Monday, March 07, 2011

Edwardian Nigeria- High Society in 1920

I first came across the book- "The Red Book of West Africa" in 1980. This work was originally published by Frank Cass and Co in 1920 and authored by Alistair Macmillan, a journalist who visited West Africa in 1919 and compiled a lot of extremely useful, political, commercial and general historical data in a compact but easily readable 305 page book, the version I have was re-published in 1968. The book covers the three main Anglophone colonies of West Africa at the time i.e Nigeria, Gold Coast (Ghana) and Sierra Leone.

The coverage of Nigeria, was naturally of more interest to me (being Nigerian) and the book provided a brilliant insight into life in Nigeria at the time, both on the European expatriates and on the local personalities and organisations. I was particularly struck by the respectful perspective on the local professionals and business personalities, even if certain other perspectives in the book, reflected a slant more appropriate to the 1910's than the noughties, overall it was for me, a brilliant reference work and a book I would recommend highly to any student of Modern West African history.

I had written an article 5 years ago on this blog, on The History of the Palmwine Guitar, in which I referred to the high society of Lagos at the time, this was entirely based on content contained in this book. I however had to rely on residual memory, since I had misplaced my copy. I am however glad to say I have just found it after a particularly strenuous search in my stored archives, through dust, mould and mildew. This post is focused on highlighting several personalities that graced what would have been the equivalent of Tatler in Nigeria at the time, but this time as a more serious historical study of the personalities and an insight on life at the time.

I have highlighted a number of the personalities at the time and their bios. Its necessary to mention the images and information herein are subject to the copyright of Frank Cass and Co (or its successors).

Miss Ore Green b. 1885- Lagos) Educated at CMS Girls Seminary, St Mary's Convent School and Private tuition under Rev WB Euba. Proceeded to London in 1912 and obtained the following qualifications- 1st Class Certificate Music, Theory of Music (London College of Music); Certificate of Central Midwives Board, Honours Certificate- Clapham School of midwifery and Clapham Maternity Hospital, She was the first Black woman to obtain the Apothecaries Certificate of the Pharmaceutical Society of London (A practical Pharmaceutical qualification). Certificate of Westminster College of Chemistry, Pharmacy and Botany and successfully qualified as a Licensed Druggist. She worked as a Dispenser at the Soho Eye and Ear Hospital in London, before returning to Nigeria in 1917, where she first worked as Midwife at Dr Savage's hospital. She later set up her own Nursing practice. She was fluent in English, French and Latin(?!) and was also a gifted actress, who famously played the part of Portia in a production of the Merchant of Venice in 1911.

Dr Oguntola Odunbaku Sapara MB.BS (1861 -1927) Formerly Alexander Johnson Williams )attended CMS Grammar School, Edinburgh University and Glasgow University qualifying as Medical Doctor in 1893 and specialising as a Gynaecologist. He joined the Government Medical service in 1896 and from 1897, dedicated hislife to the eradication of Small Pox and was singlehandedly responsible for securing the the abolition of arm-to-arm vaccination. He famously joined the Smallpox Worshippers Cult "Sopona"- who glorified Small-Pox?!?) so as to obtain info on and fight their practices- thus leading to a Law abolishing the worship of Small-Pox. He was also at the forefront of the campaign by African Medical Doctor's to receive equal pay with their European colleagues.This is one of the most distinguished, but unsung African's. He was famously painted by the pioneer Artist Aina Onabolu. His brother Christopher Sapara Williams, was the first Nigerian Lawyer.

The Hon.Kitoye Ajasa. BL (Inner Temple) Born 1866. A Barrister at Law, he attended CMS Grammar School, Public School in the United Kingdom and The Inner Temple Inn of Court in London and was called to the Bar in 1893. He returned to Nigeria and set up a successful Law Practice. He entered into Politics and was elected to the Lagos Legislative Council and the Nigerian Council in 1914. Greatly respected by the Colonial authorities, he was persuaded by the Sir (later Lord) Frederick Lugard to found a newspaper- "The Nigerian Pioneer" in 1914, which was the first Indigenous Newspaper in Nigeria to voice the opinions of Whites and Black- basically an elite journal. He was the first Nigerian to receive a Knighthood and rose to become a Judge of the High Court of Lagos.

