Messy Lives on the Upper Guinea Coast: The Church Missionary Society and its Representatives

As the first recipients of Hakluyt Society Research Grants are finishing up their projects, we are delighted to share several of their findings on this blog. In this post, Dr. Katrina Keefer (Trent University) explains how her research on body marking and identity in West Africa led her to the archives of the Church Missionary Society and delve into the ‘messy lives’ of German-speaking Lutheran missionaries in early nineteenth-century Sierra Leone.


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When I first began to explore the correspondence of the various Church Missionary Society’s agents in Sierra Leone during the summer of 2011, I confess that I knew very little about them. I was primarily conducting research about how body marks and identity were connected, and was hoping to find evidence of drawn or described body marks such as tattoos and scarification. Missionary accounts seemed like a good place to begin, but as it happened, I never did find descriptions of scarification or tattoo.

What I found were lives. And as I read further, researching the authors and working to reconstruct the trajectories of their pupils, I realized how fascinating, complex and unplanned those lives were. It has become a sort of running joke to me that I ought to pitch these lives to ‘HBO’ as a series, because they remain so endlessly engrossing and chaotic. They are, to paraphrase Joseph Miller, “messy.”

I moved through various phases as I worked with these documents and the snippets of lives contained within them. There were three main threads and narratives, and following each of them was fascinating and intriguing.

There were the sometimes heart-breaking stories of the seven main authors – each was a German-speaking man originating from central and northern Europe. This was itself startling to realise, as the nested assumptions concerning the early CMS in Sierra Leone tended to be that they were English, or with greater knowledge, that the missionaries were simply ‘Germans.’ The problem of course with this was that there was no ‘Germany’ at the time, and learning the origins of each man was itself compelling, because it began to explain their distribution within the colony and hinterlands.

That sociocultural division also began to illuminate the many tensions and divisions which were present between missionaries, and which were otherwise baffling. The first two men – Peter Hartwig and Melchior Renner – evidently loathed one another to such a degree that one document penned by Governor Thomas Ludlom explained that they could not be permitted in the same place without a chaperone.

A resolution by the Corresponding Committee dated from 30 September 1806 reads that Renner and Hartwig were no longer allowed to go out together, “on account of the frequent disagreements which have already occurred between Messrs Renner and Hartwig and from their avowed repugnance to act in concert, or even to live together.”

Bashia
“Plan of Bashia Settlement” This 1817 illustration’s creator is unknown, but represents the proposed plan for the rebuilding of Bashia after it was damaged by fire. The building was originally called “Gray’s Factory” and was a slave trading factory which was given to the missionaries by Benjamin Curtis in 1805/1806 in return for the agreed-upon education of the local slave traders’ children. CMS/CA1/E6/5

Reading more carefully, I learned that Hartwig, a Prussian draft-dodger, was torn desperately between the instructions of the colonial authorities, the dictates of the missionary society, and his increasing distaste for the relatively lax lifestyle within Freetown at the time. This emerged in strident sermons whenever he was in the colony, and he was faced with steadily worsening responses from Ludlom and other officials, who challenged him again and again to justify his excursions up-country (he was instructed by the CMS itself to go inland in order to establish a mission settlement, it must be noted).

Within the correspondence of this period, the incredible tension is clear between colony and missionary, while for the Swabian Renner, similar frustration emerges throughout. He felt trapped within Freetown, made to serve as Chaplain to the Colony when like Hartwig, he had been instructed to journey into the interior, but was not permitted to do so. His resentment of Hartwig and his intense frustration all are clear additional emphatic indications of these currents of anger and miscommunication, which were hallmarks of this point in the colony.

After the arrival of other missionaries, and the 1807 dismissal of Hartwig and his subsequent castigation and branding as a slave trader, matters eased somewhat, and the narratives of the missionaries change to excitement in their correspondence. Finally, they were able to largely travel as a group up country, establishing the first and arguably most important of their early schools: Bashia on the Pongo river. Now the first two threads, which were centred on the tension between missionaries and colonial authorities, are joined by the third.

Freed to preach and teach, the correspondence becomes insightful and illuminating especially with respect to the local people. From the amateur ethnography of Gustavus Reinhold Nylander on the Bullom Shore at Yongroo Pomoh writing lengthy descriptions of funeral customs, of Poro ritual, or of red water trials, to Renner at Bashia taking down the opinion of the local headmen concerning slavery, these documents become invaluable as scholarly sources.

