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Commerce, Christianity and the Origins of the 'Creoles' of Fernando Po Author(s): Martin Lynn

Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (1984), pp. 257-278 Published by: Cambridge University Press

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Journal of African History, 25 (1984), pp. 257-278 257 Printed in Great Britain




O N E of the most interesting features of the century of contact between Africa and Europe before the Partition is the emergence of the so-called Creole societies of West Africa. These offspring of Europe's anti-slave trading activities, with their unique blend of African and European cultural traits, in many ways epitomized the corrosive impact Europe had on African society in the early nineteenth century. The most well known of these societies are the Creoles of Freetown, though their metaphorical cousins in Monrovia and Libreville have also received their share of attention.1 The Creoles of Fernando Po, however, although products of similar historical processes, have remained neglected.2 This is unfortunate, for the Creoles of Fernando Po are of interest not only because of their well-known involvement in the Liberian 'slavery' scandal of the I920S, but because of their remarkable

long-term adaptability as a society which, since its emergence in the early nineteenth century, has survived by transforming itself from a com- munity of labourers into a class of palm oil traders and then plantation owners - the 'Fernandinos' - whose position still causes strain in the politics of modern Equatorial Guinea.3 Moreover, study of their emergence throws light on a number of related areas, illustrating in particular the impact of the development of the West African palm oil trade on the local trading network of the Bights of Benin and Biafra.

There are problems however in examining the Creoles of Fernando Po. Not the least of these concerns the use of the term 'Creole', a term that was never used in Fernando Po at the time. Even in Sierra Leone, 'Creoledom' itself, the description did not become common until the I840s, when it began

* I would like to thank Dr Andrew Porter and Dr David Hempton for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. My gratitude is also due to the Baptist Missionary Society and Methodist Missionary Society for permission to consult their Archives, and to Maura Pringle for preparing the map.

1 C. Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone (London, 1962); J. D. Hargreaves, 'African colonisation in the nineteenth century: Liberia and Sierra Leone', Sierra Leone Studies, (new series) xvII (I962), 189-203; A. T. Porter, Creoledom (London, I963); J. Peterson, Province of Freedom: A History of Sierra Leone (London, 1969); C. Fyfe, ' Reform in West Africa: the abolition of the slave trade', in J. F. A. Ajayi and M. Crowder, History of West Africa (London, 1974), II, 30-56; K. D. Patterson, The Northern Gabon Coast to r875 (Oxford, 1975).

2 Fernando Po is part of the 'historiographical void' that Patterson complains of:

Patterson, Gabon, vii. For recent work on Fernando Po: R. T. Brown, 'Fernando Po and the anti-Sierra Leone campaign, 1826-34', International Journal of African Historical Studies, vi (1973), 249-64; I. K. Sundiata, 'Prelude to scandal: Liberia and Fernando Po, i880-1930', J. Afr. Hist. xv (I974), 97-112.

3 S. Cronj6, Equatorial Guinea- the Forgotten Dictatorship (London, 1976), 7-8;


to be applied to children born in the colony of immigrant parents, and it was not until the end of the century that it came to take on the looser meaning of 'Europeanized African', more specifically attached to the descendants of the ex-slave, liberated African community of Freetown, that it now has.4 As will be seen, Fernando Po 'Creole' society was very similar to that of Freetown - it had a similar history and was in some ways an outgrowth of Sierra Leone - and it is in this looser, general sense, as a convenient description for 'Europeanized African' and member of an ex-slave, liberated African community, that the term 'Creole' will be used in this paper.

In this wider sense something of a Creole trading elite may be said to have been emerging on Fernando Po by the I850s. 'Nearly all dress in the European style', wrote Hutchinson, British Consul at the time, 'and are very courteous in their bearing when met in the streets.' Bouet-Willaumez, slightly earlier, noted the similarities with the inhabitants of Freetown, a point taken up later in the century by Mary Kingsley. To her they were 'Black Gennellum', 'very like the Sierra Leonians of Freetown but preferable', adding that the indigenes of Fernando Po called them 'Portos', or Europeans.5 Indeed, photos of the Creoles of Fernando Po, taken in 898, show the extent to which Victorian mores had permeated Creole society.6

Why did such a Creole society emerge on Fernando Po during the early nineteenth century? On a general level, the answer lies in the fact that, for the 30 years after I827, the island lay at the centre of European, and particularly British, interest in the Gulf of Guinea. In I827 the island, which had been settled by the Bubi since at least the fifteenth century, was occupied by the British government as a base for their growing trading and anti-slaving activities in the Bights.7 The British constructed a port, Clarence, at the northern end of the island and began to settle it, first with settlers from Freetown, and then with 'liberated Africans' freed from slave ships captured by the Royal Navy. However, despite the efforts of its two commanders, Capt. W. F. Owen (i 827-9) and Col. E. Nicolls (i 829-34), the British colony came to nothing. Endemic disease and escalating financial costs, together with the revival of an earlier Spanish claim to the island, led to the British government's

4 For recent debate on Creoles: D. E. Skinner and B. E. Harrell-Bond, 'Mis- understandings arising from the use of the term "Creole" in the literature on Sierra Leone', Africa, XLVII (1977), 305-20; A. J. G. Wyse, ' On misunderstandings arising from

the use of the term "Creole".. .A rejoinder', Africa, XLIX (I979), 408-I7; C. Fyfe, 'The

term Creole: a footnote to a footnote', Africa, L (1980), 422; D. Skinner and B. E. Harrell- Bond, 'Creoles: a final comment', Africa, LI (1981), 787.

5 T. J. Hutchinson, Impressions of Western Africa (London, I858), i8i; L. E. Bouet- Willaumez, Commerce et Traite des Noirs aux cotes occidentales d'Afrique (Paris, 1849), 149; M. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, I897), 71-2. See also J. H. Reading, The Ogowe Band (Philadelphia, i890), 130; H. Roe, West African Scenes (London, I874), 39; G. Bell, Our Fernandian Field (London, n.d.), I2-13.

6 Missionary Articles... I883-1904 by R. Fairley, West Africa, Biographical, Box 6,

Methodist Missionary Society Archives (hereafter MMSA).

