By Anthony Kamara (Snr), a former Aureolite in Winnipeg, Canada.
In this piece of writing, I will attempt to re-narrate and acquaint all alumni, present students , generations to come, and all interested Sierra Leoneans, with the history of this great institution whose humble beginnings from Leicester village on the hills overlooking the city of Freetown in 1814 grew into West Africa’s first university south of the sahara. But someone has to take up to this herculean task otherwise the history of this great college remains for the most part relatively unknown. The history of Fourah Bay College as narrated by our predecessors has been too brief and is mostly about the year 1814 as a Christian institution, followed by her transformation into University status in 1827, and her affiliation to Durham in 1876, and to some extent, her transition from Durham to the University of Sierra Leone.
It was the Christian institution of Leicester opened in 1814 by the Church Missionary Society to train teachers and missionaries that was to be transformed from what was like a theological seminary to a degree granting institution on 16th February 1827. The products of this institution became the proud pioneers in exporting the knowledge acquired to other countries in West Africa and beyond as teachers and clergymen. In 1827, the college was officially named Fourah Bay College after it was moved to Cline Town. But why name it ’Fourah Bay’? Did anyone ever ask this question? Probably not, on the assumption that people know. This narrative will attempt to answer this question.
The word ’FOURAH’ is really a local coinage by people of Nigerian descent probably from present day Ogun , Oyo and Lagos states in Nigeria who live mainly between the East end Police station and Ross road and extending right to the present Queen Elizabeth 11 quay. These inhabitants are Creoles, but because they are Muslims, they generally refer to themselves as ’Akus’ or Aku Mohammedan or still Aku Marabout, in contrast to the westernised Creoles of servile ancestry who live mainly in the West end and South end who are traditional christians. Fourah Bay does not refer to any group of people in the area. In fact the word ’Fourah’ is a derivative from the Yoruba language and Fourah really means ’mixed dough’ formed from pounded rice turned to flour and mixed with sugar and some water sprinkled to make it sticky and often with cola nuts added to it and moulded into oval shapes.
The west end creoles do not understand ’Fourah’ as it was not and still not part of their tradition of sacrificial ceremonies: they are christians. This Fourah may be eaten raw, or may be boiled or even roasted. This mixed dough is commonly used in ceremonies like funerals, sacrifices, feasts of Eid-ul Fitri and Eid-ul adha and shared among neighbours and close family members. All traditional muslim ethnic groups in Sierra Leone use this mixed dough in similar ceremonies and goes by different names in different ethnic groups.
The mixed dough can also be fried into sugar-coated cakes locally known as ’Akara’. . The word ’ Bay’ is an English word and means an area specially allocated for loading merchandise (unto ships) or offloading goods from ships unto trucks. This bay area was really the area slaves were loaded on board slave ships for trans shipment across the Atlantic to the New World. It was in short, a loading dock. With the end of the slave trade, the West African squadron was established in Freetown to patrol the West African coast line in an attempt to capture uncooperative and stubborn slave dealers and bring them to the Court of Mixed commission in Freetown for trial.
Europeans visiting the colony found the local inhabitants, the Aku Marabouts of the area mixing this dough with sugar, and out of curiousity, asked these marabout people what they were doing: they replied that they were making ’Fourah’. The Akus asked if they wanted to try it; the Europeans tried the fourah which they found to be really palatable. So it was the Europeans who actually nicknamed the area Fourah Bay. When the christian institution was upgraded to university status in 1827 and moved to College road in Cline Town, it was given the name ’Fourah Bay College’ meaning the college located at or near the bay where the local inhabitants made ’Fourah’ instead of continuing with the old name of ’Christian Institution’.
This name has survived for nearly two centuries and it is the name by which the college is known locally and internationally. The college was run in the old stone building whose remains still stand today at Cline town. Hence that whole area around the premises of the college are still known as ’College’ to this day. The Bay area is today the place where the Queen Elizabeth 11 quay is located, and part of that area is where the SLPMB have their offices today. This was therefore the origin of the name ’Fourah and Bay’ plus College that made it Fourah Bay College.