Kolloh devil
“Kolloh Devil” is a drawing appended to G.R. Nylander’s 1815 letter to CMS Secretary Josiah Pratt, in which he describes a masquerade he saw among the Bullom with whom he worked. His letter and this drawing are one of the earliest representations of a Poro ritual, and of maskers. CMS/CA1/E5/13.

I find that in transcribing this material, I am continually shocked by how rich it is. Accounts of smallpox epidemics, or conflicts between Royal Africa Squadron ships and local villagers, of personal tragedies as when Nylander’s son died, and of large traumas, as when Charles Christian Frederick Wenzel writes about the hardships facing Liberated African children in Kissy Town. The pictures painted within the documents are vibrant and evocative.

It is also the raw narratives about working alongside and around slave traders while acting on behalf of an abolitionist society that make this other aspect of the material so engrossing. The missionaries had opened schools for the most part, almost by accident, and their student reports offer unvarnished snapshots of children along the upper Guinea coast in the early nineteenth century. These children were the sons and daughters of local elites, or of local slave traders, or were themselves former slaves. Missionaries like John Godfrey Wilhelm produced a welter of blunt commentaries on his students. These range from high praise and warmth to clear frustration with certain students.

Throughout my reading of these extraordinarily rich and compelling materials, I am struck by how utterly human the people within them are. Flawed, chaotic, and at times ludicrous, both the authors and their subjects give their readers a perspective on this period which permits important conclusions regionally.

The missionaries were ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to convert. It’s almost laughable how thoroughly Nylander was rebuffed by the villagers on the Bullom Shore. And yet through their schools, these men and their largely unheard wives educated a remarkably diverse group of pupils who went on to open their own schools in turn.

That more than anything else is the lasting legacy of their work – the “Athens of West Africa” which Sierra Leone became was due to a nucleus of westernized children who passed through the CMS schools and the hands of those flawed but fascinating missionaries.


Katrina Keefer is an Adjunct Professor at Trent University, Ontario, Canada. She is a cultural historian who specializes in identity, body marking, slavery, and initiatory societies in West Africa. She is a contributor to the Liberated Africans Project and the Studies in the History of the African Diaspora – Documents (SHADD) projects, both of which engage with biography in the Atlantic world. Keefer is working on a large-scale digital humanities project on using permanent body marks to better discern origins and birthplace. She has previously published on CMS missionary biographies, scarification, Poro, and identity in Sierra Leone.


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Grant, the Nile Expedition and Colonisation

The latest Hakluyt Society publication,  ‘A Walk Across Africa: J.A. Grant’s Account of the Nile Expedition of 1860-1863’, edited by Roy Bridges, has now been distributed to members. In a series of blog posts, Professor Bridges, a past president of the Society and expert of African history, shines his light on the new volume. In this third post, he reflects on the theme of post-colonial readings of exploration, seeking to provide a more historicised portrayal of Grant that challenges popular views of him as a ‘colonialist explorer’.


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In the early twenty-first century, much popular and academic opinion tends to roundly condemn anything to do with Britain’s past activities in overseas regions as ‘imperialism’ or ‘colonialism’. These activities are, by definition, reprehensible exploitation of non-Western peoples.

It is not politically correct to write about the so-called exploiters. An explorer like Grant is clearly, it is supposed, part of the exploitation processes. His ‘false modesty’ and ‘false philanthropy’ must be exposed. Hence, to give only one example, what I believe was intended as a little joke to be played on Grant by his companion Speke, has been interpreted by post-colonial writers and commentators as an assertion of cultural superiority over the inferior Africans.

The two pictures here (figures 1 and 2) tell the story. Grant attempted to depict a dance as shown in figure 1. The picture was adapted by the engraver working on Speke’s 1863 book to show Grant – drawn as a comic book Scotsman complete with deerstalker – dancing with a bare-breasted African female, called Ukulima as shown in  figure 2. I believe Speke arranged to have the picture so engraved in order to play a little joke on his fellow Indian Army officer.

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Figure 1. The Dance at Doondah in Ukuni, 23 June 1861. This is the original version of the picture which was misrepresented in the version which appeared in Speke, Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile p. 138, with Grant wearing Scottish-style clothes inserted as dancing with a female.

 

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Figure 2. How Speke’s book, p.138, showed the dance with Ukulima who has been transformed into a female and Grant into a comic-book Scot.

