Sierra Leone News, Sierra Leone Weather and Links ( Sierra Leonean News & Weather )

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Journal of an African Cruiser, 1845,
    by Horatio Bridge, edited by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

CHAPTER XXI: Sierra Leone

Sources of its Population—
Appearance of the Town and Surrounding Country—
Religious Ceremonies of the Mandingoes—
Treatment of liberated Slaves—Police of Sierra Leone—
Agencies for Emigration to the West Indies—
Colored Refugees from the United States—
Unhealthiness of Sierra Leone—Dr. Fergusson—
Splendid Church—Melancholy Fate of a Queen's Chaplain—Currency—
Probable Ruin of the Colony.

    October 15 [1843].—We arrived off the point of Sierra Leone, last night, and were piloted up to the town, this morning.

    This is one of the most important and interesting places on the coast of Africa. It was founded in 1787, chiefly through the benevolent agency of Mr. Granville Sharp, as a place of refuge for a considerable number of colored persons, who had left their masters, and were destitute and unsheltered in the streets of London. Five years later, the population of the colony was recruited by above a thousand slaves, who had fled from the United States to Nova Scotia, during the American revolution. Again, in 1800, there was an addition of more than five hundred maroons, or outlawed negroes, from Jamaica. And finally, since 1807, Sierra Leone has been the receptacle for the great numbers of native Africans liberated from slave-ships, on their capture by British cruisers. Pensioners, with their families, from the black regiments in the West Indies, have likewise been settled here. The population is now estimated at about forty-five thousand; a much smaller amount, probably, than the aggregate of all the emigrants who have been brought hither. The colony has failed to prosper, but not through any lack of effort on the part of England. It is the point, of all others on the African coast, where British energy, capital, and life, have been most profusely expended.

    The aspect of the Cape, as you approach it from the sea, is very favorable. You discern cultivated hills, the white mansions of the wealthy, and thatched cottages, neat and apparently comfortable, abodes of the poorer class. Over a space of several miles, the country appears to be in a high state of improvement. One large village is laid out with the regularity of Philadelphia, consisting of seven parallel streets, kept free from grass, with thatched huts on either side, around which are small plots of ground, full of bananas and plantain trees. The town itself is a scene of far greater activity than any other settlement on the West Coast. Great numbers of negroes, of various tribes and marks, are to be seen there. So mixed, indeed, is the colored population, that there is little sympathy or sense of fellowship among them. The Mandingoes seem to be the most numerous, and are the most remarkable in personal appearance. Almost without exception, they are very tall figures, and wear white robes, and high caps without visors.

    These Mandingoes hold the faith of Mahomet, and at the time of our arrival, were celebrating the feast of the Ramazan. Several hundreds of them paraded through the streets in a confused mass, occasionally stopping before some gentleman's house, and enacting sundry mummeries, in consideration of which they expected to receive a present. In front of a house where I happened to be, the whole body were ranged in order; and two of them, one armed with a gun, and the other with a bow and arrow, ran from end to end of the line, crouching down and pretending to be on the watch against an enemy. At intervals, their companions, or a portion of them, raised a cry, like those which one hears in the mosques of Asia. The above seemed to compose nearly all the ceremony; and our liberality was in proportion to the entertainment, consisting merely of a handful of coppers, scattered broadcast among the multitude. When this magnificent guerdon was thus proffered to their acceptance, they forthwith forgot their mummery, and joined in a general scramble. The king, or chief, now stept forward, and protested energetically against this mode of distribution; it being customary to consign all the presents to him, to be disposed of according to his better judgment. However, the mob picked up the coppers, and showed themselves indifferently well contented.

