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We conversed with the villagers, and here and there with the people we observed at work. The invariable answer to our question whether they would plant cotton if they could get a ready sale for it, was, "Yes: we will make farms, we will plant anything, and live upon our farms, if you will only defend us from the kidnappers."
The African has generally the reputation of being lazy and disinclined to work, but you can scarcely credit this when you observe them planting their little plots of ground at the constant risk of their liberty, or even lives, and occasionally walking some 5 or 6 miles in the morning, and then again the same in the evening, on their way to and from their lands. I believe the African to be most partial to an agricultural life, and that he merely wants that security which is essential to his pursuits in order to render him active and industrious.
Passing the belt of forest, we entered upon a grassy prairie interspersed with what are called timbers in North America; the soil still magnificent: and as we neared Abbeokuta, the villages and farms became more plentiful. I observed several fields of the beni plant, and most carefully cultivated. In fact all the fields were in a high state of cultivation, which is another proof of the industry of the natives when we consider the rude implements used by them.
On the 4th, when we had arrived within about 8 miles of Abbeokuta, we met an escort of horsemen and the King's herald. He presented the King's staff to welcome me, and immediately afterwards we proceeded on our journey, our escort gradually increasing as we neared the city. They were all armed, and, according to their custom, they fired off their guns at intervals, flourished their spears, and dashed off to the right and left at full speed, then returned and fell in the rear. In this manner we passed the city gates and through the town until we arrived at the King's palace.
On the following day I visited the King, and I must say my reception was most cordial. I had always heard that the friendship of the Egbas towards the English was most cordial, but I was really not prepared to find that this, I may call it affection, for us, was so general. From the poorest labourer to the most powerful Chief, this good feeling and perfect confidence in us seem a part of their nature; and I can only attribute this to the influence of the missionaries, in the first place, and secondly, to the fact that many leading and influential men now resident at Abbeokuta have been rescued from slavery by our cruizers.
The missionary schools are also slowly, but surely, working a great change in the character of the African.
Several of the Kings and Chiefs of the neighbourhood, and a [1861-62. LII.] 2 T
few from the far interior, have sent their children to be educated by the English missionaries.
The King appointed a special day for a palaver. There is one feature in the mode of government of Abbeokuta which, being distinct from all the other native Governments, should be generally known, and that is, the inability of the King (Alake) to act in any matter affecting the interests of his country without the consent of his Councillors or Elders.
No act of any kind, no grants of privileges, no Treaties with foreign nations or with individuals, are binding without the consent of the Elders and Chiefs in Council. The Alake or King is merely a President, and the country of the Egbas a Republic.
Hence the alleged Treaty with Messrs. Campbell and Delany has been denied. The Alake denies it, and the Chiefs and Elders knew nothing about it.
I alluded in the presence of the Alake and Elders to the wish of Her Majesty's Government to encourage agriculture, and particularly the cultivation of cotton, and that this great object could be easily carried out by the encouragement of emigrants skilled in cotton cultivation.
They answered, "that the Egbas will willingly receive any emigrants sent by the English Government, but not under any other circumstances. What the English Government wishes, the Egbas will do."
The city of Abbeokuta, which has been so often described in such glowing colours, does not even approach the idea entertained in England of its magnitude. The wall is so low and the ditch so shallow that a good horseman could ride over any part of it. Within the walls you have to ride an immense distance before you come to a collection of houses, and those upon a nearer approach are mere clusters of mud huts, the outer walls being scarcely 6 feet high, built without any regularity, the streets crooked and most filthy and broken into sundry little ravines. In fact, neither in population, in appearance, nor in importance, does Abbeokuta approach the descriptions we have received of it. I have ridden on horseback through and around it, and cannot believe that the population can exceed 60,000, and these do not reside in a compact mass of houses, but in small detached towns situated about a mile or two apart. All are of the most wretched miserable description. The doorway of the King's palace is even so low that I was obliged to stoop upon entering it.
Lagos is the port of Abbeokuta; the trade of Abbeokuta itself is not great, it is merely one of the little streams which serve to swell our yearly exports from Lagos.
I remained at Abbeokuta till the 17th, so that I had ample time
to make myself thoroughly acquainted not only with the people but also with the trade and its political condition.
I left Abbeokuta on the 17th, and returned to Lagos by the River Ogun. I embarked in a small canoe, and reached Lagos in about 36 hours, including a stoppage of 9 hours.
From Abbeokuta almost to Lagos the river bank is highly cultivated, and I am told that the fields extend several miles back; the only break I saw was when the forest commenced, and even there several clearings were observed. The people living on the banks of the Ogun told us that since the English took Lagos the kidnappers had not troubled them.
The same timber I observed on the land route I saw here in abundance. I could not help thinking of the fortunes which lay buried in the woods; such magnificent trees on the very banks of the river within a day's journey of Lagos. The river itself is capitally adapted for floating timber, being almost free of obstructions; the logs could be squared on the spot, and rafted out to the ships at anchor in the roadstead.
