Reprint from Sierra Leone Studies, New Series, no. 8, June, 1957

Prince Niambanna in England
H.A. Rydings

The Library of Fourah Bay College was recently able to acquire through the good offices of the Library Adviser to the Inter-University Council, photostat copies of four letters concerning one of the first Africans from Sierra Leone to be educated in England. He was the son of Niambanna, last of a line of notable Temne Kings, and the letters form part of the correspondence of the Rev. J.E. Gambier, of Langley, Kent, which is now in the Kent County Archives. The letters being the oldest manuscript material of which the Library has copies, the Librarian was curious to find out what is known of the young Niambanna, and the following notes are the result.

Known originally as John Frederick, the young man soon after his arrival in England adopted the names Henry Granville, as a token of respect for his benefactors, Henry Thornton and Granville Sharp. The year of his birth is uncertain, but would appear to have been between 1762 and 1767.1 There are also discrepancies in the accounts of his family relationships, as will appear in the versions about to be quoted. These accounts vary further in the reasons given for Niambanna's being sent to England, though it seems that these differences can be reconciled with some minor adjustments.

First, we have the record of Mrs. Falconbridge, who writes thus of the agreement negotiated by her husband (as Agent of the .Company) with King Niambanna: "They consented to...grant to the St. George's Bay Company, all the land King Niambanna had formerly sold Captain Thompson; for a paltry consideration, of about thirty pounds; and for the good faith and true performance of the contract, the King said he would pledge his second son John Frederic, whom Falconbridge might take with him to England. In answer to this offer, Falconbridge told Niambanna, he would be very glad to take his son to England, where he was sure the Company would have him educated and treated kindly without considering him a hostage. This pleased the old man vastly, and it was agreed, John Frederic shall accompany us, when we leave Africa."2

Whatever doubts we may have regarding the historical accuracy of all that Mrs. Falconbridge wrote, hers is the only printed con-

1 Cf. Hoare, p. 368, and S.L. Co. report, p. 213                                     2 Falconbridge, p. 60.

temporary account. Although Hoare's version dates from over twenty years later, it is clear that he had access to the Company's records as well as to many of the persons who met Prince Niambanna in England. He writes as follows:

"Among the Negroes who had returned to Sierra Leone (in 1787) was Elliott, his (Niambanna's) secretary, who, while in England, had learned to read and write our language...and his proficiency in letters excited in Niambanna a great desire of obtaining the advantages of an European education for his sons. The King sent one of his sons to France for instruction, and another was placed under a Mandingo teacher, a Mahometan; the eldest son, John Frederick having resolved to make his way to England for the same purpose, was on the point of concluding an agreement with the master of a slave-vessel for his free passage thither, when the Company's agent, Mr. Falconbridge, arrived in Sierra Leone. Niambanna...readily consented to his son's desire of embarking in the Company's spite of the remonstrances from the neighbouring chiefs...and when he consigned his son into the hands of Mr. Falconbridge, he charged him at the same time with a letter addressed to Granville Sharp, entreating him that he would in all things direct the education of the young prince."1 There follow extracts from the letter (taken from Reports of the S.L. Co.) and Sharp's reply:

"Mr. Thornton and the rest of the Directors...have undertaken the charge of paying a proper tutor for the education of your son. Mr. Thornoton recommended the Reverend Mr. Gambier, of ---- in Kent..."2

There is, however, a third version, which in recent years has received greater currency than either of the above. It passed into general circulation with the publication of Bishop Ingham's book in 1894, where we read:

"He (King Niambanna) was well convinced of the barbarous state of his own people, on a comparison with Europeans, and wished for nothing more than a reformation among them, especially in religion. But as he found there were several kinds of religion in the world, he wished to know which was the best, before he introduced any of them. To ascertain this point as well as he could, he took the following method. He sent one of his sons into Turkey among the Mahometans; a second into Portugal among the Papists; and a

1 Hoare, p.365                                                                       2 Hoare, p. 367

third he recommended to the Sierra Leone Company, desiring they would send him into England, to be there instructed in the religion of the country."1

