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Commerce, Christianity and the Origins of the ‘Creoles’ of Fernando Po*

  • Martin Lynn (a1)

Extract

During the early and middle years of the nineteenth century a Creole elite emerged on the island of Fernando Po. The origins of this lay in the fact that for the thirty years after 1827 the island was at the centre of European political and economic interests in the Gulf of Guinea. The short-lived British occupation of Fernando Po, 1827–34, established the town of Clarence and brought to the island a number of settlers, and in particular ‘liberated Africans’, freed from slave ships captured by the Royal Navy. The situation they faced in Clarence and the treatment they received, not least once the British government withdrew and a succession of British traders attempted to run the town, led to the emergence of a homogeneous society out of the various ethnic groups they comprised. This society was to be transformed by the development of a palm oil trade on the island, particularly during the 1840s. This led to the emergence of a group of middlemen between the Bubi producers of the interior and the European traders who collected oil from Clarence, and concurrently, to the stratification of Clarence society into a trading elite and a group of labourers and servants. This trading elite was attracted to the work of the Baptist Mission in Clarence after 1841, and in particular saw the value of the Mission in giving itself a distinct identity. Over time this elite and the Baptists drew apart, but this was not before the interrelation of social stratification with the work of the Mission had produced a class of Creoles whose descendants – the Fernandinos – still survive as a distinct group in Equatorial Guinea today.

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1 Fyfe, C., A History of Sierra Leone (London, 1962); Hargreaves, J. D., ‘African colonisation in the nineteenth century: Liberia and Sierra Leone’, Sierra Leone Studies, (new series) XVII (1962), 189203; Porter, A. T., Creoledom (London, 1963); Peterson, J., Province of Freedom: A History of Sierra Leone (London, 1969); Fyfe, C., ‘Reform in West Africa: the abolition of the slave trade’, in Ajayi, J. F. A. and Crowder, M., History of West Africa (London, 1974), II, 3056; Patterson, K. D., The Northern Gabon Coast to 1875 (Oxford, 1975).

2 Fernando Po is part of the ‘historiographical void’ that Patterson complains of: Patterson, , Gabon, vii. For recent work on Fernando Po: Brown, R. T., ‘Fernando Po and the anti-Sierra Leone campaign, 1826–1834’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, VI (1973), 249–64; Sundiata, I. K., ‘Prelude to scandal: Liberia and Fernando Po, 1880–1930’, J. Afr. Hist, XV (1974), 97112.

3 Cronjé, S., Equatorial Guinea – the Forgotten Dictatorship (London, 1976), 78; Church, R. J. H., ‘Spanish Guinea’, West Africa, 8 March, 5 April, 12 April 1952; Fernando Po – Spain in Africa’, Geographical Magazine, XXXVI (1963–1964), 540548; Fernando Po has now been renamed Bioko.

4 For recent debate on Creoles: Skinner, D. E. and Harrell-Bond, B. E., ‘Misunderstandings arising from the use of the term “Creole” in the literature on Sierra Leone’, Africa, XLVII (1977), 305320; Wyse, A. J. G., ‘On misunderstandings arising from the use of the term “Creole”…A rejoinder’, Africa, XLIX (1979), 408417; Fyfe, C., ‘The term Creole: a footnote to a footnote’, Africa, L (1980), 422; Skinner, D. and Harrell-Bond, B. E., ‘Creoles: a final comment’, Africa, LI (1981), 787.

5 Hutchinson, T. J., Impressions of Western Africa (London, 1858), 181; Bouët-Willaumez, L. E., Commerce et Traite des Noirs aux côtes occidentales d'Afrique (Paris, 1849), 149; Kingsley, M., Travels in West Africa (London, 1897), 7172. See also Reading, J. H., The Ogowe Band (Philadelphia, 1890), 130; Roe, H., West African Scenes (London, 1874), 39; Bell, G., Our Fernandian Field (London, n.d.), 1213.

6 Missionary Articles… 1883–1904 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; Lynn, M., ‘John Beecroft and West Africa, 1829–1854’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1979), 1939.

