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Producing a Received View of Gold Coast Elite Society? C.F. Hutchison's Pen Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities1

  • Michel R. Doortmont (a1)

In the early 1920s British West Africa saw a flurry of colonial activity, in which the formation of the colonial state—originally started in this region in the 1870s—was brought to a higher plane. The introduction of Indirect Rule in the newly-amalgamated Nigeria by governor Frederick Lugard called for a rethinking of colonial political and administrative structures. Where before, the relatively small administrative units were dominated by Europeans and western-educated Africans, now the position and role of “traditional” leaders was enhanced on all levels of colonial government. Control over the economy came more and more into the hands of European businesses and business conglomerates, at the expense of African firms. As a result, relations between African elites, who had vested economic and political interests in the colonial states, and the growing European colonial establishment hardened.

In the case of the Gold Coast, the African urban coastal elite of merchants, educators, missionaries, and others faced an overwhelming onslaught of change and modernization in all parts of society. In many cases these changes undermined the elites' social status, as well as their political and economic position. One of the weapons in the battle between British colonial authorities and African urban elite society was the written word. Within this context, expert knowledge about African achievements, molded in the form of biographies, was the two-edged sword of African cultural nationalists of diverse plumage.

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This paper is a revised version of a paper presented at the AEGIS Conference in London on 29 June-2 July 2005, and leans heavily on the introduction of my book The Pen-Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities by Charles Francis Hutchison: A Collective Biography of Elite Society in the Gold Coast Colony (Leiden, 2005). Research for this article was funded by NWO-WOTRO, The Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research, as part of project W52-707: “The emergence of a professional and trading elite on the West African Coast, 1850-1950: a transnational perspective on family networks, ethnic identities, and the management of wealth and knowledge, with special reference to Lagos and the Gold Coast. “ Additional financial contributions were received from the Institute of Cultural Research Groningen (ICOG) and the Faculty of Arts, both of the University of Groningen.

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2 Cf. Hopkins, A. G., An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973); Coleman, J. S., Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (Berkeley, 1958).

3 Although Hutchison himself advertised and described a second volume, it was long uncertain if this book actually existed. Confirmation that the second volume was published came from a personal communication by the Hutchison family of Cape Coast, September 2005. The second volume contains biographies of “modern Africans and African celebrities” from the British West African colonies other than the Gold Coast (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Gambia). The publication of a new scholarly edition is currently a subject of negotiation.

4 For this information and other facts about his business activities recounted here see MacMillan, A., ed., The Red Book of West Africa. Historical and Descriptive, Commercial and Industrial, Facts, Figures & Resources (London, 1920), 212.

5 His father was an investor in the mining industry, but Raymond Dumett does not mention Hutchison, C.F. in his El Dorado in West Africa. The Gold-Mining Frontier, African Labor and Colonial Capitalism in the Gold Coast, 1875-1900 (Athens, 1998).

6 MacMillan, , Red Book, 112; and Jenkins, R., “Gold Coast Historians and their Pursuit of the Gold Coast Pasts, 1882-1917” (Ph.D., University of Birmingham, 1985), 582.

7 For an overview of his work see Doortmont, , Pen-Pictures, 5.

8 Personal communication Hutchison family, Cape Coast, March 2005.

9 See for a recent analysis of modernity and the state from a comparative African perspective Comaroff, John, “Governmentality, Materiality, Legality, Modernity: on the Colonial State in Africa” in Deutsch, Jan-Georg, Probst, Peter, and Schmidt, Heike, eds., African Modernities. Entangled Meanings in Current Debate (Oxford, 2002), 107–34, and specifically for the Gold Coast context Richard Rathbone, “West Africa: Modernity and Modernization” in ibid., 18-30.

10 Kimble, D., A Political History of Ghana. The Rise of Gold Coast Nationalism (Oxford, 1963), 92.

11 Hayford, A. L. Casely, “A Genealogical History of Cape Coast Stool Families” (PhD., SOAS, 1992).

12 In this respect we also need to take into account is the role of domestic slaves in the social set-up of the Gold Coast towns and the importance of dependency, clientage, and patronage in relationships in these otherwise cosmopolitan, globalized, and open communities. Cf. Parker, John, Making the Town: Gã State and Society in Early Colonial Accra (Oxford, 2000), 60.

13 Priestley, Margaret, West African Trade and Coast Society: a Family Study (London, 1969), is a pioneering, but on some issues rather one-dimensional, study of the Brew family, based on extensive and detailed research in original sources.

14 In an economic analysis of Gold Coast merchants in the nineteenth century, Raymond Dumett exacerbates the impression that we are dealing with a very small and exclusive group by focusing on formal and documented connections and relations: Dumett, R.E.African Merchants on the Gold Coast, 1860-1905: Dynamics of Indigenous Entrepre-neurship,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 25(1983), 661-93, esp. 672; Lynn, Martin, Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa: the Palm Oil Trade in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1997), 141.

