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The Nyassa Chartered Company: 1891–19291

  • Barry Neil-Tomlinson (a1)

This article presents a picture of the changing character of the Nyassa Company at ground level, and it relates this to changes in the capital interests which controlled the company. In so doing it seeks to explain the undercapitalization which left the area economically undeveloped. During the first period of the company's existence, from 1894 to 1898, its publicly expressed aim was the economic development of Nyassa; but the directors were primarily concerned with financial speculation and the company's influence in Africa spread no further than isolated points on the coast. In the second period of its existence, from 1899 to 1914, the company became a conquering and occupying force; but the expense of overcoming the determined resistance of African political units, plus a more realistic appraisal of the area's economic potential, meant that by 1909 the aim of economic development had been abandoned and the company turned instead to expanding its role as a supplier of migrant labour. In 1913 migrant labour to South Africa ceased, the company changed hands, and shortly afterwards the European war found its way into the area. In the last period of the company's existence, from 1919 to 1929, with only ten years of the charter left since the Portuguese government refused to grant an extension, the principles of finance capital dictated that it was too late for profitable investment in realizing the early visions of extensive economic development. Instead, the company turned to raising the level of hut tax as a means of increasing revenue, and the administration was allowed to expand and intensify the abuses which it seems to have always practised.

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2 For the last forty years the Portuguese government had been borrowing heavily abroad with the result that in 1890–1 nearly 45 per cent of its revenue was devoted to servicing the national debt. In June 1892 the Portuguese government effectively declared itself bankrupt: see Hammond R. J., Portugal and Africa 1815–1910, (Stanford, 1966), 203–14.

3 F.O. 371/14152, Lord Kylsant to Sec. of State at the Foreign Office, 12 Mar. 1929 (Hereafter only the correspondent will be cited, unless the recipient is other than the Sec. of State at the F.O.); F.O. 371/19932 Kylsant, 1926; F.O. 371/15014, Kylsant , 17 Jan. 1930.

4 Vail Leroy, ‘Mozambique's Chartered Companies: The Rule of the Feeble’, J. Afr. Hist, xvii, 3 (1976), 389416.

5 This amplification has largely been made possible by the use of sources which Vail has not used, namely a variety of contemporary accounts published by missions, travellers, governments and the company, and those records which British companies were obliged to lodge with the Board of Trade.

6 The company's publicly expressed aims were contained in a number of publications associated with its formation. The most enthusiastic and fascinating prospectus was Worsfold W. B., Portuguese Nyassaland (London, 1899). Appendix B of this contains a translation of the charter and other associated documents. See also Cambell Y. W., Travellers’ Records of Portuguese Nyassaland, (n.d. London); d'A Coutinho J., De Nyassa a Pemba: Os Territories da Companhia de Nyassa (Lisbon, 1893); and Handbook of the Nyassa Company, (n.p 1898).

7 Worsfold , Portuguese Nyassaland, 67. Edgecumbe contributed the chapter specifically dealing with the Nyassa Company. He also edited Cambell 's Travellers’ Records. It is not surprising to find then that Edgecumbe was an investor in the Nyassa Company via the Ibo Investment Trust and the Ibo Syndicate of which he was a director and investor; see B.T. 31 6097/43164, Ibo Syndicate Ltd.; and B.T. 31 15765/52214, Ibo Investment Trust Ltd.

8 Worsfold , Portuguese Nyassaland, 171.

9 Tew M., Peoples of the Lake Nyassa Region, Ethnographic Survey of Africa, East Central Africa, part I (London, 1950), 2630; British Admiralty Naval Intelligence, Manual of Portuguese East Africa, (London, 1918), 117–20; British Admiralty Naval Intelligence, Handbook of Portuguese Nyassaland, (London, 1918), 41–3; Worsfold , Portuguese Nyassaland, 124–7.

