Expedition up the Niger.
To assist in the suppression of the slave-trade on the west coast of Africa, an expedition was organised in 1841, and placed under Captain Henry D. Trotter, commanding H.M. steam-vessel Albert, Lieutenants Fishbourne and Stenhouse. She was accompanied by H.H. steam-vesselWilberforce, Commander William Allen, with Lieutenants James Strange and H. Harston, and H.M. steam-vessel Soudan, Commander Bird Allen. These vessels were built for the purpose by Mr Laird, of Liverpool. The two first were 139 feet 4 inches in length on deck, 27 feet breadth of beam, 11 feet depth of hold, 6 feet draft of water, and 457 tons measurement, and each was armed with one long brass 12-pounder, two brass 12-pounder howitzers, and 4 brass 1-pounder swivels, besides small arms. They had lofty masts, and were square-rigged forward and schooner aft; but though excellent sea-boats when hauled on a wind, from being flat-bottomed, they made much leeway. The Soudan was smaller, and drew only 4 feet 6 six inches. They were fitted with ventilating machines, and every means that science could devise was employed for the preservation of the health of the crews. On reaching the mouth of the Niger, a party of Kroomen were taken on board. After proceeding some way up the Niger against a strong current, they reached a spot fixed on for establishing a model farm, when the stores for the purpose were landed. Unhappily, the paddle-box boat of the Wilberforce got adrift and sank in the centre of the river, whence she could not be recovered. Soon afterwards sickness attacked the crews of all the ships, and so rapid was the progress of the fever that the little Soudan had only six persons able to move about. All more or less suffered; nothing but muttering, delirium, or suppressed groans were heard on board the vessels. Nearly every person, even those unattacked, complained of the enervating effects of the climate. On the 18th of September the number of the sick had increased to sixty, and many had died. Captain Trotter now decided to send back the Soudan to the sea with the sick on board, under the command of Lieutenant Fishbourne. The medical officer being of opinion, however, that by ascending higher up the river a more healthy climate would be reached, resolved to proceed in that direction in the Albert, while the Wilberforce also returned to the coast. There appeared every prospect of the expedition proving a blessing to the long-benighted inhabitants on either bank of the mighty stream—but Providence ordered it otherwise. In spite of the heroic courage displayed by all the naval officers employed, Captain Trotter was at last compelled to order the ship’s head to be put down the stream, and on his arrival at the coast, as the only chance of saving his fife, the medical officers ordered his return to England.
Notwithstanding the fearful loss of life which had already been incurred, Commander William Allen, now senior officer of the expedition, hearing that Mr Carr, the superintendent of the model farm, had been murdered, and that the people were in danger of an attack from the surrounding natives, resolved at once again to ascend the river. He was on the point of starting, when H.M. steamer Kite arrived with despatches stopping all further explorations. He was, however, directed to send one of the steamers with a black crew, and only the number of white people and officers necessary to navigate her, to bring away the people from the model farm. Lieutenant Webb at once volunteered, and succeeded in carrying out his instructions, with the loss, unhappily, of Mr Webb, clerk in charge, and Mr Waddmgton, boatswain, a fine specimen of the British seaman, all the rest of the whites suffering also from fever. Such was the unhappy termination of an expedition undertaken with the most noble and philanthropic objects in view, and which, had it not been for the deadly climate, must, from the determination and zeal of all those engaged, have been fully successful.