15 Gocking, Roger S., Facing Two Ways: Ghana's Coastal Communities under Colonial Rule (Lanham, 1999), like Casely Hayford, “Genealogical History,” deals predominantly with social-political relations in Cape Coast, much in the same manner as Kimble, Political History, does, if in a moderate Marxist rather than a liberal political and social theoretical setting. Gocking focuses on the relationship of the “educated elite” to the colonial authorities on the one hand, and “indigenous” society on the other, hence the title of his book. In creating this dichotomy in social and political relations, Gocking seems to lose the opportunity to explain the many idiosyncrasies in these relations.

16 Casely Hayford, “Genealogical History;” Parker, Making the Town. It must be noted here that where Casely Hayford describes the extreme complications in social relations in Cape Coast politics and elite society between the late eighteenth and the middle of the twentieth century very well, he is not completely successful in his efforts to analyze these relationships, because of a relative lack of contextualization. Parker provides this through discussions of parallel historical developments and a clear positioning of Accra in the wider world (Gold Coast, British colonial policies in West Africa, developments in the hinterland).

17 Important comprehensive monographs on the urban experience with colonialism elsewhere in sub-Sahara Africa which take this route, if all from different vantage points, include Bickford-Smith, V., Ethnic Pride and Racial Prejudice in Victorian Cape Town. Group Identity and Social Practice, 1875-1902 (Cambridge, 1995); Martin, Phyllis M., Leisure and Society in Colonial Brazzaville (Cambridge, 1995); Sheriff, Abdul, Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar. Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770-1873 (London, 1987); idem, and Ed Ferguson, eds., Zanzibar under Colonial Rule (London, 1991).

18 Doortmont, M.R., Everts, N., and Vrij, J.J., “Tussen de Goudkust, Nederland en Suriname. De Euro-Afrikaanse families Van Bakergem, Woortman, Rühle en Huydecoper,” De Nederlandsche Leeuw. Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch Genootschap voor Geslacht- en Wapenkunde 117(2000), 170-212, 310-44, 490577; 119(2002), 222-24, offers a preliminary prosopographical analysis of the complex social relationships in four eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Euro-African families of Elmina. Baesjou, René, “Dutch ‘Irregular’ Jurisdiction on the 19th Century Gold Coast,” African Perspectives 2(1979), 2166; Yarak, Larry W., “West African Coastal Slavery in the Nineteenth Century: the Case of the Afro-European Slave Owners of Elmina,” Ethnohistory 36(1989/1990), 4460; and Doortmont, M. R. and Everts, N., “Vrouwen, familie en eigendom op de Goudkust. Afrikaanse en Europese Systemen van erfrecht in Elmina, 1760-1860” in en Goed, Geld, Jaarboek voor Vrouwengeschiedenis 17 (Amsterdam, 1997), 114–30, present complementary analyses and discussions on slavery, the specificity of judicial frameworks, and probate and inheritance in connection with the Elmina elite.

19 He died in 1834. Jenkins, , “Gold Coast Historians,” 582–83, and sources mentioned there; Kimble, , Political History, 267–68; Dupuis, J., Journal of a Residence in Asbantee (2d ed.: London, 1966), ix; Bowdich, T. E., Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Asbantee (London, 1819, passim.

20 Career and personal information for the Cape Coast period can also be found on his gravestone in the wall of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in Cape Coast (inspected April 1995 and January 2003); cf. Jenkins, , “Gold Coast Historians,” 582; Ephson, I. S., Gallery of Gold Coast Celebrities, 1632-1958, 1 (1969), republished with vols. 2 and 3 (1973 [date foreword vol. II]) (Accra, 1969-73), 1:50-52.

21 For a more detailed treatise on the Hutchison-Bartels family group and a more complete citation of sources see Doortmont, , Pen-Pictures, 1725, and references given.

22 According to his biography in Pen-Pictures. At his death Robert Hutchison left an insolvent estate. However, it seems strange that in this situation his son was able and allowed to enter university at all. See PRAAD, SCT 5/4/297, Supreme Court Cape Coast, Insolvent Record Book, 1855-1873, nos. 56, 57, 59, dated 16 June 1864 and 7 February 1865.

23 Kimble, , Political History, 456; Jenkins, , “Gold Coast Historians,” 581–82, and sources mentioned there. Apparently he wrote a positive report on the foundation of a modern harbor at Takoradi, as his son refers specifically to the fact that by the time Pen-Pictures was published, this plan had finally come to fruition. Even today Takoradi Harbour is the second international port of Ghana after Tema.

