrs. Havelock and
the wife of the officer commanding the garrison are the only Europeans
in the colony, whereas a score of years ago I remember half a
dozen. Even the warmest apologisers for the climate will not expose
their wives to it, preferring to leave them at home or in
Madeira. During last March there were five deaths of white men--that is,
more than a third--out of a total of 163. What would the worst of
English colonies say to a mortality of 350 per thousand per annum? Of
course we are told that it is exceptional, and the case of the insurance
societies is quoted. But they forget to tell us the reason. A mail
steamer now calls at Freetown once a week, and the invalid is sent home
by the first opportunity. Similarly a silly East Indian statistician
proved, from the rare occurrence of fatal cases, Aden to be one of the
healthiest stations under 'the Company.' He ignored the fact that even a
scratch justified the surgeons in shipping a man off on sick leave.

I quite agree with the view of Mr. Frederick Evans: [Footnotes: _The
Colonies and India_, Dec. 24, 1881.] 'Let anyone anxious to test the
nature of the climate go to Kew Gardens and sit for a week or two in one
of the tropical houses there; he may be assured that he will by no means
feel in robust health when he leaves.' The simile is perfect. Europeans
living in Africa like Europeans as regards clothing and diet are, I
believe, quite right. We tried grass-cloth, instead of broadcloth, in
Western India, when general rheumatism was the result. In the matter of
meat and drink the Englishman cannot do better than adhere to his old
mode of life as much as possible, with a few small modifications. Let
him return to the meal-times of Queen Elizabeth's day--

Sunrise breakfast, sun high dinner,
Sundown sup, makes a saint of a sinner--

and especially shun the 9 A.M. breakfast, which leads to a heavy tiffin
at 1 P.M., the hottest and most trying section of the day. With respect
to diet, if he drinks a bottle of claret in England let him reduce
himself in Africa to a pint 'cut' with, water; if he eats a pound of
meat he should be contented with eight ounces and an extra quantity of
fruit and vegetables. In medicine let him halve his cathartics and
double his dose of tonics.

From its topographical as well as its geographical position the climate
of Freetown is oppressively hot, damp, and muggy. The annual mean is
79.5 deg. Fahr.; the usual temperature of the dwellings is from 78 deg. to 86 deg.
Fahr. Its year is divided into two seasons, the Dries and the Rains. The
wet season begins in May and ends with November; for the last five years
the average downfall has been 155 inches, five times greater than in
rainy England. These five months are times of extreme discomfort. The
damp heat, despite charcoal fires in the houses and offices, mildews
everything--clothes, weapons, books, man himself. It seems to exhaust
all the positive electricity of the nervous system, and it makes the
patient feel utterly miserable. It also fills the air with noxious
vapours during the short bursts of sunshine perpendicularly rained down,
and breeds a hateful brood of what the Portuguese call immundicies--a
foul 'insect-youth.' Only the oldest residents prefer the wet to the dry
months. The Rains end in the sickliest season of the year, when the sun,
now getting the upper hand, sucks the miasmatic vapours from the soil
and distributes them to mankind in the shape of ague and fever,
dysentery, and a host of diseases. The Dries last from November to
April, often beginning with tornadoes and ending with the Harmatan,
smokes or scirocco. The climate is then not unlike Bombay, except that
it lacks the mild East Indian attempt at a winter, and that barometric
pressure hardly varies.

During my last visit to Sa Leone I secured a boat, and, accompanied by
Dr. Lovegrove, of the A.S.S. _Armenian_, set out to inspect the
lower bed of the Rokel and the islands which it waters. Passing along
Fourah Bay, we remarked in the high background a fine brook, cold,
clear, and pure, affording a delicious bath; it is almost dry in the
Dries, and swells to a fiumara during the Rains. Its extent was then a
diminutive rivulet tumbling some hundreds of feet down a shelving bed
into Granville Bay, the break beyond Fourah. On the way we passed
several Timni boats, carrying a proportionately immense amount of
'muslin.' Of old the lords of the land, they still come down the river
with rice and cocoa-nuts from the Kwiah (Quiah) country, from Porto
Loko, from Waterloo, and other places up stream. They not unfrequently
console themselves for their losses by a little hard fighting; witness
their defence of the Moduka stockade in 1861, when four officers and
twenty-three of our men were wounded. [Footnote: _Wanderings in West
Africa_, vol. i pp. 246-47.] Some of the boats are heavy row-barges
with a framework of sticks for a stern-awning; an old Mandenga, with
cottony beard, sits at each helm. They row _simplices munditiis_.
At Sa Leone men are punished for not wearing overalls, and
thus the 'city' becomes a rag-fair. The Timni men are dark negroids
with the slightest infusion of Semitic blood; some had coated their
eyebrows and part of their faces with chalk for ophthalmia. They
appeared to be merry fellows enough; and they are certainly the only men
in the colony who ever pretend to work. A Government official harshly
says of them, 'I would willingly ascribe to the nearest of our
neighbours and their representatives in Freetown, of whom there are
many, some virtues if they possessed any; but, unfortunately, taken as a
people, they have been truly described by able and observant writers as
dishonest and depraved.' Mr. Secretary evidently forgets the
'civilising' and infectious example of Sa Leone, _versus_ the
culture of El-Islam.

