The Europeans who came to Nigeria were the explorers, Christian missionaries, traders and merchants. These people included the following:

The explorers were Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, Richard and John Lander.

The traders and merchants included George Tauberman Goldie, John Holt etc.

The Christian missionaries included Mary Slessor, Thomas Birch Freeman, Henry Townsend, Ajayi Crowther, Jefferson Bowen, etc.


Mungo Park

Mungo Park was a Scottish explorer of West Africa. He was the first European who travelled to places like the Central Africa and Niger River. Mungo Park was educated at home before attending Selkirk Grammar School in 1788. Mungo Park enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, studying medicine and botany. He completed this course in 1792.

In 1794, Mungo Park offered his services to the African Association, then looking for a successor to Major Daniel Houghton who had been sent in 1790 to discover the course of the Niger River and had died in the Sahara.

In 1795, Mungo Park left Portsmouth, England on a vessel trading to the Gambia for beeswax and ivory. On 21st June, 1795, he reached the Gambia River and ascended it 200 miles to a British trading station named Pisania. On 2nd December 1795, he set out to the interior crossing the upper Senegal basin and through the semi desert region of Kaarta with two local guards.

On his journey, he reached the long sought Niger River at Segu. The river followed down to Silla where he turned back because of inadequate resources.

To his credit, Mungo Park wrote a book which he titled “Travels in the Interior District of Africa”. This book served as an encouragement to the European Explorers. It also introduced the Europeans to a vast continent unexplored by the Europeans and proposed that the Europeans could exploit the land.

Mungo Park died in 1806. His remains was believed to have been buried along the banks of River Niger in Jebba, Nigeria. After his death, European public and political interest in Africa began to increase on a geometric progression. The most lasting effect of Mungo Park travels was the imperialism and colonialism of Africa and Nigeria in particular.


Hugh Clapperton

Hugh Clapperton was born in Anan in 1788 where his father worked as a doctor. He left school at 13 years old in order to take up a training post on a ship training between Liverpool and North America. For several times, he made a number of voyages which prompted him to join the royal navy. He established himself and was commissioned into the royal navy. He participated and played an active role during the Napoleonic wars. In November 1810, he led the attack on Port Louis on Mauritius and captured the French flag.

In 1820, Clapperton moved to Edinburgh where he met Walter Oudney who was appointed by the British government to establish a consulate in West African kingdom of Bornu. Clapperton volunteered to join Oudney’s expedition and early becoming the first Europeans to see Lake Chad en route to a successful meeting in 1823 with the Sultan of Borno.

Clapperton and Oudney stayed in Borno for some months and later went with Dixon Denham with the aim of tracing the course of the River Niger. Oudney died the following month. Clapperton and Denham made their way back to Tripoli in January 1825.

This expedition earned Clapperton promotion to the rank of a commander and was sent back to West Africa. In West Africa, he travelled inland with the intention to establish diplomatic and trade relations with sultan Bello of Sokoto.

In January, 1826, he crossed the River Niger at Bussa, where Mungo Park had died. Clapperton reached the Sokoto caliphate in July 1826 where he died of dysentery. His journals were later recovered and in 1829 published as Journal of a Second Expedition into the Interior of Africa.


Richard and John Lander

Richard and John Lander were two brothers who were born in Dolphin Inn in 1804 and 1807 respectively. The two of them grew up to become explorers and the first Europeans to follow the course of the Niger River to its Delta.


Richard Lander walked to London at the age of nine. At eleven years, he sailed on a merchant ship to the West Indies, returning to England in 1818. He lived as a servant in the homes of various wealthy families. In 1823, he went to the cape of good hope in South Africa and returned in 1824.

The British government sent Richard Lander and his brother, John to further explore the lower Niger River in 1830. From their journey, they were able to establish that the Niger River flows through many mouths into the Bight of Benin. They discovered the source, route and mouths of the Niger River which were not on the map before. The journal of his expedition to explore the course and termination of the Niger was published in 1832.

Richard Lander died on his third West African trip between 1833 and 1834 at Fernado Po on the 6th February, 1834.