In fact, Ukulima was an elderly Nyamwezi chief who was undoubtedly male. Grant’s original picture, as may be noted, does not show Ukulima or himself.

It seems to me absurd to read into Speke’s joke picture serious assertions about the expedition as an exercise in cultural imperialism. Grant, the representative of an advanced civilisation demonstrates his superiority by contrasting himself with the ‘primitive’ African woman. There are other examples, such as Grant drawing what he noted might one day be a steamboat on Lake Victoria (figure 3). This has been seen as an example of Grant demonstrating that he was ‘monarch of all he surveyed’. But Grant drew the picture to amuse his African porters. At the time, incidentally, as for most of the trip, he was entirely at the mercy of the African peoples he encountered, not in any sort of position of power.

This is not to deny that Grant was an imperialist of a kind and moreover someone who after 1864 did his best to promote activities which he believed would ‘redeem’ Africa and provide African peoples with a happier future. His imperialism was probably of a kind which reflected Palmerston’s mid-century brand of ‘free trade imperialism’, with everyone recognising that no British government would be willing to take over new territories to rule.

In other words, one should attempt to provide an accurate and understanding account of Britain’s overseas activities in the past and the assumptions that were made about them at the time. At the period of Grant’s expedition and for the next twenty years, no-one could have foreseen that the Scramble for Africa would take place in the 1880s and 1890s. Even if the details of what occurred were moulded by African events, that it happened at all was probably for global international relations reasons as new powers arose to challenge the previous hegemony of the Europeans, notably as far as Africa was concerned, Britain and France.

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Figure 3. Grant’s first view of Lake Victoria at Mwengaruka Bay on the 9th May 1862 when he was at the north west corner looking towards the Sese Islands. The steamship and two other large vessels were imaginary: Grant inserted them to amuse his African companions and to forecast what he hoped would be the future.

The final part of the Introduction to my Hakluyt Society edition of Grant’s Walk surveys the actual historical situation in East Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century and goes on to survey the literature which has dealt – or failed to deal — with Grant and the other explorers of East Africa.

Grant was certainly not a colonialist explorer but a distinguished and worthy traveller. He was, nevertheless, one who was inevitably a child of his time who cannot be held responsible for the deplorable outrages which were later sometimes perpetrated by those seeking to impose their brand of alien rule on Africa.

If anything, Grant was part of a continuing tradition of attempts to improve the lot of some of his fellow men even if that was in what may be regarded as an over-paternalistic manner. He deserves to be remembered with at least considerable respect and his activities examined, not in the light of some easily-assumed contemporary superior morality, but in the light of the actual situation of his time.


Roy Bridges is Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Aberdeen. He joined the Hakluyt Society in 1964 and became its President from 2004 to 2010. With Paul Hair he edited Compassing the Vaste Globe of the Earth (1996) for the Society’s 150th anniversary. His edition of Jacob Wainwright’s ‘A Dangerous and Toilsome Journey’, in Four Travel Journals (2006) was the first Hakluyt text by an African. He has now produced an edition of Grant’s A Walk across Africa (2018). Among other books and articles are several studies of the Society’s founder, W.D. Cooley.


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‘A Walk Across Africa’: The Nile Source Problem

The latest Hakluyt Society publication,  ‘A Walk Across Africa: J.A. Grant’s Account of the Nile Expedition of 1860-1863’, edited by Roy Bridges, has now been distributed to members. In a series of blog posts, Professor Bridges, a past president of the Society and expert of African history, shines his light on the new volume. In this second post, he goes deeper into the central problem behind the 1860 expedition led by John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant: the 2000-year old question about the source of the Nile.


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When, in 1860, the Royal Geographical Society decided to send Speke and Grant to search for the source of the world’s longest river, the Nile, they were asking the two men to settle not only a series of arguments and disputed information which had arisen during the 1850s, but also arguments and speculations which had interested the learned world for over two thousand years or more.

The immediate problem was that the RGS, founded in 1830, had become a powerful almost quasi-official institution keen to garner accurate geographical information but also perhaps to use that information in the service of especially British overseas interests. A knowledge base would be provided for the officials and service personnel who operated around the world, and not least those concerned with the Middle East and the sea approaches from the Indian Ocean to the all-important India. Hence East Africa began to be seen as part of that interest.