7 One of the main reasons for the occupation was the desire to move the Mixed

Commission Courts for the Suppression of the Slave Trade from Freetown to be nearer the place of capture for most slaves; M. Lynn, 'John Beecroft and West Africa, 1829-54' (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1979), 19-39.



decision to withdraw in i 834.8 This did not, however, mean an end to British involvement with the island. The settlement of Clarence survived the government's departure, and a number of traders - first Richard Dillon and his partner John Beecroft, and then, when Dillon went bankrupt in late 836, the West African Company of London - used the town as a base to enter the burgeoning trade of the Bights. In I843 when the West African Company withdrew, its property in Clarence was bought by the Baptist Missionary Society (B.M.S.) as part of a scheme to enable West Indians to return to settle in Africa. This scheme, however, was soon forestalled by a reassertion of Spanish interest and the appointment of a titular Spanish Governor, John Beecroft (I843-54). It was the eventual Spanish occupation of the island in I858, and the subsequent expulsion of the B.M.S., that marked the end of this phase of European interest in Fernando Po.9

It was the wide range of influences that this European interest in the island brought with it that helped to create the recognizably Creole community that was emerging in Clarence by the i85os. Central to this process was the growth of Clarence itself. Carved out of nothing in 1827, by the I84os Clarence had become a substantial town. 'The harbour is secure and beautiful', wrote one visitor; 'the beach', wrote another later, 'is lined with palm oil stores, coal stores, and various huts connected with traders. An inclined plane leads up a steep hill to the town.'10 The town itself, wrote Nicolls, 'reaches from Goderich Bay to the ford over Hay Brook, adjoining the yam store... it is long and straggling as a considerable space is left for a garden between each house'.ll By 1835 the town had spread over ioo acres. To the west lay 'Kru-Town' where the Kru transients on whom oil ships depended for labour resided, while to the east, extending along King William's Point, stood the hospital, school, barracks, chapel and the houses of European residents. Its population, 1,500 at the height of the British occupation, declined to 529

in I835, but recovered thereafter, reaching 1,027 in 1845 and stabilizing at

that level; eleven years later it was 982.12

Initially the town was occupied by a number of groups who accompanied

8 K. O. Dike, Trade and Politics in the

Niger Delta, 1830-85 (Oxford, 1956), 55-60;

Lynn, 'John Beecroft', 7I-9. For a recent study of Owen, E. H. Burrows, Capt. Owen

of the African Survey (Rotterdam, 1979).

9 W. H. Scotter, 'International rivalry in the Bights of Benin and Biafra, 1815-85' (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1933), 95-104; A. Moreno Moreno, Reseia Historica de la Presencia de Espaia en el Golfo de Guinea (Madrid, 1952), 30-2. Clarence, now renamed Malabo, was renamed Santa Isabel, and North-West Bay was renamed San Carlos Bay by the Spanish in 1843, but these names did not become common until I858.

10 John Clarke's Journal, 'First Journey to Africa' (hereafter CJF), I, i Jan. 1841, Baptist Missionary Society Archives (hereafter BMSA); J. Whitford, Trading Life in Western and Central Africa (London, 1877), 308; W. F. Daniel, Sketches of the Medical Topography of the Gulf of Guinea (London, 1849), I46; L. Janikowski, 'L'ile de Fernando Po', Bulletin de la Socidet de Geographie (Paris), vii (1886), 568; W. W. Reade, Savage Africa (London, 1863), 6o.

11 Nicolls to Hay, 25 Oct. 1830, CO 82/3, Public Record Office, Kew. 12 Parliamentary Papers, 1830, x (66I),



Fig. i. Fernando Po in the nineteenth century.

Owen in 1827. In addition to the families of a number of British 'mechanics' and soldiers of the Royal African Corps, there was a group of some I50 or

so Sierra Leonian settlers and labourers, the latter on a year's contract to work on the construction of the town.13 These Sierra Leonians formed the core of the town in its early years and gave it its early Creole character. Although many withdrew when the British left in 1834, a number remained: there were twenty-two such 'Original Settlers' alive in 1845 with thirty-six children.14 The Sierra Leonians of Clarence were soon augmented by a second group of arrivals who over time came to form the largest and most dominant part

13 J. Holman, Travels... (London, 1840), 240ff; Owen to Croker, 12

Aug i828, in Barrow to Hay, i8 Nov 1828, CO 82/i.




of the population. These were freed slaves, taken from captured slave ships by the Royal Navy and illegally landed at Clarence instead of being transported to the Mixed Commission Courts for the suppression of the slave trade at Freetown.l5 By mid-I830 these 'liberated Africans' totalled some I,ooo out of the 1,500 population in Clarence. Although some left in

1834, the landing of liberated Africans in Clarence continued spasmodically thereafter: even as late as i 844 ex-slaves were still being landed by the Royal Navy.16

These two groups were joined in Clarence by a third: outcast Bubi from the interior of the island. After a wave of disease swept through the Bubi immediately after the arrival of the British, the Bubi in general tended to keep themselves distinct from Clarence.17 However, a number of outcasts, particularly women accused of adultery, did come to settle in the town. In

1845 I65 Bubi were counted and though this number soon declined, it is

probable that the drop in identifiable Bubi in Clarence merely reflected the inter-marriage and absorption of this group into the town's population.18

The above three groups made up the basis of Clarence society. There was a fourth element which generally kept itself distinct from the above, but which came to merge into it to an extent. This was made up by a large but varying number of transient labourers who worked for periods in Clarence. In addition to the Kru working in the Bights oil trade from Kru Town throughout this period, there were some 200 Kru 'sawyers' working on contracts for the West African Company in the early i84os, and although these remained aloof from Clarence, returning home directly their contracts expired, a small number did remain permanently in Clarence and were augmented during the later i84os and i85os by new arrivals looking for work.19 The Isuwu and Duala of the adjacent mainland also provided contract labour for the West African Company, and they were joined by Efiks from Calabar - 46 in i 841 - and 'Congos' - I i8 in i 845 - as well as American Blacks, West Indians and natives of the Gold Coast attracted by the opportunities for work offered in Clarence.20


As the courts remained in Freetown such landings were illegal. L. Bethell, 'The mixed commissions for the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade in the nineteenth

century', J. Afr. Hist. vii (I966), 79-93.