Arrived at Bishopscourt, we disembarked and visited the place. Here in
old days 'satisfaction' was given and taken; and a satirical medico
declared that forty years of _rencontres_ had not produced a single
casualty. He was more witty than wise; I heard of one gentleman who had
been 'paraded' and 'winged.' Old Granville Town, which named the bay,
has completely disappeared; the ruins of the last house are gone from
the broad grassy shelf upon which the first colonists built their homes.

From Granville Bay the traveller may return by the 'Kissy Road.' Once it
was the pet promenade, the Corso, the show-walk of Freetown; now it has
become a Tottenham Court Road, to which Water, Oxford, and Westmoreland
Streets are preferred. The vegetation becomes splendid, running up to
the feet of the hills, which swell suddenly from the shelf-plain. The
approach to Sa Leone is heralded by a row of shops even smaller and
meaner than those near the market-place. There are whole streets of
these rabbit-hutches, whose contents 'mammy,' when day is done, carries
home in a 'bly'-basket upon her head, possibly leaving 'titty' to mount
guard upon the remnant. The stock in trade may represent a capital of
4_l_., and the profits 1_s_. a day. Yet 'daddy' styles himself
merchant, gets credit, and spends his evenings conversing and smoking
cigars--as a gentleman should--with his commercial friends.

Passing the easternmost end of the peninsula, and sailing along the
Bullom ('lowland') shores, we verified Dr. Blyden's assertion that this
'home of fevers' shows no outward and visible sign of exceeding
unhealthiness. The soil is sandy, the bush is comparatively thin, and
the tall trees give it the aspect of a high and dry land. We then turned
north-east and skirted Tasso Island, a strip of river-holm girt with a
wall of mangroves. It had an old English fort, founded in 1695; the
factors traded with the Pulo (Fulah) country for slaves, ivory, and
gold. It was abandoned after being taken by Van Ruyter, when he restored
to the Dutch West Indian Company the conquests of Commodore Holmes. The
rich soil in 1800 supported a fine cotton plantation, and here
Mr. Heddle kept a 'factory.' The villagers turned out to gaze, not
habited like the Wolofs of Albreda, but clad in shady hats and seedy

After clearing Tasso we advanced merrily, and at the end of two hours'
and a half actual sailing and pulling we landed upon Bance, which some
call Bence's Island. A ruined jetty with two rusty guns, buried like
posts, projected from the sand-strip; and a battery, where nine cannon
still linger, defended the approach. There is a similar beach to the
north-east, with admirable bathing in the tepid, brackish waves and a
fine view of the long leonine Sierra. The outlying rocks, capped with
guano, look like moored boats and awnings. The sea-breeze was delicious;
the lapping, dazzling stream made sweet music, and the huge cotton-trees
with laminar buttresses gave most grateful shade.

The island resembles Gambian James multiplied by four or five. Behind
the battery are the ruins of a huge building, like the palaces of old
Goa, vast rooms, magazines, barracoons, underground vaults, and all
manner of contrivances for the good comfort and entertainment of the
slaver and the slave. A fine promenade of laterite, which everywhere
about Sa Leone builds the best of roads, and a strip of jungle rich in
the _Guilandina Bonduc_, whose medicinal properties are well known
to the people, leads to the long-deserted graveyard. We pass an old well
with water thirty-five feet deep, and enter the _enceinte_, that
contains four tombs; the marble tablets, which would soon disappear in
India for the benefit of curry-stuffs, here remain intact. One long home
was tenanted by 'Thomas Knight, Esquire, born in the county of Surrey,
who acted eighteen years as agent for the proprietors of this island,
and who died on August 27 of 1785,' beloved, of course, by
everybody. Second came the 'honourable sea-Captain Hiort, born in 1746,
married in 1771 to the virtuous lady Catherine Schive, and died in 1783,
leaving two good-natured daughters, which his soul is in the hands of
God.' The third was Mr. John Tittle, who departed life in 1776; and the
last was Captain Josiah Dory, a 'man of upright character,' who
migrated to the many in 1765.

Barbot (ii. 1) describes Bance's Island as defended by a small fort on a
steep rock of difficult access, ascended only by a sort of stairs cut in
the stone, and acting as the store-house of the Royal African
Company. The low walls of lime and ashlar had a round 'flanker' with
five guns, a curtain with embrasures for four large cannon, and a
platform just before it for six guns, all well mounted. The only good
buildings were the slave-booths. Winterbottom, who places it over
eighteen miles above St. George's Bay (_Baie de France_) and north
of Tasso Island, thus describes Bance: 'This is a small barren island
considerably elevated, with a dry, gravelly soil; but being placed as it
were in the midst of an archipelago of low marshy islands, the breeze,
from whatever quarter it blows, is impregnated with moisture and marsh
effluvia, which render it sickly. The air also is very much heated, and
the thermometer generally stands 4 deg. or 5 deg. higher on this island than it
does at Freetown.'

We regained the steamer shortly after dark, delighted with our picnic
and resolved always to take the same advantage of all halts. In those
days the interior was most interesting. The rivers Scarcies, Nunez, and
Ponga were unknown; the equestrian Susu tribe had never been visited;
and, the Timbo country, the great centre whence arise the Niger, the
Rokel, and the Senegal, awaited exploration.


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