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England in Africa: Some Sources for the Study of the British in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1800–1920



Flyleaf advertisement, from Official Handbook. History, productions, and resources of the Cape of Good Hope, 1886.

People and Travels

A vast literature exists from this period that was published for British travelers to the region. Publications range from vocabularies of indigenous languages produced for early missionaries, to guides for miners, settlers, and big-game hunters, to reports on economic activity and civic development for traders and British and local government officials.

Macbrair, Robert Maxwell. A Grammar of the Mandingo Language with Vocabularies. London, Printed for the Wesleyan-Methodist Missionary Society [1837?]

Produced for the use of English missionaries in West Africa, Macbrair’s guide to the Mandinka language includes extensive information about the grammar and idioms of the language, copious vocabulary, and translations of a selection of Christian religious texts such as the Lord’s Prayer and Matthew XX: 1–17 in English and Mandinka.

The Mandingo is one of the most extensive languages of Western Africa. It not only prevails in various parts of the coast, south of the Senegal, but reaches interiorly towards the Niger and the mysterious Timbuctoo. It is spoken by all the native tribes settled on the banks of the Gambia, and has been adopted by the roving hordes also which frequent the neighbourhood of this noble river.

Sidney Langford Hinde and Hildegarde Beatrice Hinde. The Last of the Masai, with Illustrations from Photographs and Drawings. London: W. Heinemann, 1901.

Sidney Langford Hinde was a medical and administrative officer of the East Africa Protectorate Service in what is today Kenya. He worked among the Masai at a time when the tribe’s power and domain were waning. Hiledgarde Beatrice Hinde, his wife, compiled several grammars and vocabularies of East African languages. The first half of the book treats the history, customs, leadership, religion, and laws of the Masai, and other peoples such as the Kikuyu, with long sections on “warriors and warfare,” Masai women, crafts, and village life. The second half of the book deals with East African wildlife.

Lionel R. Foot and T. F. E. Jones, Jr. The Gold Coast and the Fantis: A Complete Compendium for Miners, Traders and Students of Native Life. London: Gold Coast Globe Publishing Company, Ltd., 1903–1904?

The travel guide includes a quasi-anthropological study of the Fante people of the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana): their language, culture, religion, dress, and customs.

A short account of the Fantis, their traditions, character, festivals, and customs, etc., will interest many readers now that so much attention has been directed to the Gold Coast by virtue of the revival of interest in the extensive mining operations now being carried on in that Colony. The compilers of this little book have endeavoured to gather together such items of interest as they thought would be useful and interesting to those who wish to know something of the manners, customs, thoughts and feelings, occupations, and pastimes of one of the many tribes who inhabit a country of which so much is heard of at the present moment . . .

The brief text draws upon several published sources and dwells at length on the mineral wealth of the gold Coast.

Sir Frederick Treves. Uganda for a Holiday. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910

As British control of its colonies in Africa became more secure, travel by the casual tourist became more common.

There exists already a library of books of no mean proportions concerned with Uganda and British East Africa. In these works the countries are contemplated in a very satisfying way, from the points of view of the naturalist, the big-game hunter, the colonist, and the missionary. If among them there be no volume which regards this part of Africa from the outlook of the unspecialised traveler, of the man who merely seeks ‘somewhere to go to’ then that small gap in the shelf the present volume would aim at -filling.

Treves’s guide recreates the experience of travel to and in the territories of Uganda and Kenya. The itinerary tracks a journey by sea from Marseilles to Mombasa, and then by rail through the interior.

Emerging Infrastructure

Cape Colony To-Day. Cape Town: Issued by the Cape Government Railway Department, 1909.

This photographically illustrated guide for prospective investors, entrepreneurs, and settlers strikes a jingoistic note, envisioning the transformation of the continent through modern technology and investment.

The great and almost sudden development of Africa began at the right time—when the arts and appliances of the 20th century could be brought to bear. At an earlier date the white man would have found himself tremendously handicapped. Impassable river waters, whose falls and cataracts eclipse the glories of Niagara, may some day be utilised for electrical and lighting power, enabling the engineer to tunnel the mountain ranges for railway purposes, to light the avenues of distant cities and propel their tramways, drive the machinery at the great mines, and open up the fertile healthy plateaux that are slowly becoming populated with the right kind of ruling white folk.

. . . [South Africa] earnestly invites good, ordinary men, and those first class fellows who have money in their belts and are not afraid of work and hardships; men like those of the past whose enterprise, endurance and toil have established the great outposts of the Empire, who will become Colonists and help to build a new nation in the land of their adoption.

H. F. Ward and John Williamson Milligan, compilers. Handbook of British East Africa, 1912, Illustrated and with Two Maps, Nairobi: Caxton (B. E. A.) Printing and Publishing Co., 1912.

Designed for settlers, traders, and sportsmen the Handbook provides copious information about travel routes, rainfall and climate, equipment needs, government figures, game licenses and regulations (“special license to kill giraffe”, for instance), customs, and rail and steamship timetables. These are interspersed with advertisements for railways, steamer lines, taxidermists, land agents, firearm and sports equipment manufacturers, and safari outfitters. The book is also a guide to the state of sheep, cattle, pig, and ostrich farming and horse breeding, as well as fruit, rubber, and cotton cultivation. It includes a glossary of useful Swahili vocabulary and phrases as well.

The compilers’ aims have been to produce a book of practical utility and interest, to introduce to the visitor a most alluring country, to the big-game hunter the finest hunting-ground in the world, and to the prospective settler a land of great opportunity, which by its many attractions holds out great inducements and abounds in possibilities in almost every branch of agricultural production.