10 For the pre-twentieth century history of the Makua and Yao, see the highly important work of Alpers E. A., Ivory and Slaves in East Central Africa, (London, 1975); see also Maples C., Proc. Royal Geog. Soc. (Feb. 1882), 86; O'Neill H. E., ‘East Africa between the Zambezi and Rovuma Rivers’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, (Aug. 1885), 337–52; Anderson-Morshead A. E. M., The History of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, (London, 1955), 95; d'Amorim Governor, ‘Report on the Administration of the Territory Belonging to the Nyassa Company During the Year 1898’, in Cambell's Travellers’ Records, 210; Tew , Peoples, 22; Admiralty , Handbook, 3840 and Manual, 117–20; Worsfold , Portuguese Nyassaland, 128–32.

11 d'Amorim in Cambell , Travellers' Records, 210.

12 Nyassa as a whole thus hardly deserves Vail's description of it as an ‘economic backwater’. See Alpers , Ivory and Slaves; Wilson G. H., The History of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, (London, 1936), 50–2, 62; Livingstone D. (ed. Waller H.), Last Journals, (London, 1874), 6872; Abdallah Y. B., The Yaos, (Zomba, 1919), 4060; Blood A. G., The History of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, igoj–32, (London, 1957), 25–6; Anderson-Morshead , History, 124.

13 Alpers E. A., ‘Trade, State and Society Among the Yao in the Nineteenth Century’, J. Afr. Hist. x, 3 (1969), 405–20; Livingstone , Last Journals, 6872; Tew , Peoples, 6; Anderson-Morshead , History, 101, 122–3, 132; Mills D. S. Y., What We Do In Nyassaland, (London, 1911), 166.

14 Abdallah , The Yaos, 53.

15 Abdallah , The Yaos, 43; Anderson-Morshead , History, 103.

16 Anderson-Morshead , History, 124.

17 For early European incursions, see Axelson E., Portugal and the Scramble for Africa, 1875–91, (Johannesburg, 1967), 167, 170, 179, 183–4, 255; Admiralty , Handbook, 55 and Manual, 488; Anderson-Morshead , History, 99108, 119–33; D'Eca Admiral, ed., Factos e Documentos Sobre O Cotnpanhia da Nyassa, 56, encl. in F.O. 371/15014.

18 On the extent of the Portuguese presence in 1894, see Axelson , Scramble, 23; D'Eca , Factos e Documentos, 56; F.O. 371/19932, Report of the Intendente to the Portuguese Government, 20 Mar. 1925 and Report of Colonel Mendes dos Reis on the Conditions of the Territory as They Affected the Extension of the Charter, encl. in Lord Kylsant to F.O. 1926; F.O. 371/15014, Aspling T., 17 Jan, 1930, Memo on Work Done by the Nyassa Company.

19 Most trade at the coast at this time was of Makua and Maconde origin but some Yao trade did also come this way. Maples in 1881 whilst at Medo encountered a caravan of two thousand on its way to Quissanga from Makanjila's which was close to the lake.

20 For the early years on the coast the most important source is d'Amorim Governor's ‘Report for 1898’ in Cambell's Travellers’ Records; see also Admiralty , Handbook, 56–7 and Manual, 510; Worsfold and, Portuguese Nyassaland, chs., 3, 4 and 11.

21 The revenue eventually realized from the prohibited sources was around £5.500 as compared with the estimated cost of £3 million for building the railway. F.O. 371/14152, T. Aspling, 6 Jan. 1929.

22 The lack of finance from 1891 to 1894 is well illustrated in that the deposit had to be lowered from £10,000 to £2,000 and the bill of exchange lodged as a deposit was eventually dishonoured. Hammond , Portugal, 215–6. By 1895 however Isidore Wyler had lent the company over £39,000, and the Ibo Syndicate had lent the company £80,000 and had bought 296,969 fully paid up shares at £1 each. B.T. 15765/52114, Ibo Investment Trust, encloses the agreements between Isidore Wyler and the Ibo Investment Trust, and between the Ibo Syndicate and the Ibo Investment Trust.