    When cargoes of slaves are brought to Sierra Leone, they are placed in a receptacle called the Queen's Yard, where they remain until the constituted authorities have passed judgment on the ship. This seldom requires more than a week. The liberated slaves are then apprenticed for five, seven, or nine years; the Government requiring one pound ten shillings sterling from the person who takes them. Unless applicants come forward, these victims of British philanthropy are turned adrift, to be supported as they may, or, unless Providence take all the better care of them, to starve. For the sick, however, there is admittance to the Government Hospital; and the countrymen of the new-comers, belonging to the same tribe, lend them such aid as is in their power. Food, consisting principally of rice, cassadas, and plantains, or bananas, is extremely cheap; insomuch that a penny a day will supply a man with enough to eat. The market is plentifully supplied with meats, fowls, and vegetables, and likewise with other articles, which may be tidbits to an African stomach, but are not to be met with in our bills of fare. For instance, among other such delicacies, I saw several rats, each transfixed with a wooden skewer, and some large bats, looking as dry as if they had given up the ghost a month ago. Supporting themselves on food of this kind, it is not to be wondered at, that the working-classes find it possible to live at a very low rate of labor. The liberated slaves receive from four to six pence, and the Kroomen nine pence per diem; these wages constituting their sole support.

    As may be supposed, so heterogeneous and wild a population as that of Sierra Leone requires the supervision of a strict and energetic police. Accordingly, the peace is preserved, and crimes prevented, by a whole army of constables, who, in a cheap uniform of blue cotton, with a white badge on the arm, and a short club as their baton of office, patrol the streets, day and night. Their number cannot be less than two or three hundred.

    There is a desire, in some quarters, to destroy the colony of Sierra Leone; and one of the means for accomplishing this end is, of procuring the emigration of the colored colonists to the West Indies. For this purpose there are three different agencies. One has over its door:—"British Guiana Emigration Office;" another is for Trinidad; and a third for Jamaica.

    Great promises are made to persons proposing to emigrate; such as a free passage to the West Indies, wages of from seventy-five cents to a dollar per day, and permission to return when they choose. Very few, however, of those who have been long resident here, can be induced to avail themselves of these offers, small as are the earnings of labor at Sierra Leone. They believe that the stipulations are not observed; that emigrants, on their arrival in the West Indies, will be called upon to pay their passages, and that it will not be at their option to return. In short, they suspect emigration to be only a more plausible name for the slave-trade. The Kroomen are the class most sought for as emigrants, although negroes of any tribe are greedily received. Even the Africans just re-captured are sent off, as the authorities are pleased to term it, "voluntarily." The last emigration, consisting of somewhat less than two hundred and fifty persons, included seventy-six slaves, almost that instant landed from a prize. A respectable merchant assured me, that these men were not permitted to communicate with their countrymen, but were hurried off to the vessel, without knowing whither they were bound. The acting governor, Dr. Fergusson, denied the truth of this, although he admitted that the seventy-six liberated slaves did emigrate to the West Indies, very soon after landing from the prize.

    It is to be remarked, that the white inhabitants of Sierra Leone, as well as the colored people, entertain very unfavorable notions of this scheme of procuring laborers for the West Indies. The best defence of it, perhaps, is, that neither blacks nor whites can flourish in this settlement, and that a transportation from its poor soil and sickly climate, to any other region, may probably be for the better. But, undeniably, the British government is less scrupulous as to the methods of carrying out its philanthropic projects, than most other nations in their schemes of self-aggrandizement.

    In Freetown, which is the residence of all the Europeans, are to be found what remains of the emigrants from Nova Scotia, and their descendants. The whole number transported hither at several periods, was about fifteen hundred. Not more than seventy or eighty of these people, or their progeny, now survive upon the spot. Our pilot is one of the number. He affirms, that his countrymen were promised fifty acres of land, each, in Sierra Leone, on condition of relinquishing the land already in their possession in Nova Scotia. With this understanding they emigrated to Africa; but, in more than half a century which has since elapsed, the government has never found it convenient to fulfil its obligations. Only two or three acres have been assigned to each individual. Meantime, the body of emigrants has dwindled away, until the standard six feet of earth by two, the natural inheritance of every human being, has sufficed for almost all of them, as well as fifty, or five thousand acres could have done. These emigrants were the colonial slaves, who were taken or ran away from the United States, during the Revolutionary war. Considered physically and statistically, their movement was anything but an advantageous one. It would be matter of curious speculation to inquire into the relative proportions now alive, of slaves who remained upon our southern soil, and of these freed men, together with the amount of their posterity. Not, of course, that it has been in any degree a fair experiment as to the result of emancipating and colonizing slaves. The trial of that experiment has been left to America; and it has been commenced in a manner that might induce England to mistrust her own beneficence, when she contrasts Liberia with Sierra Leone.