16 Owen to Hay, 6 March I829, CO 82/2; Parliamentary Papers, I830, x (66i), 44-52;

John Clarke's Journal,' Second journey to Africa' (hereafter CJS), I, 25 Feb I844, BMSA.

17 Nicolls to Hay, 8 Nov 1830, CO 82/3; BMH, Sept 1844, 483; Lynn, 'John

Beecroft', 5I-2, 176-80. For works on the Bubi, J. Clarke, Introduction to the Fernandian

Tongue (Berwick, I848); 0. Baumann, Fernando Po und die Bube (Wien, i888);

G. Tessmann, Die Bubi auf Fernando Poo (Darmstadt, I923); C. Crespo Gil-Delgado, Notas para un estudio antropologico y etnologico del Bubi (Madrid, 1949); R. Pelissier, Los Territorios Espaioles de Africa (Madrid, I964), 48; S. Berman, 'Spanish Guinea' (unpublished M.Sc. dissertation, Catholic University, Washington, I96I), 20.

18 BMH, March I846, I86-7. The 1835 Census showed a considerable excess of males

over females in Clarence: Census of the population of Clarence... .7 June 1835 in Nicolls

to Grey, 13 Nov. 1838, CO 82/9.

19 BMH, March 1846, I86-7; W. Allen and T. R. H. Trotter, Narrative of the Expedition the River Niger (London, 1848), II, 191; Parliamentary Papers, I850, xi (53), Q.

3494ff; G. E. Brooks, The Kru Mariner in the Nineteenth Century (Newark, 1972), 25, 56. 20 CJF, I, i8 Jan.

1841, II, i8 Sept. 1841, 5 Jan. 1842; BMH, Sept. I841, 469; J. F. Johnson, Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention (London, 1843), 261; M. Marwick, William and Louisa Anderson (Edinburgh, I897), 274-5. This population structure, with 'Original Settlers', Liberated Africans and Kru transients, was similar to that of Freetown in its early years.


The different means whereby these groups arrived in Clarence and their consequent different ethnic origins were an important factor in helping to produce the Creole culture that was to emerge in the town. The ethnic diversity that resulted from the above made Clarence a true melting-pot. A missionary survey of the 873 inhabitants of Clarence in 1841 noted thirty-six different ethnic groups in the town, with a spread across Africa from Senegal to the Congo.21 Although - ignoring the transient Kru, natives of Clarence with no identifiable origin, and the Bubi - it was the Igbo (93) who formed the largest ethnic group, what was most significant about the 1841 Census was the wide variety of ethnic groupings represented, from Wolof to Hausa to Yoruba to Congo. In this situation no one group was in a position to impose its identity above the others. Thus, while there is evidence that settlement may have taken on something of an ethnic distribution - there was an 'Eboe Town' within Clarence for instance22- this diversity of ethnic origin inevitably encouraged something of a breakdown of ethnic ties. Indeed, the very diversity of Clarence's population, it can be argued, was the main factor tending to bring it together.

This was reinforced by the position of the majority of Clarence's population, the liberated Africans, and the manner whereby they had arrived in the town. The horrors of enslavement hardly need to be stressed. Having been first enslaved, sold, transported and then captured once again by the Royal Navy, their experiences on the way to being landed in Clarence must have been disorientating in the extreme. Even the outcast Bubi would have gone through something of a similar process, albeit not so traumatic. Indeed many could not cope. A large number of the liberated Africans hardly survived their first few months in Clarence. Roughly two-thirds of those landed died soon after arrival, from diseases to which they lacked immunity.23 Others died of shock: 'they sat down in despondency... took to dirt eating and died'.24 Others however adapted. These experiences bred a degree of resilience and cohesion within Clarence. Increasingly the resident population of the town came to share a common identity. This came to be reflected in the increasing proportion of the population that either was through birth, or came to call itself, 'native to Clarence': around I5 per cent in I841, and 20 per cent in i856.25 For the liberated Africans - which after all, most of the Sierra Leonians had originally been themselves - there was little alternative.

The population of Clarence was also drawn together by the treatment they received right from the founding of the settlement. This was particularly so for the liberated Africans, about whom Col. Nicolls had decided views. 'The liberated African when first taken from a slave ship requires to be subjected to a peculiar mode of management in order to render him a useful member of the community', wrote Nicolls,'. .. he is the laziest of human beings, and until he can be taught some of the wants of civilized life... it is both cruel and impolitic to abandon him to his own guidance'. The treatment of the liberated Africans in the British colony reflected this philosophy, with their being made into compulsory labourers. The 'freed' slaves were set to work

21 BMH, Sept. I841, 469.


CJF, I, I9 June I841.

23 Owen to Croker,

I2 Aug. I828, in Barrow to Hay, i8 Nov. I828, CO 82/I.

24 CJF,

I, 3 March I841.



in 'gangs of fifties with two Black headmen', while the children were 'apprenticed' to the Sierra Leonian mechanics.26 These gangs worked twelve hours a day cutting timber for the construction of the town, were confined to Clarence and its environs and had to provide their own food.27 The result of Nicolls' regime was a liberal use of the lash and a constant state of discontent among most of the Clarence population. Escapes into the interior were common, and on occasion unrest was so great that Nicolls had to have the entire 'liberated' population imprisoned on Point William. Repeated complaints at such 'wanton and lawless abuse of power' by Nicolls arrived back in Whitehall from European visitors to Clarence.28

Although the worst of Nicolls' behaviour was directed at the liberated Africans, similar problems arose between Nicolls and other groups. The Sierra Leonian 'mechanics' struck repeatedly over their lack of rations and, more importantly, over Nicolls' refusal to allow them to return home after their contracts expired.29 Some even petitioned the Chief Justice at Freetown: 'Your Honour's petitioners most respectfully state that they have on their parts long fulfilled their engagements [but Nicolls] has forcibly detained us at Clarence against our will and has moreover threatened your Honour's humble petitioners with extreme violence '.3 Similar problems arose between Nicolls and the Kru labourers whom Nicolls repeatedly confined to Kru Town.31