Respecting our hopes of obtaining a supply of cotton from Abbeokuta, I find the only difficulty in the way is the dread entertained of the kidnappers of the King of Dahomey. The soil and climate are most favourable, the people industrious, lands easily obtainable and in abundance, together with easy transport by the Ogun river; these embody all the requisites but one, and that is, security; and whilst the King of Dahomey exists as the ruler of his country this insecurity will continue. The King of Dahomey must comply with the custom-he must sacrifice a certain number of people yearly; thus, independently of his naturally bloodthirsty disposition, he is obliged by the laws of his country to comply with the customs. His naturally vicious and depraved character, encouraged by the slave-dealers, causes him to laugh at any proposals from us; his last threat was, that the first Englishman or Frenchman he caught he would shave his head and make him carry the hammock of his principal adviser, the celebrated slave-dealer Domingo Martinez. Martinez has gained his influence over the King by his yearly present of some thousands of silver dollars; he also acts as the slave-factor of the King.
If the Egbas could make themselves masters of the country, the whole of the petty Chiefs of the coast would rejoice at their occupation; and certainly the great object we have in view, viz., the abolition of slavery, would be finally secured if our friends the Egbas did extend their possessions to the coast, including Whydah and the other Dahomian slave-trading ports.
Lord J. Russell.
HENRY GRANT FOOTE
No. 10.-Consul Foote to Lord J. Russell.-(Received June 12.) (Extract.) Lagos, May 8, 1861.
THE Alake of Abbeokuta having called the Elders together in secret council, I proceeded to the King's palace, and aided by the Rev. Mr. Crowther, who acted as interpreter, I held a lengthy conversation with them upon all the subjects of interest to us.
I laid before them, in as clear a manner as I could, the wishes of our Government in respect to the cultivation of cotton, the encouragement of trade, and of useful and respectable emigrants.
I also recited their own history from the commencement of their intercourse with us, alluding also to the numbers of their countrymen who were now prosperous and happy at Abbeokuta, but who might have been toiling as slaves on the Cuban plantations to this day, had not the English cruizers liberated them.
They resolved to open their roads and the river again to trade on the 21st of May.
Lord J. Russell.
HENRY GRANT FOOTE.
No. 12.-Acting Consul McCoskry to Lord J. Russell.-(Rec. July 11.) (Extract.) Lagos June 5, 1861.
I HAVE the honour to inform you that, having directed inquiry into the subject to which Lord Wodehouse refers in his despatch of the 23rd of April last, I am convinced that the Treaty between the Commissioners on behalf of free emigrants from America, and the Alake and Chiefs of Abbeokuta, was duly signed by the latter. The Alake signed the Treaty in daylight, in the presence of his Elders and messengers from the Chiefs. The Chiefs signed the Treaty separately, as it was presented to them, not publicly in a body.
The meaning of each clause of the Treaty was explained to the Alake and Chiefs by the Rev. S. Crowther before they signed, the construction of Article I being, that the immigrants should live in the town, and not in the country outside the walls.
There can be no doubt that the subsequent denial of the Treaty by the Alake and Chiefs was the effect of arguments used to them by residents there opposed to the scheme. The Republic of Liberia was held out as the result of a similar system of emigration from America. It was represented that the immigrants would erect forts, and, opportunity offered, they would drive the natives from the country and take possession of the soil.
I am of opinion that, now, as the suspicions of the natives have been aroused, the scheme would be more likely to succeed were the emigrants to put themselves under the protection of some Government known to the people of Abbeokuta, who would then have less fear of intrusion on their territorial rights and privileges, and all
matters of dispute could be settled by the Representative of that Government and the Alake and Chiefs.
In conclusion, I would observe that, whatever the Treaty may be worth, there can be no doubt that it was signed by the Alake and Chiefs, with the knowledge of all who could claim any right to know, and that a copy of that Treaty was left with the Alake; that there was no secresy in the matter; and that it was not until a powerful opposition influence had been brought to bear upon the Alake and Chiefs that the Treaty was denied.
Lord J. Russell.
No. 15. Lord J. Russell to Acting Consul McCoskry.
SIR, Foreign Office, July 23, 1861. WITH reference to your despatch of the 5th ultimo, I transmit herewith, for your information, a copy of a letter which, by my directions, has been addressed to Lord Alfred Churchill, the Chairman of the Committee of the African Aid Society, relative to the Treaty or Agreement stated to have been signed by the Alake and Chiefs of Abbeokuta with Messrs. Campbell and Delany, the Commissioners on behalf of the free black emigrants from America, granting to these latter permission to settle on the unoccupied lands belonging to the Abbeokutans.
I also inclose a copy of a letter which I have received from the African Aid Society, together with a list, giving the particulars of a number of emigrants who are desirous of proceeding to Africa under the auspices of the Society; and I have to desire that, in conformity with what I have stated to Lord Alfred Churchill, you will afford these emigrants the benefit of your advice and assistance in the event of their proceeding to Lagos. I am, &c.
W. McCoskry, Esq.
(Inclosure.)-Lord Wodehouse to Lord A. Churchill. MY LORD, Foreign Office, July 22, 1861. WITH reference to my letter of the 15th of April last, I am directed by Lord John Russell to transmit to you, for the information of the Committee of the African Aid Society, the accompanying copy of a despatch from Mr. McCoskry, the Acting British Consul at Lagos, reporting the result of inquiries made by him in regard to the alleged denial on the part of the Alake and Chiefs of Abbeokuta, that they had signed a Treaty with the Commissioners on behalf of the American blacks, granting permission to them to settle on the unoccupied lands belonging to the Abbeokutans.
Mr. McCoskry, you will perceive, appears to be convinced that the Alake and Chiefs of Abbeokuta did actually sign a Treaty or