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William and Louisa Anderson
Part III - Old Calabar Period, 1849-1889, & Closing Years, 1889-1895
Chapter 2


First Impressions and Beginning of Work

In the letter which gives an account of the voyage and the arrival at Old Calabar, Mr. Anderson records his first impressions. He and Mrs. Anderson arrived at Duke Town in time to accompany Messrs. Goldie and Edgerley to Creek Town to be present at King Eyo II.'s weekly dinner on a specially interesting occasion, and they spent their first night in Calabar at the latter place:—

King Eyo had, for the first time, postponed his Sunday in deference to the Lord's Day, and Messrs. Goldie and Edgerley felt anxious to countenance him by being present on such an occasion. In the circumstances, Mrs. A. and myself, though somewhat fatigued by our journey in the boat from the ship, resolved to go to the royal table with them.

In going up the river we passed Old Town (Mr. E.'s station), which looks exceedingly well from the river. On coming to Creek Town beach, the first thing that met the eye and the ear was a stake stuck in the sand at the water's edge, and on the stake a poor little puppy, a few days old, lashed with its head downwards, struggling and whining most pitifully. In walking up the town we saw indications of mourning. One of the king's aunts died last week, and over the door of her house stands a beautiful umbrella, and before the door a table well furnished with costly and beautiful dishes, all more or less injured, according to Calabar fashion. In token of mourning for this old lady, the king's attendants and slaves have their brows blackened with a mixture of charcoal and oil. We proceeded to the palace, and, having passed through two squares of houses, reached the principal door. In approaching it, I noticed a good-looking fat man—naked, as usual, with the exception of a piece of blue striped cloth round the loins, and a reddish handkerchief thrown over the right shoulder. Mr. Goldie immediately addressed him as king. This was Eyo. He seemed quite pleased to see Mrs. Anderson and myself. I presented a letter of introduction from the Chairman and Secretary of the Mission Board. He looked over it, then showed it to one of the captains, but said nothing. Saw young Eyo, and handed him a letter from Mr. Waddell. He said, "I wait for you too long; we look for you a long year." About four o'clock we sat down to dinner, Mrs. A. being on the king's right hand. We had the curious mixture of yam, fish, flesh, palm oil, pepper, etc. etc., called, I believe, emphatically, Calabar chop; the pepper pot, the fufu, and its accompanying hot soup. All was so hot with pepper that I could swallow nothing. The only drink used was min Efik, which, to a palate burning with pepper, is very grateful.

After dinner, we left the palace, the king saying to Mrs. A., as well as to the rest of us, "Good-night, sir."

On our way up to the mission-house we stopped for a little at the grave of the beloved Jameson. Undisturbed is his rest beneath a palm tree. His grave is protected by a good fence from being trampled on by cattle. Many interesting recollections of far distant scenes rushed on my mind as I gazed on his sepulchre.

Tuesday, 13.— Remained at Creek Town all night. Visited this morning, accompanied by Mr. Goldie, several of the nobles of Creek Town—Tom Eyo, George Eyo, King Cameroons, etc. Went also to see the market. Went to Duke Town in the afternoon. Received a number of packages from the Elizabeth Bibby. She got afloat to-day, and reached Duke Town in the evening. There are now ten ships lying at anchor there.

About eight o'clock this evening the Duke Town gentlemen returned from their palaver up the country.

Wednesday, 14.—Looked into school—only fourteen present. Went with Mr. Edgerley to visit some of the chiefs of the town. Was surprised to see so many of the houses in such a dilapidated condition. Called on Archibong Duke, Adam Duke, Mr. Young, etc. etc. I delivered to Mr. Young the message with which I was entrusted by Rev. Dr. Young of Perth, viz.—"That there never was a man of the name of Young in Scotland who at all prospered unless he lived according to the word of God." Mr. Young soon saw the import of the message—laughed heartily, and then declared that "if any man no do as God word tell him to do, he be very bad."