The standards set by Nicolls were continued by his successors after 1834, particularly the West African Company, which attempted to develop a timber industry around Clarence. It was mainly Kru 'sawyers', recruited to work in this timber industry, who suffered. John Clarke, the first Baptist Missionary to arrive in Clarence, in 1841 found the town 'a land of slavery and oppression'. The Kruman, wrote Clarke, 'is flogged and treated as if he were a slave'.32 Indeed, Clarke's journal is full of the floggings and punishments administered by the Company's agents in Clarence. It notes 'the evils that prevail here...', concluding 'the question is, where has Mr. Thompson [the agent] obtained the right to inflict punishment on these men at all... why are they treated as if they were slaves of the lowest description ? '33

Eventually, the treatment handed out by the Company in this attempt to increase production backfired. As one Kru said to Clarke, if things 'went on in this way the Krumen would not work for the Company much longer'.34 Numbers began absconding to an independent Kru settlement away from the town, in North West Bay, where palm oil ships called for water and yams

26 Nicolls to Hay,

25 Oct. 1830, CO 82/3.


Nicolls to Hay, i Sept. 1830, CO 82/3.

28 Owen to Murray,

23 Jan. 1830, CO 82/3; affidavits of Capts. Gordon and

Hemingway, 25 July, CO 82/3; P. Leonard, Records of a Voyage.. .(Edinburgh, 1833),


29 Mechanics to Owen,

24 Sept. I828, in Owen to CO, 26 Sept. 1828, CO 82/I; Nicolls

to Clifton, 26 Sept. 1829, in Clifton to Hay, 14 Jan. I830, CO 82/3; Nicolls to Hay, 25

April 1831, CO 82/5.


Owen to Murray, 23 Jan. I830, CO 82/3; Parliamentary Papers, I830, x (661), 46.


Nicolls to Hay, 23 Sept. I83I, CO 82/4; io July 1832, 30 Aug. I832, CO 82/5.


CJF, I, I Jan., io Feb. I841.

33 CJF, I, 9 Jan. I841; Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, I6 Nov. I84I, in Anti-Slavery

Society to CO, 21 April, CO 82/9.

34 CJF, I, 26

April I841.


and from whence Kru could obtain a passage home. Those that remained in Clarence struck for arrears of pay.35

The failure of the Company's attempt to use Kru labour led it to turn instead to the inhabitants of Clarence. One agent vented his rage on the liberated Africans and Sierra Leonians of the town, shooting their stock and evicting many from their houses for non-payment of rents which the Company claimed. The inhabitants' refusal to pay, since Owen had granted them the freehold of their land in 1827, only led to deadlock.36 The Company began taxing the inhabitants of Clarence and succeeded in obtaining and destroying their titles to their homes.37 It then began to step up its petty tyranny. 'Surely the state of Fernando Po should be known', wrote Clarke, castigating the agent's use of the whip 'almost every day', both for petty offences like failing to remove a hat to a European, and for serious ones like attempting to leave Clarence. 'A free man on the island of Fernando Po... to presume to go where and when and with whom he pleases is insubordination not to be tolerated!! ', wrote Clarke, 'the spirit of these people has long been broken.'38 The withdrawal of the Company in 1843 brought at least a temporary improvement, but the appointment of John Beecroft as Governor by the Spanish saw a return to tried and trusted means of dealing with the inhabitants of Clarence: 'two men were flogged today at the seaside, by orders of Capt. Beecroft. They were cruelly used'.39

Despite this treatment, the inhabitants of Clarence were in fact far from cowed. Indeed the reaction of the town's population to the behaviour of the Company is evidence of its increasing autonomy and resilience. A mass march on Clarence prison in 184I, for example, secured the release of a prisoner, while the Company's operations were constantly hamstrung by a number of strikes by its labour force-both Kru and liberated African.40 Although usually unsuccessful, the strikes at least showed, given the risk of punishment, the growing resistance of the Clarence population to the Company's behaviour. Many used a more subtle form of resistance, as seen in the Company's repeated complaints about the 'indolence' of the liberated Africans.41 In the long run this assertion of autonomy was successful - hence the withdrawal of the Company - and the reason for this lay in the fact that many in Clarence owned their own land and were able therefore to resist the Company's attempts to turn Clarence into a labour reservoir.42 Not all, of course, had been granted land, but this had been the policy during Owen's period as commander of the colony, 1827-9, and it was thus the 'Original Settlers' and earlier arrivals among the liberated Africans who benefited and who, more than any, led the resistance to the Company.

35 CJF, i, 17 April 1841, 25 June 1841, II, 8 July

I84I; Allen and Thompson, Narrative, II, 306. The company also tried to develop an oil trade from the mainland: H. V. Huntley, Seven Years Service in Western Africa (London, i86o), 384-5.

36 CJF, I, 20 Jan. 1841, 12 May I841; Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, i6 Nov. 1841,

in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 21 April I842, CO 82/9; Johnson, Anti-Slavery Convention, 26I.

37 Nicolls to Grey, 12 Nov.

1838, CO 82/9; CJF, I, 22 June, 1841.

38 Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, i6 Nov. I841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 2I April

I842, CO 82/9; CJF, I, 5 April, 6 May, I9 June 1841. 39 CJS,

ii, ii Nov. I844. 40 CJF, I, 14 June I841. 41

CJF, I, 20 Jan. I841. 42 Nicolls to Hay,



The treatment the Clarence population received during their first twenty years on the island, and their response to it, thus reinforced the other factors associated with the manner of their arrival in helping to develop a degree of cohesion and homogeneity among the inhabitants of the town. Given the ethnic diversity of Clarence, there was no dominant ethnic group able to impose its own culture and identity. Equally, given the Bubi desire to isolate Clarence, intermarriage with and absorption into the Bubi society of the interior was not an option. Instead it was the Sierra Leonian 'Original Settlers' at the heart of Clarence society that came to provide a reference group similar to that provided by the original Nova Scotians in Freetown in the late eighteenth century,43 reinforced by the economic status of the Sierra Leonians as house owners. The result was that, over time, a distinctly Sierra Leonian, Creole culture emerged as the dominant cultural pattern in Clarence. In this sense this Creole culture could be said to have emerged almost as a 'lingua franca', just as English almost inevitably had to become the medium of communication. Equally, as part of this process, many in Clarence took European names in place of their African ones: around a quarter of the male population in I835, a process symbolic of a deeper change of identity.44 Yet the emergence of a Creole culture in Clarence derived from more than just the fact that it was the 'lowest common denominator' of the cultural situation in the town. There were other, more positive factors involved, in particular changes in the socio-economic structure of Clarence, especially in the i83os

and i84os, and the cultural impact of the Christianity brought by the Baptist Missionary Society after i 841, that were to prove crucial. It was the way these two factors came to interweave that was to produce the specific character of Clarence's Creole society.

