From Sierra Leone Studies, No. 3, December, 1954
The Evolution of the Native Affairs Department,
 (part 2)

By J. D. Hargreaves

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the colonial government should exercise a more direct and permanent authority in the interior than the stipend system permitted. In the contemporary political climate of Britain, this was a dangerous suggestion, and the reaction of Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State, was vague and evasive.1 But Blyden had now acquired a position of especial influence with Governor Pope Hennessy, and in 1872 he was appointed to a new post as "Agent to the Interior". The duties of this post were later officially defined as :—
“To conduct expeditions into the interior. To make himself acquainted with the languages, habits, manners, and customs of the neighbouring native tribes, so as to advise the Governor on native matters.”
   This plainly overlapped with Lawson’s duties; but Blyden was not to be set over Lawson, and the two appointments carried the same salary. (Blyden himself had probably thought of his appointment as a more senior one, carrying full control, under the Governor, of correspondence with native chiefs, and of interior policy generally.2) Nevertheless, if this new arrangement had continued, the future development of the Native Affairs department would clearly have been very different.
   It did not continue. Blyden made one more long journey to the interior, to Timbo via Kambia in 1873, and published a long report, in a highly-polished literary style, calling for the appointment of a British Resident in the Fouta Djallon. But Blyden’s intellectual brilliance was not matched by the patience and staying power necessary for such a post. In November, 1873, having failed to obtain a transfer to the post of Director of Public Instruction, he resigned on grounds of ill health. No immediate successor of suitable capacity could be found; and full responsibility for the execution of frontier policy again devolved upon Lawson.
   Some impression of the range and nature of Lawson’s duties can be gathered from the series of his copybooks, which begins in January, 1873. While addressing the Colonial Secretary on financial questions, such as payment of stipends and entertainment of "strangers", Lawson would generally advise the Governor directly on all political questions concerning the chiefdoms between the
1C.0. 267/315, Kennedy to Kimberley, 7, 3rd January, 1872. S. L. Archives, Local Recd. Blyden to Kennedy, 1, 10th January, 1872;  C.0. 267/316, Hennessy to Kimberley, 110, 1st September, 1872.
2 C.O. 267/322, Berkeley to Kimberley, 158, 17th November, 1873; S.L.A., Blyden to Hennessy, 15th August, 1872.



Nuncz and Bumpe rivers. He would also from time to time write more general accounts, invaluable to tribal historians, of the social organization, customs, and recent history of the peoples of these territories. (His personal knowledge of the territories further south, though considerable, was less extensive. After the annexation of Sherbro in 1861, the Civil Commandant there became the Governor’s chief adviser, and not all his correspondence passed through Lawson’s hands; however, many Mende and Sherbro chiefs continued to write directly to him, as before.)


Lawson’s advice was the more necessary because Sierra Leone, which from 1852 till 1871 had only three substantive governors, had five in the years 1872-7. He accompanied Hennessy to Cape Coast in 1872, and next year wrote a memorandum on Gold Coast affairs for Governor Keate. He helped in recruiting for the Ashanti campaign of 1873-4. His correspondence with chiefs, most of whom he knew personally, grew increasingly voluminous. To read these records is to watch an individual growing, by sheer weight of experience and competence, into a department. By 1879 he appears in the annual Blue Book as head of the autonomous “Aborigines Branch of the Secretariat". The accounts of this branch show how cheaply the Colony managed what was, in effect, its foreign policy. Under Lawson there is shown for 1879 a vacant post of Assistant Interpreter, G. M. Macaulay having resigned in 1878. The Arabic writer had acquired an assistant, and the branch had one clerk. Other expenditure amounted to 2,307 14s. 3d. “Rents and customs” (later largely commuted into stipends), cost 302; “presents to native chiefs” (a term used with a very wide connotation to include most of the “ caravans") took 991, and “Missions to native chiefs", 242. Board and lodging of "chiefs", at the rate of 1s. a day for food and 1s. or 2s. for lodging,1 cost 653; that of “Africans rescued", 43. “Education of Sons of Chiefs” cost 75.2 Even set against a total Colonial expenditure of under 60,000, these figures are not excessive.
   I have not made a detailed study of the increasingly voluminous Native Affairs records of the 1880’s. These were the years when pressure in London and Freetown was gradually impelling the


1GILB., 12th July, 1876.
2 For the personal story of a beneficiary, see S.L.S. (N.S.), 1, pp. 28—39. This policy was allowed to die out in the 1890’s, and took a different form when Bo School opened in 1906.