Went to the noisy market, but saw little business going on. Visited Eyamba's iron house; both the house and its splendid furniture are going fast to wreck.

In a letter to Miss and Miss Eliza Watson, dated Duke Town, 16th April 1849, Mrs. Anderson gives her first impressions of Calabar:—

The first Sabbath after our arrival I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I felt, seeing people going to market and doing all manner of work. Poor things, they know no better. I was at Creek Town the first Sabbath we spent in Africa. In the evening young Eyo came to the mission-house with a broken thumb, saying it was because he broke the Sabbath that he broke his thumb. He said his father sent him to hammer something. He told his father it was God's Sunday. His father said, "Go, do it," and, said he, "At the first stroke I broke my nail." His father did not allow him to remain long with us. He soon sent for him to finish his job.

You would be amused while you pity the gentlemen's wives and daughters, with their brass anklets; the poor creatures can scarcely move with them, and yet, because they are looked upon as the most costly ornaments, or perhaps marks of dignity, they will endure them, and, worst of all, the brass and the weight together make their ankles very sore. I should think the weight of each anklet would be 8 or 10 lbs. What will our sex not endure for the sake of beauty and dress! But I think the man that invented those anklets meant them to keep the women within doors, and of course, like many other things in other countries, they became fashionable. You may perhaps hear some day of me getting on a pair, so Mr. Anderson sometimes threatens; or how would you like to see me with them?

I have seen some of the females with their cheeks quite sore, ornamented with curious figures, and others the arms, indeed the whole body. Can you imagine how this is done? By rolling a bit of cloth small, dipping it in oil, lighting it, and while it is burning applying it to the place, or by cutting the skin with a razor. Even the little girls endure all these tortures patiently, and sometimes do it themselves.

This is truly a people sitting in the grossest darkness. They have not the slightest idea of either a future state of happiness or misery, and, worst of all, they have no desire to learn. A few Sabbaths ago some women came to see me, as they do almost every day. I got our washerwoman's daughter to interpret for me, and I spoke to them of the happiness of heaven and the misery of hell, and of Christ as the only way to heaven. They scarcely had patience to hear, and afterwards said, "That be for makara (white person), no for Calabar women."

Our school is increasing a little. There were very few at school when we came. I have been in it when there were only 12. Now there are between 30 and 40 daily, but nearly all boys. All that we can do we cannot get the girls to attend. I once had a decent class of girls sewing, and now only two. They attend for a few days till they get frocks, and then come no more. The parents do not care about the girls learning to read. At present all they care about even the boys learning is for the purpose of trade. Still, we are glad that they are sent, whatever be their motive for sending them. They are all exceedingly anxious to get clothes. As we have more boys than girls, I had some trouble getting shirts enough, and we have in some cases to suit out a boy in a girl's frock, as there are more girls' than boys' dresses sent. How proud they are of them!—they do not know the difference.

Mr. Anderson has been doing all he could to get meetings with the people in this town. He goes out at nine o'clock on the Sabbath mornings and holds meetings in the gentlemen's yards (those who are willing that he should), and gets someone who understands English to interpret. I assure you this is a most trying mode of proceeding (yet at present there is no alternative); we cannot speak to them in their own language, and sometimes the interpreter will only tell as much as he thinks proper. They do not wish the slaves to know much, and there are generally a great many slaves present. The gentlemen do not allow their wives to come out to these meetings. Mr. Anderson told Mr. Young yesterday that he should let his wives come out to hear God's word, and said, "The Bible make women good wives." Mr. Young went away, I thought to call them, but they never came. Perhaps it was only a pretence on his part. The other day, after speaking to Henny Cobham about allowing his women to hear God's word, he said, "That book no be for woman," and was quite surprised when he heard that white women could read and write. That man already had six wives, and was married to the seventh a week ago. We can do very little for them till we acquire the language, and that I find a great difficulty.

Pray for us, dear young friends, that God would keep and bless us in this dark land, and make us useful to these poor heathens. . . .