Dr Adeniyi Jones was born in 1876 in Sierra Leone and attended Sierra Leone Grammar School and in 1906 proceeded to Durham University UK, where he studied medicine. He then practised at the Rotunda Hospital Dublin, West London Hospital, Hammersmith London and the Liverpool Institute of Tropical Medicine under Sir Robert Boyce. He returned to Nigeria in 1913 and built his hospital in 1914, containing both male and female wards and an operating theatre.

Debayo Agbebi. b.1886- Lagos) CMS Grammar School, Birmingham University- 1911. Member British Association of Civil Engineers, Life Fellow of the British Geological Society, Member of the Astronomical Society and the Royal Sanitary Institute. Joined the PWD Lagos-1912 as Assistant Engineer, set up a private Firm of Engineers and Licensed Surveyors- 1914.

Samuel Herbert Pearse FRGS b.1866. Educated at CMS Grammar School, he joined WB Maciver and Co (a trading company) after leaving school and learnt the skills of trading from his fastidious and knowledgeable Scottish Manager and mentor Mr Carr. At the age of 17, he was poached by another company for his commercial talent and intelligence and at the age of 22, he set up his own trading Firm Pearse and Thompson, with offices in Marina, Lagos and Leadenhall St- City of London (1888). This venture folded up in 1894 as trading suffered following the Native wars in Nigeria, at the end of the 19th century (prior to unification). He engaged in agency trading for a few years and eventually bounced back in 1907, this time in Calabar where he engaged in the export of Rubber and Ivory to Europe. He amassed a fortune from this trade, eventually returning to Lagos in 1912 and re-establishing his trading empire. Samuel Pearse and Joao Da Rocha amongst others, were reputed as two of the richest men in Lagos at the time. He built the magnificent Elephant House in central Lagos,which by any standards was an excellent mansion. He was honoured with the fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society in 1915, as well as membership of the Royal Colonial Insititute.

He was described by the Red Book of West Africa- as "one of the most influential and respected men in Nigeria". His children went on to professional careers, also his Grand-son Dr Femi Pearse became a Medical Doctor. His great grand children, include Professor Femi-Pearse and my mentor- the late Chief (Mrs) Obafunke Akinkugbe.

Two early Nigerian Medical Practitioners

Dr Moyses Joao Da Rocha (b.1876, Lagos) CMS Grammar Schools, Edinburgh University- MB.BS -1913. Private Medical practice from 1914.

Dr Magnus Macaulay (b.1879 Lagos) Methodist Boys High School, Dispenser Lagos Hospital 1897-1907. Edinburgh University MB BS- 1912. Private Medical Practice, Lagos- from 1914

David Evaristo Akerele born- 1876, Lagos. Started his career as a Clerk in the Government Service, firstly in the Railway and later in the Attorney-General's office. He left to set up business in 1906, firstly as a general contractor to the Government, in 1909 he set up his trading business at Balogun, Lagos, which grew exponentially with branches in Douala and Victoria in the Cameroons. He traded in Agricultural produce and mixed goods.

J.H.Doherty- Born Lagos- 1866. He started his trading career in 1891, as an apprentice in a local business at Alakoro (which was to be his base throughout his career), with the small start-up capital of £47. He built up a business empire, based on meticulous attention to detail, uncompromising integrity and pure hard graft, he was known to scrutinise his accounts meticulously and as they say "follow every penny". By 1899, his business had flourished to the extent of his opening branches of his enterprise in Alakoro- Lagos, Oshogbo, Zaria, Lokoja and Kano. He epitomised the true qualities of integrity, hard work and honesty which to a large extent was fairly typical in Nigeria at the time.

