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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Hakluyt Society Research Funding 2018

For the third year in succession, the Hakluyt Society in pleased to announce its annual round of Research Funding. In furtherance of the principal objects of the Hakluyt Society, to promote the study of historical exploration, travel, and worldwide cultural encounter, the Society operates two schemes of research funding. These are:

  • The Hakluyt Society Research Grant, up to six of which will be available per calendar year, with a maximum allocation of £1500 each.
  • The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship, two of which will be available per calendar year. The Fellowship may be held for a maximum of four months, with a maximum allowance of £1650 per month. 

These funding opportunities are open to anyone whose research interests meet with and promote the objects of the Hakluyt Society. All applicants must be members of the Hakluyt Society, and applications must be received by 31 January 2018.

Please ensure that you have read the guidelines below before completing the Application Form.


 

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Guidelines

1. Hakluyt Society funding is given to support and extend the stated aims of the Society. The primary aim of the Society is ‘to advance knowledge and education by the publication of scholarly editions of primary records of voyages, travels and other geographical material’. In addition, the Society also undertakes and supports activities supplementary to its primary role as a publisher of scholarly texts: ‘by organizing and participating in meetings, symposia and conferences which contribute to an increased awareness of geographical exploration and cultural encounter’. Applicants should state clearly in their application how the proposed project meets the aims of the Society

2. The applicant must be a member of the Hakluyt Society at the time of application. (For further information about membership and the activities of the Hakluyt Society, please visit www.hakluyt.com).

3. In completing the form, applicants should make clear which one of the two funding sources is being applied for. It is not possible to apply for both of the funding sources in the same year. In the event of successful application, further financial support from the Society will not normally be considered within two years.

4. The Abstract should be written in language suitable for a non-academic audience and outline the importance and timeliness of the work proposed and its fit to the work of the Society. The section Description of the Research, should place the nature of the research proposed in relation to the relevant scholarly literature and identify the originality and significance of the work proposed.

5. Where relevant, the library/archive or other repository to be visited should be identified, as should the expected time frame in which the research will be undertaken. The application should detail the number of working days that will be spent at the library/archive/repository in question.

6. The Budget must give projected costs in as much detail as possible, and should justify the levels of expenditure proposed.

7. Plans for communication of the research should be fully explained. These should also be realistic and precisely stated.

8. Applicants should note that the funding is intended to cover the costs associated with the conduct of research (including reasonable travel and subsistence expenses), and is not for an applicant’s ongoing maintenance expenses during the period of research. Maintenance can be paid, however, for periods when the research requires the applicant to live away from home. Please note that Hakluyt Society research funding is for research with identifiable publication plans only and may not be used simply for dissertation research or write-up. Funding will not be given for computer hardware or software costs. If applicants are in any doubt over allowable costs, they are advised to contact the Society.

9. Successful applicants are required to acknowledge the support of the Hakluyt Society in any resultant Hakluyt Society publication, other research publication or in events of outreach and dissemination.

10. The maximum sum available for a Hakluyt Society Research Grant (HSRG) is £1500. Normally, there will be up to six Hakluyt Society Research Grants available in any one research funding year (April to March). Normally, there will be two Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowships available in any funding year. The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship (HSSTF) may be held for a maximum of four calendar months. The maximum sum available for the Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship will be £1650 per calendar month (i.e., the maximum sum that may be sought is £6600). Normally, there will be two Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship available in any one funding year.

Normally, in the event of successful application, the sum awarded will be paid directly to the named applicant. It is the applicant’s responsibility to provide the Society with full details of the bank account into which the award should be paid. Upon completion of the project for which an award has been made, the applicant is expected to provide the Society with a summary of the expenditure, with itemized receipts for the same, a brief report of the work undertaken and a blog post on the work or some aspect of it, suitable for publication on the Hakluyt Society Blog. The Society (at office@hakluyt.com) would like to receive the summary of expenditure, report and blog post as soon as possible after the research is completed, but requires them no later than one month after the research funding year, i.e. by 30 April 2019.