Our little dog died on the passage. It was a great pet—a most affectionate creature it was. It could not endure the heat of this climate.

In a very interesting letter to the Rev. A. Elliot, dated April 18, 1849, Mr. Anderson describes his new sphere of work, and characterises the six principal men of Duke Town:—

Here we are in long - neglected Africa — and in a portion of it, too, which in regard to European life has been pronounced the most deadly of all its deadly spots. In so far as our health is concerned, my partner and I have as yet had no reason to complain. Our health is still excellent. There is one thing we feel not a little, however, viz. the want of rest during the night. There is something in the atmosphere inimical to sleep. I have a good sleep only every second or third night. Yet I am stouter than when at home. When there, my Jamaica clothes were rather small for me —now my Scottish clothes are rather too tight for me. This is reckoned a very healthy season. There have been only two deaths among the shipping since our arrival. . . . There are about 280 whites in the ships in the river. A very few years ago, when the same number were here, there were deaths almost daily. We took a walk to Henshaw Town the other evening. It is about a mile from this. Many hundred white men have their last resting-place there. Speaking of graves, I may remark that from our house here we can see the white fence which has been erected around good Mr. Jameson's at Creek Town.

Since our arrival the weather has been very hot, the therm, being at 90' during the day, and about 8o during the night. We have been visited by several tornadoes. They have all come from the east, and have beat on our house, as everywhere else, with great violence. They do not continue long, and it is well they do not, for while they last the house trembles as if seized with ague.

Mr. Waddell has so well described the river, its banks, and the habitations of the people, that I need not take up time and room by any attempt on my part to describe them. In regard to persons, I think Eyo II. (of Creek Town) has been rather more than sufficiently magnified, and that sometimes at the expense of others. From all I can learn here, Eyamba [late king of Duke Town, who died in May 1847] had many very amiable and excellent traits of character. His generosity was bounded only by his means; and those who know most of both persons declare Eyamba to have been vastly kinder to his slaves than King Eyo.

It may interest you and my friends in your quarter— may I not say my own quarter?—to hear something of the chief men of Duke Town. They are all, in fact, so many petty princes—each a sovereign in his own house and over his own slaves. Each must have several hundred slaves, but they all profess to be ignorant of the exact number they have. They are bound together by Egbo law, but are somewhat jealous of each other. I may say a few words about each of the six principal men.

1. Mr. Young [brother of late King Eyamba].—Those who like him least acknowledge him to be a sharp, clever fellow. This he undoubtedly is. Mr. Goldie [who was stationed at Duke Town from June 1847 till May 1848] thinks much more favourably of him than he once did. He has learned that during the last slaughter here (on occasion of the death of King Calabar  [in 1847]), Mr. Y. exerted himself to the utmost to put a stop to the murders. As yet he is very friendly to me, and acts as my interpreter on Sabbath at the meeting held in his yard.

2. Archibong Duke.—He is one of the strongest-looking fellows I have ever seen. He is friendly, and attends our Sabbath meeting in Mr. Young's yard. On my first visit he dashed (gave) me a good fat goat. He has not Mr. Y.'s vigour of mind.

3. Duke Ephraim.—A descendant of the great Duke Ephraim [ruler of Duke Town at beginning of the century, died 1834]. But for his love of drink he might have been King of Duke Town and of Old Calabar. He professes himself friendly to us, but will attend no meeting in Mr. Young's yard, and sends none of his many children to school. He allows me to hold a meeting in his yard on Sabbath, is naturally amiable and good-tempered, but drink threatens to be his ruin. He is very poor, but has great influence in the town.

4. Henny Cobham.—A shrewd, active business man, and I may say my next-door neighbour. He is sometimes called King of Cobham Town—that portion of Duke Town nearest to the mission-house. He has four boys constantly at school. They are my best scholars. He seemed lost in astonishment one day when I proposed to him to call his wives to hear God's word as well as himself. He would not believe that the Bible is for women as well as men, but insisted that "Book no good for woman; and woman no fit to saby (understand) book."

