Archbishop Emeritus of Bamenda
In August this year (2008), it will be exactly one hundred and fifty (150) years since the town formerly known as Victoria, and now known as Limbe, was founded by the Reverend Alfred Saker, an English Baptist Pastor, and his Baptist Companions. They founded the town of Victoria on 9th and 10th August 1858. They named the new settlement Victoria, after the name of the then British Sovereign, Queen Victoria, who reigned as Queen from 1837 to 1901.
No doubt many Cameroonians, conscious of the fact, undeniable and ineffaceable, that the founding of Victoria constitutes part of our history, will hope and expect that the anniversary of its founding, 150 years ago, will be fittingly, publicly and unanimously celebrated as a significant event in the life of our country.
The founding of Victoria (now Limbe) took place at least one hundred and twenty-five (125) years before the emergence of any of the political parties that operate as political players in Cameroon today. Therefore, if, as one hopes, the 150th anniversary is celebrated publicly as a major civic event, it cannot, and should not, be instrumentalised or manipulated by anyone for partisan political interest. All of us, Cameroonians, irrespective of ethnic origin, creed, or political persuasion, owe it as a duty to bequeath to our children, youth and future generations of this country, the story of the emergence, growth and development of our various towns and cities. The founding, growth and development of Victoria, now known as Limbe, is something that concerns all Cameroonians.
Role of the English Baptist Missionary Society
The English Baptist Missionary Society, founded in 1792, is closely connected with the founding of Victoria. This Society sent out its first Missionaries to Jamaica, in the Caribbean, in 1813. As a result of their activities in Jamaica, many Negroes, descendants of African who had been bought as slaves and taken to Jamaica, became Baptists.
In 1840, these Negro Baptists appealed to the English Baptist Missionary Society to send Missionaries to the land of their forefathers, that is, to Africa. It was as a result of their appeal that the English Baptist Missionary Society decided to send out Missionaries to Africa, precisely, to the Island of Fernando Po.
Fernando Po had become a Spanish possession in 1777. However, the British Government which, since 1807, had become very actively involved in the Abolition of the Slave Trade, for which the West African Coast was particularly infamous, obtained permission from the Spanish Government to use Fernando Po as a base for its operations against the Slave Trade, and Slave Traders, in the Bights of Benin and Biafra.
Cameroonians who were adults by the year 1961, and who took part in the Plebiscite of 11th February 1961, will certainly recall that Fernando Po was the Headquarters of British Consuls such as James Beecroft, and that the Island of Fernando Po also facilitated the operations of such Englishmen as Oldfield, the Lander Brothers, and McGregor Laird in the area then known as the Oil Rivers in Southern Nigeria.
English Baptist Missionaries Arrive At Fernando Po
One of the earliest Baptist Missionaries to arrive at Fernando Po, coming from Jamaica, was Joseph Merrick. He arrived at Fernando Po in 1841.
It was in July that the Reverend Alfred Saker, and his wife, Helen Jessup, sailed from Portsmouth, first for Jamaica, and subsequently to their destination, Fernando Po. Just on the eve of their departure from England for Africa, their eldest daughter, Sarah, died.
It was on 16th February 1844 that the Sakers arrived at Port Clarence, also known as Santa Isabel, and today as Malabo.
Ten days after their arrival at Fernando Po, another daughter was born to the Sakers. She died after only a few months.
After having spent a few years in Fernando Po, Joseph Merrick moved to the Cameroons mainland in 1844, and settled at Bimbia. There he established a small school. He also learned Isubu, the local language, and engaged in a lot of preaching.
In 1849, he left Bimbia to return to Jamaica. He was a very sick man when he left Bimbia, and he died at sea on the journey back to Jamaica.
On his part, Alfred Saker and his wife first worked in Fernando Po for a while. Then they moved to the Cameroons mainland and set up the Headquarters of their mission at Bethel in Douala.
It is worthwhile recalling that among the Europeans of various nationalities, who were involved in commercial activities along the Cameroons coast at this time, British nationals were the most numerous.