In East Africa itself, developing economic activities in the Indian Ocean region had begun to attract Africans to go down to the coast to sell their ivory or their own labour. Soon Arab and Swahili traders from Zanzibar and the coast towns began more frequently to penetrate inland. As a result, uncertain information filtered out to Europeans about lakes and mountains in the interior and this stimulated speculation on the Nile source which surely had to be somewhere in that region.

In 1856, the RGS commissioned Richard Burton, who already had a great reputation as a traveller in India, Arabia, and Somaliland, to go inland and search for the lakes and the Nile source. Burton chose as his companion, John Hanning Speke, the fellow Indian Army officer who had been with him in Somaliland. Travelling along the ‘caravan’ route from the Zanzibar Coast to Tabora, the two men went on to reach Lake Tanganyika in 1858. They were unable to discover the lake’s outlet. Whether the lake had any connection to the Nile remained in doubt.

On the way back to the coast, while Burton was ill, Speke made a ‘flying trip’ northwards and reached a lake which he named Lake Victoria and claimed must be the source of the Nile. Burton was less certain of this and was angry and mortified when on his return to England, Speke persuaded the RGS to send him on another expedition to prove his Nile theory. He chose yet another India Army officer, James Augustus Grant, the subject of this book, to accompany him.

Hoping to be met on the Upper Nile by a Welsh trader called John Petherick, the two men travelled on to Buganda and, controversially and unfortunately, only Speke himself visited the spot where the Nile does indeed debouch from Lake Victoria, on 28 July 1862.

Back in England in 1863, Speke found that his old companion Burton now threw doubt on his discovery: Burton insisted that his discovery – Lake Tanganyika – must be the western lake reservoir of the Nile, as shown on maps which interpreted the information on the river’s source provided by the 2nd century AD astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (figure 1). Thus the old and the new arguments and speculations about the Nile were brought together.

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Figure 1. Sir Harry Johnston’s Interpretation of Ptolemy’s Information on the Nile. In his Uganda Protectorate of 1902, Johnston provided this map showing what he claimed was Ptolemy’s concept of the Nile source. Note that the two lakes are designated as Albert and Victoria. Given the fact that he had lived in the region, it is difficult to know where Johnston thought the ‘Lunæ Montes’ could have been.

In the end, Speke was right, but he had died in a shooting accident in September 1864. Argument went on. Perhaps, some people argued, Speke’s discovery was Ptolemy’s Eastern lake reservoir while the Western was actually not Tanganyika but another lake discovered by S.W. Baker in 1864, after he had been directed to it by Grant’s map. Incidentally he, Baker, named his discovery, perhaps inevitably, Lake Albert.

It is my contention in the Hakluyt Society edition of Grant’s Walk that the information from Ptolemy is nonsense and that the credulity about it that was displayed in the 1860s and has continued to be demonstrated, even in the twenty-first century, is badly misplaced, to say the least. Rather, I argue, the Nile source problem should be examined not in terms of the arguments between Burton and Speke or the alleged information from Ptolemy (which incidentally helped to push Livingstone to his death), but in terms of geography and, more particularly, the geomorphological history of the Upper Nile.

In this respect, the book offers a major new insight into the Nile problem and so provides an important perspective on the expedition of which Grant’s information and pictures provide such a vital record.

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Figure 2. Grant’s February 1863 map showing the Result of the Expedition. As reproduced in the Illustrated London News of 4th July 1863 shortly after the return of Grant and Speke, this gave the RGS and others in Britain an immediate idea of what the expedition had achieved. Most notably, the map identified the source of the Nile as being in Lake Victoria. However, it also showed how Grant interpreted the general layout of lakes and rivers in East Africa and the upper Nile whilst the Expedition was still in progress.

Roy Bridges is Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Aberdeen. He joined the Hakluyt Society in 1964 and became its President from 2004 to 2010. With Paul Hair he edited Compassing the Vaste Globe of the Earth (1996) for the Society’s 150th anniversary. His edition of Jacob Wainwright’s ‘A Dangerous and Toilsome Journey’, in Four Travel Journals (2006) was the first Hakluyt text by an African. He has now produced an edition of Grant’s A Walk across Africa (2018). Among other books and articles are several studies of the Society’s founder, W.D. Cooley.


