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Art. VI.—A Practical Medico-Historical Account of the Western Coast
of Africa, embracing a Topographical Description of the Shores, Rivers, and Settlements, with their Seasons of Comparative Healthfulness; together with the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of the Fevers of Western Africa, and a similar Account respecting the other Diseases which prevail there. By James Boyle, M.C.S.L., Colonial Surgeon to Sierra Leone, Surgeon R.N., &c. pp. 423. London: High
ley. 1831. The circumstance of a war having but just broken out in a part of the settlements to which Mr. Boyle's descriptions refer, is one of the principal motives which have induced us to examine a work, that in its title, however elaborate, offered no very extraordinary provocation to our curiosity. And yet we cannot, on consideration, deny, that the comparative salubrity of one of the most important of our colonial possessions, forms a subject by no means of a subordinate interest, amongst those grave questions of state policy which press themselves on the immediate attention of the great council of the nation. Whether or not Sierra Leone, and the settlements in immediate connection with it, be suitable residences for Englishmen, even for a short time, is, surely, an inquiry that must be encouraged in a country where expeditions are yearly projected to our foreign possessions, for purposes of scientific curiosity, or of moral or religious benevolence. Mr. Boyle observes, that between England and Western Africa there is subsisting a beneficial connection, from which the former cannot withdraw without a sacrifice, which it would be extremely impolitic to make. An extensive traffic, he observes, is carried on with that coast in gold dust, ivory, palm oil, wax, and hides; and in some of the settlements we are engaged with the inhabitants in an important trade in timber. Besides, the Western Coast of Africa has been for many years, and still continues to be, the principal station where a British squadron can most efficiently carry into effect the anxious desire of the legislature and the country, to suppress the slave trade; FreeTown, in Sierra Leone, being the site of the courts of those mixed commissions, which have been appointed to give the sanction of the law, to the justifiable acts of our naval force in that important service
Mr. Boyle, after several concise geographical and statistical de. scriptions of the Western Coast of Africa, and some of the adjacent parts, proceeds to the consideration of those diseases which may be said to be peculiar to the country, and respecting which he, as a medical authority, and a diligent witness, is entitled to a respectful hearing. It is fortunate that the habits of his practical life have altogether loosened the foundations of that eternal disposition to speculation, which is as certain an entailment upon the early professional life of every medical man, as vaccination is on his natural
The author, therefore, is not induced to attempt what he himself rather quaintly denominates," a stiff arrangement of causes,' (p. 71), his only object being to give a straightforward register of the symptoms as they occurred, and of the treatment and its results. Mr. Boyle pursues his subject in its diversified divisions, to an extent of detail which is calculated, we should think, to render his descriptions highly valuable, as contributions to medical science. He next invites our attention to the medical topography of the British settlements on the leeward portion of the Western Coast of Africa, with other particulars of equal importance and interest. The work concludes with a notice of the diseases which come under the general category of tropical ; and further, of those which, though they occur frequently on the Western shores of Africa, still cannot, with propriety, be represented as peculiar to that coast.
In the statistical portion of his observations, Mr. Boyle has furnished us with many descriptions of interesting natural scenes, which, we have no doubt, it will gratify our readers to peruse. Some of the peculiarities of the Gambia, a river which runs into the sea on the Western Coast of Africa, are thus noticed by the author.
• The banks of the Gambia, near its mouth, are in general low, and, in some places, sandy and sterile, although, for the most part, they are marshy, and of black mud, thickly wooded. This, indeed, is the character common to the banks of the whole river. The stream is muddy, and the borders in general are low, swampy, and, from low water mark, covered with mangroves and aquatic shrubs and thick weeds. The adjacent country is thickly wooded, and may almost be styled an impenetrable bush. Much of it is marshy. The inland soil is mostly sand, with some clay and rocky ground. Vegetation is extremely rapid, so much so, that if a spot be cleared of the bush, and neglected but for one season, it appears again in nearly its original state.'