With her motto of ’Non Sibi, sed aliis’, meaning not for self but for others, Fourah Bay College as an institution was not meant for Sierra Leoneans alone, but for all West Africans seeking higher education not yet available in their home countries. The college has had a number of setbacks over the years. She has experienced a number of closures and re-openings for one reason or other. Since her foundation 182 years ago, Fourah Bay college has passed through some twenty different administrations or Principals:
For reasons of clarity and better understanding of the history of this college, I will attempt to periodise it into the following:
1814 to 1827, the era of the Christian Institution: This was the Leicester period when the college was run from that small mountain village.
1827 to 1960 the era of fourteen Clergymen, Foreign Principals: This period saw the Christian Institution upgraded to university status and given the name Fourah Bay College .
1960 to Present: The era of Sierra Leonean Principals starting with Dr. Davidson Nicol.
During the first thirteen year period, the institution was more of a theological seminary for the training of clergymen, and later teachers. The early graduates were to be the pioneers of evangelization to anglophone West Africa, and Sierra Leonean clergymen and teachers travelled to far away places like Nigeria, the former Gold Coast, and the Cameroons.
Thirteen years later, the CMS Missionaries saw the need to make Sierra Leone the first West African country to start university education. Therefore in 1827, the institution was upgraded to University status, and the same year, the campus was moved to Cline town where a stone building was erected to house the new university college and the college earned the popular international sobriquet of ’The Athens of West africa’. But the college was yet to gain accreditation as a university , and up to this point, no principal or president had yet been appointed.
In 1840, however, a principal was appointed for the very first time in the person of Rev Edward Jones, M. A. and thus became the very first occupant to hold this prestigious position. Jones was born in the United States and came to Sierra Leone as a school master in 1831 and became a naturalised citizen in 1845. He held this office until 1858. His administration ended in controversy and the college was closed for eight years. He died in England a few years later. Why exactly the college was closed for so long a period and what happened to her small student population remains to this day a matter of conjecture. But money matters cannot be ruled out.
The college was reopened under a new principal Rev. Henry Jones Alcock, M. A, from 1866-1870 who obtained his degree from the university of Dublin . Alcock gave priority to the training of missionaries. He was described as a ’meticulous’ teacher. He resigned in 1870.
Rev. Alcock was succeeded by Rev Metcalf Sunter, M. A, who held the office from 1870-1882. Rev Metcalf’s work for the college included arranging its affiliation to the university of Durham in England in 1876. When he left Fourah Bay College, Rev Sunter was appointed His Majesty’s Inspector of Schools for British West Africa in 1882 and remained in that position until his death in 1892 in Lagos.
Other principals included Rev Frank Neville, M. A 1884-1889. He held the position for five years; he died in Sierra Leone of malaria on November 2, 1889. Rev W. J. Humphrey M. A, 1899-1902, Rev E. H. Elwin, D. D. (later Bishop of Sierra Leone) 1902-1905: Rev T. Rowan, M. A, B. D 1911-1921 & 1925-1926; for the first time in the college’s history, a Vice-Principal was appointed in the person of Rev. William T. Balmer. His appointment came as a result of an agreement with the Wesleyan Missionary Mission. Rev J . Denton, M. B. E, M. A,.
D. C. L 1921-23, Rev F B Helser, M. A. 1926-1936, Rev J. L. C. Horstead, M. A.
(later Bishop of Sierra Leone and Archbishop of West africa) 1937-46. Rev Horstead’s administration co-incided with World War 11 (1939-45).
During this period, most of the expatriate staff resigned out of fear and returned home; thus the college was academically paralysed. The colonial government saw the mass resignations as an excuse to permanently shut down the college and decided in that direction . To have closed down the college, would have meant that West Africa’s only university would have been no more. Foreign students were given notices to be ready to return home. This decision caused an international outcry in the whole sub-region at the threatened closure of Fourah Bay College, ’the Athens of West Africa’ the only institution providing university education in West Africa south of the Sahara.
