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AFRICA THROUGH WESTERN EYES

Part 1: Original Manuscripts from the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library

The first two parts of Africa Through Western Eyes are based on the unique holdings of the Royal Commonwealth Society Library, now housed at Cambridge University Library. From its foundation in 1868, the organisation known successively as the Colonial Society, Royal Colonial Institute, Royal Empire Society and finally the Royal Commonwealth Society, amassed a vast library on the British Empire, the Commonwealth and member countries. The Library holds many valuable manuscripts and collections of papers of traders, travellers, soldiers, missionaries and diplomats in Africa.

Part 1 is particularly rich in sources covering:

  • Nigeria
  • Liberia (including papers of the International Commission on Slavery)
  • the Congo
  • South Africa
  • Kenya
  • Uganda

There is also material for Tanzania, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, Sierra Leone, Sudan, the Cameroons, Senegambie and Calabar.

Pride of place must go to the 41 volumes of diaries of Cuthbert Christy (1863-1932), medical officer, explorer and colonial official. From 1898-1900 he was senior medical officer to the Second Battalion West African Field Force in northern Nigeria. He was a member of the First Uganda Sleeping Sickness Commission in 1902 and of a medical expedition to Congo in 1903. He travelled in Ceylon, East Africa, Uganda, Southern Nigeria, the Gold Coast and the Cameroons. After official posts in the Congo and the Sudan he served during the First World War in Africa and Mesopotamia. After the War, he explored the Sudan, Nyasaland and Tanganyika, and was a member of the 1930 League of Nations Commission enquiring into slavery and forced labour in Liberia.  

All of his diaries are beautifully written and very full accounts of life in Africa, 1896-1930.  Six volumes describe his experiences in Liberia gathering first-hand evidence of 20th century slavery:

“Vokpoh:  I am in Kikata section. … Ever since they started the road from Monrovia to here we have not got one cent.  Every month if we don’t find the Government rice they fine us.  The whole country of native people, all are slaves now, we don’t know where to go now.  When they punish you hard and say pay and you trying to go to another section, when you cross one creek they catch you and bring you back.  We are afraid to make this report because when you leave here they will catch us again because we told white people, they will punish us again.”

(Interview, 1930.)

Of equal interest are the reminiscences of life in West Africa (in Benin, Accra and the former freed slaves colony of Sierra Leone) by Philip Louis Tengely (1875-?), a customs official and auditor.  It is extremely candid and lively and at one point Tengely intended to destroy it.

Additional sources include:

  • The African Diaries of A R H Mann record a journey in 1935 from London, via Egypt, to the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Belgian Congo, French Equatorial Africa, the Cameroons and South Africa. 
  • 5 volumes of notes concerning the local history, customs and administration of Senegambie.
  • An account of a journey in French West Africa, c1901, by S Forbes White.
  • George K Baskerville’s manuscript history of missionary activity in Uganda, 1876-1927.
  • T O Fraser’s Boer war diary.

Five further collections complete Part 1.

This is only a sampling of the materials featured in our microfilm edition which is especially strong for Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Congo and Kenya. Such sources are ideally suited for use in student project work and provide evidence both of African Life and Culture, 1824-1935, and of the outlook of British explorers, soldiers, colonisers, traders and missionaries.



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