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Publication: Hakluyt & Oxford

New Publication:

Hakluyt & Oxford

Many followers of the Hakluyt’s Society’s blog will remember the exhibitions, lectures, and conference held at Oxford in autumn 2016 to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Richard Hakluyt’s death in November 1616. As a record of these events the Hakluyt Society has published Hakluyt & Oxford: Essays and Exhibitions Marking the Quatercentenary of the Death of Richard Hakluyt in 1616, edited by Anthony Payne and now available for sale at £5 (excluding postage) via the Hakluyt Society’s website.


 

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The booklet of 112 pages with eight coloured illustrations includes three essays based on lectures given at the various events, the catalogue notes of the two exhibitions and the conference programme, as follows:

Hakluyt, Aristotle and Oxford

Anthony Payne

Instruments and Practical Mathematics in the Commonwealth of Richard Hakluyt

Jim Bennett

Richard Hakluyt: From Oxford to the Moon

William Poole

Richard Hakluyt and Geography in Oxford 1550–1650

An Exhibition at Christ Church

Hakluyt: The World in a Book

An Exhibition at the Bodleian

Richard Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World

Conference Programme


Cover image Hakluyt and Oxford


Anthony Payne is a past Vice-President of the Hakluyt Society, and with Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt, organised the Society’s Richard Hakluyt quatercentenary events in 2016. He is currently working on a major bibliographical study of Hakluyt and has previously published an introductory survey, Richard Hakluyt: A Guide to His Books and to Those Associated with Him 1580–1625 (London: Quaritch, 2008).


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Navigation: An Even Shorter Introduction

A combination of historians, literary scholars, naval captains, archivists, curators, and even the odd former explorer, the Trustees of the Hakluyt Society collectively represent a wide range of expertise on travel and navigation. Yet few are as uniquely qualified to speak on the topic as Professor Jim Bennett, former Director of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford and, since 2016, President of the Hakluyt Society. This year, his Navigation: A Very Short Introduction was published by Oxford University Press. In this blog, Professor Bennett reflects on the joys and challenges of discussing thousands of years of navigational development in a short book – or even a brief talk at a literary festival.

JB: My little book Navigation: A Very Short Introduction was published earlier this year and, as a more commercial work than my usual brief, I’ve had unfamiliar opportunities to speak at a few promotional events. I always accept, not because I imagine selling lots of books, but because it’s a nice experience that may never come again. So, I’m one of those speakers on the festival fringe, where the venue is a pub or bookshop, and a few people turn up because they want to fill their schedules and these tickets are free. Still, it’s fun – nice to feel part of the larger occasion and briefly to wear a badge marked Author.

But what to say? No-one really wants to understand position-line navigation, even if I could explain it in the time I have – perhaps as little as 20 minutes. I even did one so-called ‘speed dating’ event, where speakers circulated between groups with 10 minutes for each. These ‘VSIs’, as Authors learn to call their books, are, of course, heroic condensations in themselves – in my case of navigation at sea from the Bronze Age to post-GPS in 35,000 words – so how to distil that further into 20 minutes?

vsi cover

Navigation at sea is a very big story, spanning all historical epochs, cultures and oceans – a story of world history but told though a technical narrative. It was necessary to give some account of all the big players – from the Minoans in the Mediterranean, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, &c, sailing (usually) in a large but relatively enclosed sea, to the Pacific Islanders in the vast expanse of Oceania.

With my European history background, I was already comfortable with navigation in the Atlantic from the Norse to the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch, with their introduction of techniques codified in mathematics and the use of instruments. But there was a great deal to say about the Indian Ocean with the overlapping and intersecting activities of the Egyptians, Arabs, Indians and Chinese – and eventually the Europeans. I also had to cover the growing convergence of technical resources into the modern age.

Cultural differences needed addressing as well as the geographical and technical. It struck me that Europeans marvelled at the navigational feats of Polynesian sailors, seeing their far-flung islands separated by great tracts of ocean, when Pacific peoples might insist that this is how they are connected.

Among the range of motivations for voyaging, I was pleased, for reasons that may be obvious when we meet, to devote a paragraph or two to the Irish of the early Middle Ages, who could represent an ascetic or devotional impulse. The plan was to settle in places where life would generally be considered impossible – with some success, before they were displaced from the Faroes and from Iceland by the very different strategy of the Vikings.

