092: Living souvenirs from 19th century Africa

This Sudanese boy became British infantryman James Durham. Courtesy: DLI Museum.

Missionary Mary Slessor was in Scotland in 1898 with four Nigerian children.

European travellers in tropical Africa in the 19th century, if they survived diseases such as malaria, brought back horns and skins of animals, birds, handicrafts and weapons – and people. These living souvenirs were photographed, some went to school, many lived in the grand houses of their masters and mistresses and get mentioned in numerous contemporary books on Africa. Some returned to Africa. Others did not, and little is known of the fate of those living souvenirs who were in Europe after the ending of Atlantic slavery.

In the 1860s Count Miani (who died in Africa) sent two lads from the Congo to Italy where, as pygmies, they drew attention. They were accommodated by Count Miniscalchi of the Italian Geographical Association in Verona. Eventually both returned to Africa where one was a saddler in the Ethiopian Army [Colin Turnbull, The Forest People London: Chatto & Windus, 1961, p 22].

In 1873 Florence and Samuel Baker returned from their second visit to northern Uganda with a small boy from Ethiopia named Amarn. He lived in Devon at the Bakers’s home Sandford Orleigh near Newton Abbot, and was recalled around 1890 as ‘a most well-mannered young man’ [Anne Baker, Morning Star: Florence Baker’s Diary of the Expedition to put down the slave trade on the Nile, 1870-73 London: William Kimber, 1972, pp 100, 226].

Verney Lovett Cameron crossed Africa from Zanzibar to the Atlantic and returned to Shoreham, Kent in 1876 where his father was rector of the parish church. He brought Jacko, who had been a slave until Cameron employed him as a servant. Baptised Richard Francis in 1878, and listed in the 1881 census as a deaf mute, he was last traced in the village [David Killingray, ‘Tracing Peoples of African Origin in Kent’ in Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (ed.), Black Victorians / Black Victoriana Rutgers University Press, 2003, p 58]. A painting of the two travellers being greeted in Shoreham hangs in the parish church.

The more famous explorer-traveller, Henry Stanley, was linked to two African living souvenirs in Britain. He wrote a novel for boys in 1873 – My Kalulu, Prince, King and Slave based on two servants on his recent African journey to find David Livingstone. Kalulu came to London and had some education before accompanying Stanley to Africa where he drowned in the river Congo in 1877. Stanley was back on the Congo in 1887-1890, travelling from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. He took a Congo lad named Baruti who had reached England years earlier with Francis de Winton – returning him to his place of origin [Tim Jeal, Stanley. The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, London: Faber, 2007, pp 104, 150, 220, 324, 333].

One youngster, purchased in the Cape Verde Islands by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, is thought to have later lived at Crabbett Park in Sussex in the 1880s. One black woman has been noted in a group photograph of a Lincolnshire grand house’s servants, place and name unknown. 18th century oil paintings of wealthy Britons had young black slaves in them, but the Victorian age of photography also caught the living souvenirs from Africa and they will be listed on the census. We know more about those who returned to Africa than those who lived their adult lives in Britain, perhaps because it has been assumed people of African descent lived in British towns and that the era of black staff at the grand houses ended with slavery’s abolition.

The men and women who were responsible for this somewhat exotic aspect of British social history also included missionaries and the military. The young Sudanese taken from an African battlefield by sergeants of the Durham Light Infantry moved with the battalion to India (1887) and did not reach England until 1902 when he was Private James Francies Durham of that regiment, having enlisted in 1899. He served in Ireland and England, married and his daughter was born in 1910, the year he died of pneumonia in Fermoy, Co Cork [Jeffrey Green, Black Edwardians. Black People in Britain 1901-1914, London: Frank Cass, 1998, pp 68-70].

See page 113 of this website for an East African lad in south London in 1898.


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