King's College London
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I speak of Africa

Investment and prosperity

Extract from: Great Britain. Office of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Colonial estimates, 1817 [manuscript]. 1817 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. HJ1019 GRE]Extract from: Great Britain. Office of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Colonial estimates, 1817 [manuscript]. 1817 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. HJ1019 GRE]The passing of the Abolition Bill in 1807 was to transform Sierra Leone. All slave-trading ships captured by Britain’s West Africa squadron were brought to Freetown, where an international court was established. All slaves found on board ship were freed but in most cases repatriation was simply not feasible; the ships might have picked up their cargoes from as far away as East Africa. So the freed slaves generally stayed in Sierra Leone, whose population soared.

Sir Charles MacCarthy, governor of Sierra Leone from 1814 to 1824, saw the freed slaves as conduits through which Christian teaching could be spread throughout Africa. A dedicated champion of the colony, he persuaded the cash-strapped British government, battling with the post-Waterloo slump, to finance the supply of missionaries and teachers and the establishment of English-style villages for the freed slaves, where they would be instructed. By 1817, as the pages on display show, the large sum of £15,814 was allocated to the running of the Sierra Leone colony, more than for any other British colony of the time.

Extract from: Great Britain. Office of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Colonial estimates, 1817 [manuscript]. 1817 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. HJ1019 GRE]Extract from: Great Britain. Office of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Colonial estimates, 1817 [manuscript]. 1817 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. HJ1019 GRE]MacCarthy’s programme, enthusiastically supported by the missionary societies, was an immediate success. The freed slaves, who hailed from all over Africa and had little common ground, found in Christianity and in the English language a new source of identity. They adopted European names and clothing and were keenly ambitious for their children’s education. Many of the British missionaries fell victim to disease – Sierra Leone was the proverbial ‘white man’s grave’ – but this did not derail progress, their place being taken by missionaries drawn from the original communities of ‘Nova Scotian’ and Jamaican settlers.

Sierra Leone’s economy also began to prosper. Timber and groundnuts became major exports, Freetown expanded and a professional middle class emerged. The Church Missionary Society founded a training college for teachers and missionaries at Fourah Bay in 1827. In 1873 Fourah Bay College was affiliated to the University of Durham; by then offering a broad range of subjects, it enabled Sierra Leone students, many of them the children of slaves, to receive a British university degree.

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