• The Gambia abounds with fish, hippopotami, and alligators. The marshy tracks on its banks yield luxuriant crops of rice, while horses, cows, sheep, and goats, pasture on the plains and on the declivities of hills. Noxious reptiles and insects almost cover the surface of the earth ; and beasts of prey, occasionally leaving the forests, are found on the banks. The native inhabitants, who are few in number, reside mostly in towns or villages of huts, round which a portion (sometimes considerable) of ground is cleared, and in a state of cultivation for the production of rice, maize, tobacco, and some other articles.'-pp. 2–4.
In noticing, in two or three pages afterwards, the settlement of Bathurst, Mr. Boyle attributes its establishment, as a British settlement in 1816, to Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton, the very individual, that, at the moment we write, has consigned his name to the melancholy catalogue of those who, not possessing enough of the virtuous courage that would have enabled them to bear the frowns of an untoward fortune for a brief season, refused to bide the pleasnre of
that Almighty Ruler, in whose hands the term of our existence niay safely be entrusted Bathurst is described as a neat, cleanly town, as well calculated for success as any establishment could be, so near the mouth of the Gambia, but, in respect of health, very far from being an eligible residence. Fish there is not superabundant; beef is tolerably good; mutton is rare; palm wine is one of the staple commodities of the neighbourhood; and partridges and guinea fowls may be occasionally procured. Considerably to the south of the Gambia, is the river Rio Grande, which has a rapid tide, with a rise of nine feet, and is said to be navigable for 150 leagues above its mouth. Mr. Boyle informs us that it was in one of the islands at the mouth of Rio Grande, that Captain Beaver attempted to form his settlement. The reader will at once recollect the island of Bulam, in association with an adventure as interesting as any that can be found in the annals of romance. This island presents, according to our author, a beautiful appearance to the eye, yet being swampy and covered with bush, it contains the elements of the most violent remittent fever. The numerous islands and points of main land, with the rivers and various settlements which are to be met with in the voyage from Bathurst to Freetown, are noticed in detail by Mr. Boyle. He states the result of his inquiries into the condition of the soil, the natural history, the state of the inbabitants of the various places which he visited, and upon the whole appears to bave collected some very satisfactory and interesting information relative to the Western Coast of Africa, which is well worthy the attention of the Colonial Department of our Government. The description which he gives of the first sight of Sierra Leone, is marked by an unusual vigour of expression.
There are very few parts in the tropical world, which, at first sight, hold out more allurements, even to the experienced traveller, than Sierra Leone. Its splendid scenery, and its beautiful river, together with its extensive, commodious, and generally secure harbour, and pleasant-looking town and villages, are calculated to excite the most flattering hopes in respect of health and enjoyment, notwithstanding strong previous impressions to the contrary. On making Sierra Leone from the north, the mountains from which the peninsula was named, first excite attention. They are lofty, perpetually clothed, from their summits to their bases, in all the fertile gaiety of nature's verdant and richest scenery; and there is a pleasing and endless variety in the outline of their countless peaks and declivities. As the ship draws in with the shore, signs of cultivation appear, and increase with rapidity, both in number and attractiveness. Freetown, and the lately-formed villages in its neighbourhood, at first shew like anomalous patches in the view, but, on a nearer approach, they add greatly to its beauty and its interest. When the ship has arrived just at that point of distance, from which a person may see all the broad outlines and apparent characteristics of an extensive scene, without being able to discern the minute details, the effect is magnificent. On the left hand is the Bullom shore, low, but covered with luxurious and richly-coloured bush, an occasional palm and pullom tree, rising in graceful form above the neighbouring mangroves: in appearance, it seems to embody the notions formed of fairyland, but its realities most sadly illustrate the folly of such dreams. The middle ground also occurs on the left hand, and it gives a variety to the view. In front, are the spacious river, (extending farther than the eye can reach,) and the north side of the peninsula, with its lofty mountains, and Freetown, running to the water's edge, and surmounted by the barracks, and protected by a handsome fort, and a coast forming numerous small and convenient bays, from the town to its termination at the cape,
which runs boldly into the sea. On the right is the Atlantic. That a scene, composed of such ostensible material features, is grand and imposing, may readily be supposed; but those who are ignorant of the peculiarities of a tropical climate, and its seductive influences on a stranger, can form no adequate notion of the character and extent of its actual power. For the moment, home is forgotten, or if remembered, the remembrance is accompanied with a desire it should be situated in such a seeming paradise. In thus speaking of the view on arriving at Sierra Leone, we are supposing that settlement to be made on a fine clear day, when the atmosphere is bright, and comparatively devoid of malaria, and the river runs its natural course, unswollen and free from discolouration. Should the arrival, however, happen at a different period, when the atmosphere is dense, oppressive, and fraught with deleterious exhalations, and the rains are deluging the face of the country, and at once augmenting the river, and destroying its beauty, then Sierra Leone presents a very different appearance: there is nothing to excite a pleasing anticipation, but there are a world of causes for apprehension and for dread. The realities of the scene are, of course, unaltered, for the two periods are the property of the climate, and must be alike endured by the colonist; but the appearances present a melancholy and a fearful contrast.'—pp. 23-25.
