Niger expedition of 1841

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The Niger expedition of 1841 was a largely unsuccessful journey in 1841 and 1842 of three British iron steam vessels to Lokoja, at the confluence of the Niger River and Benue River, in what is now Nigeria. It was mounted by British missionary and activist groups, with the backing of the British government. The crews of the boats suffered a high mortality from disease.

Meeting of 1 June 1840[edit]

Exeter Hall meeting of 1 June 1840.

The expedition was put into motion by an Exeter Hall meeting of 1 June 1840.[1] It was chaired by Prince Albert.[2] The organisers were the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade Society and for the Civilization of Africa, set up in 1839 by Thomas Fowell Buxton.[3] Buxton was promoting a grandiose "New Africa" policy, involving a system of treaties to be made in West Africa, the introduction of Christianity, and increased commerce, as set out in a book of his from the previous year.[4] Buxton's ideas went back at least half a century, to the Sierra Leone Company.[5] At the time anti-slavery activists had little access to the higher reaches of the British government, and were relying on public meetings and popular agitation; Buxton was in an exceptional position.[6]

Up to 4000 people attended the meeting, Sir Robert Peel spoke from the stage, and Prince Albert became President of the Society.[7] The proceedings were written up by Joseph Beldam.[8]

The Whig government of the time, under William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, was more irritated than pleased by Buxton's lobbying. But it made financial moves to support the expedition. Lord Palmerston as Foreign Secretary found £50,000 to offer Spain for their claimed sovereignty of Fernando Po (now Bioko), an island in the region already home to British naval bases.[9]


Officially known as the African Colonization Expedition, it was opposed by Robert Jamieson,[10] and Macgregor Laird. Medical planning was undertaken, with Royal Navy surgeons carrying quinine as a prophylactic against malaria.[11] The boats also had a ventilation system, based on that of David Boswell Reid for the Palace of Westminster.[12]

There were three vessels, the steamers Albert, Wilberforce, and Soudan, made by Laird of Liverpool. The commander was Henry Dundas Trotter in the Albert, with William Allen in the Wilberforce and Bird Allen in the Soudan.[13] In Sierra Leone interpreters joined the expedition.[14] It called at Cape Coast in July to leave there the Ghanaian princes Nkwantabisa and Owusu-Ansa who had been in England since 1836.[15]

Henry Dundas Trotter, portrait around 1833.

Among the positive achievements of the expedition were the treaties against the slave trade signed in Aboh with Obi Ossai, and Idah.[16] Trotter in the Albert reached Eggan and before falling ill and turning back, was on the way to Raba.[17] Land was purchased at Lokoja, the confluence of the Niger River and Benue River.[18]

Of the 150 Europeans on the expedition, 42 died quickly. There were 130 fever cases. On the other hand the participants of African origin suffered no deaths from illness.[19] The naval commanders called the expedition off, and withdrew to Fernando Po. Other figures given are 55 deaths (out of 159) of Europeans, before the return to England in 1842.[20]



Literary commentary was provided by Charles Dickens, particularly by means of the character of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House.[27]

A group of Baptist missionaries was on Fernando Po waiting for a rendezvous with the expedition, which was not made. They remained on the island group and evangelised.[28]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Junius P. Rodriguez, Slavery in the Modern World: A History of Political, Social, and Economic Oppression (2011), p. 156; Google Books.
  5. ^ David Richardson, Anthony Tibbles, Suzanne Schwarz, Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery (2007), p. 270; Google Books.
  6. ^ David Turley, The Culture of English Antislavery, 1780-1860 (1991), p. 74; Google Books.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade (1997), p. 657.
  10. ^ Baigent, Elizabeth. "Jamieson, Robert". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14642.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  11. ^ Victorian naval medicine by Penny Bailey.
  12. ^ a b Milne, Lynn. "McWilliam, James Ormiston". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17747.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. ^ William Henry Giles Kingston, Blue Jackets or, Chips of the Old Block (2006 reprint), p. 180; Google Books.
  14. ^ Dictionary of African Christian Biography, Buxton, Thomas Fowell.
  15. ^ Dictionary of African Christian Biography, Prince Owusu-Ansa.
  16. ^
  17. ^ SOAS page.
  18. ^ John Whitford, Trading Life in Western and Central Africa (1967 edition), p. 129; Google Books.
  19. ^ G. O. M. Tasie, Christian Missionary Enterprise in the Niger Delta 1864-1918 (1978), p. 13; Google Books.
  20. ^ Philip D. Curtin, The Image of Africa: British ideas and action, 1780-1850, Volume 2 (1973), p. 303; Google Books.
  21. ^ Baigent, Elizabeth. "Duncan, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8220.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  22. ^ Fisher, Clemency Thorne. "Fraser, Louis". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10118.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  23. ^, vol. 1.
  24. ^ William Jackson Hooker (editor), Niger flora: or, An enumeration of the plants of western tropical Africa (1849), p. vii; Google Books.
  25. ^ Harry Hamilton Johnston, Liberia vol. 2 (1906), p. 570;
  26. ^ Lindley Beatrice Khayota, The Genus Ansellia.
  27. ^
  28. ^ Edwin Ardener, Kingdom on Mount Cameroon: Studies in the History of the Cameroon Coast 1500-1970 (2003), p. 268; Google Books.