British government to assert its authority more actively in the interior. Such a policy Lawson had always favoured, sometimes with an embarrassing pugnacity.1 In the 70’s he had strongly regretted that British treaties in the Northern Rivers could not be invoked against the French advance; in 1885, while advocating that Samori’s well-known request for a British Protectorate should be accepted, he again urged that more binding political clauses should be included in the standard form of treaty. The more active policy enhanced the value of his unrivalled knowledge of peoples, places, and personalities. Yet in some ways, paradoxically enough, his influence seems to have begun to decline. From Governor Rowe’s time onwards, military expeditions became increasingly common. Lawson approved of this; but military operations necessarily involve a degree of military control of negotiation and policy. At the same time Lawson was ageing perceptibly, and unable to engage in so niuch “trek diplomacy “ as formerly. On his long-expected retirement, it seemed likely that he would be succeeded by a rather more elaborate organization.
   From 1879 Governor Rowe had urged the appointment of a European head of the


Aborigines department, who would watch over the permanent recording of the fruits of Lawson’s experience, would be available for frequent missions to the interior, and would generally plan the reorganization of the department for an expanding role. But no such appointment could be made until 1882, and the first three men to hold it did so for less than a year each. Only under Major A. M. Festing, who headed the department from 1885 till his death while returning from a mission to Samori in August, 1888, was a certain continuity achieved. All these officers were often in trek; when in Freetown they were liable to be assigned to extraneous Secretariat duties; they rarely seem to have exercised much control over those matters which had become Lawson’s special province.4
   In 1886 Lawson decided to retire at the end of the year. Sir Samuel Rowe described him as having to travel even the short distance from home to office in a bath chair, but added: “his


1 C.O. 267/357, Havelock to C.O., Pte., 19th November, 1884.
2 Rowe to Hicks-Beach, 223, 6th November, 1879.
3 |W. M. Laborde, former Civil Commandant of Sherbro (on whom see Havelock to Kennedy, 27th, January, 1882); W. A. Grey-Wilson; T. A. Pakenham.
4 For an unsuccessful attempt to make Lawson responsible to Government House through Festing alone, see M.P. 993/1886; GILB., 18th, 21st August, 1886




mind is clear and vigorous, and I find no one (to) equal him as an Interpreter, though his voice is perhaps not as strong as it was.” In anticipation of his retirement, Lawson was in September, 1886, decorated, by authority of the Queen, with a special silver chain. But when it came to the point, Lawson could neither be spared from his duties nor bear to leave them; he remained in office until December, 1888. (And for a month after that he continued to attend his office and sign official letters as “Late Government Interpreter ".) He survived only two and a half years of retirement.


   No successor could have reproduced his peculiar qualifications. Governor Hay now separated the Aborigines department from the Secretariat, took it under his direct control until 1892, and in 1891 renamed it as the Native Affairs Department. As Superintendent he appointed a man who had since 1884 been collaborating with Lawson from inside Government House—J. C. E. Parkes. He was a man of a more highly-tutored intelligence than Lawson, if a rather less striking personality. He was a Creole, son of a Government clerk who had come to Freetown from Guadeloupe in 1818. J. C. E. Parkes first served in the Queen’s Advocates Department; left in 1878 to study law in England; and returned as clerk to the Commandant of Sherbro in 1882. Although he claimed to understand some of the native languages, he preferred not to speak them; he never performed those duties as Interpreter which had been Lawson’s starting-point.1 His knowledge of the interior was probably in large part owed to Lawson himself. He does not seem to have done much “trekking” except in company with Governors or senior officials; on minor missions one of the two interpreters or an “Overland Messenger" would go.2 In 1886 he drafted a long survey of the recent history of the northern parts of the Interior— which, though repetitive, sometimes obscure, and in parts unreliable, remains one of the best general introductions to this tangled subject. But all the substance came from Lawson; a comparison of the


1 Chalmers Report (C.R.), 11, para. 1153, and elsewhere in Parkes’ long testimony.
2 On overland messengers, see N. C. Hollins, “The Court Messenger Force,”
S.L.S., xviii. He is wrong in saying that overland messengers were not permanently employed; there were usually two or three retained at salaries of about 27 a year. Two of these—Oldman and Z. S. Renner—were transferred to the Protectorate in 1896 as interpreter at Falaba and clerk at Kwalu respectively.
3 African, 332. (Dated February, 1886, in error for 1887.) “Despatch...
enclosing its Information regarding the different districts and tribes of Sierra Leone and its Vicinity.” Printed for the use of the Colonial Office.