The changes in the economic role of Fernando Po in these years had an important cultural impact. Although Nicolls and then the West African Company had seen the value of the settlement of Clarence as a source of labour for a timber industry on the island, the real importance of the town was to lie in its role as a port in the palm oil trade of the Bights after about i 830.45

Its value was the wide range of unique facilities it could offer to a rapidly expanding trade. Thus, as the oil trade boomed in this period, so Clarence grew in size and importance. With its natural harbour, hospital and stores, Clarence provided victualling, repairing and medical facilities for the ships of the oil trade that could not be obtained elsewhere in the Bights.46 Equally, it provided an important source of Kru labour for traders needing to load oil in the Niger Delta ports. Perhaps most importantly, Clarence acted as a bulking depot for the oil trade, where larger ships, unable to cross the sand bars into the Delta, could remain while smaller tenders plied to the mainland.47 By the start of the i84os, some 50 or so vessels were using the

43 Fyfe, 'Reform in West Africa', 48.

44 In addition to these, a similar number had a mixture of European forenames with

African surnames: Census of the population of Clarence... 7 June 1835, in Nicolls to Grey,

13 Nov. 1838, CO 82/9.

45 These points are developed in Lynn, 'John Beecroft', 82-I23.

46 CJS, I, 27 May I844; Parliamentary Papers, I842, xi (55 ), Q. 4154; H. M. Waddell's Journal, viii, i8 May i850, National Library of Scotland; log of the Magistrate, I0 Feb. 1841, M/23, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

47 Owen to Croker, 13 Oct 1828, in Barrow to Hay, 3 Feb. I829, CO 82/2; J. L. Wilson, Western Africa (London, I856), 357.


port every year; indeed the rapid growth of the oil trade in these years was to a considerable extent facilitated by the growth of Clarence.48 This continued thereafter. Although the number of traders using Clarence declined after the late I840s as the trading frontier moved away from the island into the Delta - the development of' hulks' and resident agents on the Delta rivers being responsible for this - the town's importance could be seen in the way major oil traders like Horsfall's continued to maintain stores in its harbour.49

The importance of Clarence for the oil trade was equally seen in the development of the town as the nexus of a local trade system feeding into the major oil network of the Bights during the I830s and '4os. The town rapidly became the depot for oil collected from the smaller, less profitable ports of the mainland, such as Bimbia, as well as from the interior of the island, which was then sold to the larger British oil traders of the Bights.50 It was a handful of European traders - among them English, Spanish, Germans and even Americans - permanently resident in Clarence, who developed and controlled this secondary trade network.51 These included John Beecroft and James Lynslager, the town's wealthiest residents, and Richard Oldfield (of Niger fame), who by selling to the big Liverpool and London traders acted as middlemen between this local trade network and the major oil trade of the Bights.52

This development of Clarence as an oil port affected the inhabitants of the town in a number of ways. Not only did this development bring an end to the earlier emphasis on timber extraction, but the growth of the port brought with it a distinctly cosmopolitan character to the town. Here was no insignificant backwater. Not only British but French, Dutch and American merchant vessels used the port. The Royal Navy made Clarence the centre for its anti-slave trade campagn in the Bights; French naval ships used the port as a victualling depot.53 The several Niger expeditions of the 1830s-I 85os all began their voyages from the town. Moreover, Clarence became the receptacle for a wide variety of human flotsam from the coast. This included, for example, a group of Cubans landed as a result of the Navy's anti-slave trade campaign, a number of Muslims waiting for a passage up the Niger, a Londoner 'with a monomania to reach Lake Chad', Ferguson from Cape

48 This figure is derived from counting the ships mentioned in Clarke's journal. This was at a time when less than I00 palm oil ships a year arrived in Britain from West Africa as a whole.

49 M. Lynn, 'Change and continuity in the British palm oil trade with West Africa,

I830-55', J. Afr. Hist. XXII (I981), 348; C. Gertzel, 'John Holt: A British Merchant in West Africa...' (Unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, I959), 44-5; Waddell's journal, ix, I6 Aug. I852.

50 Nicolls to Hay, 24 Aug. I833, CO 82/3; Smellie to Victualling Office, 20 Oct. 1831, in VO to Hay, 23 Nov. I831, CO 82/4; J. M. Usera y Alarcon, Memoria de la Isla de Fernando Poo (Madrid, i848), 32-4; M. Laird and R. A. K. Oldfield, Narrative of an Expedition (London, I837), I, 28I; H. Keppel, A Sailor's Life under Four Sovereigns (London, I899) I, 224. 51 Usera y Alarcon, Memoria, 20.


Gertzel, 'John Holt', 98; A. C. G. Hastings, Voyage of the Dayspring (London, I926), 62-3; J. Whitford, Trading Life in Western and Central Africa (London, I877), 310-I I; J. Holt, Early Years of an African Trader (London, I962), I ; K. 0. Dike, 'John Beecroft', J. Hist. Soc. Nigeria, I (1956), 5-I5.

53 Barrow to Hay, 27 Sept. I830, CO 82/3; Nicolls to Hay, 4 Dec. I831, CO 82/4; CJS, I, 3 March I844.



Coast, 'late clerk to King Eyo' of Calabar, and a socialist 'who avows his principles very boldly...(being) a man of colour from Nevis'.54 Traders, sailors, travellers, American Blacks, Jamaicans, representatives of nearly every European nation passed through the town.