23 Worsfold , Portuguese Nyassaland, 79.

24 Hammond , Portugal, 215–6.

25 D'Amorim , ‘Report for 1898’ in Cambell's Travellers’ Records, 206–7.

26 D'Amorim, op. cit. 207–8.

27 B.T. 31 15765/52214, Ibo Investment Trust.

28 Gybbon-Spilsbury A.Expedition from Port Amelia to Lake Nyassa’, Africa Society (J. Roy. Afr. Soc), i (1901), 126–44.

29 de Vilhena J., A Companhia de Nyassa, Relatorios e Memorios sobre Os Territorios, (Lisbon, 1905), 239–41.

30 Admiralty , Handbook, 5763, and Manual, 511; Abdallah , The Yaos, 58–9; Mills , What We Do, 176–8, Blood , History, 25–6.

31 B.T. 31 31984/96527, Nyassa Consolidated Ltd.

32 Admiralty , Handbook, 5763, and Manual, 511; F.O. 371/19932, encl. in Kylsant , 1926, Report of the Intendente to the Portuguese Government 20 Mar. 1925, and Report of Colonel Mendes dos Reis on the Conditions of the Territory as They Affected the Extention of the Charter; d'Eca , Factos e Documentor, 810.

33 D'Eca , Factos e Documentos, 1116, contains extracts from the report of the campaign commander; Blood , History, 60.

34 Abdallah , The Yaos, 60. Significantly Che Salenge with whom Che Chisonga had ‘quarrelled’ became the next Mataka.

35 Admiralty , Handbook, 59. The uneven irregularity of the administration persisted throughout and beyond the company's existence. As late as the 1950s Father John Paul could write of a chefe de posto who ‘as he had no means of transport hardly ever left Metangula to tour his vast area’. Paul Fr. John, Mozambique. Memoirs of a Revolution (Hammondsworth, 1975), 27.

36 Not to be confused with the Yao chief.

37 Mills , What We Do, 250–3.

38 Admiralty , Handbook, 63; D'Eca , Factos e Documentos, 16.

39 Admiralty , Handbook, 63; Mills , What We Do, 250–3; Tew , Peoples, 3; Mitchell J. C., The Yao Village, (London, 1956), 5865; Anderson-Morshead , History, 239.

40 Admiralty British, Handbook for German East Africa, 5662; Vail , ‘Mozambique's Chartered Companies’, 402.

41 D'Amorim , ‘Report for 1898’, in Cambell's Travellers’ Records, 207–9; Vilhena , Companhia, 119–23; Admiralty , Handbook, 76.

42 B.T. 31 15765/52214 Ibo Investment Trust.

43 Duffy J., A Question of Slavery, (Oxford, 1967), 147. In response to the Lisbon boarD's objections to this agreement the Foreign Office, at the request of the London board, offered to exert pressure on the Lisbon board via the Portuguese government and its representative on the Lisbon board.

44 Admiralty , Manual, 177. This compares with 71,213 from south of lat. 22° S.

45 Amongst those with an interest in Nyassa Consolidated were: Lewis and Marks, Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Trust, Goldfields of Matabeleland, Bechuanaland Exploration Company, South Rhodesian Goldfields, Mining and Finance Trust Syndicate, Share Mining Corporation, Anglo-Continental Gold Syndicate, and United Exploration. See B.T. 31 31984/96527, Nyassa Consolidated Ltd.

46 Shepherd W. C. A., ‘Recruiting of Natives in P.E.A. for the Mines’, J. Afr. Soc. (1934), 257–8; Admiralty , Handbook, 73.

47 Admiralty , Manual, 178–9.

48 Lewis and Marks continued to hold around 25 per cent of ConsolidateD's shares F.O. 371/14152, Aspling , 17 Jan. 1929; F.O. 371/8375, Regendanz W. C., 14 Mar. 1929; F.O. 371/15014, Kylsant , 17 Jan. 1930.