    This settlement has been known as "The White Man's Grave;" and it is certainly a beautiful spot for a grave--as lovely as one of those ornamental cemeteries, now so fashionable, and on which so much of our taste is lavished; as if only the dead had leisure for the enjoyment of shrubbery and sculpture. Sierra Leone, however, is by no means the fatal spot that it once was. Formerly, a governor was expected to die every year, although a few held the reins of power, and enjoyed the pomp and dignity of office, twice or even thrice that period. Brave and excellent men have accepted the station, on this fearful tenure. Among them was Colonel Denham, the adventurous traveller in Africa. Very great mortality likewise prevailed among the merchants, military and civil officers, and soldiers. This was partly owing to the recklessness of their mode of life. The rich were in the habit of giving champagne-breakfasts at noon, and heavy and luxurious suppers at night. The continual neighborhood and near prospect of death made them gaily desperate; so that they grew familiar with him, and regarded him almost as a boon companion. And, besides, in a sickly climate, each individual is confident of his own personal immunity against the disease which, he is ready to allow, may be fatal to those around him. I have noticed this absurd hallucination in others, and been conscious of it in myself. In battle it is the same--the bullet is expected to strike any and every breast, except one's own--and here, perhaps, is the great secret of courage.
see also: Senegal News - Guinea-Conakry - Liberia - Ghana

All of Sierra Leone is
one time zone at GMT,
with no Daylight Savings time.

  Sierra Leone News



    Republic of Sierra Leone: The 1991 to 2002 civil war between the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (well over one-third of the population), many of whom are now refugees in neighboring countries.

    With the support of the UN peacekeeping force and contributions from the World Bank and international community, demobilization and disarmament of the RUF and Civil Defense Forces (CDF) combatants has been completed.

    National elections were held in May 2002 and the government continues to slowly reestablish its authority. The military, which took over full responsibility for security following the departure of UN peacekeepers at the end of 2005, is increasingly developing as a guarantor of the country's stability. The armed forces remained on the sideline during the 2007 presidential election, but still look to the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) - a civilian UN mission - to support efforts to consolidate peace.

    The new government's priorities include furthering development, creating jobs, and stamping out endemic corruption.
    CIA World Factbook: Sierra Leone


Area of Sierra Leone: 71,740 sq km
slightly smaller than South Carolina

Population of Sierra Leone: 6,144,562
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Sierra Leone:
English official, literate minority
Mende principal vernacular in the south
Temne principal vernacular in the north
Krio English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%

Sierra Leone Capital: Freetown


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    Latterly, the Europeans at Sierra Leone practise a more temperate life. Another circumstance that has conduced to render the settlement less insalubrious, is the clearing of lands in the vicinity, and conversion of the rank jungle into cultivated fields. The good effect of this change will be readily appreciated by those who have noticed the improved health of our Western settlers, as the forest falls before the axe; or who have seen the difference between the inhabitants of old and new lands, in any country.

    It is said, by the old residents here, that they do not find it very sickly, except once in seven years, when an epidemic rages, and carries off many settlers. This has happened regularly since 1823, until the present year, when, in the proper order of things, the angel of death should have re-appeared. Several persons provided for their safety by quitting the place; and others made their arrangement to retreat, on the first symptoms of danger. But the year, thus far, seems to have been distinguished by no peculiar mortality.

    Life, in a climate like this, must generally be much more brief than in temperate regions, even if it do not yield at once to the violence of disease. Yet there are circumstances of Europeans attaining a good and green old age at Sierra Leone. Mr. Hornell, a Scotch merchant of great wealth and probity--which latter virtue is rare enough, in this quarter, to deserve special mention--has resided here fifteen years, and twenty-seven years in the West Indies. He lives regularly, but generously imbibing ale, and brandy-and-water, in moderate quantities, every day of his life.