All this made Clarence something of an anomaly in the Bights at this time - a well-established, bustling, prosperous port, and with its trading and naval facilities and its brothel, drinking-dens, hospital and such like, the centre for European activities, a European settlement in all but name.55 Its inhabitants were correspondingly to be exposed to a far wider range of outside influences than in any comparable port in the Bights. However, by itself this meant little. Outside influences in themselves are not necessarily important, even when the recipients came from a background such as those of Clarence. What is crucial is the degree to which an autonomous society wishes to accept or reject outside influences, and what determined this in the Clarence case were the internal dynamics of Clarence society. This in turn was determined by the development of the oil trade in the area, for not only did this restructure the island's economy but led to a fundamental transformation in the social re- lations of the town.

The reason for this lay in the opportunities opened up for the inhabitants of Clarence by the growth of the oil trade. In addition to the town's roles in the oil trade of the major Delta ports and in the secondary network to the mainland developed by its resident European traders, Clarence emerged as the centre of a third trade system: trade in oil produced by the Bubi of the interior of the island. This interior network began with the trade in palm wine and foodstuffs, particularly yams, that developed immediately the British arrived in i827.56 During the I830s, as Clarence's role in the palm oil trade became more important, this increasingly became a trade in oil produced by the Bubi. This had implications, however. The amount of oil produced in each Bubi village was small, not least because of the unsophisticated methods of production.57 Given this, given that the area involved was relatively large and inaccessible, and given the Bubi reluctance to enter Clarence, the inhabitants of the town were able to emerge as middlemen, collecting oil from the Bubi producers for sale to the European traders of the Bights.

The emergence of inhabitants of Clarence as peripatetic middlemen in the interior of the island during the I 83os and i 840s was to form the basis of the economic structure of the town. The trading network that resulted was highly organized. It was a network that kept Clarence supplied with yams and the European traders with oil, while at the same time supplying the Bubi with iron, tobacco, spirits, livestock and even guns.58 As on the mainland, the 'trust' system developed. 'It is now the common practice', wrote one missionary, ' for traders to sell a cow, a goat or a gun to the natives, depending for payment

54 CJF, I, 13 Jan. I84I; CJS, I, 21 Feb. I844, 20 April i844;

II, 9 Feb. 1845, 6 March 1845. 55 CJS, Ii, I I Sept. i844.

56 Holman, Travels, 306-7, 345.

57 For descriptions of Bubi oil production, Hutchinson, Impressions, 192-5; G. Mann, ' Account of the ascent of Clarence Peak ', Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, VI (I862), 29; Church Missionary Intelligencer, iv (i853), 260-3; Primitive Methodist Records, May i88I, 40. The Bubi were producing around 400 tons p.a. by the middle of the century: Gertzel, 'John Holt', 157.

58 CJS, II, 25 Nov. I844, i March I845; BMH, March I846, I84-5; Usera y Alarcon, Memoria, I3.


simply upon their promise. The dealer is urged to do this with the hope of profit, as he averages from 150 to 300 per cent upon all he disposes of. The natives on the other hand... frequently make no return for goods received'.59 Quarrels therefore became frequent, exacerbated by Bubi claims that prices moved in favour of the Clarence traders, and resulted in numerous kidnappings of Bubi by traders in order to enforce payment.60 In such cases though, Bubi reaction could be swift, as in the 'unpleasant work' Clarke noticed at one village, Banni, as well as the 'miserable' Clarence trader he found being hunted through the forest at another. 'These [Clarence] traders', wrote Clarke, 'lead a wicked and miserable life - buying palm wine and yams, cheating the people, drinking palm wine, seducing their women and such like conduct;... the whole trade as carried on at present, is demoralizing and bad'.61 Sturgeon, another missionary, was however more balanced, blaming both sides: the traders of Clarence were 'unprincipled' but the Bubi 'were complete adepts in cheating'.62

The distances involved in this trade required long absences from home for the Clarence traders. Not only did this make the use of labour, or servants, on their farms in Clarence a necessity, but it also encouraged the construction of houses and wharves in the interior as trading 'factories', from which the Clarence traders could trade, sending their oil back to Clarence by canoe. Sometimes these 'factories' were little more than huts, in other cases these were clearly substantial houses with cask stores and men based there permanently.63 Mary Kingsley described these traders at the end of the century: 'on them the trade of the island depends. They are the middlemen between the Bubi and the white trader... their little factories are studded all around the shores of the coast in suitable coves and bays'.64

The periodicity of the trade is unclear. One observer noted, much later, that the traders lived in their huts in the interior 'for a few weeks at a time' before returning to Clarence, suggesting that there was no system of regularization of markets over a set period. This would be unusual, however, and it may be that the Clarence traders spent their 'few weeks' travelling from market to market as they were held.65 Later in the century, however, evidence suggests a lack of any periodic system: 'the traders... [were] in the habit of firing a gun on the beach in order that the natives may know of their arrival and bring down their palm oil and yams for barter'.66

Generally the Clarence traders stuck to the island's coastline. Although in the north traders could be found in the interior, moving from village to village, elsewhere, and particularly in the mountainous south-east of the island, the Clarence traders were restricted to the coast, the Bubi bringing their produce down to the wharves where the traders waited. In terms of geographical distribution such Bubi-Clarence markets could eventually be

59 BMH, March I846, 184-5; CJF, I, 9 April I841. There is evidence of'trust' working in reverse, from the Bubi to the Clarence traders, BMH, March I842, 150.

60 CJF,

ii, I6 Jan. 1842; CJS, II, 2I Nov. I844; BMH, March I846, I84.

61 CJS,

II, 20 March I844, 22 Nov. I844, 26 Nov. I844. 62 BMH, March 1846, I84-5.


CJS, ii, 9 Dec. I844, 13 Dec. I844; Church Book of Clarence, 5 Oct. I847, BMSA. 64 Kingsley, Travels, 71-2. 65 Primitive Methodist Records, Jan.

I874, 7.