The Founding of Victoria
On Wednesday, 23rd May, 1858, a Spanish steamer, the Balboa, sailed into Port Clarence, Fernando Po. On board was Don Carlos Chacon, Commander of the Spanish squadron, and Governor General of all Spanish Islands in West Africa.
On the following day, Thursday, 24th May 1858, Don Carlos, a Catholic, summoned Alfred Saker, a Baptist, and announced to him what for Alfred Saker was absolutely stunning. The Protestant (Baptist) form of worship was proscribed, forthwith, all over Fernando Po.
The following Sunday, 27th May 1858, the Baptists in Fernando Po held an important Public Meeting in order to decide what needed to be done in the new situation created by the Spanish Government. The meeting resolved that the Baptists should all quit Fernando Po as soon as a new settlement could be found "in a land where freedom of conscience and civil liberty could be enjoyed".
Immediately after this resolution, Alfred Saker went to the Cameroons mainland to look for a new site and a new settlement. Although Joseph Merrick had acquired a large new site at Bimbia before his departure for Jamaica, Alfred Saker considered it as unsuitable because of Bimbia's reputation at the time as an unhealthy area.
He trekked from Bimbia, through Man O' War Bay, to Ambas Bay. The land lying around Ambas Bay appeared to him as exceptionally beautiful, and that it would be extremely difficult to find a more beautiful site along the West African Coast. He felt that it was the ideal site for the new settlement, and after striking an agreement with the local chief, Chief Bile (King William), Alfred Saker returned to Fernando Po to report to the Baptist Community.
The Baptist Community very readily and immediately welcomed Alfred Saker's proposal that they move to Ambas Bay on the Cameroons mainland, only twenty miles away. Those who left Fernando Po for Ambas Bay included Joseph Wilson and his son, Joseph Wilson Junior, Stephen Burnley, Henry Scot, Daniel Moore, Joseph Michael and his daughter Hannah Michael.
The actual establishment of the new settlement at Ambas Bay, a new settlement which they named Victoria, took place on Monday, 09th August 1858 and Tuesday, 10th August 1858.
On Friday, 13th August 1858, the Baptists held their first Public Service of Worship at Victoria. Sunday, 15th August 1858 was their first Sabbath Day in the new Settlement.
Organisation of Life in Victoria
For the good government of public life in Victoria, Alfred Saker and his closest helpers drew up a small constitution. They also established a Town Council with its Rules and Regulations, as well as a Court for the administration of Justice.
Although the British Consulate at Fernando Po did not grant formal recognition to Victoria as a British colony or possession, it considered itself as responsible, somehow, for the lives and welfare of British nationals living in Victoria.
After drawing up Rules and Regulations for the Civil Government of Victoria, Alfred Saker turned to the problem of School Education. He established a school in the new settlement, a school open to children of the indigenous inhabitants. The first Bakweri to be enrolled in that school was Peter Mokoko Mokeba.
After founding Victoria, Alfred Saker left Ambas Bay in December 1858 and returned to his Headquarters in Douala. However, he still continued to be involved in the affairs concerning the good government of Victoria.
At Douala, he engaged, among other things, in an intensive study of the Douala language, in the translation of the Bible into that language, and in the preparation of a Douala Grammar, as well as of Primers for use in school.
But who was Alfred Saker?
Alfred Saker was born in 1814 in Kent, in the south of England. His father was a millwright and engineer.
As a child, Alfred Saker was very fond of books. He had only four years of formal School Education. He left school at ten years of age and began working in his father's shop where he developed his great love for scientific instruments.
At the age of sixteen, he was converted, as Baptist tradition puts it. His father died in 1838. It was in 1840 that he got married to Helen Jessup, the very year in which Negro Baptists in Jamaica appealed to the English Baptist Missionary Society, requesting that Missionaries be sent to the land of their forefathers.
