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British Gambia - 19th Century Colony

Between 1816 (when Bathurst, the capital of Gambia was founded) and 1965 (when the country gained independence), the British were all over Gambia engaged in colonial economic enterprise and exploitation of the countrys natural and human resources (as like in other parts of African countries where they also colonised) which resulted to the transfer of the colonized resources to metropolitan countries development.

Gambia, by a patent in Queen Elizabeth's reign, had its trade granted to British merchants, and a company was formed in the year 1618, for the purpose of carrying on the slave trade. In 1814 Gambia became exclusively British, the French taking Senegal and Goree. In 1816 the slave trade was by law abolished, and this settlement was used for the purpose of commerce and suppressing slave trade. It was separated from Sierra Leone by Letters Patent 1843.

The possession of any of the territory for the purpose of preventing slave exportation entailed a necessity, moreover, of constant extension, for suppression of export was nugatory unless measures for suppression could be exercised along the whole coast. This was the consideration on which British settlements had perpetually increased, and must continue to increase. In 1850, when Lord Grey made purchase of Danish territory on the Gold Coast for the purpose of consolidating British strength, he contemplated the purchase of the Dutch territory also, that all might be under the protection of the Government of this country.

The Gold Coast, first occupied by the Portuguese, and then by the Dutch, came into the possession of the United KIngdom by the Treaty of Breda in 1672, when Parliament placed it under the control of the African Company, with a subsidy of from 13,000 to 20,000 per annum, for the purpose of carrying on the slave trade. It remained in their hands until 1821, when the Crown assumed the government, the slave trade having five years previously been abolished.

Hardly had the Crown taken upon itself the management of the settlement before it was plunged in two Ashantee wars, the first of which was the most disastrous that this country had ever entered into with a savage tribe. The Crown was soon weary both of the expense of the wars and of the consequently declining commerce, and in 1827 they handed over the government of the settlement to a company of merchants who received a subsidy of 4,000 to carry on the government, they being informed that if they refused those terms the settlement would be abandoned.

At that time a protectorate had been assumed over the neighboring tribes which had led to many complications, and a magisterial jurisdiction had been set up over the natives, with a judicial assessor at its head, to discharge what Lord Grey described as the singular office of dispensing rude laws among uncivilized tribes. The company being found inadequate to conduct the Government, the Crown resumed the conduct of the settlement in 1843, and in 1864, by an Order in Council, it had been placed under the constitution of a Governor and a Legislative and Executive Council.

In 1850 the Gold Coast was separated from the Government of Sierra Leone, and Lord Grey purchased the neighboring Danish Forts, and established the Gold Coast Local Artillery, and otherwise extended and consolidated the Protectorate. Sierra Leone was ceded to the UK in 1787 as a settlement for free negroes. Since that period a very large territory had been annexed to the colony, as was usually the case with British settlements there. It was then used as a convenient place for holding the Mixed Commission court for adjudicating prize slavers, and was the center of the efforts made by missionaries in the cause of West African civilization. Lord Grey, in his work on Colonial Government, 1853, pronounces Sierra Leone to be a failure.

Since 1816, The Gambia, West Africa, was ruled under the crown colony system of colonialism with its administration answerable to the Governor in Sierra Leone. Britain declared the Gambia River a British Protectorate in 1820 and for many years ruled it from its administrative base in Sierra Leone. The Gambian territory was governed from Sierra Leone from 1821 to 1843 and from 1866 to 1888. In 1886, Gambia became a crown colony, and the following year France and Britain drew the boundaries between Senegal (by then a French colony) and Gambia. When the administration was attached to that of Sierra Leone in 1866, the Gambian executive and legislative councils were abolished.

In the year 1825, between 700 and 800 European soldiers were sent to Sierra Leone. Five years before, it had been reported that there were no barracks there fit for the reception of European troops; yet these men arrived before the new barracks intended to receive them were prepared, and had consequently to await their completion, exposed to all the inclemency of that dreadful climate. The result was thus described in the report which was made upon the subject:

"The scene which ensued baffles all description. The unfortunate men gladly crowded into the rooms as fast as they could be covered in, though the plaster was still wet. Fever of the very worst type was soon generated in such a situation, and before many days had elapsed almost every one was attacked by it. The officers sought refuge in huts, which even the natives had abandoned; the sick, the dead, and the dying were crowded together, and before the end of that year two-thirds of the force were in their graves."