11. Successful candidates will receive notification of the outcome of their application. Due to the volume of applications, please note that the Society is unable to enter into correspondence on individual unsuccessful applications. The Society reserves the right to invite selected unsuccessful candidates to develop their proposals further to reapply in subsequent rounds, and may provide additional feedback in such cases.


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Hakluyt Society Research Funding 2017

The Hakluyt Society wishes all its members and followers a happy and prosperous 2017. For the second year in succession, the Society invites applications for its Research Funding initiative. Two forms of funding will be made available: Up to six Hakluyt Society Research Grants (max £1500 each) and up to two Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowships (max £1650 per month, up to four months).

These funding opportunities are open to anyone whose research interests meet with and promote the objects of the Hakluyt Society. All applicants must be members of the Hakluyt Society. This year’s deadline for applications is 20 February 2017 at 17.00 GMT. The selection committee aims to communicate its decisions  by the beginning of April 2017.

Guidelines for applications can be found below. Prospective applicants should download the Application Form, which gives further detailsInformation about last year’s winners and their funded projects can be found here.


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Hakluyt Society Research Funding Guidelines

1. Hakluyt Society funding is given to support and extend the stated aims of the Society. The primary aim of the Society is ‘to advance knowledge and education by the publication of scholarly editions of primary records of voyages, travels and other geographical material’. In addition, the Society also undertakes and supports activities supplementary to its primary role as a publisher of scholarly texts: ‘by organizing and participating in meetings, symposia and conferences which contribute to an increased awareness of geographical exploration and cultural encounter’. Applicants should state clearly in their application how the proposed project meets the aims of the Society.

2. The applicant must be a member of the Hakluyt Society at the time of application. (For further information about membership and the activities of the Hakluyt Society, please visit hakluyt.com).

3. In completing the form, applicants should make clear which one of the two funding sources is being applied for. It is not possible to apply for both of the funding sources in the same year. In the event of successful application, further financial support from the Society will not normally be considered within two years.

4. The Abstract should be written in language suitable for a non-academic audience and outline the importance and timeliness of the work proposed and its fit to the work of the Society. The section Description of the Research, should place the nature of the research proposed in relation to the relevant scholarly literature and identify the originality and significance of the work proposed.

5. Where relevant, the library/archive or other repository to be visited should be identified, as should the expected time frame in which the research will be undertaken. The application should detail the number of working days that will be spent at the library/archive/repository in question.

6. The Budget must give projected costs in as much detail as possible, and should justify the levels of expenditure proposed.

7. Plans for communication of the research should be fully explained. These should also be realistic and precisely stated.

8. Applicants should note that the funding is intended to cover the costs associated with the conduct of research (including reasonable travel and subsistence expenses), and is not for an applicant’s ongoing maintenance expenses during the period of travel and research. Please note that Hakluyt Society research funding is for research with identifiable publication plans only and may not be used simply for dissertation research or write-up. Funding will not be given for computer hardware or software costs. If applicants are in any doubt over allowable costs, they are advised to contact the Society.

9. Successful applicants are required to acknowledge the support of the Hakluyt Society in any resultant Hakluyt Society publication, other research publication or in events of outreach and dissemination.

10. The maximum sum available for a Hakluyt Society Research Grant (HSRG) is £1,500. Normally there will be up to six Hakluyt Society Research Grants available and two Hakluyt Society Short Term Fellowships available in any one calendar year. The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship (HSSTF) may be held for a maximum of four calendar months. The maximum sum available for the Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship will be £1,650 per calendar month (i.e., the maximum sum that may be sought is £6,600).

Normally, in the event of successful application, the sum awarded will be paid directly to the named applicant. It is the applicant’s responsibility to provide the Society with full details of the bank account into which the award should be paid. Upon completion of the project for which an award has been made, the applicant is expected to provide the Society with a summary of the expenditure, with itemized receipts for the same and a brief report of the work undertaken.

11. Successful candidates will receive notification of the outcome of their application. Due to the volume of applications, please note that the Society is unable to enter into correspondence on individual unsuccessful applications. The Society reserves the right to invite selected unsuccessful candidates to develop their proposals further to reapply in subsequent rounds, and may provide additional feedback in such cases.