49 Duffy J., Portuguese Africa, (Harvard, 1959), 336 n.; Blood , History, 92–3; F.O. 371/19932, end. in Kylsant , 1926, Report of the Intendente to the Portuguese Government 20 Mar. 1925, Report of Colonel Mendes dos Reis on the Conditions of the Territory as They Affected the Extension of the Charter; F.O. 371/8377, Burke G. D. Lardner, 9 Apr. 1922. Lardner Burke had been a member of the South African Special Services Company in Nyassa during the war and reported, amongst other things, encountering African troops shooting villagers on sight at the orders of the local chefe de posto in retaliation for supporting the German forces.

50 Duffy James, Portuguese Africa, 336 n.

51 F.O. 371/19932, encl. in Kylsant , 1926, Report of the Intendente to the Portuguese Government 20 Mar. 1925, and Report by Colonel Mendes dos Reis; Blood , History, 177

52 F.O. 371/8375, Kylsant 18 Mar. 1922; for a fuller account of this operation see Vail , ‘Mozambique's Chartered Companies’, 407–10.

53 Kylsant repeatedly claimed that Consolidated had invested £200,000 in the Nyassa Company in 1918. An air of mystery surrounded this investment in that neither the various governors of the Nyassa Company nor the representatives of Consolidated could explain what it had been spent on. Eventually ‘The Missing £200,000’ became a myth, an institutionalized conversation piece. That such an investment should have been made was certainly at odds with Kylsant's refusal to invest in the company without an extension of its charter. The solution to this mystery is that the £200,000 was in fact never invested in the Nyassa Company. Consolidated did raise £190,000 in 1918– but only £20,000 of this was invested in the Nyassa Company. F.O. 371/15014, Pyke J., 18 Feb. 1930; F.O. 371/15015. Allford A. 12 Sept. 1930; B.T. 31 31984/9652, Nyassa Consolidated.

54 F.O. 371/15014, Vice-consul Hogg W. to Pyke , 7 Jan. 1927 and 31 Jan. 1928, encl. in Pyke , 18 Feb. 1930. Nyassa ConsolidateD's representatives in Port Amelia acted as British Vice-consuls, an arrangement which occasionally produced acute conflicts of loyalty.

55 Admiralty , Handbook, 76; Company Nyassa, Annual Report for 1928, an English translation of which is encl. in F.O. 371/15014.

56 Vilhena , Companhia, 119–23, sets out detailed hut tax accounts for 1898 to 1903 in which 1903 is the first year during which labour is recorded as being accepted in lieu of hut tax at Mtarica, Mocimboa, and Lago Amaramba.

57 F.O. 371/15014, Hogg to Pyke , 7 Jan. 1927 encl. in Pyke 18 Feb. 1930.

58 The statements of the Company on the level of plantation agriculture are so extra vagant and vague as to be quite useless. Typical of this is F.O. 371/15014, Aspling , 17 Jan. 1930, Memo on Work Done by the Nyassa Company. Nor are the concessions actually granted any guide since they were often not worked and there is little guide as to which were taken up. In 1930 the Portuguese government cancelled two concessions granted in 1925 and 1921 since the land had not been brought under cultivation.

59 F.O. 371/15014, Hogg to Pyke , 7 Jan. 1927, encl. in Pyke , 18 Feb. 1930.

60 Nyassa Company, Annual Report 1928.

61 Nyassa Company, Annual Report 1928; Admiralty , Handbook, 76.

62 The all-round increase in trade and associated forms of revenue in 1928 was generally attributed to exceptionally good agricultural weather.

