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The West African Coffin-Squadron: Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

Posted on 08/14/2015

From African History and CultureThe August release of African History and Culture, 1540-1921: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes multi-volume illustrated works by 19th-century Englishmen who detail their extensive explorations of Africa.

Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery to Africa and Arabia (1835)

By Captain Thomas Boteler, R.N.

From 1821 to 1826, Captain Thomas Boteler of the Royal Navy served as a member of an expedition to survey the eastern coast of Africa, during which time “he commenced a journal for his own amusement, and afterwards continued it with a view to publication.” Due to a series of tragedies, his work was published posthumously, nearly ten years after the expedition had ended. The editor of Boteler’s work offers this biographical information:

 At a very early age Mr. Boteler entered the naval service, with a degree of ardor and enthusiasm seldom if ever surpassed, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on the 5th October 1816. He continued actively employed in the West Indies till the end of 1818, when he returned to his family; but, soon tiring of a life of inactivity, he undertook a pedestrian tour through France and Italy, during which his enterprising mind was employed in acquiring information, and in perfecting himself in the French and Italian languages.

From African History and Culture

Abeokuta and the Camaroons Mountains: An Exploration (1863)

By Richard Francis Burton

Sir Richard Francis Burton was, among other occupations, an explorer, writer, soldier, and cartographer. In the first volume in this set, Burton discusses Abeokuta, describing it as “the present capital of the Egba or Aku race, and without comparison the most important position in the broad lands which we know by the name Yoruba…”  He felt a strong relationship with the British Empire would benefit both the people of Yoruba and the suppression of the slave trade:

Lagos, distant about sixty miles from the head-quarters of the Egbas, has become an English colony, and will necessarily influence, for weal or for woe, all adjacent countries. It may extend its moral force throughout Yoruba, and become valuable, not only as a depot of, and an outlet for, trade, but also, by aiding to abolish slave exportation, and by causing human sacrifice and petty wars to cease, it may save our country a considerable portion of the million sterling annually expended upon the West African “coffin-squadron.”

From African History and Culture

In the second volume Burton writes of the Camaroons Mountains as potentially more than a mountaineering challenge and retreat from “the yellow-fever haunted coast of Western Africa.” He continues:

And I hope to make it evident that the Camaroons Mountains tract is admirably adapted, not only for a sanitarium, but for a convict station, where those expecting tickets of leave can undergo a fair trial, and where the incurables can be employed in expiating, by useful labor, the outrages which they have committed upon society. And, finally, a colony, selected from the 45,000 negroes, who, instead of loafing about Canada—a Canadian once told me that if anything could reconcile him to slavery it was the presence of these fugitives—might here do valuable work in lumber cutting, cacao growing, exporting the fiber and meal of the plantain, and expressing cocoa-nut and palm oil.

For more information about African History and Culture, 1540-1921, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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