    The governor, Colonel George Macdonald, is now absent in England. In the interim, the duties of the office are performed by Dr. Fergusson, a mulatto in color, but born in Scotland, and married to a white lady, who now resides in that country. Dr. Fergusson was regularly educated at Edinburgh, and is a medical officer of the British army; a man of noble and commanding figure, handsome and intellectual countenance, and finished manners. He is affable, as well as dignified, in his deportment, and fluent and interesting in conversation. To him, and five or six other men of color, whom I have met on the coast, I should refer, as proofs that individuals of the African race may, with due advantages, be cultivated and refined so as to compare with the best specimens of white gentlemen.

    There is a large church here, said to have cost seventy thousand pounds sterling; notwithstanding which vast expenditure, divine service has ceased to be performed. The last clergyman, a young man universally beloved and respected, lost his life, two or three years ago. He had gone with a party of friends, five in all, on board a homeward-bound vessel, which lay at a short distance from the shore. On their return the boat capsized and sunk. The five Kroomen saved themselves, by swimming, until picked up by a canoe; the five whites were lost; and the young clergyman among them. The latter swam well, and was almost within reach of a canoe, when he threw up his hands, exclaiming, "God have mercy on me!"--and disappeared. A shark had undoubtedly seized him, at the moment when he believed himself safe. This gentleman held the office of Queen's Chaplain; and since his melancholy fate, no new appointment of that nature has been made. If credit be due to the statements reciprocally made by the colonists, in reference to one another, there is great need of teachers to inculcate the principles of religion, morality, and brotherly love; although the spiritual instruction heretofore bestowed (which has cost large sums to the pious in England) has been almost entirely thrown away. There are some missionaries here, who have directed their labors principally to the business of education.

The tide runs so strongly, into and out of the river, that such accidents as that which befell the five Europeans, above-mentioned, are of no unfrequent occurrence. When boats or canoes are upset, it is impossible for the passengers to swim against the current. We had an instance of the danger, while at anchor there. The captain was seated in his cabin, with the stern windows open, when he heard a native in a canoe, under the stern, say "Man drown!" Being asked what he meant, he reiterated the words, pointing towards the sea. Just then, a cry was indistinctly heard. Two of our boats were instantly despatched, and picked up three Kroomen, whose canoe had sunk, leaving them to the mercy of the current, which was rapidly drifting them towards the ocean. The Humane Society of Sierra Leone bestows a reward for every person rescued from drowning. In this instance, of course, no claim was made upon their funds.

    The currency here differs from that of all the other settlements on the coast, except those belonging to Great Britain. The Spanish and South American doubloons are valued at only sixty-four shillings sterling each, or fifteen dollars and thirty-six cents; while they are worth elsewhere, sixteen dollars. Spanish and South American dollars pass at about one per cent. discount. The English sovereign is reckoned at four dollars eighty cents; and the French five-franc piece at ninety-two cents. The gold and silver coin of the United States is not current at Sierra Leone. Bills on London, at thirty days sight, are worth from par to five per cent. premium, and may actually be sold in small sums (say, from £100 to £2000) at fair rates.

    Pilotage is five shillings sterling per foot; and the port-charges are so exorbitant as to prevent the entrance of many vessels, which would otherwise stop to try the market. Of late years, the trade of Sierra Leone has suffered great diminution. Money having been lost on all the timber exported, that business is at present nearly abandoned. Another cause of decay is the withdrawal of the British squadron, which has now its principal rendezvous at Ascension. More than all, as contributing to the decline of the colony, the home-government has discontinued the greater part of the assistance formerly rendered. The governor, colonial secretary, and chief justice, are believed to be all the civil officers who now draw their salaries from England. The military force consists of a captain, five or six subalterns, and probably two or three hundred soldiers. In consequence of the failure of support from the mother-country, the colony has imposed higher duties upon certain articles, in order to try the experiment of raising a revenue from their own resources. The most sagacious and best informed residents predict that the result aimed at will not follow, and that three or four years will suffice to render the colony of Sierra Leone bankrupt.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1843 was equivalent to $23.05 in 2008.
The British pound was worth about $4.79 in 1843;, and, by retail price index, £1 in 1843 was equivalent to about £77.10 in 2006.

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