Born.Lagos 1881, Karimu Kotun was a successful Merchant and son of the famous Braimoh Kotun of Lagos. He was notable for being one of the few traders who went into business immediately after leaving school in 1896, without going through a period of apprenticeship. A totally confident and intelligent man, he grew his trading business aggressively and astutely, trading all over Nigeria, from Lagos to Jebba to Calabar to Kano. His reputation as a consummate deal-maker grew such that in 1910, he was appointed local Agent to Messrs EH Stein & Co of Liverpool and later Messrs S.L.Behrens (Manchester) Ltd at the relatively young age of 29. He was one of the first Presidents of the Mohammedan Cricket Club of Lagos (i.e the Muslim Cricket Club) and succeeded Adolphus Martins and the Private Secretary.

George Da Costa - born- 1853- was described as "the ablest and best known photographer in Nigeria". Educated at CMS Grammar School, he was the first African Manager of the CMS Bookshop, from 1877-1895, when he resigned to set up as a photographer. He did this after investing £30.00 in special training (the meticulous nature and pride of skill at the time is evident in my view). His skill was recognised by the colonial government, who commissioned him to photograph the whole Railway Construction project at the end of the 19th/ beginning of the 20th century, which he covered all the way from Lagos, through Jebba, to Kaduna. His works adorn most of the coverage in the Red Book of West Africa.

The Calabar Bar and Bench. Most of the Black Lawyers at this time were from Sierra Leone (Saro), many of whom settled in Lagos and Calabar and forged careers. They were mostly either returned freed slaves or the descendants of these (from the UK). Justice Webber went on to a distinguished career as President of the West African Court of Appeal (WACA)

Prince Bassey Duke Ephraim-( b.1878), a member of the Royal House of Duke of Calabar- was a successful Merchant and exporter of Agricultural produce and Ivory. Calabar and Lagos were the most important cities in Nigeria at the time, being seaports. He was the son of the great Obong Duke of Calabar and was educated froma very early age in the UK (1887). First at Seaforth School and then Waterlow College (under Reverend Bain). Reputedly a highly intelligent and ariculate man, he spoke with an English but was still very much steeped in the traditional ways, leading the punitve military expedition of the Efiks against the Ibibio's (to revenge a previous massacre of the Efiks at Itu). He was also Presidentof the Native Court at Calabar and was also a political leader, famously leading the delegation of the Calabar people to London in 1913, to make representations on Land tenure.

Samuel .O.Bamgbose was a popular trader and a Partner in the famous Lagos tradng firm- S.O.Bamgbose and Brothers (estab.1915). Exporters of local produce and importers of Cotton and fancy goods from Europe. Its unclear if Bamgbose street was named after him, very likely to have been named after an older forebear, since this was a popular Lagos family.

G.T Bickersteth was a popular licensed auctioneer based at Victoria Road, Lagos Originally from Porto Novo,he started out as a teacher and rose to become Headmaster of Holy Trinity School- Ebute Ero, but went into trading shortly after in 1909, dealing in Haberdashery and eventually became a licensed auctioneer and commissioned agent of property and personal goods.

Ed Keazor- 2011

Images- property of Frank Cass and Co (and successors)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, This is a very interesting post! I am involved with the Society of Black Lawyers ( and am Nigerian so am very interested in the early Nigerians who came to England to take the Bar. Thank you very much for this as it has given me some pointers to undertake further research. Regards. Rosy

10:09 pm  
Blogger Borja Melara said...

Fcuk Oguntola. I am a SP worshipper

9:20 pm  
Blogger Seal67 said...

@Borja, its your right to worship what you like.

@Anonymous, I am glad it was useful, I will also point out that, had described Dr Roberts QC as the first Black Head of Chambers- this I believe was The late Judge Tunji Sowande of 2 Kings Bench Walk, who assumed Headship in 1968 I believe. He was Kim Hollis QC Pupil Master. I wrote a post on him, some years ago.

3:42 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Doherty said...

hello, my name is j a doherty, grandson to j.h. doherty. i love your write up on.him.i authored his biography published in 1995.i am in advanced stage of publishing a revised edition.ill ge t u posted on the project. thanks

7:41 pm  
Anonymous G. O said...

its amazing, reading the history of true, hardworking Nigerians who have gone on. thank you for the article, though i'd love to see more women included and also a picture of Aina Onabolu, the father of contemporary art in Nigeria.

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