In order to relieve the great pressure at Sierra Leone, 200 of these unhappy men, for whom no accommodation could be found, were sent to the Gambia. But even at the Gambia accommodation could only be provided for 108 out of the 200, and the rest were kept afloat until room could be found for them. They had not long to wait, for in the course of three months eighty-seven, out of the 108 first landed, died, and their places in the barracks were supplied by those who had been kept on board ship. In the course of three months more seventy-three other deaths occurred; so that within six months, 160 soldiers out of this 200, who had been sent from Sierra Leone to Gambia, perished for want of accommodation. The garrison at Sierra Leone being still over-crowded, 200 more men were sent to the Gambia, and before they could be withdrawn, ninety-nine of their number perished.

Exclusive of Sierra Leone and Gambia, the UK possessed along the Gold Coast a number of detached settlements. Those settlements were managed exclusively by a committee of merchants, who administered what was stated to be British law; though it was hardly to be called such, for there was neither judge, nor any settled authority; it was rather rudely administered; but still it was said to be British law. Around all those settlements were native tribes, governed, or rather to say, influenced by the merchants residing there.

The Imperial Act 1843 was passed in the British Houses of Parliament to allow her majesty to provide for her the settlements on the west coast of Africa. The monarch made laws known as Order in Council for the settlements. The privacy council served as an advisory body for making laws for the British settlements. The monarch appointed governors, granted land to settlers, constituted courts appointed judges, established executive and legislative councils to advice the governors.

The settlements which were established through the consent of local Kings of the various states in the Gambia and elsewhere were seen as colonial settlements. The British settlements remained small in the Gambia until the end of the 19th century.

Kombo was divided into a colonised Kombo and liberated Kombo. The colonised Kombo was locally called "Kombo Toubab Banko". The colonialist used to call the liberated Kombo as "foreign Kombo". The battle against Foday Sillah the King of Kombo in 1894 and that against Foday Kabba Dumbuya led to the defeat, capture and exiling of Foday Sillah and the killing of Foday Kabba. This made it possible for the British crown to establish indirect rule on the whole territory known as the Gambia as agreed between the British crown and the French on 10 August 1889.

The governor had the authority to divide the country into divisions and districts and appoint commissioners to administer divisions and chiefs to administer districts. He could order the suppression of military and banish Gambians into exile. His government collected taxes and administered the country.

Starting in 1859 the head of the most powerful Mahommedan tribe on the Gambia had given great cause of complaint, having been in the habit of plundering both natives and Europeans very much at his pleasure. In late 1860 an officer was sent by the Government of Gambia to the Court of this Chief for the purpose of obtaining redress for the sufferers. That gentleman was dismissed with marks of personal disrespect Thereupon the Governor proceeded, with the approbation of the Home Government, to blockade the port belonging to the Chief with the view of bringing him to terms; but that blockade, though persisted in for some months, did not produce the slightest effect.

At last, in January 1861, the force at Gambia was increased by the presence of a man-of-war, and by the arrival of West India reliefs, and advantage was taken of that circumstance to organize an expedition against the offending Chief. That expedition invaded his territory; it was conducted with great gallantry and success against an obstinate resistance; and, after a few day's warfare, it ended in bringing the Chief to terms and inducing him to sign a Treaty with the Government at Gambia, making some reparation for the robberies he had committed, and binding himself to keep the peace for the future. The instructions given to the Governors on African stations were, that they should not engage in any considerable expedition without the consent of the Home Government, but in the present case it appeared to the Government that the object in view was a proper one.

In the early part of 1891, while the Anglo-French boundary commission was pursuing its labors in the neighborhood of the Gambia Biver, the chief, Fodeh Cabbah, resisted the passage of the commission through his territory, and attacked and wounded several Europeans. The Alecto, 4, paddle, Lieutenant Frederick Gordon M'Kinstry, was then in the river, and the sloop Swallow, Commander Frank Finnis, and the gunboat Widgeon, Lieutenant George Latham Blacker Bennett, lay below her, at Bathurst. On March 27th, the craft last named was ordered to join the Alecto, and, late in the afternoon, anchored near her off the village of Kansala.