Sir George Taubman Goldie

Sir George Dashwood Taubman Goldie was born in Douglas on 20th May, 1846. He was educated at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and for two years, he had a commission in the Royal Engineers.

He conceived the idea of annexing the region of lower and middle Niger for the British Empire; for many years, he worked towards achieving this objective. His immediate step was to combine all the British commercial interest in the Niger; thus, he achieved this in 1879 when the United African Company was formed.

George was granted a charter in July, 1886 and the National African Company became the Royal Niger Company.

On 1st January, 1900, the Royal Niger Company transferred its territories to the British government for the sum of 865,000 pounds (£865,000). The ceded territory along with the small Niger coast protectorate which were under the control of British was divided into the protectorate of Northern and Southern Nigeria. Thus, Sir George Taubman Goldie played a major role in the founding of Nigeria.


John Holt

John Holt was born in 1841. In 1862, at the age of 21, he sailed from Liverpool in England to take up appointment as a ship assistant in a grocery store in Fernado Po (Now Equatorial Guinea). Five years later, John Holt built up a produce trade with the Delta ports. Palm oil, palm kernels, rubber and cocoa were exported to England while imports included textiles from Lancashire and bicycles from Birmingham. In 1897, John Holt established his first venture in Lagos, Nigeria.

John Holt business was in distribution and export of produce up to the period of the Second World War in 1939. A fleet of ships operated a fortnightly service from Liverpool in England to West Africa and the company also had its fleet of river craft. The river craft carried produce, merchandise and cash. In places where there were no banks, John Holt had strong rooms to keep cash. When banks were established, many Nigerians preferred to deposit their cash with John Holt.

John Holt and Company (Liverpool) Limited was incorporated in Nigeria as John Holt Limited. In May 1974, it became a public company and was quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.


Thomas Birch Freeman

Thomas Birch Freeman was born on the 6th December, 1809 in Twyford, England. His father was an African freeman who died when he was six. Thomas Birch Freeman lived with his mother in Twyford.

Thomas Birch Freeman was a missionary of Anglo-African descent who established the Methodist Church on a firm footing in the Gold Coast and extended its work to Lagos and Badagry in Nigeria.

He was introduced to Methodism as a boyby a shoemaker. He worked as a gardener and became a keen student of Botany. He had a good knowledge of Latin botanical names.

He left his job because of his keen interest in Methodism. In October 1837 he was appointed a minister, on a trial basis at Cape Coast.


Thomas Birch Freeman was the first Methodist Missionary to arrive Badagry in Nigeria on September 24, 1842. He was accompanied by William de Graft and his wife. They were allowed to establish a mission in Badagry; they built a mission house and a chapel there by the end of November and William de Graft was put in charge. He travelled to Abeokuta along with William de Graft on the invitation of the king, Alake of Egbaland. They were well received and allowed to preach in the palace courtyard. He presented a Bible to the king of Abeokuta.

Thomas Birch Freeman supervised building of many churches. He held religious revival camp meetings and wrote a couple of books, one of such words was missionary enterprises, ‘No Friction’. He opened a new chapel at Mankesim and baptised several converts with his son, Thomas Birch Freeman Jnr who had also been ordained a Methodist minister.

He retired in 1885 and lived in a small house near Accra. His final days were spent in the Methodist Mission House in Accra. He died on August 12, 1890.


Mary Slessor

Mary Slessor was born on 2nd December, 1848 in Scotland. She was the second of seven children of Robert any Mary Slessor. She was a Scottish missionary to Nigeria.

Mary Slessor had interest in religion and when a mission was instituted in Quary Pond, she wanted to teach. At 22 years old, Mary Slessor heard of David Livingstone’s death and she decided to follow his footsteps. This made her to apply to the United Presbyterian Church’s Foreign Mission Board for training. After training, she travelled to West Africa and was assigned to the Calabar region, the land of Efik people. She lived in the missionary compound for three years, working in the missions in old Town and Creek Town.

In Efik Land, Mary Slessor was confronted with the problem of lack of western education and widespread human sacrifice at the death of a village elder who, it was believed, required the services of servants and retainers to accompany him into the next world. Also, the birth of twins was considered an evil curse.