24 Jenkins, , “Gold Coast Historians,” 581–82, and sources mentioned there; Gold Coast Leader (6 November 1909).

25 Kimble, , Political History, 546, mentions “an absence of over twenty years” on his returning to the Gold Coast in 1919 (cf. West Africa [30 August 1919]). W. F. Hutchison does not appear in the 1901 census for England and Wales, but he may of course have lived in Scotland at the time.

26 Jenkins, , “Gold Coast Historians,” 581–82.

27 R. C. C. Law, “Introduction” to idem., ed., From Slave Trade to ‘Legitimate’ Commerce: the Commercial Transition in Nineteenth-Century West Africa (Cambridge, 1995); P. E. Lovejoy and D. Richardson, “The Initial “Crisis of Adaptation”: The Impact of British Abolition on the Atlantic Slave Trade in West Africa, 1808-1820” in ibid, 32-56; Martin Lynn, “The West African Palm Oil Trade in the Nineteenth Century and the ‘Crisis of Adaptation’,” in ibid., 57-77; for figures see Lynn, , Commerce and Economic Change, 23, 30–31 and passim.

28 Other names from this group are: J. Bannerman, G. K. Blankson, G. F. Cleland, F. C. Grant, and J. Sarbah; cf. Doortmont, ed., Fen-Pictures, passim.

29 On freemasonry and other societies and their meaning in nineteenth-century Gold Coast society see Hayford, Casely, “Genealogical History,” 180-81, 229–34; Hayford, A. L. Casely and Rathbone, R.Politics, Families, and Freemasonry in the Colonial Gold Coast” in Ajayi, J. F. Ade and Peel, J. D. Y., eds., People and Empires in African History: Essays in Memory of Michael Crowder (London, 1992), 143–61.

30 Looking on the conversion to Christianity and the membership of mission churches in terms of “an act of modernity” set within a sociological and historical-theoretical rather than a theological framework seems to have received limited attention in the case of Ghana. In contrast, for Nigeria there has been a debate on the subject since the early 1970s: cf. Horton, R., “African Conversion,” Africa 41(1971), 85108; Ifeka-Moller, C., “White Power: Social-Structure Factors in Conversion to Christianity, Eastern Nigeria, 1921-1966,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 8(1974), 5572; Horton, R. and Peel, J. D. Y., “Conversion and Confusion: a Rejoinder on Christianity in Eastern Nigeria,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 10(1976), 481–98; Peel, J. D. Y., “The Pastor and the Babalawo: the Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland,” Africa 60(1990), 338–69. For Ghana there are efforts at a discussion of the historical and sociological context of conversion by Hayford, Casely, “Genealogical History,” 111–20, and Newell, S., Marita, or the Folly of Love, a Novel by A. Native (Leiden, 2002), introduction.

31 With regard to African societies with a long history of overseas (Western) contacts, the notions “modernity” and “modern living” deserve further study. Rathbone, “West Africa.” provides a framework, emphasizing the necessity of a re-evaluation of the role of Africa and Africans in the shaping of the Atlantic world.

32 Lynn, , Commerce and Economic Change, 151–70passim.

33 Cf. Kimble, , Political History, 9398.

34 Ibid., 99-105.

35 Doortmont, Fen-Pictures; Kimble, Political History, 94n5.

36 Ibid., 255-56.

37 For the interpretation of what successful businesses were in this respect check MacMillan, Red Book, which lists a very different set of businesses active in the Gold Coast than Hutchison.

38 Kimble, Political History, chapter 9.

39 On the NCBWA see MacMillan, , Red Book, 140 (group portrait); Kimble, Political History, chapter 10; Ephson, , Gallery, 3:231; Eluwa, G. I. C., “The National Congress of British West Africa: a Pioneer Nationalist Movement,” Tarikh 3/4(1969/1971), 1221, and some later studies by the same author; Ebo, C., “The National Congress of British West Africa, 1920-1924: the Roots of Elitist Behaviour,” Ikenga 5(1981), 314.

40 A likely approach for further analysis would be to look at Gold Coast urban society in this era as an “imagined community,” for which see Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (rev. ed.: London, 1991).

41 See Boahen, A. A., Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: a Centenary History, 1876-1976 (Accra, 1996).

42 I thank Stephanie Newell for her insightful contribution on the theme of “whiteness,” from which I derived this part of the argumentation. Cf. K. Sekyi, The Blinkards. A Comedy; and The Anglo-Fanti—A Short Story (1st ed.: Accra, 1915 and 1918); S. Newell, personal communication, 3 June 2004.

43 Cf. Jones-Quartey, K. A. B., History, Politics and Early Press in Ghana: the Fictions and the Facts (Accra/Tema, 1975); Newell, S., Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: “How to Play the Game of Life” (Bloomington, 2002).