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Winners of 2016 Hakluyt Society Research Grants Announced

The Hakluyt Society is delighted to announce the outcome of its 2016 Research Funding initiative, made possible by the establishment of the Society’s Harry & Grace Smith fund. Out of the numerous excellent applications received during this inaugural funding competition, the committee has decided to make seven awards of a Hakluyt Society Research Grant or a Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship.


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Winners Hakluyt Society Research Grant 2016

Professor Daniel Carey (University of Galway) and Dr Gabor Gelléri (University of Aberystwyth) – Ars Apodemica Online – an online database of the arts of travel

The work is geared toward the completion of an online database of early modern discussions of the art of travel (the ars apodemica). Prior work by Carey and Gelléri has: significantly increased the number of known texts of this type as compared to existing bibliographies; developed a descriptive methodology; and created the foundation for various visualizations that will benefit users of the database. Scholars of early modern travel have recognized the importance of attempts to reform and direct the practice of travel. The sheer scale of contributions to this debate, between c.1575–c.1850, in the form of essays, letters, treatises, and disputations, has not been appreciated. Many hundreds of such works appeared across Europe (including previously unknown contributions from Sweden, Poland, Hungary as well as England, France, Germany, Italy and the Low Countries). They established conventions for Continental travel and more distant journeys with widespread influence. The database will allow academic and wider public access to this rich material.


Dr Cheryl Fury (University of New Brunswick, Saint John) – The Human Dimension of the Early Voyages of the English East India Company

The project centres upon the less affluent members of the English maritime community. The focus of the work is upon the men of the East India Company and their struggles to establish a toe-hold for English trade in Asia. There are very few works that deal with the early EIC voyages in detail. This project examines the official accounts in conjunction with shipboard wills which provide a different viewpoint. The work extends from current research on the EIC. Here, my concern is with matters of health care and shipboard disturbances (1610–1620). Eventually, this research will culminate in a book on the first 20 years of the East India Company.


Dr Maura Hanrahan (Memorial University, Newfoundland) – Transcribing and Contextualizing the Diary of Bjarne Mamen of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913–1914

Bjarne Mamen was the twenty-two year assistant topographer with the northern party of the doomed 1913–1914 Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE). Mamen’s unpublished diary begins on 28 July 1913 and ends on 22 May 1914. Mamen’s diary allows for a reconstruction of the Karluk voyage, drift and sinking, followed by the survivors’ long wait for rescue on Wrangel Island. It provides us with the intimate perspective of a young polar explorer who is keenly aware of the grave danger he faces. Besides weather observations, shipboard activities, and meals, Mamen writes of the sometimes fraught relations between expedition members, his hopes for his time in the Arctic, and, as time passes, his ailments and fears. Mamen died in a windblown tent on Wrangel Island three months before rescue came. The last words entered in the diary are ‘I for my part cannot stand staying here’.


– Stephanie Mawson (PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge) – Slavery, Trade and Witchcraft in the Seventeenth-Century Spanish Pacific

The work is towards a PhD thesis on the social history of empire in the seventeenth-century Philippines, looking at the topics of slavery, trade and witchcraft. The research highlights the tenuous nature of empire and reveals the Philippines as a site of ongoing contestation between the Spanish and Southeast Asians. The history of this extraordinary archipelago brings together Spanish merchants and royal officials, indigenous Filipinos, Mexican convicts, Chinese merchants, Islamic pirates, religious missionaries, representatives of the Dutch, Portuguese and British empires and a multiethnic, itinerant maritime labour force. All of these people interacted within the culturally diverse, yet politically integrated context of Maritime Southeast Asia. The current historiography of the Spanish presence in the Philippines largely ignores this regional context, choosing instead to focus narrowly on the questions of how and why the Spanish were able to bring the people of the Philippines under imperial control. This work is geared towards turning these questions on their head, and to ask how regional and local social relations constrained, conflicted with, and ultimately shaped, the Spanish project of empire within the Philippines.