printed text with the letter-books suggests that Parkes did little more than paraphrase Lawson’s memoranda into better English.
   But if Parkes lacked Lawson’s special qualities, he was an extremely able and intelligent man, whose advice seems to have been highly valued by Governor Hay, at this time when increasing influence was being exercised in the interior. In his evidence to the Chalmers Commission of 1898, Parkes described the work of his department before the Protectorate in terms of duties which it had performed under Lawson also :—
"...to receive all communications from the Chiefs and submit them to the Governor. To see that Chiefs’ messengers and Chiefs visiting Freetown were properly boarded and lodged by Government contractors. To look after all Chiefs and visitors to Freetown. To keep the Governor informed of all information received from the interior whether from Chiefs or others. On journeys to the interior I had to take charge of the transport service.”1

But this list was not comprehensive, whether in terms of old responsibilities, or of


new ones which accompanied the changes which were taking place in Imperial policy. In February, 1890, G. H. Garrett and T. J. Alldridge vere appointed by Hay as Travelling Commissioners, with instructions to conclude treaties with the Chiefs in certain specified portions of the interior, in order to “prevent any Foreign Power from further surrounding and hemming in the Colony". About the same time the Frontier Police Force was being established for minor military operations in the interior, with an initial strength of four officers, four African sub-inspectors, and 280 other ranks. At first, the bulk of this force was stationed along or to the south of a road which ran from Kambia to Mano Salija by way of the heads of navigation on the rivers; but beyond that line, as well as within it, there were increasing attempts to exercise over the Chiefs what Parkes described as “paternal, advisory” jurisdiction. The Inspectors in charge of the five police districts were to have the title of "Commissioners", to exercise rather tenuous magisterial powers, and to follow these instructions :—

 “Officers should bear in mind that their main duty is to use their best endeavour to maintain peace, and persuade the natives to develop the resources of their country, to see that the main road from station to station is clear and in good order, to induce the Chiefs to open up as many roads as possible from the interior to the riverain

1 C.R., 11, para. 692. (See Mr. Banton's article in S.L.S. (N.S.), ii, for the Department’s relations with the tribal headmen in Freetown.)


Governor Hay visits Sierra Leone provinces

towns, to see that traders travelling along them are not molested, and that the Police carry out the patrols as laid down...
They should use their best efforts to settle any little dispute between Chief and Chief and to put a stop at once to any cases of plundering that may occur. Should they find any difficulty as to what course to pursue, they will at once refer to the Officer Administering the Government for instructions. They will on no account attempt to arrest any Chief or to assume the offensive in any way with the people or their domestic institutions . . . In dealing with natives, Officers will remember that it is necessary always to exercise the utmost patience and they should always treat them kindly so as to gain their goodwill and confidence.”
 
 Their correspondence with the Governor on native affairs was to pass through the Aborigines Department.1


This more active exercise of Imperial jurisdiction was very satisfactory to Parkes, who had his own strong opinions about policy, and who seems to have been encouraged to express them to Governor Hay. Between 28th April and 23rd July, 1890, Parkes addressed to the Governor a rather remarkable series of long Minutes, concerning Imperial control beyond the "Frontier Road”; the adjudication of disputes affecting British subjects in the interior; the prohibitive effects of the import duties on rum and tobacco in coastal districts nearest to French Guinea; treaty relations with Samori; and the suppression of the internal slave-trade.2 In all these, he clearly regarded the use of the Frontier Police as both necessary and desirable. But the system envisaged by Hay does not seem to have worked as smoothly as had been hoped. In particular, as time went on Parkcs’ experience seems to have made him severely critical of the Frontier Police. It was not simply that the small detachments into which they were of necessity split up were frequently guilty of abusing their authority by petty tyranny, by fraud, or by open contempt for chiefs (though complaints of such things were frequent and serious enough). Parkes began to distrust the political influence inevitably wielded by the officers of the force, and to see that his own department—with its established framework of policies, prejudices and favourites—now had a serious rival for the ear of government on native affairs.

1 "Protection to Producing Areas. Memorandum for Guidance of Commissioners and Inspectors of Police.” Signed by Hay, 8th April, 1890. (Royal Gazette, 1890, pp. 71-2.) Cf. C.R. 11, paras. 547, 1181-3; 1, pp. 143-4. Also History of the Sierra Leone Battalion of the Royal West African Frontier Force, by R.. P. M. Davis (1932), Ch.2.
2 NALB., Parkes to Hay Aborigines Conf., 10, 11, 13, 17, 20. 28th April, 28th May, 2nd June, 10th July, 23rd July, 1890.


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