44 In Yoruba historiography we find a strong tradition of translation and transliteration of eulogizing oral traditions into text format, unknown in Gold Coast literature. However, unlike Hutchison, these Yoruba examples always stay with the original subject matter, closely follow the original format, and address the same social groupings as the oral versions. Cf. Johnson, SamuelThe History of the Yorubas from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate (London, 1921), with analysis in Doortmont, M. R., “Recapturing the Past: Samuel Johnson and the Construction of Yoruba History” (PhD., Erasmus University/Rotterdam, 1994), 7782, and other explicit examples in Akinyele, I. B., Iwe Itan Ibadan ati die ninu awon ilu agbaba re bi Iwo, Oshogbo, ati Ikirun (Ibadan, 1911), and Akinyele, I. B., The Outlines of Ibadan History (Lagos, 1946), with modern adaptation in Morgan, K., Akinyele's Outline History of Ibadan (revised and enlarged by Kemi Morgan, 3 vols.: Ibadan, n.d.), and analysis of all texts in Falola, Toyin, “Kemi Morgan and the Second Reconstruction of Ibadan History,” HA 18(1991), 93112.

45 Namely, set in the various traditions of praise-singing for the chiefs and other rulers of precolonial West African states and communities (cf. e.g., Barber, Karin, I Could Speak until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women, and the Past in a Yoruba Town [London, 1991]); Doortmont, “Recapturing the Past”).

46 Armistead, W., A Tribute for the Negro: Being a Vindication of the Moral, Intellectual, and Religious Capabilities of the Coloured Portion of Mankind (Manchester, 1848); H. G. Adams, God's Image in Ebony: Being a Series of Biographical Sketches, Pacts, Anecdotes, etc. Demonstrative of the Mental Powers and Intellectual Capacities of the Negro Race. Edited by H.G. Adams, with a Brief Sketch of the Anti-Slavery Movement in America, by F. W. Chesson, and a Concluding Chapter of Additional Evidence Communicated by Wilson Armistead (London, 1854).

47 These originally appeared mainly in the form of society news and obituaries in the Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, and Nigerian newspaper press, but soon also in book format (cf. Doortmont, “Recapturing the Past;” Jenkins, “Gold Coast Historians;” Newell, Marita.

48 Newell, , Literary Culture, 135–56.

49 Smiles, Samuel, Self-Help. With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (London, 1859); the latest recorded edition is from 2002.

50 Newell, , Literary Culture, 90.

51 Atto-Ahuma, S. R. B., Memoirs of West African Celebrities, Europe &c. (1700-1850), with Special Reference to the Gold Coast (Liverpool, 1905). Like J. E. Casely Hayford and J. Mensah Sarbah, Attoh-Ahuma dealt with Gold Coast nationalism in his writings: cf. Attoh-Ahuma, S. R. B., The Gold Coast Nation and National Consciousness (Liverpool, 1911; 2d ed.: London, 1971).

52 Newell, Literary Culture, chapter 7, concentrates on the development of the biographical tradition through fiction, which brings her to Hayford, J. E. Casely, Ethiopia Unbound. Studies in Race Emancipation (London, 1911).

53 E.g., ibid., 141. Most strikingly Eurocentric is Gollock, G. A., Lives of Eminent Africans (London, 1928), partly because in contrast to Smith, E. W., Aggrey of Africa: a Study in Black and White (London, 1929), and Hutchison. Attoh-Ahuma, Memoirs, was strongly positioned in the missionary camp.

54 Sampson, M. J., Gold Coast Men of Affairs, Past and Present (London, 1969), 46; preface dated Winneba, October 1932. The 1969 edition of the book is a facsimile reprint of the first (1937) edition.

55 Ephson, , Gallery, 3:264–66.

56 son, Samp, Gold Coast Men of Affairs (London, 1937), 4142.

57 Doortmont, , Pen-Pictures, 55.

58 Sampson, , Gold Coast Men of Affairs, 4146.

59 Ibid., 9-38.

60 As it stands, very little research seems to have been undertaken in this field.

61 I wish to thank Larry Yarak and Stephanie Newell for their important contributions to this section, which to my mind can form the basis for a research project in its own right.

62 Ephson, Gallery, passim

63 Ibid., 1, preface

64 Interviews held in Ghana with multiple informants, 1995-2005. References available in the online Gold Coast Data Base (

1 This paper is a revised version of a paper presented at the AEGIS Conference in London on 29 June-2 July 2005, and leans heavily on the introduction of my book The Pen-Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities by Charles Francis Hutchison: A Collective Biography of Elite Society in the Gold Coast Colony (Leiden, 2005). Research for this article was funded by NWO-WOTRO, The Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research, as part of project W52-707: “The emergence of a professional and trading elite on the West African Coast, 1850-1950: a transnational perspective on family networks, ethnic identities, and the management of wealth and knowledge, with special reference to Lagos and the Gold Coast. “ Additional financial contributions were received from the Institute of Cultural Research Groningen (ICOG) and the Faculty of Arts, both of the University of Groningen.

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