The Alecto had already inflicted some punishment upon the rebellious chief, who, however, was too strong to be dealt with effectively by her alone. A small landing-party was put ashore early on the 28th, and, on the 30th, the Swallow also arrived. On. March 31st, and April 1st, additional people, with two 7-pr. guns, were disembarked; and all the rest of the Swallow's Marines were landed on the 2nd, reaching the camp at Kaling in the course of the evening. The Governor, and some Koyal Engineers, were present with the force. A further advance was made on the 7th, and another on the 11th, when, at Sangajore, a chief appeared with excuses and an apology. The force was therefore withdrawn and re-embarked, after part of it had been absent from the ships for seventeen days, during which period the men had been unable to get out of their clothes.

Unfortunately, Fodeh Cabbah continued to give trouble; and towards the end of 1891, Lieutenant Ian Mackenzie Eraser, commanding the gunboat Sparrow, was instructed by Commander Henry Lucius Fanshawe Boyle, of the sloop Bacer, senior officer on the coast, to make inquiries as to the condition of the country, and, if possible, to find out the whereabouts of Fodeh Cabbah, with a view to his capture. The expedition was an unsatisfactory one. Either it went too far, or it did not go far enough. The force assembled at Marige was so small that the men stationed round the village had to be posted at seven or eight paces apart. The cordon, therefore, was far too weak to offer effectual resistance to any really determined attempt on the part of Fodeh Cabbah to escape.

The escape of Fodeh Cabbah was also unfortunate, seeing that the French did not properly restrain him when he was upon their side of the boundary line. He should have been followed up, or his immediate extradition should have been obtained. Nevertheless, the Navy, as usual, did its work most creditably. The Admiralty's appreciation of this was expressed in a telegram, which, although apparently it misinterpreted the exact nature of the somewhat scanty results secured, did no more than justice to the individuals most actively concerned. It ran: "Convey to officers and men employed tbeir Lordships' satisfaction with the promptitude, thoroughness, and success with which the expedition against Fodeh Cabbah was carried out."

The British policy of indirect rule served as the basis of local government administration in all her West African colonies. The policy was popularised by Lord Lugard who served as governor general of Nigeria between 1914 to 1919. After he left Nigeria Lugard described his theory of indirect rule in a book titled "The Dual Mandate in Tropical Africa" published in 1922 in which he said: "The British Empire.... has only one mission for liberty and self development on no standardised lines, so that all may feel that their interests and religion are safe under the British flag. Such liberty and self development can be best secured to the native population by leaving them free to manage their own affairs through their own rulers, proportionately to their degree of advancement, under the guidance of the British staff, and subject to the laws and policy of the administration".

The theory of indirect rule was aimed at governing colonised peoples through their chiefs and local institutions. A major difficulty the British had in administering her colonies in West Africa was that there were simply not enough English men prepared to serve as colonial administrators in that part of the empire. Indirect rule had the advantage of be cheap since traditional rulers were less expensive than British officials. For this reason Lugard, and other British Governors in West Africa, adopted the system for the administration of local government in the region.

In the Gambia, the colonizers introduced chieftaincy in the later part of the 19th century. The colonial authority downgraded Gambian kings known as Mansa, or Bur, and appointed chiefs where kings were not found in consonance with the indirect rule system. Perceiving the traditional governance institutions as primitive, the colonial administrator Bathurst Governor Llewellyn in 1894 stated that the unsatisfactorily native customs in The Gambia were to be reformed.

The policy of Indirect rule was introduced in Gambia by Governor Sir R.B. Llewelyn of the Bathurst colony in 1893. In that year he appointed two travelling Commissioners for the North and South Banks of the river. The functions of these roving Commissioners, Mr. J.H. Ozane and Mr. F. Sitwell, was to move from village to village to inform the chiefs about the system of indirect rule that was to be introduced by the colonial government. They were also required to assert their position so that the chiefs and people could know that they represented the authority of the Governor in Bathurst.

Subsequently the promulgated protectorate ordinances of 1894 divided the protectorate into districts and convenient groups of villages supervised by appointed headmen and head chiefs introducing thereby the chieftaincy system in The Gambia. The first major legislation for governing the protectorate was "the Gambia Protectorate Ordinance 1894". It was "an Ordinance to provide for the exercise in the protected territories of certain powers and jurisdiction by native authorities and by Commissioners". It established that "All native laws and customs in force in the protected territories which are not repugnant to natural justice nor incompatible with any Ordinance of the colony which applies to the protected territories, shall have the same effect as regulations made under this Ordinance".