This version is "quoted" (actually rather inaccurately paraphrased) by Butt-Thompson (p. 49), who further suggests, though without stating on what grounds, that the young Niambanna was the King's grandson. It is also quoted by Crooks (p. 34), who gives its origin as Lady Knutsford's Life of Zachary Macauley (1900), but again this appears to be a paraphrase of Ingham's version. Ingham states that his source was "a little book, bearing date 1810, and entitled True Stories of Young Persons distinguished for Virtue and Piety who died in Early Life."2 The author of this work remains unknown, but although the present writer has not seen it (there is a copy in the British Museum Library), the title suggests that it is a series of sketches designed to point a moral rather than to be historically exact in all details. It therefore casts no reflection upon Bishop Ingham, who was a careful writer (his quotations from Clarkson's Diary differ only in punctuation from the version given in Sierra Leone Studies, no. VIII, 1927), to say that his version and those derived from it are all based on a source of doubtful accuracy.

These, then, are the different accounts of how Prince Niambanna came to be sent to England: Mrs. Falconbridge's, that he (the King's second son) was sent as a pledge for the contract between the King and the Company; the reason given by the anonymous author of 1810, that the King wished to decide which religion to adopt; and Hoare's account, that the Prince (the eldest son) might acquire a European education. Of the three, the last seems to accord best with common sense, and is supported by two bits of external evidence. First, there is the letter from King Niambanna to Granville Sharp, quoted both by Hoare (p. 386) and in the S.L. Co. report (p. 97). Second, Hoare's statement that another son was sent to France (not Portugal, as in the 1810 account) is supported by the following extract from a French writer:

"The French received their possessions on the river of Sierra Leone in consequence of a treaty with Panabouri, proprietor of Gambia (i.e. Gambia Island in the Bunce River), which was signed between the Negro king and M. de Lajaille on the 14th January, 1785. The king gave his son, named Pedro, as a hostage for his

         1Ingham p.170                                                             2 Ingham p. 168, footnote

 performance of the contract; and the youth was conveyed to France, where he received a pension of 1200 livres per annum for two years. On returning to Africa, his father sent him back to France to finish his education"1

The identity of Panabouri with Niambanna (perhaps "Pa Nengbana"2 is an intermediate form) is confirmed by Golberry, who describes Panaboure as "king of the islands of Forbana, Fombana, Robana, Gambia, and the river of Sierra Leone"2
This account of the means whereby Pedro was sent to France is remarkably similar to Mrs. Falconbridge's story of how John Frederic was sent to England. Evidently the old King having successfully used the method on the French in 1785 was quite prepared to repeat it on the English in 1791. This may account for the absence of any mention of Pedro, who according to Lajaille finally returned home in 1790, in the writings of Mrs. Falconbridge and John Clarkson. We cannot, however, doubt that King Niambanna's real motive, which he so successfully disguised, was to obtain a European education for his sons, for Wadstrom states that "owing to the desire of the Africans to have their children educated in Europe, there were generally from fifty to seventy of these children in Liverpool, beside those who came to London and Bristol."3

From Mrs. Falconbridge we have a lengthy, and in places rather pathetic account of the journey to England. Although this cannot be quoted in full, the description of their departure on board the Lapwing, on 16th June, 1791, is of interest.

"Niambanna seemed unconcerned at parting with his son, but the old Queen cried, and appeared much affected.

 "The Prince was decorated in an old blue cloak, bound with broad gold lace: which, with a black velvet coat, pair of white satin breeches, a couple of shirts, and two or three pair of trousers, from (sic: i.e. form) a compleat inventory of his stock of cloaths, when he left Africa."4 This could hardly be considered an adequate wardrobe for a journey of about 3,000 miles to a European climate, but doubtless he was better equipped than most African travellers

1 Durand, p. 82. Lajaille's own account of his voyage to West Africa is rare (the present writer knows only of the copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris), but the avvreviated version contained in vol. 5 of Walckenaer agrees substantially with Durand's account.
2 Sayers in S.L. Studies, No. X, p. 15.
3 Golberry, vol. ii, p. 181.
4 Wadstrom, p. 94

at that time. King Niambanna having in his territories both French and English factories as well as the Sierra Leone Company's establishment, would have received frequent "dashes" of this kind: one such is recorded by Golberry, who states that the custom of bringing presents of European clothing was started by the Portuguese.