I should be careful not to mislead potential readers here. My narrative is driven by the technical development of navigation. I manage to mention Richard Hakluyt on page one, by using his Principal Navigations to illustrate the general meaning of ‘navigation’, in contrast with the technical definition of his associate, the mathematician John Dee, where it refers to the means of locating a position and setting a course. But the technical is entangled with geography, history and culture.

When OUP invited me to write the book, I thought I should explain frankly that I am a historian, not a navigator. They explained in turn that a historical account of this technical topic was what they wanted and this proved to be wise, I believe. I have to deal with technical matters, however superficially, but readers unfamiliar with the business of navigation pick this up gradually, through its evolution over time.

Experienced navigators, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with the technical content of so short a book, but they probably know little of how their discipline evolved and who was responsible for its development.

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Spanish mariner’s astrolabe, c.1600. Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

If the subject is large, how am I to bring it within the compass of 20 minutes? One unifying notion I’ve been using is ‘the shared sky’. As I worked through how sailors in their different epochs, peoples and oceans dealt with the challenges of knowing where they were and of moving on towards their landfall, something that should have been obvious from the beginning dawned with increasing force. On the open sea, the sky was the same for everyone.

Different techniques were used to codify and utilise the sky, with different vocabularies and instruments (or with none), but the principles that everyone applied were broadly similar. They shared the same sky. Of course it looked different from different places and at different times – that was what gave the sky navigational purchase – but a grasp of the patterns and movements recurred within every formulation.

A further thought links us to all these different peoples and is the emotional hook I deploy to move my listeners to an empathy with my subject. We share this same sky. However remote we may seem from the Phoenicians or the Vikings, for direction and for what we call ‘latitude’ they used a ‘north star’, which they identified in the same whirling pattern as we observe today. I am always affected by this thought – a feeling perhaps shared by my modest audiences. They seem to leave happy to have ticked off another talk in the programme, some even with copies of my little book.

Professor Jim Bennett is a historian of science who has held curatorial posts in national museums in London and in university museums in Cambridge and Oxford, where he was Director of the Museum of the History of Science. He has been President of the British Society for the History of Science and is currently President of the Hakluyt Society. His books include The Divided Circle: a History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation, and Surveying (Phaidon-Christie’s: 1987) and Navigation: A Very Short History (Oxford University Press: 2017).


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Professor Jim Bennett waiting to speak at Chipping Norton Literary Festival

‘World enough, and time’: Richard Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World

An important quadricentennial took place on 23 November 2016: the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616). To mark the occasion, an international group of scholars gathered in Oxford for a conference ‘Richard Hakluyt and the Renaissance Discovery of the World’. In this blog post, Hakluyt@400 organisers, Professors Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt, once more reflect on the #Hakluyt400 quatercentenary activities in Oxford and Wetheringsett.


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England’s pioneering promoter of overseas exploration, commerce and expansion, Richard Hakluyt, assembled the largest selection of English travel accounts of the era, covering every area of activity around the globe. His book The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation is an astounding compilation of English voyages and discoveries up to his time and marks what we might call the beginnings of the great British historical adventure.

It first appeared in one large c.600,000-word volume in 1589, and then in a much-expanded and updated edition in three volumes between 1598 and 1600. The second edition extended to more than 1.76 million words, containing over 600 individual accounts of travel and exploration by various authors. Hakluyt divided the material into volumes by region, with each then ordered by chronology; its publication was by any reckoning, a truly immense literary and logistical achievement.

Many of the scholars who spoke at the conference are participants in a major international editorial endeavour to prepare the first-ever critical edition of the text, the Hakluyt Edition Project, led by Daniel Carey (NUI Galway) and Claire Jowitt (University of East Anglia), to be published in 14 volumes by Oxford University Press.

principal-navigations 1599

The conference was accompanied by two exhibitions: ‘Hakluyt and Geography in Oxford 1550-1650’ at his old college, Christ Church; and ‘The World in a Book: Hakluyt and Renaissance Discovery’ at the Bodleian Library. The programme as a whole, organised by Carey, Jowitt, and Anthony Payne (Hakluyt Society), involved a partnership between the Hakluyt Society, Christ Church, the Bodleian, and the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

The Hakluyt@400 events concluded on 27 November 2016 with the unveiling of a wall-plaque in Hakluyt’s honour at his final parish church of Wetheringsett, Suffolk—four hundred years and one day after his burial in Westminster Abbey.

