Sir Harry Johnston & the Scramble for Africa

By Roland Oliver | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
A RESOLUTE BUT SINGULARLY
LAWLESS PERSONAGE

BY October 1886, when the Anglo-German agreement about spheres of influence in East Africa was initialled, Johnston had been for nearly a year on the West Coast. His friendship with Anderson and Lister had borne fruit, and he had applied in July 1885 for nomination to an expected vacancy in the consular service, at Mozambique. This vacancy did not in the event occur; but in late October or early November he accepted the offer of a double Vice-Consulship in the Oil Rivers District and the Cameroons at a combined salary of £500 a year, which, with fairly generous office and travelling allowances, placed him, status and prospects apart, in considerably easier circumstances than he had before enjoyed.1 In the first capacity he was to act as assistant to the Consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra in the coastal district stretching from the eastern limits of Lagos to the German frontier at the Rio del Rey. This, the coastal region of what is now Eastern Nigeria, had been recognized at the Berlin Conference as a British sphere of influence, and had been gazetted as a Protectorate in June 1885. In the second capacity he was to be the British representative accredited to the government of the new German protectorate of the Cameroons, with the special task of watching over the affairs of a small British-protected enclave at Victoria in Ambas Bay, the sovereignty over which was intended to be, but had not yet been, ceded to Germany.

His appointment should therefore have been no sinecure. The Bights Consulate had never, since its establishment in 1849, been one of the more purely decorative of diplomatic posts. Its early incumbents, John Beecroft and T. J. Hutchinson, Richard Burton, the explorer and orientalist, and Charles Livingstone, the brother of David, had all led strenuous, often dangerous, lives in the service of the campaign against the slave-trade and the promotion of legitimate commerce. With the steady growth in the 'sixties and 'seventies of the demand for palm-oil, the volume of trade passing in and out through

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1
F.O. to Johnston 2.xii.85, F.O.84.1702.

-89-

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