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Part 5: Papers of Frederick William Hugh Migeod and Mary Ward from the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library

Publisher's Note

Africa Through Western Eyes brings together a wide selection of sources for the study of life and culture in Africa, concentrating on the papers of British explorers, soldiers, colonisers, administrators, traders, missionaries and other people who worked in Africa.

Part 5 continues the coverage of papers from the Royal Commonwealth Society Library. It consists of the papers of Frederick William Hugh Migeod (1872-1952), a Colonial Officer who founded and then served as Chief of the Transport Department in the Gold Coast from 1900-1919 and Mary Ward (1866-1965) who had a long career as a nursing sister in Sierra Leone and Nigeria from 1899-1930.

Frederick William Hugh Migeod (1872-1952)

After serving in the Royal Navy Migeod became assistant transport officer in the West African Frontier Force at Lokoja from 1898 to 1899. He entered the Colonial Office in 1900 and served in the Gold Coast until 1919 spending much of this time as Chief of the Transport Department. He was also a part-time ethnologist and philologist and in retirement undertook a series of expeditions to Africa which are recorded in his books “Across Equatorial Africa” (1923), “Through Nigeria to Lake Chad” (1924), “Through British Cameroons” (1925) and “A View of Sierra Leone” (1926). In later years he served as head of a British Museum expedition to East Africa to excavate dinosaur bones.

The papers held at the Royal Commonwealth Society Library were presented to the Library in 1946 by Migeod explaining:

“When I retired from the Gold Coast in 1919, the Transport Department  of which I was in charge, having founded it in 1901, was closed down as an independent department (only to be resuscitated later on) and I brought away a quantity of the official correspondence for the purpose of  answering queries, or because it was personal and confidential, some being already ancient history. The rest has probably long since been destroyed by damp or white ants”.

His papers provide an interesting perspective on the problems encountered in the running of the Transport Department together with fascinating detail on the life of expatriates in the Gold Coast at the beginning of the twentieth century. Insights are included on various topics including attitudes to work, gossip, plans for leave, everyday affairs.

The papers are divided into:

Letter book kept as Assistant Transport Officer, West African Frontier Force, Lokoja, Nigeria, December 1898-May 1899 including drafts of transport reports

The West African Frontier Force was formed by the British Colonial Office in 1900 to garrison the West African colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia.

The letters and transport reports prove interesting reading. The following is an extract from a report dated 31 March 1899:

“The following works have been completed in the last two months- New native hospital built, old native hospital reroofed, two storehouses reroofed.

Supplies Yams still come in insufficient quantities although the number of rations issued in the week has stood as high as 960.

Stores  All the stores I had here have now been sent to Jebba excepting what I was to retain for transport equipment….

Staff I cannot speak too highly of the way Agbibi has performed his duties…. The £5 per month he receives is very moderate remuneration….”

Letter Books mostly kept as Chief Transport Officer in the Gold Coast at Cape Coast Castle, July 1898-April 1902 and at Sekondi, July 1903-December 1904

In the report dated March 1902 Migeod describes the success of the Transport Department:

“The object of the department in its original conception was to obtain control of the labour market, and to keep down the rate of wages and for this reason the department has not failed in its object. This has however not been accomplished without great difficulty, and at one moment I feared would not be successfully carried through, the chief obstacle having been the indiscriminate way in which mining agents have raised wages….”

Correspondence with colleagues including the District Commissioner, the Colonial Secretary in Accra, the Assistant Treasurer of the Gold Coast, the District Postmaster, the Chief Resident Engineer and the Agent of Alex Miller Bros & Co chiefly concerns carrier gangs engaged in transporting loads such as telegraph poles and material for the construction of railways and the hiring of labourers employed in various roles. Details of the gangs are given including their duties such as cleaning the officers’ latrines, tidying the officers’ garden. Lists are provided of the men’s names and the date they were engaged to do the work.

The Letter Books also include six monthly reports of the Transport Department which give statistics on the number of loads despatched, the number of carriers and labourers supplied, number of deserters and loads lost.

Migeod states: “….The number of desertions since 21 September (1902) has been 339, while the number of loads stolen or lost, has been 10…Miners constantly make complaints against the behaviour of their carriers. Carriers are always difficult to deal with and doubly so to a newly arrived European filled with anti-negro prejudices. He cannot and will not try to understand their mode of thought, and to his inability to see things from the native point of view must be assigned many of the difficulties that arise…”

Indexes are provided for the Letter Books giving date, recipient and subject of each letter.