Alfred Saker and his wife, Helen, decided that they ought to go as missionaries to Africa. They set sail from Portsmouth for Africa, via Jamaica, in 1843. They arrived at Fernando Po, as earlier mentioned, on 16th February 1844.
After working for a while at Fernando Po, Alfred Saker set up his Headquarters at Bethel in Douala.
Twice, he was obliged to return temporarily to England for health reasons, first in 1850, and secondly in 1855.
As already mentioned, it was in August 1858, that he and his companions founded Victoria. In December 1858, after having completed the task of founding Victoria, Alfred Saker returned to Douala. There he continued his work of preaching, translation of the Bible into the Douala language, and the preparation of Primers and of a Douala language Grammar for use in schools.
Alfred Saker finally left Africa for good to return to his homeland in 1876. He had worked in Africa for thirty-two (32) years.
On 24th March 1883, the people of Victoria renewed their many efforts to obtain official recognition of their settlement by the British Government. They submitted their written appeal to the British Government through the British Consul, Edward Hyde Hewett, at Fernando Po.
The British Government did not take any immediate action in response to this appeal. Apparently, it saw no reason to treat the appeal as a matter of urgency. Even after being officially informed by the German Government that it was sending out Dr. Nachtigal as Imperial Governor "to conduct negotiations concerning matters", the British Government saw no cause for alarm, especially as the German Chancellor, Bismark, had previously declared that his Government had no intention whatsoever of acquiring colonial possessions.
On 19th July 1884, one year and four months after the appeal of the people of Victoria, Edward Hyde Hewett, the British Consul, arrived at Ambas Bay with the intention of immediately declaring a formal annexation of the territory by the British Government.
Thomas Lewis, the Baptist Pastor at Victoria boarded Hewett's flagship and informed him that Dr. Nachtigal, the German Imperial Governor, had already hoisted the German flag in the Cameroons on 14th July 1884, that is, barely five days ahead of the British Consul! Dr. Nachtigal hoisted the German flag after having concluded treaties with King Bell.
Though surprised and disappointed, Hewett, without going ashore to hoist the British flag at Victoria, gave Thomas Lewis a Proclamation, ordering him to have it affixed at a public place in the town. The Proclamation reads as follows:
"I, Edward Hyde Hewett, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra, do hereby notify to all whom it may concern that, in compliance with the wishes of the inhabitants, the territory, which has long been in the possession and occupation of certain British subjects, viz., the Baptist Missionary Society at Amboizes Bay, has now been taken over by Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and forms an integral part of her Dominion. Given under my hand on board Her Britannic Majesty's Ship Opal anchored in Amboizes Bay this 19th day of July 1884."
The people of Victoria decided, quietly, that after the earlier hoisting of the German flag by Dr. Nachtigal, it would be better to leave the matter in the hands of the German and British Governments, and await the unfolding of events.
Not long afterwards, it became publicly known that German sovereignty over the Cameroons, including Victoria, had been recognized by the Berlin Conference.
Mindful of the experience of Fernando Po, the English Baptist Missionary Society felt that there was probably no future for them in the Cameroons which had become a German colony. They, therefore, handed over their work to another Protestant body, the Basel Mission. They themselves, the English Baptist Missionary Society, left Victoria and went to the Congo.
It would be another thirty years before Victoria would come again under British rule.
Centenary Celebrations: Victoria 1858 - 1958
In 1958, the people of the then Southern Cameroons celebrated the first Centenary of Victoria with extraordinary pomp and fanfare. Participation in the celebrations was universal. Although a very vibrant democracy and a dynamic as well as tolerant multi-party political system operated in the territory, it was spontaneously and immediately recognized by all and sundry that the Centenary of Victoria was something which transcended political party differences.
Primary School children from all over the Southern Cameroons were involved in the celebrations of the Centenary. Pupils from Saint Mary's Catholic Primary School, Nkar, in the present Bui Division, travelled to Victoria for the Centenary Celebrations, and took back pods of cocoa to show heir school friends who had never seen what a pod of cocoa looked like.