Mary Slessor adopted every child she found abandoned, and sent out twins missionaries to find, protect and care for them at the mission house. She saved several hundreds of twins out of the bush, where they had been left either to starve to death or be eaten by animals. She equally healed the sick and stopped the practice of determining guilt by making the suspects drink poison. As a missionary, she went to other tribes, spreading the world of Jesus Christ.

Also, Mary Slessor was a driving force behind the establishment of Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar. The institution provided practical vocational training to the Efiks. Slessor continued with the task of evangelism, social changes and introducing western education. All these activities made Slessor to be called “White, queen of Okoyong”.

In 1892, Mary Slessor became vice-consul in Okoyong, thereby presiding over native court.

In 1915, Mary Slessor who was at the remote station near Use Ikot Oku suffered a particular severe fever. Mary Slessor died on 13th January, 1915. Her remains was carried down to Cross River to Duke Town where she was given a colonial equivalent of a state burial.


Ajayi Crowther

Ajayi was 12 years old when he was captured along with his family and the entire village by Muslim Fulani slave raiders in 1821 and was ultimately sold to the Portuguese slave traders. Ajayi was taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone where he was released.

In Sierra Leone, Crowther was cared for by the Anglican Church Missionary Society where he was taught English Language. He was also converted to Christianity and baptised by John Raban on the 11th December, 1825.

Ajayi named himself Samuel Crowther after the vicar of Christ Church, Newgate, London.

Samuel Ajayi Crowther was taken to England in 1826 to attend St. Mary Church and its school in Islington.


He returned to Freetown in 1827 and attended as the first students of the newly opened Fourah Bay College, an Anglican Mission School. His interest in language made him to study Latin, Geek and Temne. He also taught in the school after completing his studies.

Ajayi Crowther was selected to accompany James Schon, a missionary on the Niger expedition of 1841. The goal of the expedition was to spread commerce, teach agricultural techniques, spread Christianity and help to put an end to slave trade. Crowther was trained as a minister and ordained by the Bishop of London. He returned to Africa in 1843 with Henry Townsend to open a mission in Abeokuta in today’s Ogun State, Nigeria.

Samuel Ajayi Crowther began translating the Bible into Yoruba language which was completed in the mid 1880s. He compiled Yoruba dictionary and in 1843, he published a grammar book. Also, he published a Yoruba version of the Anglican book of common prayer. A vocabulary of Yoruba language and local proverbs were equally compiled by him.

In 1864, Ajayi Crowther was ordained as the first African Bishop of the Anglican Church.

He was consecrated a bishop on St. Peter’s day in 1864 by Arch Bishop Charles Longley. Ajayi Crowther is celebrated with a feast on the liturgical calendar of some Anglican churches, Episcopal Church (USA) and the Church of Nigeria on 31st December.

Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther died of stroke in Lagos on 31st December, 1891. He was buried at Ajele Cemetery in Lagos. His body was later reburied in 1976 at a new burial site with a cenotaph at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.


Henry Townsend

Henry Townsend was born in 1815 in Exeter, England. He was an English missionary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and one of the founders of Yoruba mission.

Henry Townsend came to Sierra Leone as a missionary teacher and began his services in the village of Kent. In December 1841, he showed interest in learning to speak Yoruba Language.

Townsend was one of those sent to Badagry and its vicinity from Freetown to obtain information relative to missionary objects. On 4th January 1843, Townsend reached Abeokuta and was warmly received by Sodeke, the commander of the Egba army and his people. He reported to the parent committee Church Missionary Society that there was enthusiasm on the part of the Egbas to receive the missionaries and give the. mission more children to teach. The natives were also happy and wrote to the governor of Sierra Leone, thanking England for delivering his people from slavery and decided to exert his power to see that slave trade was fully suppressed.

Townsend and his members arrived Abeokuta at the end of July 1846 to begin missionary work. Townsend was a driving force of the missionary work in Abeokuta and made impact they never imagined as the people responded favourably to their message.

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