Press Copy Book of letters written at Cape Coast Castle in the Gold Coast, April 1901-October 1903

These are copies of the letters described above.

Manifold Books, July-December 1903 and January-May 1905 and August-December 1914

These consist of copies of handwritten letters and indexes are provided. The letters in the books for 1914 relate to troop movements in Togoland. This was a German protectorate until August 1914 when the French and British forces invaded the colony, the Germans surrendered and the country was divided into French and British administrative zones.

Semi-official and private letters concerning the Transport Department in the Gold Coast, 1901-1919

Included are letters to Migeod from various correspondents on a range of topics with letters from Migeod to the Colonial Secretary regarding questions raised in the House of Commons concerning indented labour and reports by Migeod on visits to forts such as that at Takoradi.

Official correspondence and papers of the Transport Department, 1901-1919

An interesting collection of letters concerning a wide variety of subjects: a letter from Downing Street, London regarding Migeod’s appointment as Chief Transport Officer, 1901; a memorandum from Migeod on plans for transport organisation in the event of the outbreak of disturbances or war; notes on guidance for officers of the West African Frontier Force on active service, 1898; printed annual reports on the Transport Department giving details on salaries, number of labourers, the development of the mahogany industry, number of carriers and loads, cars and lorries.

Official papers on labour policy, c1901-1910

The papers include memoranda on the Concession Labour Bill; regulations regarding the supply of labourers from the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast to the mines; transport circulars and reports; issues of the “Government Gazette”, Accra.

Letters to Migeod from native West Africans both during and after his time on the Gold Coast, 1904-1934

This large volume of letters from mostly illiterate Africans to Migeod are fascinating giving us a vivid insight into the type of problems that faced Africans at the time. Migeod planned to have these letters published and gives details on each of the authors –  name, present and former occupation. He describes the letters in the following way:

“Most of the correspondents were illiterate and letters would be written by a friend or public letter writer. The letters illustrate many phases of native life. Of course complaints fill a large part of them. When something is wanted the writer will often be very diplomatic while in the narration of facts there is commonly a directness and brevity that add greatly to their vividness. Some writers use the best literary English they can compose. Others take down verbatim what they are told and use the actual African idioms; and, it is usually the latter that are the more interesting as they lay bare the mind of the native in a striking degree and throw many sidelights on his manners and customs.”

Copy correspondence as churchwarden at Sekondi, mostly to Rev F C Cleaver, February-April 1912

Letters to Migeod from Miss Alice Werner (first Professor of Bantu Studies at SOAS London) concerning linguistic matters, 1910-1934

Mary Ward Papers (1866-1965)

Mary Alexandria Ward spent 38 years in West Africa. She trained as a nurse at Tottenham Hospital before becoming Nursing Sister at the Princess Christian Hospital in Sierra Leone in 1891. From 1899-1917 she was in government service in Nigeria, during which time she was drafted to the Gold Coast to organise the nursing services at Cape Coast base hospital during the Ashanti War in 1900. The following year she was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her work there and received one of the few Ashanti medals which were struck.

After 18 years in various government hospitals in Nigeria she retired from the Colonial Nursing Association in 1917 and became a Serving Sister of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. She then returned to Princess Christian Hospital in Sierra Leone as Honorary Matron and for a further 13 years travelled at her own expense giving her services voluntarily to the hospital. In 1918 she helped nurse Australian soldiers during the influenza epidemic in Freetown and was awarded the MBE for her services.

Mary Ward’s papers give vivid detail on the work of a nurse in West Africa in the early part of the twentieth century. They also throw much light on the problems encountered dealing with the growth of African nationalism and the rise of Islam.

Her papers are divided into:

Correspondence, 1840-1965

Letters are from Mary Ward in Sierra Leone, Zungeru and Lokoja mainly to her sister, Florence Anne. Also included are letters from Sister Christian concerning nursing work, from Mary Ward’s family and from Dr Rachel Elliott who met Mary Ward in Sierra Leone in the 1920’s and  later donated her papers to the library. Miscellaneous letters include correspondence concerning Mary Ward’s last illness and death.

Annual Reports of the Princess Christian Cottage Hospital, Sierra Leone, 1894-1896

The reports give a synopsis of the work carried out at the hospital including tables of cases arranged by type of disease. Financial details are also recorded showing annual subscriptions, offertories and collections, sale of work and balance sheets.