66 Journal of W. B. Luddington, I, 24 April I873, Biographical, West Africa, Box 6,




found all round the island's coast, but in the early 84os it was the east coast, particularly Basualla and Melville Bay to its south, that was the focus of the activity of the Clarence traders.67 'Here', wrote Clarke of Melville Bay, 'we found about 200 people and yams lying to the number of 20,000; many traders were busying and all the bustle of a good market was visible'.68 At least seven distinct markets can be attributed to the Bay in the early I84os: even the missionaries came there from Clarence to purchase their food.69

The west coast, on the other hand, was dominated by the Kru settlements at North-West Bay and lay outside the network established by the traders of Clarence. During the mid-forties, however, this began to change, with the Clarence traders starting to spread down the west coast. By 1844 they were trading with the Kru of North-West Bay, but this relationship soon deteriorated into violence, and a series of incidents in 1845 and 1846 prompted Governor Beecroft to send his militia against the Kru.70 'The dispute arose about trade', wrote Clarke, 'and Showers, Campbell and Richards [Clarence traders] are greatly blamed for having caused it'. The aim, he added, was 'to open trade with the people around [North-West Bay] for the Clarence people, and to place a Spanish agent there to regulate trade'. A militia attack in October i846 was successful and drove the Kru away.71

The opening of the west coast to the Clarence traders brought little peace, however. 'Certain people of Clarence,' wrote another missionary in the aftermath of the Kru defeat, 'Thomas Richards, John Campbell, John Empson, Thomas Bull, Abrahams and others, attempted to settle there, either personally or by representatives. They adopted some of the oppressive and iniquitous practices by which the Kru made themselves odious...'. Early in I 848 conflict broke out with the Bubi producers: 'Empson, Bull, Abrahams and many of their attendants were killed'. Beecroft once more used his militia, reinforced with a party of Marines from the Royal Navy, this time to attack the Bubi. The Bubi fled and their village was destroyed in a ' gener.l plunder and devastation'.72 By I850 the west coast had been fully integrated into the Clarence trading network.

It was to the handful of European traders resident in Clarence - Beecroft and Lynslager in particular - that the oil from the interior was sold. Some of this oil, in the i83os in particular, was sold directly to the British oil ships that passed through the port. Thereafter fewer ships called at Clarence specifically for oil and it was the resident European traders who bought it instead, supplying in return the goods the Clarence traders needed to trade for oil in the interior, through the shops they ran in the town.73 The European traders of Clarence bulked the oil for sale to the European commercial network of the Bights, selling it to the major British companies like Jamieson

67 CJF, ii, i3 Jan. I842.

68 CJS, II, i March I845. Melville Bay was renamed Concepcion Bay by the Spanish.

69 CJS, II, i March I845, 3 March I845, 5 Dec. I845;

III, 23 Sept. I845.

70 CJS, ii,

I7 Dec. 1844. 71 CJS, III, 2I Oct. I846, 25 Oct. I846, 30 Oct. I846.

72 Church Book of Clarence, 13 and 15 May


73 CJS,

III, 24 June 1846. Oil was sold in Clarence by the town's traders at i shilling

per gallon. The West African Company collected its rents in oil, at a rate of I gallon per quarter. The price of oil in the Delta at this time was approximately 1I5-20 per ton; Clarence oil was expensive at around ?25 per ton: Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, 16 Nov. I841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 2I April 1842, CO 82/9.


Bros. of Liverpool, for whom Beecroft began trading in i839.74 Alternatively there was Forster and Smith of London, who began trading from Clarence in 1845, acting as commission house agents, selling oil collected by Lynslager

and others in Clarence on commission in London.75 Their entry into the

trade reflected the increasing sophistication of the interior trade network

focused on Clarence and the growing numbers of traders involved. By the

i 85os they had been joined in Clarence by Horsfall's of Liverpool, the largest

oil traders in Britain. A further boost came with the development of regular

steamship services between West Africa and Britain in 1853 - Clarence

becoming the terminus for the thrice-yearly steamers. The steamer service,

by allowing the transport of small quantities of oil to Britain, rapidly

increased the number of traders involved, and enhanced still further

Clarence's role in the oil trade. By 1855 some 9 per cent of Britain's palm oil imports were coming via the town.76

The successful establishment of the trade network into the interior of

Fernando Po was to have a considerable impact on Clarence society.

Essentially, the growth of the oil trade was to stratify Clarence society, with

those who had access to the oil trade emerging as a socio-economic elite. The

majority of the population, however, remained as it always had been,

as labourers and servants. This division went back to the period of the British

occupation, when virtually all in Clarence had been employed as labourers

on the construction of the town. After the British withdrawal, labouring

continued to be the main economic activity for most, with opportunities

provided by the West African Company's timber industry, as well as by the

various European traders who used the island. Alternatively there was

employment as a 'servant' to others in the town. The term 'servant' in

Clarence seems to have covered both house-steward and tied manual

labourer. Many of these figures were the 'apprentices' given out from the

later arrivals among the liberated Africans to the existing population of

Clarence. 'Some young liberated Africans are yet held in a way like slaves,' wrote Clarke, 'those who got them from the ship still keep them: they give them no wages: they often flog them... None of the people of the town will hire them, if they wish to change their master or mistress.' Clarke stressed

that there were many such who would 'like well... [to] be made free '.77 They

remained as servants, however, the weakest and poorest element in society.

Beecroft counted I io such nameless servants in 1835; the B.M.S. ten years

later found 374, suggesting not only that 'service' replaced labouring as the

Company declined and the expansion in the oil trade led to an increase in

the numbers and wealth of employers, but that misery within the society was increasing at the same time.78

On the fringe of this labouring/servant class were the semi-skilled of

Clarence, such as carpenters (29 in 1845) and sawyers (26 in 1845), who were

generally classified as labourers but who in reality merged into the class of


Lynn, 'John Beecroft', 111-12. 75 Ibid. I20-I.


Lynn, 'Change and continuity', 340.