5. Antika Cobham.—He is very friendly, and has a few children frequently at school. He is somewhat lame— cannot go out to any meeting, but is always glad to have meeting in his yard. He is the only man in Duke Town —indeed, in the country—who allows his wives to come to hear ik'd Abasi—word of God. They are the only ladies with whom I have had the honour of shaking hands. They do not seem to be accustomed to such an operation. They seize my hand between both of theirs, and hold it for an instant as carefully and gently as if it were a piece of glass. To each of these nobles I have given, from Dalkeith and Nicolson Street (Edinburgh) mission-boxes entrusted to my care, a dressing-gown and a cap.

6. Bassy Offiong.—He does not seem a bright genius at all — keeps a Sunday—and attends meetings in Mr. Young's yard.

I might mention Iron Bar, a man of considerable wealth, though a slave and unable to purchase the privileges of the Egbo institution. He has many slaves of his own.

There is another man of considerable influence— Adam Duke. I have not yet seen him, he being at his plantation.

Captain Lewis of the Princess Royal—a warm friend of the Mission, and likely to be admitted to fellowship with us at our coming Communion on the 1st Sabbath of May—gave to each station a beautiful Bethel flag, which is hoisted each Sabbath morning at daybreak. I am here reminded that one old bond of union with Ford will still be maintained. According to arrangements made before I came here, the Lord's Supper is dispensed at Duke Town on the 1st Sabbaths of May, Aug., Nov., and Feb. I shall remember you much, if spared, on the 1st Sabbath of August. Pray for us on that sweet day. May it be a great day at Duke Town and at Ford!

I fear that matters will not thrive here till we get a place of worship to which all may come without appearing to acknowledge any other as a superior; for to go to any gentleman's yard on any business whatever, even to hear God's word, is considered as a sort of homage paid to that gentleman.

Sabbath work.—I have generally two or three meetings in the town —the first about 9 o'clock in Mr. Young's yard. . . . After meeting at Mr. Young's, I have generally a second at Duke Ephraim's, a short one at Iron Bar's, at A. Cobham's, at H. Cobham's. Such is the jealousy among the gentlemen, that they will not all meet in one yard. I did not expect that Archibong would have been so humble as to go to Mr. Young's yard, but think more highly of him because he does so. At 3 P.M. I have Sabbath school, and at 4 a service in English in the mission-house, which is attended by two or three friends from the ships. I invited all the captains and surgeons belonging to the ships by circular to this service, but very few attend. In addition to this, I preached a few Sabbaths on board one of the ships, but, though grieved to give it up, I found it too exhausting to continue it.

School.—The attendance is improving. At first it was from 12 to 16; it is now 38. Of these 38 only 4 are girls. . . . Boys only are considered worthy of education here. Parents use no means to constrain the attendance of their children at school. Hence we have in a manner to pay them for attending. We have to give them books, shirts, frocks, pictures, and occasionally food. The poor things are not cared for at home, and frequently come to school famishing, calling for chop.

In a letter to Mrs. Elliot, also of date April 18th, there is a graphic description of what a Sabbath was like in Old Calabar in these early days of the Mission:—