The Victoria Centenary Committee, under the chairmanship of A. K. Wright, put together material for a Centenary Book, and it was published for that Committee by the Basel Mission Book Depot, Victoria, Southern Cameroons. A Foreword of this book of 103 pages was written by Dr. the Honourable E. M. L. Endeley, O. B. E., Premier of the Southern Cameroons.
On the occasion of the Victoria Centenary Celebrations, an Alfred Saker Centenary Monument was erected next to the Victoria Divisional Office which stands next to the sea. The inscription on that monument, an inscription kindly sent to me by the present Bishop of Buea, the Right Reverend Immanuel Banlanjo Bushu, is as follows:
Missionary to Africa
Founded and named Township
This tablet is erected
In memory of his devoted work to mark
The CENTENARY OF VICTORIA
1858 - 1958
F. OSBORNE & CO. LTD. London England
It is altogether right and fitting that the Cameroon Baptist Convention should have decided to establish an All-Girls Secondary School at Victoria, a School whose name is intended to perpetuate the memory of the Reverend Alfred Saker, the Saker Baptist College, Victoria, now Saker Baptist College, Limbe. Similarly, the Cameroon Baptist Convention decided to establish a Secondary School whose name immediately recalls to mind one of the Pioneer Baptist Missionaries in this country, the Reverend Joseph Merrick, who lived at Bimbia, near Victoria, from 1844 to 1849. The reference here is to Joseph Merrick Baptist College, Ndu, in Donga-Mantung Division.
Looking Ahead to 2011
The celebration of Jubilees, especially if such celebrations are well prepared and used as times of critical stock-taking, are undoubtedly very useful in the lives of individuals, of families, and of peoples.
That is why, in my humble opinion, it is very sad that 11th February 1986, Silver Jubilee of the Plebiscite of 11th February 1961, and 01st October 1986, Silver Jubilee of the Reunification of the Cameroons, were passed over in silence, as if these Jubilees were of no consequence whatsoever in our country as a people. Was this deliberate? Or was it innocent forgetfulness? Can anyone deny that 11th February 1961 and 01st October were extremely important landmarks in the history of Cameroon? It would be inadmissible for our Government Leaders to treat them as if those dates were negligible and of no importance.
The 11th of February 2011 will be the fiftieth (50th) anniversary of the Plebiscite organized for us by the United Nations Organisation. That date will be the Golden Jubilee of that Plebiscite during which the People of the then Southern Cameroons took a sovereign decision concerning their future.
The 01st of October 2011 will be the fiftieth (50th) anniversary of the Reunification of the former French Cameroons and the former British Southern Cameroons. That date will be the Golden Jubilee of the Reunification of this country.
A Mill Hill Missionary Priest, Father Erwin Hain, who celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his Priestly Ordination in July 2007, wrote to me last year about what he considered as one of the most significant and moving moments of his life. At twelve o'clock midnight, during the night of 30th September 1961 - 01st October 1961, he tolled the huge church bell of Saint Mary's Parish Church, Nkar, where he was then serving as Curate. The tolling of the church bell at mid-night, on 01st October 1961, was the signal for all the people at Nkar, that the Cameroons was ushering into a new era.
One dares to hope that the two Jubilees just mentioned will be fittingly, properly and worthily celebrated, universally, in this country, and that the celebrations, carefully prepared, will be occasions of sincere and honest stock-taking, no matter whose ox is gored.
Is it too late?
In the opinion of some Cameroonians, in particular in the opinion of some of those who govern us a various levels, it will probably be considered to be too late to organise any celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Victoria, now known as Limbe, that is, if such a celebration is even considered to be worthwhile.
In my humble opinion, and, I believe, in the opinion of a least those who consider such a celebration as very important, especially for our Children and for our Youth, it is indisputably necessary that the 150th anniversary of the founding of Victoria be publicly celebrated. As the saying goes: Better late than Never.
Friday, 18th January 2008
Archbishop Emeritus of Bamenda