After an exceedingly eventful journey, including near shipwreck on one of the Cape Verde Islands, they reached Penzance in Cornwall on 2nd September. There they stayed at the house of a Mrs. Dennis, who appears to have been a friend of Granville Sharp, until they had received the necessary funds and instructions from the Company in London. Mrs. Falconbridge's account continues:

"We set out from Penzance the 12th  (Sept. 1791), taking with us the Black Prince, and the following day arrived at Plymouth, where by appointment we met Mr. (Thomas) Clarkson; after staying there four days, we went on towards London, stopped at Exeter three days, and arrived here (London) on the 24th.

"As soon as our arrival was known, Mr. Thornton (the Chairman), Mr. Sharp, and several others  of the Directors came to see us...Mr Thornton requested Falconbridge and the Prince would dine with him, at the same time gave the latter to understand he was to consider his (Mr. Thornton's ) house as his home."1

Evidently Prince Niambanna then parted company with the Falconbridges, who sailed again for Sierra Leone on 19th December, 1791. Our next definite knowledge of Niambanna's movements comes from the first of the letters already mentioned. It was written from London on 28 (altered from 27) Feby. 1792, and the full text is as follows:

"Dear Sir,
    "I received yours this morning and am sorry to hear that any of your family are unwell. I hope by this time you are recovered. I have not any decided thoughts at present of returning to Sierra Leone, tho' I do not think my stay in this country will be very long. At present I am only on a visit at Mr. Thornton's for a few weeks which I intend to fill up with learning to ride I had my first lesson this morning. When I was in Leicestershire Mr Ruding called upon me - he is now better than he was and under a Mr. Macauley. I have received a letter from my father within these few days which gives

           1 Falconbridge, pp. 93-4, 126.

me a very favoourable account of things at Sierra Leone. I shall be happy before I leave this country to see Langley once more and hope nothing will debar me of that pleasure. I have the happiness to inform you that Mr Thornton is very well and with my best respects to every one of your family I remain  dear Sir,

                                                                                        yours very sincerely
                                                                                                  H. G. Niambanna"

The letter is not in Niambanna's own handwriting, though he signed it himself. It was evidently addressed to Mr. Gambier, with whom the Prince stayed at Langley, and was one of the two clergymen entrusted with his education. We know that this duty was shared with another, from the account in the Sierra Leone Company report (p. 214), and in this connection the mention of Leicestershire in Niambanna's letter is interesting. The last of his letters was written from Rothley; now Rothley Temple in Leicestershire was the residence of Thomas Babingtron, brother-in-law of Zachary Macauley and a great friend of Henry Thornton. It was no doubt there that Niambanna stayed, and it is quite possible that his other mentor, whose name is not given either in the Sierra Leone Company report or by Hoare, was the vicar of Rothley.

The next two letters do not help us to trace the movements of Prince Niambanna, but enable us to fix the date of his baptism rather more closely than is otherwise possible. The first, written from Scarborough on 20th August, 1792, is from the Archbishop of Canterbury (John Moore) to the Rev. Gambier, who had apparently referred such an unusual event as the intended baptism of an adult African to his Bishop for approval. The reply was emphatic; "If you are satisfied that he has duly profited by your Instructions, and is impressed with a serious sense of the Baptismal Vow, I wish you to take an early opportunity of baptizing him." Nevertheless there must have been a further delay of about a month before the baptism took place, as in the third letter, dated 15th September, the writer asks when and where the baptism was to be performed. This letter was from M. Middleton, probably  identified as Margaret, wife of Sir Charles Middleton (afterwards Baron Barham), and daughter of James Gambier (afterwards Baron Gambier), a second cousin of the Rev. J. E. Gambier. The reply has not been seen, but it seems probable that the baptism of Niambanna took place at Langley

Prince Naimbana letter to Rev. Gambier about the end of September, 1792, the sponsors being Henry Thornton and Granville Sharp.1

It was probably these two who were also primarily responsible for the painting of Prince Niambanna's portrait, which was sent out to his Father as a present from the Sierra Leone Company. This was taken out by the Falconbridges,2 and the gesture was evidently much appreciated, for in his diary John Clarkson writes:  "It is considered an excellent likeness, and when the king spoke of his son, he continually pointed to the picture with tears in his eyes, and the old queen at the same time showed strong feelings of affection."3 And later, when Clarkson went to take his leave of the King before returning to England, he writes: "I felt convinced of the king's kind intentions towards us, and it is my private opinion, that the happy thought of sending out his son's picture...has done more in our favour than the most sanguine of us could have expected."4

This was written in December, 1792, and at that time Prince Niambanna had returned to Rothley, as on the 4th he wrote a letter of thanks to his friends at Langley, whom he did not expect to see again before his departure for Africa. This letter is by far the most interesting of the collection, being written in Niambanna's own hand, and reporoduction will be found on the opposite page.