We get up at 6 A.M. Our Bethel flag is hoisted to show that we honour the day, the language of flags being well understood here. There is a stillness compared with other mornings—but not in the town, or among the people. It is simply because the carpenters and coopers on board the ships are enjoying bodily rest. At half-past 7 we have family worship, in which we are always joined by Captain Lewis, who takes a part in the exercise by reading the lesson for the morning in a work given me by your father, [Mr. John Gray, sen., Dalkeith.] Jay's Morning and Evening Exercises. At 8, breakfast. Immediately afterwards I go, leaving Mrs. A. to follow, to Mr. Young's, to hold a meeting. I see people thronging to market as usual. I have generally to wait an hour at Mr. Young's before I can begin service. And that is the most wearisome hour I spend in the week. He is transacting business—giving out cloth and coppers for .market, measuring out rum, holding palaver with his slaves, and giving them orders, etc. He has sent to let Archibong and others know that I have come "to hold palaver for God's word." My scholars by this time meet in Mr. Y.'s yard also. When a few gentlemen—seldom more than two or three—with their attendants have come, we go on with the meeting. While I read out the 100th Psalm, all who do not understand English smile and whisper to each other, and think it very funny. When we begin to sing, some laugh outright. Louder than laugh or song, Mr. Young reproves the laughers, and they hang their heads, turn their backs, or run out of the yard. Many laugh in prayer, too; and the first time that the children repeated their Calabar prayer, Mr. Y. and all the rest laughed outright. The laugh was at first very provoking—a missionary had need to be a Job; but I now see that it is often merely the expression of wonder, and sometimes of admiration—not always of contempt. When I begin to preach, and Mr. Young to explain, if the subject be mere history or incident, all are attentive; if doctrinal, the fat ones soon begin to nod, and Mr. Y. soon wearies.

One Sabbath my subject was the Flood. All listened most attentively to the account of the falling rains and rising rivers and cries of drowning men. They attended to the description of Noah's big ship, and could remember something of its dimensions. At the close, however, I referred to the destruction which awaits our world by fire, and spoke of that awful day when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, etc., and the dead, small and great, must stand before God. When I uttered the words, "The world and all that is in it shall be burned up," they could bear it no longer. Mr. Y. exclaimed, "It will be long time before that"; and the other gentlemen begged him to say to me, "We've got plenty to-day—it be time for stop."

After meeting in Mr. Young's, I go in pursuit of others. Passing from his house to Duke Ephraim's, I go through the marketplace—a large square in the middle of the town. Oh, what a splendid congregation here!—splendid not in dress, for they have none, but in numbers. What would I not do had I the strength of voice of Rowland Hill (able to speak to people a mile distant), and were master of the Calabar tongue! But, alas! I can do nothing but look on and pass away, and breathe the silent prayer. Here are, I should suppose, fifteen or eighteen hundred immortal beings, ignorant as the beasts that perish of the great end and realities of their existence. Market is held every day. All sorts of things are sold and bartered, and on week-days I look on the scene with great interest. Some of the articles of traffic are combs, beads, lead bars, padlocks, hinges, hammers, saws, cloth, rum, wine, cordials, yams, plantains, conkies (a species of cocoa), fish, fowls, ducks, goats, dried monkeys, firewood, etc. etc. etc. But we pass all to-day, and go to Duke Ephraim's. After a trying delay of half an hour, during which female slaves are working beside us plastering a wall, about half a dozen of men come in who have been sent for by the Duke. We have then a little meeting.

I have generally as yet kept to the moral law, for I see more and more that Christ is not valued where there is no conviction of sin, and this cannot be felt where the law is unknown. I always close, however, with preaching Christ and Him crucified.

I hold, perhaps, other two meetings in the same way. You will say, "Why not appoint an hour of meeting and keep it?" The natives know nothing of hours, and nothing of the value of time—our time. I could easily hold six meetings a day were there anything like punctuality among the people. . . .

At 8 A.M., when eight bells are struck on board the ships, their flags are hoisted; but what are the captains about? They do not now, generally speaking, come on shore on Sabbath mornings to transact business, but only on two ships of the nine in the river is anything like public worship observed. On six Sabbaths running (out of eight) the Sundays of the native gentlemen are observed by the most of the surgeons and captains in the river. Some of them were exasperated because King Eyo has given up keeping his Sunday when it falls on the Sabbath. I have spoken to the five gentlemen here who keep a Sunday about the Fourth Commandment, and advised them to follow King Eyo's example. Several are ready to do so, but state that the captains say that what I teach about the Sabbath be "fool thing." The Lord have mercy on them, for they know not what they do. O for faith and patience! It is comforting and strengthening to reflect that so many of God's people in Scotland pray for us and the benighted souls in Old Calabar.


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