The population of the settlement does not exceed twenty-six thousand souls; but it is composed of a greater number of independent races, than we believe was ever found congregated in one community before. The Europeans, it seems, cannot muster more than about one hundred and twenty. The Maroons forni a numerous class. They are, though of African descent, chiefly emigrants from Jamaica, and carry on the principal trade of the place. Its artizans consist of what are technically called Settlers, and have originally migrated from Nova Scotia. The class of traders admits amongst its members, an order called Mandingos, who are natives of the country in the immediate neighbourhood of Sierra Leone. The discharged soldiers, and the liberated Africans, form no inconsiderable item in the population. With respect to the latter, Mr. Boyle makes some curious observations.
• The liberated Africans display almost every variety of the negro character. Generally speaking, those who were consigned to slavery through the fortune of war, are desirous of returning to their native countries, and frequently effect their wish, either with or without the leave of Government, which, however, is never refused them when asked; while those who were sold into slavery as a punishment for the commission of some crime, or have passed the whole of their lives in bondage in their native countries, at once adopt their new homes, as a permanent residence. For the first six months after their liberation, these people are supported and clothed by Government. They are at once placed under the direction of an official department, constituted for the purpose, and for the first three months employed on public works, when they are located in some of the villages for the remainder of the period, at the expiration of which they are left to their own resources. This is the case with respect to the men. The women mostly get married on their being liberated, for the men are not allowed to take them on any other terms. Of the children, both boys and girls, many, on liberation, are apprenticed to the inhabitants of Freetown, and the others are sent to the villages, where there are regular schools, under church missionaries, and supported, clothed, and instructed, until they are apprenticed, or qualified to provide for themselves. The people but seldom make good mechanics. Their inclination seems chiefly for traffic, and some of them have acquired considerable property. They rarely follow the sea, whether in ships or boats ; and those among them who possess canoes, generally employ the natives of the neighbouring coast to work them. Many of them will readily hire themselves as servants, and, after much tuition and looking after, they are well enough in that capacity. A few have been taken by merchants, principally in the timber trade, as apprentices, and they are said to have turned out tolerably good clerks. The great body of them, however, have made but little progress in European civilization, and adhere most tenaciously to their early habits. They are tolerably cleanly, and have no peculiarities or habits likely to produce disease. One of their customs, although distinct altogether from considerations connected with health, may be noticed here without much impropriety. A secret institution has been introduced among them by the Bulloms and Timmanees, called Purrha, which seems to bear resemblance, at least in its spirit, to freemasonry. The meetings of Purrha are held at irregular periods, and they are strictly confined to the members, who are extremely numerous, and embrace many liberated Africans.'--pp. 32, 33.
The last class of inbabitants noticed by Mr. Boyle is called the Kroomen; and from his account, it would appear that the persons composing this class, in some respects resemble the bands of Irish peasantry, which the approach of each harvest invites to this country. They are mostly, he says, labourers that come from a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles: they rarely fix their residences permanently in the settlement; and, whilst in service, their great object is to get together a box of clothes, or other more valuable articles, and with these return to their own country. They remain, however, at home only so long as their store lasts, and then they come back to resume their laborious occupations. Each of the diversified classes composing the population of the settlement, is described as maintaining respectively its original distinctions: they live in separate districts; and even Freetown has streets appropriated to different races.
Ít has been computed that not less than sixty various languages are daily spoken as the familiar tongues of one class or another, of the population of Sierra Leone.
Mr. Boyle next adverts to the climate of the settlement, and the