Under the ordinance the protectorate was divided into administrative districts and placed under the charge of chiefs. A few of these chiefs were of the traditional royal ruling classes but many were appointed by the colonial government to fill the power vacuum that existed in many parts of the country. Native courts were also created and "the administrator shall appoint fit persons in each district, not exceeding five, to be a court or native tribunal having power and jurisdiction to try breaches of any regulations or any such native laws or customs... and to exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction in causes and matters aforementioned, in which all the parties are natives".

It also spelled out the administrative powers of the chiefs. The head chief of a district was to be the president of the local court of that district and have civil jurisdiction in areas of petty conflict resolution and adjudication. In criminal jurisdiction these courts would have control over matters which would not exceed fines of 5 Pounds Sterling or imprisonment of over 3 weeks. Chiefs were to act as conservators of the peace and executors of any laws passed by the colonial government or the commissioner of the district. Chiefs were also empowered by the 1894 Ordinance to detain and send to the commissioner or the courts of Bathurst persons accused of major crimes "such as murder, robbery or slave dealing".

In 1895 the colonial government enacted "an ordinance to provide for the raising and collection of revenue in the Gambia Protectorate". It was known as the "Yard Tax" ordinance and its purpose was to set up a yard tax for the protectorate. Although the total expenditure for protectorate services in 1895 was estimated to be 1,455 out of a total expenditure of 29,875, it was the Colonial Government's view that the people of Gambia were to be made to share in the cost of the administration. As a result every owner or occupier of any yard that contained more than 4 huts would pay 4 shillings per annum, and for each additional hut occupied by members of the family 1 extra shilling per year and "Strange farmers" were to pay 2 shillings. In 1904 a total of 3,168 was collected by the yard tax.

The early years of indirect rule were largely experimental and depended to a large extent on the personalities or competence of the travelling Commissioners. Even though a protectorate system had been proclaimed, the conditions in certain areas of the country were still unsettled. The Soninke-Marabout Wars were still continuing during this period and there were certain areas where the Travelling Commissioners would not venture unless accompanied by an escort. Indeed the killings of Sitwell and Silva in 1900 at Sankandi marked a turning point. The British and French military forces managed to kill Fode Kabba which had the effect of convincing lesser chiefs of the determination of the British to impose their rule over the protectorate.

Under the agreement signed in June 1901 by King Moussa Molloh and Sir George Denton, the former agreed (1) that that portion of his kingdom lying within the British sphere of influence should form part of the Protectorate of the Gambia, (2) that a British officer should be placed in charge thereof, (3) that no buying, selling, nor trafficking in slaves should be permitted, (4) to disrontinue and put a stop to all practices and punishments repugnant to the laws of humanity and civilization, and (5) to authorise the Governor to impose and collect a hut tax in that part of the Protectorate. In consideration of these conditions, the Government agreed to pay Moussa Molloh the sum of 500 per annum. The event is important as completing the boundary of the Protectorate as well as from the fact that hitherto it had been considered that such an agreement could not be brought about during Moussa Molloh's lifetime.

In place of the executive and legislative councils a small advisory group was created consisting of the administrator, collector customs and the Chef Magistrate. When the administrative link between The Gambia and Sierra Leone were severed in 1888 The Gambia became a separate colony. The country was given its own executive and legislative councils. In 1893 the government of the colony was empowered to make the necessary rules and orders for the extension of British rule to the protectorate.

The head of the colonial administration was the Governor who represented the British Government in the area and was not responsible to the people of the colony, but was directly responsible to the British Government. He was vested with a number of powers including the power of veto. He could make laws by proclamation and was the president of both the executive and legislative councils. The courts, the Civil Service and other institutions of the government were put under his control.

The function of the executive council was to advise the Governor in matters of administration. Before World War II all members of the Executive Council were appointed by the Governor. These included the Colonial Secretary, Director of Medical Services, collector of customs duties and other officials. The functions of the legislative council were to discuss the affairs of the colony and to make laws for the colony. The laws made by the Legislative Council required the assent of the Governor who could veto them.

A point not without interest in a place like the Gambia is that there is hardly a European resident who, if he has a garden attached to his house, does not grow English vegetables sufficient to supply himself and his less fortunate friends for at least six months in the year, viz., from November to April. With ordinary care, cabbages, carrots, turnips, kohl rabi, lettuces, beetroot, French beans, cress, and radishes could be grown most successfully; indeed, some of the French residents, who had the best gardens, were sufficiently enterprising to grow cauliflowers and celery.





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