8 Dike, K. O., Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830–1885 (Oxford, 1956), 5560; Lynn, , ‘John Beecroft’, 7179. For a recent study of Owen Burrows, E. H.Capt. Owen of the African Survey (Rotterdam, 1979).

9 Scotter, W. H., ‘International rivalry in the Bights of Benin and Biafra, 1815–1885’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1933), 95104; Moreno, A. Moreno, Reseña Historica de la Presencia de España 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 1858.

10 John Clarke's Journal, ‘First Journey to Africa’ (hereafter CJF), I, 1 Jan. 1841, Baptist Missionary Society Archives (hereafter BMSA); Whitford, J., Trading Life in Western and Central Africa (London, 1877), 308; Daniel, W. F., Sketches of the Medical Topography of the Gulf of Guinea (London, 1849), 146; Janikowski, L., ‘L'île de Fernando Po’, Bulletin de la Société de Géographie (Paris), VII (1886), 568; Reade, W. W., Savage Africa (London, 1863), 60.

11 Nicolls to Hay, 25 Oct. 1830, CO 82/3, Public Record Office, Kew.

12 Parliamentary Papers, 1830, X (661), 4452; Census of the population of Clarence…7 June 1835, in Nicolls to Grey, 13 Nov 1838, CO 82/9; Baptist Missionary Herald (hereafter BMH), March 1846, 186187; Hutchinson, , Impressions, 180. These figures are comparable with those of Sierra Leone at a similar time after its foundation.

13 Holman, J., Travels… (London, 1840), 240ff; Owen to Croker, 12 Aug 1828, in Barrow to Hay, 18 Nov 1828, CO 82/1.

14 This was some 5 per cent of the population, BMH, March 1846, 186187.

15 As the courts remained in Freetown such landings were illegal. Bethell, L., ‘The mixed commissions for the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade in the nineteenth century’, J. Afr. Hist, VII (1966), 7993.

16 Owen to Hay, 6 March 1829, CO 82/2; Parliamentary Papers, 1830, X (661), 4452; Clarke, John Journal, ‘Second journey to Africa’ (hereafter CJS), 1, 25 Feb 1844, BMSA.

17 Nicolls to Hay, 8 Nov 1830, CO 82/3; BMH, Sept 1844, 483; Lynn, , ‘John Beecroft’, 5152, 176180. For works on the Bubi, Clarke, J., Introduction to the Fernandian Tongue (Berwick, 1848); Baumann, O., Fernando Po und die Bube (Wien, 1888); Tessmann, G., Die Bubi auf Fernando Poo (Darmstadt, 1923); Gil-Delgado, C. Crespo, Notas para un estudio antropologico y etnologico del Bubi (Madrid, 1949); Pelissier, R., Los Territories Espanoles de Africa (Madrid, 1964), 48; Berman, S., ‘Spanish Guinea’ (unpublished M.Sc. dissertation, Catholic University, Washington, 1961), 20.

18 BMH, March 1846, 186187. 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, 186187.Allen, W. and Trotter, T. R. H., Narrative of the Expedition…to the River Niger (London, 1848), II, 191; Parliamentary Papers, 1850, XI (53), Q. 3494ff; Brooks, G. E., The Kru Mariner in the Nineteenth Century (Newark, 1972), 25, 56.

20 CJF, I, 18 Jan. 1841, II, 18 Sept. 1841, 5 Jan. 1842; BMH, Sept. 1841, 469; Johnson, J. F., Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention (London, 1843), 261; Marwick, M., William and Louisa Anderson (Edinburgh, 1897), 274275. This population structure, with ‘Original Settlers’, Liberated Africans and Kru transients, was similar to that of Freetown in its early years.

21 BMH, Sept. 1841, 469.

22 CJF, I, 19 June 1841.

23 Owen to Croker, 12 Aug. 1828, in Barrow to Hay, 18 Nov. 1828, CO 82/1.

24 CJF, I, 3 March 1841.

25 BMH, Sept. 1841, 469; Hutchinson, , Impressions, 180.

26 Nicolls to Hay, 25 Oct. 1830, CO 82/3.

27 Nicolls to Hay, 1 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; Leonard, P., Records of a Voyage… (Edinburgh, 1833), 232233.