The government in the end relented and instead, decided to relocate the college to the Mabang Agricultural college at Kholifa Mabang Chiefdom Tonkolili district built in 1912 , along the former railway line for the duration of the War. But the damage had already been done as most of the foreign staff had left, leaving the fate of the college in the hands of Sierra Leonean staff. This experience explained the reason for the opening of the first universities in Nigeria at Ibadan in 1948 , followed by Legon in the Gold Coast. The next Principal was Rev. E. A. H, Roberts M. A, 1947-1952, Rev F. H. Hilliard B. D, Ph.D 1952-1955, and John James Grant 1955-1960 was the last on the list of non Sierra Leoneans to head the college. He was followed by Dr Davidson Nicol 1960-1968.
At the end of the war in 1945, the colonial government decided to relocate the college on a permanent site, and this led to the decision to use the old army barracks on Mount Aureol and by 1947, Fourah Bay College got the Mount Aureol campus where it is located today on the hill overlooking the city of Freetown. As a reminder of World War 11 on Mount Aureol, remains of the long tunnel running from the other side of the Department of Education on the Lower faculty flats right to Tower hill can still be sighted, connecting the bigger army barracks on Tower hill overlooking Fort Thornton, the Governor’s Residence.
Originally opened as a christian institution in Leicester, it came as no surprise that almost all her former principals were clergymen . Dr Davidson Nicol, was the second principal with a Ph.D and the first Sierra Leonean to Head Fourah Bay College and his administration stretched from 1960-68. The first with a Ph.D was Rev F. H. Hilliard, 1952-1955. Dr Davidson Nicol was the fifteenth principal of Fourah Bay College in the line of succession.
Dr Nicol was the first Vice Chancellor of the new University of Sierra Leone (1966-68), later Sierra Leone Ambassador to the United Nations (1969-71), Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to London 1971-72, Executive Director of UNITAR, ( United Nations Institute for Training and Research) 1972-1983.
He has so far been the best academically decorated, erudite scholar and diplomat in our nation’s history. The transformation of Fourah Bay College into a modern campus is owed to him. It was during his eight year administration that the old army buildings were transformed into modern halls of residence one of which was named after him; the largest of the hall, the Davidson Nicol Hall; his former Vice Principal Solomon Caulker who died in a plane crash in early 1962 was also named after one of the Halls, while the third Hall was named Bai Bureh Hall in memory of a war leader of the 1898 uprising against the British over taxation, especially as Bai Bureh was said to have fought a ’Gentleman’s war, urging his men not to kill any Creoles as they were not part of the Freetown Government ’s senseless decision to collect taxes from the poor people of the Sierra Leone hinterland.
A modern female hall of residence was also built, later to be named Lati-Hyde after Mrs Lati-Hyde Forster the first woman graduate from Fourah Bay College and former Principal of the Annie Walsh Memorial School. It was during Dr Nicol’s tenure that the imposing Kennedy Building on the main campus was also erected along with an administrative office and an Arts building as well as the modern Mary Kingsley Theatre. A modern kitchen and Dining halls were also erected with names corresponding to the new halls of residence.. Dr Davidson Nicol is therefore seen as the modernizer and architect of present day Fourah Bay College. Other buildings included the Department of Education at the Lower Faculty Flats.
But the history of Fourah Bay College would be incomplete if it failed to mention of the existence of the Teacher Training department at the college up to 1960, and the birth of today’s Milton Margai College of Education.
By 1960, apart from degree courses taught at the college, a Teacher Training department was also attached to the college to help produce more teachers for primary and secondary schools. The original aim of the college, it will be recalled, was to train clergymen and teachers and this twin programme went on during all the years of the college’s existence, right up to 1960. The same year (1960), this Teacher Training department was separated from Fourah Bay College, and moved to the old army barracks at Tower Hill where a new Teacher Training College was actually started and run for some two years .
This was the first Freetown Teachers’ College. The government finally decided to build a new college and land was obtained at Goderich for the project. This was in fact the origin of the Milton Margai Teachers’ college (1962). Originally, the government had in mind the opening of a centralized sixth form college for the country where all sixth form courses were to be run. But the need for teachers was seen to be greater than sixth form education; subsequently the plan was changed to cater for the Teachers’ college instead.
And so in 1962, after barely a two year stay at Tower hill, the college was upgraded to an ’Advanced Teachers’ College, the aim of which was to train teachers for junior forms of secondary schools. The college has now been renamed ’ Milton Margai Teachers’ College’ in 1962 and , then ready for occupancy, the college moved to new buildings on the Goderich campus, with Patrick J. Hampton B. A., A. K. C. as first Principal of the college and Solade Adams as first Vice-Principal.