. . . intended-especially with regard to the chapters on the various industries-to give as exact figures as possible from the actual experience of Settlers in matters of the working capital required, expenditure, and probable profits . . .

Protectorate of Northern Nigeria: Blue Book for the Year 1913. Lagos, Printed by the Government. Printer, 1913.

Blue Books, issued annually by the governments of the British protectorates and territories, are rich sources of information about the emerging institutions of colonial society in Africa. They include tables of postage rates, land registration fees, and fees charged by government hospitals for medical services. The blue book for Northern Nigeria lists the officers of the civil establishment, incumbent names and salaries; populations of various provinces and statistics on marriages, births, and deaths (distinguishing between “European” and “Coloured Native Population”). It also reports on the activities of various church missions, including the number of hospitals, schools, and dispensaries, and the number and type of medical treatments provided each year by the mission. “Elementary,” “primary,” “secondary,” and “Mohammedan” schools are named and student populations tallied.

The book also gives average wages for various kinds of labor, including “Cooks,” “House-boys,” “Grooms,” “Labourers,” and “Carriers;” and the average price ranges for various consumables, including sheep, wheat, tobacco, and brandy.

The 1913 issue also reports the findings of a survey of two prisons: Zungeru and Lokoja. The report briefly describes provisions for segregating male and female prisoners; denies the use of “penal labour” (the “treadmill, shank or shot drill”); identifies other kinds of labor prisoners were made to perform inside (tailoring, carpentry, shoemaking) and outside (road construction, farm work, wood-cutting); and even reports the number of hours allotted the inmates for sleep.

Tanganyika Territory Blue Book for the Year Ended 31st December 1921. Dar es Salaam: Printed and published by Government. Printer, 1921.

Like the Northern Nigeria blue book, the Tanganyika (Tanzania) Territory Blue Book conveys a vivid sense of the civic institutions and structures put in place by the British, and provides much detail on the flow of raw materials, manufactures, and capital. (The number, tonnage and crews of all vessels docking in Tanganyika during the year are listed.) Blue books in general mark the progress of public roads, canals, bridges, building and other infrastructure works. They also cast light on the controls put on colonial society, providing schedules of the taxes and duties imposed by the government on the import of goods, such as beer, wine, distilled liquors, playing cards, and gramophones. Similarly, export duties were imposed on items such as ivory, “rhinoceros horn and hippopotamus teeth,” tortoise shell, and ebony. Import of some items was restricted or even prohibited, such as opium, distilling equipment (both prohibited); and “arms, ammunition, explosives, and weapons of all sorts” (restricted).

There is also a useful listing of all laws and proclamations passed; members of the legislatures and executive councils; and the names of civil officers such as postmaster, stock inspectors, game wardens, and police inspectors.

Conflict and Control

Joseph Augustus Moloney. With Captain Stairs to Katanga. London: S. Low, Marston & Company, 1893.

The account of a British medical officer who accompanied the 1892 exploratory expedition of Captain William Grant Stairs to Katanga in the Congo. The Katanga Company was an international syndicate with a board of governors consisting of British, French and Belgian investors. The Company was granted mining rights in the basin of the Upper Congo by the Congo Free State and ownership of public land in that region, in return for developing river steam travel and trading stations. The enterprise was also charged with creating and maintaining a police force to protect travelers, and to suppress the still-thriving slave trade.

Winston Spencer Churchill. River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan. London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1899.

The young Winston Churchill’s two-volume illustrated account recounts “in exact military detail” the British and Egyptian troop operations directed by Lord Kitchener on the Upper Nile from April 1896 to February 1899, which resulted in the British wresting control of the territory from the French and Islamist Ansar. Churchill served as a newspaper correspondent during the campaign, and his narrative conveys the romantic terms in which many English viewed their struggle with European and native powers for influence in Africa:

He who may be attracted by interest or driven by idleness to examine this book will find therein a tale of blood and war. The extremes of fortune are displayed, and he may read of battles that were massacres—of others that were mere parades; of joyful victory or forlorn defeat: of exaltation or of disappointment. In the story of the long and fierce contention he may remark occasions of shameful cowardice and reckless heroism: of plans conceived in haste and emergency: of schemes laid with slow deliberation: of wild extravagance and cruel waste: of economies more barbarous still: of wisdom and incompetence.

Francis Willem Reitz. A Century of Wrong. London, circa 1900.

Control of South Africa was important to England since the early 1800s, positioned as it was on a critical trade route to India. British interest in South Africa intensified, however, with the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1867 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. British ambitions then exacerbated their longstanding friction with the Boers, the fiercely independent descendants of the early Dutch settlers of the region.

The pamphlet A Century of Wrong is an impassioned diatribe from the Boer point of view, reciting a litany of grievances suffered by the Boers under the British since the Cape was transferred to British ownership in 1806. Abuses cited include the imposition of English as the official language in the region, failure to compensate Boer slaveholders after the abolition of slavery, arming and inciting of the Zulus, British annexation of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, and conspiracy to overthrow the South African Republic.

South Africa: the War of 1899–1902 and the Chinese Labour Question

This microfilm collection of pamphlets, leaflets, and broadsides was issued in England during and immediately following the Boer War in South Africa. The microfilm collection, published in 1983 by Microform Academic Publishers contains materials critical of both the British intrusions and agitation in the region and the Transvaal government, from the John Burns Library and the Library of the Royal Commonwealth Society, London. Among the pamphlets are: