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 independent country.

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

city, 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 placed 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. On 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 Leone Studies.

Next on record is the visit of another of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Helen, who became Princess Christian. She

visited Freetown 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 Forces.  

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 Wales School.

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.