63 This is rather speculative. Two German firms had operated on the coast without venturing into the interior but they left the territory in 1914. The Nyassa Company did not officially engage in trade as such. Nyassa Consolidated was involved in trade via the Nyassa Trading Company and a commercial department set up in 1918, but B.T. 31 31984/96527 suggests that this was of negligible importance since little capital was involved and profits were almost non-existent. In the controversy which surrounded the end of the charter, the interests involved in the Nyassa Company dredged up any and every form of activity, however pathetic, to counter charges of lethargy and mismanagement, and no other form of European trading activity is mentioned. In this context it seems reasonable to assume that the bulk of trade continued to be handled by Indian and African traders and the relationships between them might well have taken on new configurations.

64 In 1915, wages stood at 2 Escudos a month and hut tax at a Escudos a year; Admiralty , Handbook, 76. In 1927 wages stood at 15 Escudos a month and hut tax at 50 Escudos a year; F.O. 371/15014, Hogg to Pyke , 7 Jan. 1927, and 31 Jan. 1928, end. in Pyke , 18 Feb. 1930.

65 F.O. 371/15014, Hogg to Pyke , 31 Jan. 1928, end. in Pyke , 18 Feb. 1930.

66 Nyassa Company, Annual Report 1928.

67 F.O. 371/8377. Burke Lardner, 9 Apr. 1922; F.O. 371/8377, Bodington F. to Hall-Hall H., 12 Apr. 1922, encl. in Hall-Hall , 13 Apr. 1922; F.O. 367/291, Bostock L. to MacDonnell E. encl. in MacDonnell, July 1922.

68 F.O. 371/15014, Pyke, 18 Feb.; Vilhena , Companhia, 72194; Admiralty , Handbook, 7980, and Manual, 184; F.O. 371/15014, Salazar A., 21 Feb. 1930; F.O. 371/15015, Deliberations of the Governing Council of Mozambique, 17 Oct. 1929; Nyassa Company, Annual Report 1928.

69 F.O. 371/7104, Acting Vice-consul at Amelia Porto to Hall-Hall , 31 Oct. 1920, encl. in Hall-Hall , 14 Dec. 1920; and Hall-Hall , 14 Mar. 1921; F.O. 371/19932, Report of the Intendente to the Portuguese Government, 20 Mar. 1925, encl. in Kylsant to F.O. 1926.

70 F.O. 371/15014, Allford , 5 Jan. 1929; F.O. 371/15015, Pyke , 7 July 1930.

71 F.O. 367/344, Bostock L. to MacDonnell E., 28 Sept. 1913 end. in MacDonnell E., 14 Oct. 1913.

72 Tew , Peoples, 2; Blood , History, 174, 179–80; Mitchell , The Yao Village, 5861; F.O. 371/8377, CO. Report, 17 Nov. 1922.

73 F.O. 371/15014, Hogg to Pyke , 31 Jan. 1928, end. in Pyke , 18 Feb. 1930.

74 Tew , Peoples, 5, 23, 27.

75 F.O. 371/8377, CO. Report, 17 Nov. 1922.

76 F.O. 371/12700, Frere de Andrada, 24 Mar.

77 Public opinion in Lourenco Marques was particularly incensed by the failure of the company to even maintain the roads which had been built during the war. See F.O. 371/13423, Deliberations of the Government Council of Mozambique, 17 Oct. 1929.

78 The non-profitability of the various companies, as such, emerges clearly from those records which were lodged with the Board of Trade, but this does not enable any judgment to be made on the profitability of such underhand activities as may have been undertaken by various individuals.

79 B.T. 31 31984/96527, Nyassa Consolidated.

1 This article is drawn from a dissertation originally submitted as part of an M.A. Area Studies (Africa) course at SOAS. It is based on a preliminary survey of some mainly English sources. The outline it presents is therefore extremely tentative, and there is a great deal which further research could fill in and modify. In the absence of any more convenient or suitable term ‘Nyassa’ is used throughout to refer to the area of the company's concession. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr David Birmingham, Peter Richardson, and my father for their help in the preparation of this article.

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