Hakluyt plaque

The conference included sessions on themes such as ‘Hakluyt, Oxford, and Centres of Power’ that featured papers by David Harris Sacks, Anthony Payne, and Sebastian Sobecki. A similarly lively session on Hakluyt’s global perspectives in ‘the three corners of the world’ (a reference to Shakespeare’s line from King John) saw Nandini Das discuss ‘Hakluyt and India’, Felicity Stout focus on ‘Hakluyt and Russia’ and Bernhard Klein consider ‘Hakluyt and West Africa’. Taken together, the three papers revealed the transnational, international, and interconnected networks and dimensions of Hakluyt’s work.

Other sessions considered ‘Encounters, communication and technology’, ‘Theatres of war, near and far’, ‘Rival ambitions’, ‘Telling tales’, and ‘Influences and legacy’, and involved speakers representing an appropriately international group—given Hakluyt’s project—ranging from the UK to Ireland, the US, Australia, Canada, Spain, France, and the Netherlands.

The conference featured a keynote from the renowned historian Joyce E. Chaplin (Harvard) who offered an eco-critical reading of Hakluyt’s work, showing how nature was central to The Principal Navigations since God had made the world abundant and open for business (especially to the English). The conference ended with a very well-attended public lecture by historian and broadcaster Michael Wood. ‘Voyages, Traffiques, Discoveries: Stories from the Age of Exploration’, described cross-cultural encounters from Mexico and China and looked at what they tell us about Western ways of seeing the world beyond Europe and other cultures and civilisations—all still, as he put it, ‘burning issues in the 21st century’.

The range, depth, and diversity of the scholarship on display across all sessions was impressive (and gratifying to the organisers), a testament to the continued importance of studying colonial pasts in order to understand, and contribute to, post-colonial futures.

This conference and the commemoration of Hakluyt in 2016 more broadly, provided an opportunity to appreciate fully Hakluyt’s influence and legacy. By offering advice on English colonial and imperial projects to the most powerful figures in the land, including Elizabeth I and James I, and career politicians such as William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, and his son Robert, Hakluyt established himself as one of the chief architects of what was to become a global, oceanic, and mercantile British empire.

Likewise, the series of events enabled us to better understand the ways in which the genre of the travel writing collection, which Hakluyt pioneered in England, was crucial to creating a climate that supported English ambitions for exploration, trade, and expansion. Hakluyt’s editorial labours were thus foundational in developing for the English nation a central role in a global economy.

Readers interested in Hakluyt’s legacy, through the work of the Hakluyt Society (established 1846), can find out further information about activities and publications at: http://www.hakluyt.com/. Further details about the project to publish a scholarly edition of The Principal Navigations can be found at: http://www.hakluyt.org.

NOTE: This report first appeared in the Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance Studies, April 2017. SRS supported the attendance of ten postgraduate and early career scholars at the conference through fee-waiver bursaries. Reproduced with permission of the Society.

 

Neither “Middle Ground” nor “Native Ground”: Reading the Life of Goggey, an Aboriginal Man on the Fringes of Early Colonial Sydney

The Hakluyt Society is pleased to announce that its 2017 Essay Prize has been awarded to Annemarie McLaren, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, Canberra. As runner-up in this year’s competition, an Honourable Mention is awarded to Cameron B. Strang (University of Nevada, Reno, USA), for his essay: “Coacoochee’s Borderlands. A Native American Explorer in Nineteenth-Century North America”. Annemarie McLaren will be awarded a cash prize of £750 for her winning essay. Both the winner and runner-up will also receive one-year free membership of the Society. In this blog post, McLaren reflects upon the research that went into her prize-winning essay, “Neither ‘Middle Ground’ nor ‘Native Ground’: Reading the life of Goggey, an Aboriginal Man on the Fringes of Early Colonial Sydney”.


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When so many Aboriginal lives slipped through the cracks of colonial records in the early decades of Sydney, the fact that one Dharawal man’s life could be traced in fragments offered exciting opportunities. From 1802 to 1836 ― a period closely following on from the arrival of the colonists in 1788 ― Goggey could be traced in journals, letters, newspapers, diaries and petitions. So his life offered an opportunity to consider how one Aboriginal man negotiated a rapidly changing world.

Yet his archival traces also offered considerable conundrums, and Goggey, the subject of my essay for the 2017 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize, has proved to be a bubbling, provocative current throughout my doctoral candidacy, part of a process of considering and re-considering, of stumbling upon and searching for sources, and of dialogue with different colleagues at the Australian National University and beyond.