77 CJF, ii, I8 Sept. 1841; CJS, III, 26 Feb. I846; Nicolls to Hay, 25 Oct. I830, CO


78 Census of the population of Clarence...7 June 1835, in Nicolls to Grey, 13 Nov. I838, CO 82/9; BMH, March 1846, I86-7. The latter figure is nearly 40 per cent of the town's population.



craftsmen proper. Such craftsmen were coopers (8 in 1845) or sailors (19), employed by European traders.79 Or there were clerks, or tailors, or teachers, like John Dick from the Gold Coast who ran his own school. These 'artisans' merged imperceptibly into the trading class: many of them, like the Yoruba Peter Collins, a one-time shipwright, were later to become successful traders.80

The traders were the socio-economic summit of Clarence. Trade had been important as an economic activity for the town's inhabitants from its earliest years. Some of the first arrivals, like William Matthews, 'a quiet man of colour' from Sierra Leone who arrived in 1827, or John Scott, also from Sierra Leone, became extremely wealthy from their role in the oil trade of the Bights. Scott was able to have his son educated in Britain; both he and Matthews became important traders, owning their own ships, trading on the mainland, and able to be compared with the European traders resident in Clarence.81 Matthews was still the leading African trader of Clarence in the early I85os. However, the success of these figures remained the exception. Few in Clarence could emulate Matthews and Scott in entering the Bights trade itself. Most concentrated instead on the oil trade of the island's interior. Some among these traders of Clarence stand out. One of the most prominent was Samuel Cooper, 'an old Nupe man', married with two children, who in i835 employed seven servants in Clarence. He had a wharf at Basualla on the east coast where he kept flocks of sheep and goats to sell to the Bubi, but he could also be found travelling across the interior in search of oil.82 Or there was John Showers from the Gold Coast, 'a fine active man' who owned a wharf at Melville Bay, had a house on the south coast, employed three servants and was in addition a member of the Governor's Council.83 Peter Nicholls, an Igbo, had 'landings' down the east coast and developed an extensive trade with the interior.84 Others also of substance included Henry Bull, Peter Collins, Jacob Collyer and George Richardson. Not all however were as prominent as these. Clarke encountered many groups of peripatetic traders in the interior. These were lesser, petty traders, who did not own houses or wharves on the coast and who instead conducted their trade on the move, travelling from village to village buying small quantities of oil which was then headloaded back to Clarence.85

Can these traders as a whole be seen in more general terms ? Some were Jamaicans who arrived in 1844 to work with the B.M.S. Soon disillusioned with their role in the Mission, many of these took to trading, a process made easier by their earlier experiences as itinerant preachers in the interior: William Trusty was among the most prominent. Others of the traders were

79 BMH, March i846, i86-7. 80

CJF, I, 5 Jan. 1841; Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, I6 Nov. 1841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 2i April I842, CO 82/9.


CJS, III, 12 Aug. I845; Memorial of Jonathan Scott, 27 June I852, FO 2/7; Lynslager and Matthews to Beecroft, 24 Feb. I852, in Beecroft to Malmesbury, 30 June I852, FO 84/886; Johnson, Anti-Slavery Convention, 505-6.

82 CJF, II,

7 Jan. i842; CJS, II, 2I Nov. I844. 83 CJF, II, 28 Jan. I842.

84 CJS, II, 27 Feb. I845. Later Nicholls traded to Old Calabar, but he should be

distinguished from his famous namesake: C. Fyfe, 'Peter Nicholls - Old Calabar and Freetown', J. Hist. Soc. Nigeria, II (1960), 105-1I4.

85 As examples, CJF, II, i8 Dec. I841, io0 Jan. I842.


women, women in Clarence being able to hold servants in their own right. More importantly, however, it seems to have been the earlier arrivals on the island who led the way in the oil trade. The 'Original Settlers' provided the nucleus of this trading class. They were able to build up early links with the Bubi - possibly enhancing this by marrying or employing Bubi women - as

well as exploit their ownership of the best land in Clarence. Significantly, it

was to this group that the 'apprentices' were given out, and the use of them

to cultivate their farms freed these traders to travel in the interior.86

Beecroft's Census of 183 5 identified 44 servant/apprentice owners in Clarence,

and of these nearly half can be definitely identified as later traders.87 The traders of Clarence came to dominate the town. Not only did they

control servants/apprentices, they were able to have arrested those who left

their employ. They occupied three out of the five positions on the Governor's Council set up in 1843 (the other two being the Governor and his deputy) and thus had a role in what legal processes there were in Clarence. They were

careful to distinguish themselves from the rest of the town. They built

'respectable Houses' and were the literates in society: they could afford to

send their children to school.88 They used English names and wore European dress. By the mid- 84os, not only had this class of traders come to dominate the trade of the interior by successfully integrating all the island's coastline

into their trading network, they had also been successful in establishing

themselves as an elite within Clarence.

The Baptist Missionary Society played a significant role in this process.

The Baptists' interest in Clarence began with the arrival of their missionaries

John Clarke and George Prince in i841. The impetus for their work came

from the Baptists of Jamaica as part of a remarkable scheme for West Indians to return and settle on the Niger 'to bring the glad tidings of salvation to the land of their fathers'.89 Little came of this plan, and although thirty-six

Jamaican settlers did eventually cross the Atlantic, the emphasis of the

B.M.S. altered to focus on working amongst the population of Clarence.90

With John Clarke as Mission Superintendent and Thomas Sturgeon as

Minister in Clarence, aided by Joseph Merrick (himself a West Indian

mulatto) and Alfred Saker (later responsible for the expansion of the Mission on to the mainland), the work of the B.M.S. was to have a fundamental impact on the inhabitants of the town.91

86 CJF, II, i8 Sept. i841.

87 Census of the population of Clarence... 7 June I835, in Nicolls to Grey, 13 Nov. I838, CO 82/9. This 44 included five Europeans.


BMH, Feb. I844, 105.

89 See esp. H. Russell, 'Missionary outreach of the West Indian churches to West Africa in the i gth century' (unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 1973). The scheme can be followed in the BMH, July I840-July I843. For the purchase of the West African Company's property in Clarence: 'Correspondence on the Spanish occupation of Fernando Po', BMSA, esp. Angus to missionaries, 31 May I843, and Angus to Beecroft, 13 Sept I843.

90 A remarkable journal of one of these Jamaican settlers has survived in the B.M.S. archives, 'Autobiography of J. J. Fuller' and his 'Recollections of the West African Mission', A/5, BMSA.

91 For a survey of the B.M.S. work in this area, J. van Slageren, Les Origines de l'eglise evangelique du Cameroun (Leiden, 1972), 11-37. See also J. Clarke, Memoir of R. and J. Merrick (London, I850); H. H. Johnston, George Grenfell and the Congo (London,


Fig.  i.  Fernando  Po  in  the  nineteenth  century.
Fig. i. Fernando Po in the nineteenth century. p.5
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