Thomas Canry Caulker (1846–1859) was the Sherbro-born son of the King of Bompey (an African polity established in 1820 that became incorporated into Sierra Leone in 1888 and is today part of the Moyamba District). He is an early example, predating the formal proclamation of the Sierra Leone Protectorate, of a West African arriving in England for an education, to meet the rising international demands on traditional states for government and commerce, and illustrating the growth in influence of evangelical Christianity in the region, introduced largely by American abolitionists.
The family was one of the most powerful chiefdoms in the Sherbro region and had been one of the most notorious slave traders during the commercialisation of the trade with the West Indies and America during the 18th century. Descended from the English colonial official Thomas Corker and the Sherbro princess Seniora Doll, the family was one of the wealthiest in the region. By the time of Thomas Caulker's birth, it was aligned with the 19th century abolition, and an agreement was being forged between his father, Richard Canreba Caulker, Chief of Bompey, together with some other chiefs of the Sherbro country (including his relative, Thomas Stephen Caulker, Chief of the Plantain Islands), to suppress the slave trade. This agreement was finalised with the Governor of the British colony of Sierra Leone in 1853, and enacted into British law two years later by an Act of Parliament dated 14 August 1855. This allowed the British navy to intercept on the high seas any suspect slave trading vessels originating from or belonging to, inhabitants of Bompey, and the other Sherbro signatories.
Travel for education in London
In the early 1850s Thomas Caulker was sent by his father, to London, for a Christian education in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion pioneered in the eighteenth century by the evangelical Selina Hastings, and for his health. It was quite common among the Caulker family and among other Afro-European families to send their children over to England for an education. He lived with the Rev. J. K. Foster and his wife (Foster had formerly been a president of Cheshunt College, closely associated with the Methodist-leaning Connection).
Though very young, Thomas suffered from weakness of the eyes, which increased almost to blindness. He was sent to a school for the blind, but he was also afflicted by other medical problems and his health failed. He died at Canonbury in Islington while in the care of the Rev. Kirkman Foster, in 1859 aged only 13 and was buried at the non-denominational garden cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. Here too, the Rev. Kirkman Foster and his wife were later interred.
Thomas' headstone read:
- THOMAS CANRY CAULKER,
- A native of Western Africa,
- Son of
- Canrah Bah Caulker,
- King of Bompey
- French, James (1883). Walks in Abney Park Cemetery. London:James Clarke
- Joyce, Paul (1984). Abney Park Cemetery. London:SAPC/Hackney Council
- Great Britain Parliament (1855) An Act for Carrying Into Effect the Engagements Between Her Majesty and Certain Chiefs of the Sherbro Country Near Sierra Leone in Africa, for the More Effectual Suppression of the Slave Trade, London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, Printers to the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty
- Sanneh, Lamin (1999). Abolitionists Abroad: American blacks and the making of modern West Africa. London: Harvard Univ. Press (2nd edn Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press 2001)