A native family of New South Wales sitting down on an English settlers farm Earle
‘A native family of New South Wales sitting down on English settlers farm’, depicts an Aboriginal man, his wife and a child, near a settler’s farm in early colonial Sydney’s immediate hinterland. Scenes like this would have been common near some of the farms of the Nepean districts, places in which Goggey was found.
Augustus Earle, c.1826 – National Library of Australia, NK12/45.

 

Goggey was a husband to several wives, a father, and a clan leader. He was an enforcer of laws, and he was also a man who broke them. He fostered relationships with colonists as well as various Aboriginal people, and he harboured with black and white equally.

Goggey could speak some English and use a gun; was the lead guide on an expedition in the difficult country of the Blue Mountains in 1802; welcomed Governor Macquarie to ‘his’ country in 1810; was asked to attend court in 1814 to give information about the murder of Aboriginal women and children by colonists; was listed as a ‘wanted’ and possibly dangerous man in 1816; and was then awarded an inscribed brass plate denoting him as an Aboriginal ‘chief’ in 1817 – just to name a few of the episodes my essays considers.

But Goggey was also an enigmatic, mercurial figure, one who could be violent as well as charming, one who could be found enraged as well as dancing by fires in the moonlight.

I have been thinking about Goggey for several years now, and he has become key to my exploration of the ongoing cultural negotiations and the processes shaping Aboriginal-colonial relations in early colonial New South Wales; including the performance of authority, the continuing ways in which material culture mediated the changing social fabric, and the diffuse processes by which guiding relationships developed. As my knowledge of the shifts in Aboriginal-Colonial relations deepened, my mind would flick back to Goggey, trying to integrate whatever new understanding I had reached with what was known about his life.

With a life embroiled in so many of the key inter-cultural developments in the colony, considering Goggey’s life, the archives in which he could be found, and the negotiations they record or suggest, has richly shaped my understanding of the ways in which cross-cultural interactions unfolded in the colony as well as the ways in which power could operate.

It has prompted me to consider ‘models’ of interaction and the theoretical underpinnings of inter-cultural power in colonial contexts, and to examine ideas surrounding “Middle Grounds” and “Native Grounds” in the context of early colonial New South Wales.

SLV_Parramatta-New-South-Wales
‘Parramatta, New South Wales’, illustrates a growing urban centre surrounded by pastoral land. This place, 15 miles west of port town at Sydney Cove, was the home of the ‘Annual General Assembly of the Natives’, where Goggey is said to have sat at the head of his ‘tribe’.
Joseph Lycett, 1824 – State Library of Victoria, 30328102131561/12 

 

Curiously, I never intended to write about Goggey. Yet as a key figure in an expeditionary account I was considering, and having come across more sources in which he appeared in intriguing ways, I did look for more. This was a useful task, but not as useful as repeated stumbling upon him while searching through archival material. This was a lesson in the fickleness of the archive (as well as in poorly catalogued items), but also suggested something about the nature of entanglement in this colonial context, and that some historical investigations demand ambitious, wide-ranging, even peripheral reading ― or perhaps some degree of serendipity.

Reading Goggey’s life has also been a lesson in the value of collegiality. It was over coffee with a later-stage doctoral candidate that I received reading suggestions of more contemporary anthropology, while I had focused on reading ‘classics’ from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

These readings helped shaped the conceptual and imaginative tool-kit necessary in confronting evidence of a strong-willed, emotive and sometimes violent man, as well as the capacity to consider the ways in which relational economies ― and in fact what was considered of ‘value’ at all ― had many different configurations in the cultural complexities of early colonial New South Wales.

I am grateful to the Hakluyt Society for awarding this piece the 2017 Essay Prize. I am also grateful to those who read this essays in various drafts, and for their words of encouragement and advice along the way.


Annemarie McLaren is a third-year doctoral candidate in history at the Australian National University. Her research considers the ongoingprofile_2 Annemarie McLaren cultural negotiations between Aboriginal people and Europeans in early colonial New South Wales in a project titled ‘Negotiating Entanglement’. Annemarie has been participating in a three-year  post-graduate training scheme of the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is co-editing a book (tentatively) titled Indigeneity: Claims, Relationships, and Concepts Between the Disciplines (expected 2018). She is also the Associate Review Editor of the Aboriginal History Journal.