29 Mechanics to Owen, 24 Sept. 1828, in Owen to CO, 26 Sept. 1828, CO 82/1; Nicolls to Clifton, 26 Sept. 1829, in Clifton to Hay, 14 Jan. 1830, CO 82/3; Nicolls to Hay, 25 April 1831, CO 82/5.

30 Owen to Murray, 23 Jan. 1830, CO 82/3; Parliamentary Papers, 1830, X (661), 46.

31 Nicolls to Hay, 23 Sept. 1831, CO 82/4; 10 July 1832, 30 Aug. 1832, CO 82/5.

32 CJF, I, 1 Jan., 10 Feb. 1841.

33 CJF, I, 9 Jan. 1841; Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, 16 Nov. 1841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 21 April, CO 82/9.

34 CJF, I, 26 April 1841.

35 CJF, I, 17 April 1841, 25 June 1841, II, 8 July 1841; Allen, and Thompson, , Narrative, II, 306. The company also tried to develop an oil trade from the mainland: Huntley, H. V., Seven Years Service in Western Africa (London, 1860), 384385.

36 CJF, I, 20 Jan. 1841, 12 May 1841; Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, 16 Nov. 1841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 21 April 1842, CO 82/9; Johnson, , Anti-Slavery Convention, 261.

37 Nicolls to Grey, 12 Nov. 1838, CO 82/9; CJF, I, 22 June, 1841.

38 Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, 16 Nov. 1841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 21 April 1842, CO 82/9; CJF, I, 5 April, 6 May, 19 June 1841.

39 CJS, II, II Nov. 1844.

40 CJF, I, 14 June 1841.

41 CJF, I, 20 Jan. 1841.

42 Nicolls to Hay, 25 Oct. 1830, CO 82/3; Nicolls to Grey, 12 Nov. 1838, CO 82/9.

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’, 82123.

46 CJS, I, 27 May 1844; Parliamentary Papers, 1842, XI (551), Q.4154; H. M. Waddell's Journal, VIII, 18 May 1850, National Library of Scotland; log of the Magistrate, 10 Feb. 1841, M/23, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

47 Owen to Croker, 13 Oct 1828, in Barrow to Hay, 3 Feb. 1829, CO 82/2; Wilson, J. L., Western Africa (London, 1856), 357.

48 This figure is derived from counting the ships mentioned in Clarke's journal. This was at a time when less than 100 palm oil ships a year arrived in Britain from West Africa as a whole.

49 Lynn, M., ‘Change and continuity in the British palm oil trade with West Africa, 1830–1855’, J. Afr. Hist. XXII (1981), 348; Gertzel, C., ‘John Holt: A British Merchant in West Africa…’ (Unpublished D.Phil, thesis, University of Oxford, 1959), 4445; Waddell's journal, IX, 16 Aug. 1852.

50 Nicolls to Hay, 24 Aug. 1833, CO 82/3; Smellie to Victualling Office, 20 Oct. 1831, in VO to Hay, 23 Nov. 1831, CO 82/4; Usera y Alarcon, J. M., Memoria de la Isla de Fernando Poo (Madrid, 1848), 3234; Laird, M. and Oldfield, R. A. K., Narrative of an Expedition (London, 1837), 1, 281; Keppel, H., A Sailor's Life under Four Sovereigns (London, 1899) I, 224.

51 Usera y Alarcon, , Memoria, 20.

52 Gertzel, , ‘John Holt’, 98; Hastings, A. C. G., Voyage of the Dayspring (London, 1926), 6263; Whitford, J., Trading Life in Western and Central Africa (London, 1877), 310311; Holt, J., Early Years of an African Trader (London, 1962), II; Dike, K. O., ‘John Beecroft’, J. Hist. Soc. Nigeria, 1 (1956), 515.

