“The Niger Expedition”

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The Niger Expedition.

Two letters, addressed to an English merchant, by Selim Aga, a native of Darfur, in Central Africa, who is engaged in the Niger expedition, have been forwarded for publication to the Carlisle Journal. When the writer was ten years of age, he was purchased in Egypt by the gentleman to whom the letters are addressed, and he subsequently received an excellent English education. Selim is now upwards of 30 years of age, and is able to render important aid to the Niger expedition. The following are extracts from the letters :—

Lagos, West Africa, June 24, 1858.—I am now with Lieutenant Glover, getting provisions and other necessaries for our expedition into the interior of Africa. We intend to proceed up the river in the Spero Meliora, and to commence our land journey from Rabbah to Kanoo in Housa, thence to Kirka in Bornou, and thence to Begharmi, Wadai, the Mountains of the Moon, to the source of the Nile, thence through Darfur, Kordofan, Senaar, Nubia, and Egypt, to England. I think we may be about 18 months before reaching England. l am glad to hear that Mr. Laird intends to send many more steamboats to the Niger, and have not the least doubt that the outlay will be covered in about a couple of years; and under the management of sensible men the trade of the country will increase annually nearly a hundred fold, till every patch of useless ground is under cultivation. To prove this, let us look at the cotton trade at Abeokuta. It has been established under the auspices of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and is immediately patronised by the Church Missionary Society, because that society is now anxious that it should encourage free labour produce, and give up consuming American slave-grown cotton. A lay agent has been sent to Abeokuta with all the necessaries for cleaning and pressing cotton. The first twelve months he managed to send about 300 bales, but the second year, which ended in last May, realised something like 1,000, nearly an increase of 250 per cent.; and Mr. Robin, the agent, a native of the country, is now obliged to commence business at four or five o'clock in the morning in order to get rid of his customers by six o'clock in the evening. Encouraged by this fact, merchants are about to establish themselves at Abeokuta, thus giving every encouragement to the natives of this populous town and surrounding country. Rabbah, although at present a complete ruin, will be one of the greatest commercial emporiums on the banks of the Niger; for, independent of its position as a marine port, it possesses great interest from the fact of its being the great medium of communication to Kuka, Kanoo, and the lake Tchad. The last caravan we met from those localities numbered about 2,000 travellers, with upwards of 600 or 700 horses and donkeys. They bring ivory, guns, and hides from the interior to Ilorin, and receive in return European goods and clothing, with which they return back to their own country. Therefore, a clever merchant established at Rabbah would intercept all the trade of the interior, besides the goods which will be supplied by the Tappah and Nufeh people. There is, however, one great want at Rabbah, viz., a judicial officer in the capacity of consul or magistrate. If such an authority could be sent out from England (and he must be a white man), it would induce many emigrants from Sierra [Leone] to settle on the Niger, thus facilitating the labours of the missionary and the merchant; for, once perfectly satisfied that the general laws of England are extending their benign influence into this part of Africa, every educated African who is a native of the river Niger will venture, with his life and property, to settle on that river. With regard to the trade of the country, I think there is every facility for a very extensive business as far as the natives are concerned, but the question of sending the produce to the mouth of the river or any other part for shipment is rather a difficult matter, for the Niger is not always sufficiently full to allow for communication by means of steamboats. A question therefore arises as to whether it would be more profitable for the merchant to store up his goods for the space of six months (the dry season), or to start a quadruped communication from Rabbah to Lagos. The latter is practicable, only it would entail an immense expense at the onset. The distance is about 400 miles, and I have now travelled the road three times, twice with Lieut. Glover and once a part of the way by myself, in charge of government stores for the Niger camp. The stores consisted of 15 loads; a load weighs from 45 to 60 pounds on an average, and is carried on the head of the bearer; each bearer is paid at the rate of 1,000 cowries per day, or 1s. 3d. sterling , thus making in 15 days (the period occupied in travelling with loads from Rabbah to Lagos) the sum of 18s. 9d. per load. Now, will it pay to employ a bearer to bring a tusk weighing 50lbs., and which costs from £5 to £6 at Rabbah, for shipment at Lagos? I think it will. Besides this, a number of horses or donkeys might be stationed in the different chief towns on the road, and thus reduce the period of transmit from fifteen to eight or nine days. The price of a donkey in the Housa country would not be more than 15 shillings, and if a number of young men were redeemed from slavery and put under the superintendence of a partially educated person at the different stations, they could be employed partly in taking charge of the produce whilst on its way to the next station, partly in cultivating a sufficient amount of ground for the growth of yams, corn, and other necessaries for the support of themselves and the beasts of burden under their charge. Land can be had for nothing, and negotiations can be entered into with different kings and chiefs along the road for perfect freedom to pass with the goods. They (the chiefs) are a great nuisance, for they stopped me at one place (Obomishaw) demanding 40 cowries for every one of the 15 loads under my charge. I protested against this piece of insolence, threatening the chiefs, with the white man's guns, and succeeded in getting away scot free. The next time I came through the same town with six loads, the chiefs and their men retreated into the town, leaving the gate entirely at my disposal. Not to abandon the subject of trade, however, it may be as well to mention that the price of a slave in the Yariba country is from £7 to £11. The free natives will not work for us, and Kroo boys are too lazy, although to be had at a very low price, viz., from 10s. to 17s. a month; but they scarcely pay for their keep, so that the choice of Hobson is left to the man of enterprise—that is, to purchase slaves for domestic and other purposes till a better remedy is found out.

Item Details

Author(s) & contributor(s): Anonymous; Selim Aga

Date(s): 24 June 1858; 25 September 1858

Form & transmission history: Original letters, as combined, edited, and published in a British periodical.

Original publication details: The Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser (25 September 1858): 3

Digital edition & date: One More Voice, 2020

Critical editing & encoding: Heather F. Ball, Adrian S. Wisnicki

Cite this digital edition (MLA): Anonymous; Selim Aga. “‘The Niger Expedition’” (24 June 1858; 25 September 1858). Heather F. Ball, Adrian S. Wisnicki, eds. One More Voice, site launch edition, 2020, https://onemorevoice.org/html/transcriptions/liv_020017_TEI.html.

Rights: Critically-edited text copyright One More Voice. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

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