Newsletters of the Prince of Wales College, Achimota, Accra, 1925-1935

These printed newsletters not only provide information on the work carried out at the college but also discuss the three main issues affecting work at this time: the denationalism of the Africans, character training and the education of African boys and girls.

Issues of the Sierra Leone Messenger, 1893-1962

Sub-titled “A Quarterly Record of Church Work in West Africa” the periodical provides interesting detail on missionary work containing diocesan news, news from missionaries, articles on Africa, news on home work and portraits of bishops and cannons.


Photographs in the collection show Mary Ward at different stages of her life, her parents, friends and colleagues. Included also are photographs of Sister Adelaide, Bishop Walmsley and Mary Ruth who was trained by Mary Ward. There are also views of Lokoja and from the Princess Christian Hospital.

Diary extracts and reminiscences of Mary Ward, 1895-1896, 1898-1899, 1906, 1913, 1925

The first diary extract describes the visit of Prince Christian Victor to the Princess Christian Hospital in December 1895, lunch on the “Coromandel” with Prince Harry of Battenberg, his death and the arrival of Canon Taylor Smith from the war zone in January 1896.

Another describes Mary Ward’s return to Sierra Leone on HMS “Biafra” in May 1898, the impact of the Hut Tax rising including the murder of Rev J Hughes and Rev W J Humphrey and the removal of the patients and staff of the Princess Christian Hospital to the Annie Walsh CMS School.

In 1899 Mary Ward made her first visit to Nigeria and she describes her journey from Liverpool to Nigeria with her final arrival at Lokoja. In May 1899 she records her journey from Forcados to Aboutchi with vivid descriptions of conditions and her experiences.

She later records the difficulty of travelling in Nigeria in 1906 when she travelled up the Niger, visiting Forcados, Borutu, Lokoja, Wechisu and Barajuka before travelling by train to Zungeru.

In 1913 she undertook a tour to Kano (“Grand Tour”) travelling with Mr and Mrs Goldsmith from  Zungeru to Minna, Kaduna, Zaria to Kano and then from Minna to Zungeru. Her account includes comments on the position of Islam, mission work and the educational activities of Hanns Vischer and gives good detail on the places visited and the local people they met. The following was written at the Residency at Kano, November 1913:

“Here beginneth a record of the “Grand Tour”. We left Zungeru on Wednesday the 27 at 1.30. We had lunch on the train and got to Minna our first stopping place at 4pm. There was a guard of honour to meet the D G (Deputy Governor) and a good many native chiefs on their gaily decked steeds. Then when everyone had been greeted, we got off the train and were driven up to the Residency (where we were to be put up for the night) in a smart American buggy. Minna is a most picturesque place, there are several round fairly high hills on which the greater number of the houses are built. The Residency is only a thatched mud house…the outside was gaily decorated with flags…. The D G gave a dinner, there were ten of us altogether, six guests, heads of departments; the table was beautifully decorated and laid with the silver vases and huge rose bowl for centrepiece….

…. About four hours after leaving Zaria we came in sight of Kano; we stopped outside the town at the Nassawari Gate and the Emir came out to meet the D G. The Emir was a very fine gentleman, with about two hundred followers, all mounted, and wearing very fine gowns….”

In the diary extracts dated 1925 she describes the visit of the Prince of Wales to the Princess Christian Mission Hospital and includes personal reminiscences of Bishop Walmsley.

Also included in this section is a transcript of her reminiscences recorded on tape by her at the age of 98.

Diaries, 1945, 1947-1952, 1957, 1961 and 1964

These diaries record daily events in Mary Ward’s life after her retirement from nursing.

Papers related to Mary Ward’s medals and awards

Miscellaneous papers

Most of the items are connected with the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1925 and include invitations and tickets.

Biographical material and letters relating to the accession of the collection

This includes notes on Mary Ward and her family and friends, articles on Tottenham hospital, newspaper cuttings, articles on Mary Ward, tributes and obituary and maps.

Bishop Walmsley papers

Included are sermons, photographs and papers concerning his death and funeral.

The Mary Ward collection also includes papers of her family.

Papers of Leonard Ward (Mary Ward’s brother)

Included are diary entries, 1878-1879 and poems on religious topics.

Cossey and Voysey family papers

Photographs, poetry and miscellaneous letters.

Sargent family papers

Letters from John and Laurens Sargent, photographs and poetry.




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