53 Barrow to Hay, 27 Sept. 1830, CO 82/3; Nicolls to Hay, 4 Dec. 1831, CO 82/4; CJS, I, 3 March 1844.

54 CJF, I, 13 Jan. 1841; CJS, I, 21 Feb. 1844, 20 April 1844; II, 9 Feb. 1845, 6 March 1845.

55 CJS, II, 11 Sept. 1844.

56 Holman, , Travels, 306307, 345.

57 For descriptions of Bubi oil production, Hutchinson, , Impressions, 192–195; Mann, G., ‘Account of the ascent of Clarence Peak’, Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, VI (1862), 29; Church Missionary Intelligencer, IV (1853), 260263; Primitive Methodist Records, May 1881, 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. 1844, 1 March 1845; BMH, March 1846, 184185; Usera y Alarcon, , Memoria, 13.

59 BMH, March 1846, 184185; CJF, I, 9 April 1841. There is evidence of ‘trust’ working in reverse, from the Bubi to the Clarence traders, BMH, March 1842, 150.

60 CJF, II, 16 Jan. 1842; CJS, II, 21 Nov. 1844; BMH, March 1846, 184.

61 CJS, II, 20 March 1844, 22 Nov. 1844, 26 Nov. 1844.

62 BMH, March 1846, 184185.

63 CJS, II, 9 Dec. 1844, 13 Dec. 1844; Church Book of Clarence, 5 Oct. 1847, BMSA.

64 Kingsley, , Travels, 7172.

65 Primitive Methodist Records, Jan. 1874, 7.

66 Journal of W. B. Luddington, 1, 24 April 1873, Biographical, West Africa, Box 6, MMSA.

67 CJF, II, 13 Jan. 1842.

68 CJS, II, 1 March 1845. Melville Bay was renamed Concepcion Bay by the Spanish.

69 CJS, II, 1 March 1845, 3 March 1845, 5 Dec. 1845; III, 23 Sept. 1845.

70 CJS, II, 17 Dec. 1844.

71 CJS, III, 21 Oct. 1846, 25 Oct. 1846, 30 Oct. 1846.

72 Church Book of Clarence, 13 and 15 May 1848.

73 CJS, III, 24 June 1846. Oil was sold in Clarence by the town's traders at 1 shilling per gallon. The West African Company collected its rents in oil, at a rate of 1 gallon per quarter. The price of oil in the Delta at this time was approximately £15–20 per ton; Clarence oil was expensive at around £25 per ton: Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, 16 Nov. 1841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 21 April 1842, CO 82/9.

74 Lynn, , ‘John Beecroft’, 111112.

75 Ibid. 120–121.

76 Lynn, , ‘Change and continuity’, 340.

77 CJF, II, 18 Sept. 1841; CJS, III, 26 Feb. 1846; Nicolls to Hay, 25 Oct. 1830, CO 82/3.

78 Census of the population of Clarence… 7 June 1835, in Nicolls to Grey, 13 Nov. 1838, CO 82/9; BMH, March 1846, 186187. The latter figure is nearly 40 per cent of the town's population.

79 BMH, March 1846, 186187.

80 CJF, I, 5 Jan. 1841; Clarke to Anti-Slavery Society, 16 Nov. 1841, in Anti-Slavery Society to CO, 21 April 1842, CO 82/9.

81 CJS, III, 12 Aug. 1845; Memorial of Jonathan Scott, 27 June 1852, FO 2/7; Lynslager and Matthews to Beecroft, 24 Feb. 1852, in Beecroft to Malmesbury, 30 June 1852, FO 84/886; Johnson, , Anti-Slavery Convention, 505506.

82 CJF, II, 7 Jan. 1842; CJS, II, 21 Nov. 1844.

83 CJF, II, 28 Jan. 1842.

84 CJS, II, 27 Feb. 1845. Later Nicholls traded to Old Calabar, but he should be distinguished from his famous namesake: Fyfe, C., ‘Peter Nicholls – Old Calabar and Freetown’, J. Hist. Soc. Nigeria, II (1960), 105114.

85 As examples, CJF, II, 18 Dec. 1841, 10 Jan. 1842.

86 CJF, II, 18 Sept. 1841.

87 Census of the population of Clarence… 7 June 1835, in Nicolls to Grey, 13 Nov. 1838, CO 82/9. This 44 included five Europeans.

88 BMH, Feb. 1844, 105.

89 See esp. Russell, H., ‘Missionary outreach of the West Indian churches to West Africa in the 19th century’ (unpublished D.Phil, thesis, University of Oxford, 1973). The scheme can be followed in the BMH, July 1840–July 1843. 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 1843, and Angus to Beecroft, 13 Sept 1843.

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, van Slageren, J., Les Origines de l'église évangélique du Cameroun (Leiden, 1972), 1137. See also Clarke, J., Memoir of R. and J. Merrick (London, 1850); Johnston, H. H., George Grenfell and the Congo (London, 1908).

92 CJF, I, 20 June 1841.

93 CJF, II, 20 Nov. 1841; CJS, I, 17 Feb. 1844; II, 3 June 1846; BMH, May 1844, 269; The Friend of Africa, XXVI (1842), 183184.

94 The Church Missionary Society in Sierra Leone took a similar view, though this was in contrast to its approach in Yorubaland; Ajayi, J. F. A., Christian Missions in Nigeria 1841–1891 (London, 1965), 105108, 110.

95 CJF, I, 10 Feb. 1841, 21 March 1841, 8 Sept 1841, 21 Aug. 1841.

96 CJF, I, 14 May 1841.

97 BMH, May 1844, 269.

98 BMH, Aug. 1844, 432.

99 Angus to Spanish Ambassador, 29 Dec. 1843, in ‘Correspondence on the Spanish occupation of Fernando Po’.

100 BMH, Nov. 1841, 579, Feb. 1844, 105.

101 CJF, I, 2 June 1841; CJS, I, 20 April 1844.

102 Church Book of Clarence, 9 and 11 March 1848.

103 Over half the children in Clarence attended the Mission school. Fees were 4s. 4d. per quarter: CJS, I, 31 March 1844, 1 Nov. 1844; BMH, March 1846, 186187.

104 CJS, I, 29 Aug. 1844; BMH, Aug. 1843, 436, Feb. 1844, 105.

105 CJS, II, 9 Dec. 1844. Or see Waddell's sermon, ‘Owe no man anything’, Church Book of Clarence, 1 Nov. 1846.

106 BMH, March 1844, 154155.

107 Such exclusions are recorded in the Church Book of Clarence; for example, 17 July 1844, I Feb. 1846, 5 Feb. 1847.

108 Links between Clarence and Freetown were assiduously maintained, not least for purposes of children's education: Fyfe, , History of Sierra Leone, 228, 238, 422, 460. Some were educated in England: Laird, and Oldfield, , Narrative, II, 395396.

109 CJS, III, 22 March 1846.

110 It needs to be noted that the Baptists' concentration on the mainland after 1846 was partly responsible for this.

111 CJS, II, 21 Nov. 1844.

112 Church Book of Clarence, 5 Oct. 1847.

113 y Alarcon, Usera, Memoria, 2223.

114 CJS, I, 21 Feb. 1844, 4 Nov. 1844; II, 1 Feb. 1845.

115 BMH, March 1844, 155156.

116 CJS, in, 14 Aug. 1845. A copy of the petition, with 255 signatures is in ‘Correspondence on the Spanish Occupation of Fernando Po’.

117 Account of Meetings and Negotiations with the Spanish Authorities… 29 Dec. 1845 and I Jan. 1846, in ‘Correspondence on the Spanish occupation of Fernando Po’; Moreno, , Reseña Historica, 3334; Slageren, , Les Origines de l'église, 2134.

118 CJS, III, 21 Oct. 1846; Church Book of Clarence, 13 and 15 May 1848.

* 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.

Commerce, Christianity and the Origins of the ‘Creoles’ of Fernando Po*

  • Martin Lynn (a1)

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