María Gracia Ríos (PhD candidate, Yale University) – Claiming Sovereignty: Sir Francis Drake and the Just Titles of Spain to the Indies

In the late sixteenth century, Sir Francis Drake constituted a persistent threat for the Spanish empire. In this project, I argue that Drake’s attacks on Spanish America led to a reconstruction of the history of the discovery and conquest of America in both Spanish and English writings of his time. I seek to comprehend how, as a result of Drake’s circumnavigation voyage, both Spanish and English authors claimed sovereignty and possession of the New World using the same rhetorical tools and expressing the same demands for implementing an overseas empire. By illustrating the literary interconnections between these nations, the research aims to move beyond the specificity of monolingual and mono-disciplinary perspectives that have characterized studies on New World colonization, and to contribute to scholarship on the ways in which ideas and people circulated across the formal boundaries of empires and nations in the early modern Atlantic world.


Dr Sarah Thomas (Birkbeck, University of London) – The Art of Travel in the Name of Science

This research explores the salience of mobility to an understanding of visual culture in the colonial period, focusing in particular on the works of art produced on board

Matthew Flinders’ inaugural circumnavigation of Australia between 1801 and 1803 by British landscape painter William Westall (1781–1850), and Austrian botanical artist, Ferdinand Bauer (1760–1826). Mobility was a strategic advantage for such artists in providing new material to record both for Enlightenment science and a broader European public, yet it also presented logistical, aesthetic and philosophical challenges. The work not only considers the status of the peripatetic artist as ‘eyewitness’ in this period, but also examines the mobility of visual culture itself, and the implications that this has for art history in a globalised world.


Winner Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship 2016

Katherine Parker (PhD candidate, University of Pittsburgh) – Studies in the Reception and Dissemination of the Anson Expedition

Anson’s circumnavigation and his capture of a Spanish treasure galleon in 1740–44 caused a sensation from London to Lima to Manila, while the publication of print materials spread the story almost as widely as Anson had sailed. Despite the importance of the Anson expedition to eighteenth-century peoples, it has received relatively little modern scholarly attention – due, in part, to the field of Pacific exploration’s overwhelming focus on the voyages of the later eighteenth century, particularly those of James Cook. This research project considers the ways in which the Anson expedition and the publications surrounding it were central to the development of the Royal Navy, Pacific exploration, and print culture. The Anson expedition and associated publications helped re-write the modern globe as Europeans knew it.


The Hakluyt Society wishes the awardees good fortune in their research and is looking forward to see these fascinating projects come to fruition. For more information about the competition and to keep posted about the 2017 round of HS Funding (deadline February 2017), see www.hakluyt.com or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. The Hakluyt Society Research Funding competition is open to anyone whose research interests meet with and promote the Society’s objectives. All applicants must be members of the Hakluyt Society.

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NEW: Hakluyt Society Research Grants

A New Year, a New Initiative!

After the launch of the Hakluyt Society Essay Prize in 2014 and the great success of the first Hakluyt Society conference in November 2015, the year 2016, which marks the quatercentenary of Richard Hakluyt’s death, sees the introduction of two brand new research funding initiatives from the Hakluyt SocietyThe Hakluyt Society Research Grant and The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship.


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In furtherance of the principal objectives of the Hakluyt Society, namely to promote the study of historical exploration, travel, and worldwide cultural encounter, the Society has established two schemes of research funding open to anyone whose research interests meet with and promote the Society’s stated objectives.

Applications for funding for the year 2016 must be received by 15 February 2016 (17:00 GMT) at researchgrants@hakluyt.com. All applicants must be members of the Hakluyt Society. Those who currently are not members but wish to become so can join the Society online. The application form can be downloaded here.

As stated on www.hakluyt.com, the Society makes multiple research grants available in any given calendar year:

The Hakluyt Society Research Grant, up to six of which will be available per calendar year, with a maximum allocation of £1500 each.

The Hakluyt Society Short-Term Fellowship, two of which will be available per calendar year. The Fellowship may be held for a maximum of four months, with a maximum allowance of £1650 per month.

For further particulars about the application procedure, please consult the Guidelines to Hakluyt Society Research Funding:

Guidelines Research Funding


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