Christian Cole (barrister)

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Christian Frederick Cole (1852–1885) was the first African barrister to practice in the English courts.[1][2] Originally from Sierra Leone, then a British colony, he was the first black graduate of the University of Oxford, where he studied as a non-collegiate student and then at University College.[1][3][4]


Cole was the grandson of a slave,[3] and the adopted son of Reverend James Cole of Waterloo.[5] Prior to his studies at Oxford he was educated at Fourah Bay College in Freetown.[4]

He enrolled at Oxford as a non-collegiate student in 1873, studying classics.[5] Short of money, he paid his way by teaching Responsions, one of the qualifying exams for Oxford degrees, and his classes were reportedly popular.[5] He also taught music lessons: a cartoon of the time depicts him playing a banjo.[5] Cole's popularity at the college is indicated by the fact that when his uncle died and his financial situation worsened, fellow students and the then Master of University College, George Bradley, raised money to help him.[4]

Despite his financial problems and the disadvantages of being unattached to a college, he graduated in 1876 with a fourth-class honours degree[4] and in November of that year was accepted as a member of University College; a position he held until April 1880.[5][2] His presence drew a lot of attention, including press cartoons depicting him with racial stereotypes. His feelings about these reactions are not recorded, and he still took a very visible role in the life of the college,[5] including speaking at the Oxford Union.[4] According to Michèle Mendelssohn, the American abolitionist Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson saw Cole at Oxford and described him as “a very black youth from Africa” in a B.A. gown. "King Cole" was the name that Higginson heard the undergraduates call him.[6]

On leaving Oxford in 1880 he returned to Sierra Leone, but did not find employment, so returned to England to train as a barrister.[5] He was accepted by the Inner Temple in 1883, thus becoming the first black African practising in English courts. He later went to Zanzibar to continue his career in law.[5]

He died of smallpox in 1885, at the age of 33.[5] Pamela Roberts, Founder and Director of Black Oxford Untold Stories brought Christian Cole to the attention of University College Master, Sir Ivor Crewe, and the Colleges’ Governing Body with the aim of putting up a plaque to honour Cole’s achievements. On the 14 October 2017, Roberts and Crewe unveiled a plaque to Cole on University College’s exterior wall, in Logic Lane, opposite the College’s Law Library.[7]

Written works[edit]

Cole delivered lectures on education in Freetown, which were published in 1880.[5]

In 1879, Cole published two pamphlets.[8][9] One was "What Do Men Say about Negroes?", a response to F. E. Weatherly's book Oxford Days.[10] The other contained his thoughts on the Anglo-Zulu war and was titled Reflections on the Zulu War, By a Negro, BA., of University College, Oxford, and the Inner Temple.[5] In the latter, he wrote:

Ye white men of England

Oh tell, tell, I pray,
If the curse of your land,
Is not, day after day,
To increase your possessions
With reckless delight,
To subdue many nations,
And show them your might.[11]

In 2006, a copy of this pamphlet, which includes two poems, was put up for sale. Former students and staff of University College donated more than a thousand pounds to buy it for the college's library, where it now resides.[12][5]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Duncan, Natricia (26 October 2014). "Where have the black scholars gone?". The Voice. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  2. ^ a b Brockliss, L. W. B. (2016). The University of Oxford: A History. Oxford University Press. p. 410. ISBN 9780199243563.
  3. ^ a b "Black History Month". BBC Oxford. 14 October 2008. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  4. ^ a b c d e Liddell, Marcus (18 October 2017). "Christian Cole: Oxford University's first black student". Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Roberts, Pamela (2014). "Christian Frederick Cole, 1852-85". Black Oxford: The Untold Stories of Oxford University's Black Scholars. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 9781909930148.
  6. ^ Michèle, Mendelssohn (2018). Making Oscar Wilde. Oxford University Press. p. 37. ISBN 0198802366. OCLC 1005105982.
  7. ^ "Christian Cole Remembered". Black Oxford. 2017. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  8. ^ "Reflections on the Zulu War". Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  9. ^ Raugh Jr, Harold E. (2011-06-01). Anglo-Zulu War, 1879: A Selected Bibliography. Scarecrow Press. p. 266. ISBN 9780810874671.
  10. ^ OCLC catalogue entry for Cole, Christian Frederick (1879). What do men say about negroes? Being a few remarks on a passage in "Oxford days: or, How Frank Ross obtained his degree.". London: Williams & Co. [etc. OCLC 44192734.
  11. ^ "Reflections on the Zulu War by a Negro, B.A." quoted in Mendelssohn, Michèle (2018). Making Oscar Wilde. Oxford University Press. p. 38. ISBN 9780198802365.
  12. ^ "College News". Univ Newsletter. University College, Oxford (24): 3. 2006.