Reprinted from Sierra Leone
Studies, New Series no. 16, June 1962
Sierra Leone's Connection
with Royalty By Dr M.C.F. Easmon
THE visit of Her Majesty the Queen
last year was the first ever made by
a reigning sovereign to this territory, and has prompted many to ask
what were the antecedents which were climaxed with the Sovereign’s
visit. In this short article, an attempt will be made to recall Sierra
Leone’s intimate contacts with the Royal Family before it became an
The Portuguese, as is well known, were the first Europeans to establish
contact with West Africa, including what is now the Sierra Leone River
and Mountain Peninsular. Commerce soon followed in the wake of these
voyages and articles of African trade—gold, bees wax, elephants’ teeth,
spices and Negroes—became much sought after by the nations of the
western world, when keen rivalry was soon established. Each
nation—Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, and Dutch—in order to
protect the interests of their nationals gave them Charters setting out
the areas in which to trade. All included the coasts of Sierra Leone.
From early in the seventeenth century, individual merchants and
companies received Charters from the English Government. In 1662, for
example, a Charter was granted to the Royal Company Trading into Africa
by Charles II, in which were associated the names of his mother, his
Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and his brother, the Duke of York. It was
in the time of this Company that the Dutch Admiral de Ruyter destroyed
English trading factories in Jamaica in the Sherbro and Tassoh on the
Sierra Leone River. The Company never recovered from this loss and had
to close down. It was succeeded in 1672 by the Royal African Company
with the Duke of York as Chairman. This Company lasted till 1752 and it
was during its time that factory buildings were first erected on Bense,
Bance or Bunce Island.
There is no direct contact with Royalty for another 124 years, and then
it was with a set of people who did not become Sierra Leoneans until
four years after. The contact was between the Maroons and a son of
George III, Edward, Duke of Kent, who at the time was
Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in Canada and was later to
become the father of Queen Victoria. This is how the meeting took
place. The Maroon War in Jamaica was brought to an end by the Maroons
surrendering (they were never defeated) to General Walpole on his word
of honour that they would not be
deported. On some legal quibble this was not honoured by the civil
Government of Jamaica and, on laying down their arms, they were
transhipped to Halifax in Nova Scotia. Prince Edward, being anxious to
see these so-called wild savages who had for so long withstood the
might of the British Army in Jamaica, arranged to pay them a visit on
board their transport. Great was his surprise to find lined up at
attention a smartly dressed body of men. He spoke with them and, as the
Napoleonic Wars were still on and the defences of Halifax incomplete,
he asked them if they would help in the defence work. They professed
their loyalty to the King’s Son and agreed. In Halifax they helped to
build the fortifications on the high mound in the centre of the
part of which is still known as the Maroon Bastion. A little later when
the men were suffering deprivations, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent,
personally saw that the necessary supplies were sent to them. Five
hundred Maroons, as the third element in the early colonization of
Sierra Leone under the Chartered Company, landed here in 1800. The
Maroons then were the first of the colonists of Sierra Leone to come
into contact with the Royal Family.
We must now pass on another fifty years to what is perhaps the most
intimate association Sierra Leoneans have had with the Royal Family as
revealed in the story of Sarah or Sally Forbes Bonetta. From 1807 when
the bill abolishing the Slave Trade was passed up to
about 1860 the main duty of the Western Atlantic Squadron based on
Freetown was to intercept vessels carrying slaves to the Americas and
the West Indies. In the 1840’s Capt F. E. Forbes, R.N. of the H.M.S.
Bonetta captured a ship carrying slaves out of Dahomey and on it was a
little girl. Captain Forbes took her back with him to England and
somehow or other she came to the notice of Queen Victoria who adopted
her and took her into the Royal Household for a time.
It was later decided to return her to Frectown and she was
in the C.M.S Institution (now the Annie Walsh Memorial School) and was
known as Sarah or Sally Forbes Bonetta. She subsequently married Mr.
Joseph Philip Leones Davies, a Liberated African of Foulah origin.
Davies studied seamanship and after gaining his Master’s Certificate,
became Captain in the employment of the All Black Shipping Company, the
first African shipping line whose owners included successful Liberated
merchants like the Hon. Syble Boyle. In 1863, the first child, a
daughter, was born to the couple and
was christened Victoria, after Queen Victoria who graciously agreed to
become her godmother.
The Queen sent out as christening gifts a golden cup, spoon and knife.
At a later date, the girl Victoria travelled to England and went also
to the Queen at Buckingham Palace and became a companion of the royal
grandchildren and a special favourite of Princess Beatrice, Queen
Victoria’s youngest daughter, the wife of Prince Henry of Battenburg.
return to Lagos in Nigeria, where her father had settled, Victoria
married Dr. John Randle, another famous Sierra Leonean who had made his
home in Nigeria and who became a benefactor of our Fourah Bay College.
