Monday 31 August 2015

Lagos Colony (1862 - 1906)

Lagos Colony flag
Lagos Colony was a British colonial possession centred on the port of Lagos in what is now southern Nigeria. Lagos was annexed on 6 August 1861 under the threat of force by Commander Beddingfield of HMS Prometheus who was accompanied by the Acting British Consul, William McCoskry.

Oba Dosunmu of Lagos (spelled "Docemo" in British documents) resisted the cession for 11 days while facing the threat of violence on Lagos and its people, but capitulated and signed the Lagos Treaty of Cession. Lagos was declared a colony on 5 March 1862. By 1872 Lagos was a cosmopolitan trading center with a population over 60,000.

In the aftermath of prolonged wars between the mainland Yoruba states [read The Yoruba Civil Wars (1830 - 1886)], the colony established a protectorate over most of Yorubaland between 1890 and 1897. The colony and protectorate was incorporated into Southern Nigeria in February 1906, and Lagos became the capital of the protectorate of Nigeria in January 1914. Since then, Lagos has grown to become the largest city in West Africa.

Lagos was originally a fishing community on the north of Lagos Island, which lies in Lagos Lagoon, a large protected harbour on the Atlantic coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea west of the Niger River delta. The Lagoon is protected from the ocean by long sand spits that run east and west for up to 100 kilometres (62 mi) in both directions. 

For many years the staple products of the region were palm oil and palm kernels. Later exports included copra made from the coconut palm, guinea grains, gum copal, camwood and beniseed. Manufacture of palm oil was mainly considered a job for women.

In August 1861 a British naval force entered Lagos and annexed Lagos as a British colony via the Lagos Treaty of Cession. King Dosumu was exiled and the consul William McCoskry became acting governor. As a colony, Lagos was now protected and governed directly from Britain. Africans born in the colony were British subjects, with full rights including access to the courts. By contrast, Africans in the later protectorates of southern and northern Nigeria were protected people but remained under the jurisdiction of their traditional rulers.

In the early years, trade with the interior was severely restricted due to a war between Ibadan and Abeokuta. The Ogun River leading to Abeokuta was not safe for canoe traffic, with travellers at risk from Egba robbers. On 14 November 1862 Governor Henry Stanhope Freeman called on all British subjects to return from Abeokuta to Lagos, leaving their property, for which the chiefs of Abeokuta would be answerable to the British government. The acting Governor William Rice Mulliner met the Bashorun of Abeokuta in May 1863, who told him that the recent robberies of traders' property were due to the custom of suppressing trading so as to force the men to war. The plunder would cease when the war was over. In the meantime, traders should not travel to Abeokuta since their safety could not be guaranteed. Despite the dangers of travel in the interior, an 1865 parliamentary committee on the west coast of Africa was informed that Lagos was at no risk from Abeokuta for two reasons. First, the people of Abeokuta were too intelligent to make such an attack. Second, although Abeokuta had 1,000 canoes used for trading with Lagos, they had no war canoes, and even if they did they could never storm the well-defended island from across the lagoon.

Although the slave trade had been suppressed [read Abolition of Slave Trade in Nigeria], and slavery was illegal in British territory, slavery still continued in the region. Lagos was seen as a haven by runaway slaves, who were something of a problem for the administration. McCoskry set up a court to hear cases of abuse against slaves and of runaway slaves from the interior, and established a "Liberated African Yard" to give employment to freed runaways until they were able to look after themselves. He did not consider that abolition of slavery in the colony would be practical.

McCloskry, and other merchants in the colony, were opposed to the activities of missionaries which they felt interfered with trade. In 1855 he had been among signatories of a petition to prevent two missionaries who had gone on leave from returning to Lagos. McCloskry communicated his view to the former explorer Richard Francis Burton, who visited Lagos and Abeokuta in 1861 while acting as consul at Fernando Po, and who was also opposed to missionary work. His successor, Freeman, agreed with Burton that the blacks were more likely to be converted by Islam than by Christianity. Freeman attempted to suppress an attempt by Robert Campbell, a Jamaican of part-Scottish, part-African descent, to establish a newspaper in the colony. He consider it would be "a dangerous instrument in the hands of semi-civilized Negroes". The British government did not agree, and the first issue of the Anglo-African, appeared on 6 June 1863. Earlier there had been a newspaper that can truly be described as the first Nigerian newspaper called 'Iwe Iroyin Yoruba fun awon Egba ati Yoruba' in 1854.

In 1887 Captain Maloney, the Governor, gave a report to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in which he outlined plans for a Botanic Station at Lagos with the purpose of developing indigenous trees and plants that had commercial value. By 1889 rubber had been introduced to the colony, and was promising excellent yields and quality. A report that year described other products including gum and coconut oil, for which a small-scale crushing business had promise, various fibres, camwood, borwood and Indigo, also seen as having large potential.

The growth of the city of Lagos was largely unplanned, impeded by the complex of swamps, canals and sand spits. William MacGregor, governor from 1898 to 1903, instituted a campaign against the prevalent malaria, draining the swamps and destroying as far as possible the mosquitoes that were responsible for the spread of the disease.

Telephone links with Britain were established by 1886, and electric street lighting in 1898. In August 1896, Charles Joseph George and G.W. Neville, both merchants and both unofficial members of the Legislative Council, presented a petition urging construction of the railway terminus on Lagos Island rather than at Iddo, and also asking for the railway to be extended to Abeokuta. George was the leader of the delegation making this request, and described its many commercial advantages. A major strike broke out in the colony in 1897, which has been described as the "first major labour protest" in African history.

On 21 February 1899 the Alake of the Egba signed an agreement opening the way for construction of a railway through their territory, and the new railway from Aro to Abeokuta was opened by the Governor in December 1901, in the presence of the Alake.

In 1901 the first qualified African lawyer in the colony, Christopher Sapara Williams, was nominated to the Legislative Council, serving as a member until his death in 1915. In 1903 there was a crisis over the payment of the tolls that were collected from traders by native rulers, although Europeans were exempted. The alternative was to replace the tolls by a subsidy. MacGregor requested views from Williams, Charles Joseph George and Obadiah Johnson as indigenous opinion leaders. All were in favour of retaining the tolls to avoid upsetting the rulers. In 1903 Governor MacGregor's administration prepared a Newspaper Ordinance ostensibly designed to prevent libels being published. George, Williams and Johnson, the three Nigerian council members, all objected on the grounds that the ordinance would inhibit freedom of the press. George said "any obstacle in the way of publication of newspapers in this colony means throwing Lagos back to its position forty or fifty years ago". Despite these objections, the ordinance was passed into law.

Walter Egerton was the last Governor of Lagos Colony, appointed in 1903. Egerton enthusiastically endorsed the extension of the Lagos – Ibadan railway onward to Oshogbo, and the project was approved in November 1904. Construction began in January 1905 and the line reached Oshogbo in April 1907. The colonial office wanted to amalgamate the Lagos Colony with the protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and in August 1904 also appointed Egerton as High Commissioner for the Southern Nigeria Protectorate. He held both offices until 28 February 1906. On that date the two territories were amalgamated, with the combined territory called the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. In 1914, the Governor-General Sir Frederick Lugard amalgamated this territory with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.

Lagos was the capital of Nigeria until 1991, when that role was ceded to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and remains the commercial capital.
Lagos Colony

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