It is clear that the Prince was already anxious to return to his native land, and this intention was shortly to be made more urgent by the death of his father. King Niambanna died early in February, 1793,5 but the news did not reach his son until 17th April.6 On 18th May, the Prince left London for Plymouth, from whence he was to sail for Africa in a vessel of the Sierra Leone Company which had been named Niambanna. During the voyage, the Prince, having been seized by a fever, had a premonition that he would not live to see his home again. Accordingly he asked a fellow-passenger named Graham to write his will, of which the text is given by Ingham, as follows:

                                                                                                 "On board the 'Niambanna',
                                                                                                               July 14, 1793.
"I, Henry Granville Niambanna, having been for several days very unwell, and being apprehensive that I may not reach my friends,

   1 Hoare, p. 368                                                         2 Falconbridge, p. 136
   3 Ingham, p.78                                                          4 Ingham, p. 150
   5 Falconbridtge, p. 207                                               6 Hoare, p. 370.

pay to the Sierra Leone Company thirteen tons of rice, or the value have communicated the underwritten in the presence of the subscribers. It is my will and desire that my brother Bartholomew do thereof, being in consideration of the sums expended by the said company on my account. And, likewise, that my said brother shall pay the sum of fifty pounds sterling to Henry Thornton, Esq, for money advanced by him on my account. It is my will, also, that my brother Bartholomew shall possess all my estates, real and personal, till my son Lewis shall be of age; and that he shall deliver unto my said son all that he receives from me for him; and that he shall always endeavour to be on a good understanding with the Sierra Leone Company. I particularly request him, as far as he can, to oppose the slave trade, and that nothing injurious may be imputed to the Sierra Leone Company by any evil-minded man, whose interest may be to oppose that worthy company. I here declare, in the presence of that God in whom I place my trust, that, during my stay in England, I always enjoyed very good health, and received the greatest kindness from all those whose care I was under, and that, at my leaving England I was in perfect health. It is likewise my request that my brother will send to the Sugee country for the cows that belonged to my father, and that he will present three of them to the governor and council of the Sierra Leone Company; and that if he do not find that number of cows, that he will purchase three others and give them in my name. I further desire that my brother will pay James Dean Cato, who attended me as my servant on the journey, the sum of five bars" The witnesses were Captain Wooles and James Cato.1

The Niambanna  came to anchor on the morning of July 17th in the Sierra Leone river and the dying Prince, who had been attended by the Company's physician (presumably Dr. Winterbottom, who had also attended his father's death) was brought ashore. His mother had been summoned from Robanna, and shortly arrived with his brother, sister, and other relatives. They were at his bedside in the Governor's house, to which he had been brought, until he expired at about seven o'clock in the evening. "Thus terminated the days of this amiable and enlightened African, from whose exertions, if he had lived, the Company might have expected the most important and extensive services."2

       1 Ingham pp. 178-9.                                                             2 S.L.C report, p. 220.


Gambier MSS. Kent Archives Office, Maidstone. Reference U 194   C 2/9
Butt-Thompson, F. W. Sierra Leone in history and tradition. 1926
Crooks, J.J. A history of the colony of Sierra Leone, 1903
Durand, J.B.L. A voyage to Senegal...1806
Falconbridge, Mrs. A.M. Narrative of two voyages to the River Sierra Leone...1794
Golberry, S.M.X. Travels in Africa...trans. by William Mudford. 2 vols. 1803
Hoare, P. Memoirs of Granville Sharp...1820.
Ingham, Biship E.G. Sierra Leone after a hundred years. 1894
Sierra Leone Company, Substance of the report of the Court of Directors...1795
Wadstrom, C.B. An essay on colonization...1794
Walckenser, C.A. Histoire generale des voyages...21 vols. 1826-42