About the time of the birth of Mrs. Victoria Randle, in 1863, Freetown
was honoured by the visit of Prince Alfred, who was then a mid-shipinan
and who, as far as I can find out, was the first member of the Royal
Family to visit these shores. The day of his visit, Prince Alfred’s
Day, was for a long time a public holiday, and Songo Town was for a
time called Prince Alfred’s Town. Fyfe has given a detailed account of
this visit in a recent number of Sierra
Next on record is the visit of another of Queen Victoria’s daughters,
Princess Helen, who became Princess Christian. She
in the early nineties and after her the first missionary hospital in
West Africa, The Princess Christian Missionary Hospital (the buildings
now used for the Maternity Hospital) was named. She had always been
very interested in mission work. This Hospital, the Cottage Hospital as
it was first called, was Diocesan, not a C.M.S. institution, having
been founded by Bishop Ingham and his wife in 1892. In his book “Sierra
Leone After a Hundred Years” the Bishop refers to it as the Cottage
Hospital in the Preface but in the text as the Princess Christian
Mission Hospital. His book was published in 1894. But for a long time
it was known as the Cottage Hospital.
Next we come to the Memorial to Prince Henry of Battenburg who
married Queen Victoria’s youngest and favourite daughter, Princess
Beatrice. This Prince was related to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and
was also the uncle of Prince Philip, her royal Consort.
Prince Henry never touched foot on the shores of Freetown. Yet there is
this memorial plate on the entrance to Battenburg Hall in Howe Street:-
In memory of
H.R.H. Prince Henry
of Battenburg K.G.
who died during
the Ashanti Expedition
Jan. 20th 1896.
This Stone was laid by
H.E. Sir Charles A. King Harman
K.C.M.G. Governor Jan. 25th 1906.
How did the death of a German Prince come to be recorded in a Mission
House in Freetown? The following account throws some interesting light
on a page of Sierra Leone and West African history. The name Prempeh is
well known to West Africans and those interested in
West African history. He was the Asantehene or ruler of the great
Ashanti Confederacy and was taken prisoner in the last but one Ashanti
War, that of 1896, and exiled to the Seychelles but spent the first
four years of his thirty year long exile in Freetown. In command of
this 1896 Expedition was Sir Francis Scott, and he had with him as his
Military Secretary, Prince Henry of Battenburg.
On his way to the Gold Coast, Scott called in at Freetown, and took
with him as Chaplain to the Forces, the Rev. J. Taylor Smith, a young
C.M.S. missionary who had recently been a curate at Norvad. Before the
end of the war, Prince Henry became ill and was invalided and young
Taylor Smith accompanied him home. However, he never reached England
but died at sea between Freetown and the Canary Islands. Taylor Smith
then had the unpleasant task of taking his body and personal belongings
to Queen Victoria and her daughter Princess Beatrice and of conveying
his last dying messages.
This was the beginning of the tide which Taylor Smith took at the
flood. He returned to Sierra Leone and became Canon Missioner and later
Bishop of Sierra Leone. On retirement he became Chaplain General to the
On becoming Bishop, Taylor Smith started to erect a large building for
the service of the Church which, though he was no longer here when it
was completed, he caused to be named Battenburg Hall no doubt in
memory and gratitude to all he owed to that family. This building,
which is situated at the upper end of Howe Street, was for many years
the home of the Diocesan Technical Institute.
We next come to the visit of the Duke of Connaught, a younger son of
Queen Victoria, and the Duchess of Connaught and Princess Patricia in
1910 on their return journey from South Africa. He laid the foundation
stone of the present Law Courts Building in Westmoreland Street. After
the destruction by fire of the old Colonial Hospital in 1920 the new
building was named after him, The Connaught Hospital.
In April, 1925 the heir to the throne Edward, Prince of Wales, visited
Freetown and laid on 6th April the foundation stone of the Prince of
In the ensuing period came visits, informal and private, of Princess
Louise, Duchess of Argyle, Queen Victoria’s last surviving child, and
Lady Mountbatten of Burma in 1951.
In April 1961, Her Majesty sent her cousin, the Duke of Kent, to
represent her at the Independence celebrations, just 165 years after a
former Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, and therefore his
great, great great grandfather, first saw the future Sierra Leone
Maroons in Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia.
The climax of this long connection with the Royal Family came in
November last year when for the first time the reigning Sovereign of
the British Commonwealth visited Sierra Leone.