As an offshoot or junior institution of Fourah Bay College, the college has had four principals in her 47 year history, including S. A. S. Adams the second, U. S. A. Kargbo the third, and now the fourth Dr Dennis Kargbo. The new Milton Margai Teachers’ College was the beneficiary of a UNESCO Education Programme, by which UNESCO provided funding and staff for the training of teachers at the college for a five year period commencing in 1965. Today the college, apart from producing graduates in HTC courses in Arts and Science courses, Business courses were also introduced, and today produces graduates in Education courses with Bachelor in Education (B.Ed.). Fourah Bay College thus became an exclusive degree granting institution with some Diploma courses in the Theology and Engineering departments including Marine.
But the upgrade of the College to an ’Advanced Teachers’ College, meant that the only teachers’ college for the training of primary school teachers in the Freetown and the entire Western Area as a whole was no more. The government had to do something to start another primary teachers’ college. This therefore led to the beginnings of another Freetown Teachers’ college in 1963 /64. Since her foundation almost forty-five years ago, this college has been sharing class rooms on the same campus with the Bishop Johnson Memorial secondary school at Bishop’s Court Fourah Bay Road, -the former campus of the C. M. S. Grammar School (Now The Sierra Leone Grammar School) which had since moved to her modern premises at Murray Town in the westend of Freetown. Thus while Milton Margai might be seen as a child of Fourah Bay college, the Freetown Teachers’ college can be seen as the grand child of Fourah Bay college.
Dr Davidson Nicol’s successor as Principal was the Rev Professor Harry Sawyerr, the longest serving lecturer in the history of the college. Prof Harry Sawyerr’s service at the college began in 1933 at age 24 and continued right up to 1972, the year of his retirement. He was one of the Sierra Leonean lecturers who moved to Mabang when the college was relocated in that locality following the outbreak of World War 11 in 1939-45.
I was a student of Fourah Bay College (1970-74) in the last two years of Prof Harry Sawyer’s principalship with admission number in the Fourah Bay College’s admission Register 4941. Prof. Harry Sawyerr is remembered for being the only lecturer to have taught four courses during the college’s sojourn at Mabang including Theology, Mathematics, some Physics and some English, a genius in his owh right.
The steepest part of Mount Aureol near the modern dining halls was named ’Harry Sawyerr Hill’ because his residence was located right opposite the hill and had spent twenty plus years as lecturer before moving to Kortright when he became principal and Vice Chancellor. Harry Sawyer’s administration however was dented with problems ranging from scandals over students’ allowances, a serious decline in the quality of food served in the dining halls , to his inability to improve things at the college following the departure of Dr. Nicol.
There were student strikes over sub standard food served in the dining halls. Another problem was when he caused his Vice principal Prof. Koso-Thomas of the Department of Engineering to unknowingly lie to students that the ministry had not paid student allowances up to a particular time, only for the student government to make a visit to the Ministry to try to verify reasons for the undue delay . The students learnt in fact that the said allowances had been paid to the college two months back. What the principal did with the student allowances was a matter of conjecture. Any principal of Fourah Bay College who joked or interfered with student allowances was jeopardizing his position. This sparked an immediate student strike calling for the exit of the Principal. It was the student disturbances of 1972 in addition to other administrative malpractices that led to Prof Harry Sawyerr’s ’adieu’ from an institution he served for 41 years, spanning from 1933.
Prof Kosonike Koso-Thomas was a gentleman by all indications, and when it was proven that the principal had caused him to lie to his students, he immediately offered his resignation. The students were unhappy about the Vice Principal’s decision. But Prof. Koso-Thomas was a principled man and refused to withdraw his resignation. The same year, 1972, Harry Sawyer’s contract was not renewed and had to retire. But the government helped him secure a teaching appointment at Codrington college in the West Indian Island of Barbados in the Carribbean.
The next Principal was Prof Eldred Jones (1972-1985) , of the Department of English, and author of ’Othello’s Countrymen’. He was followed by Prof. Cyril Patrick Foray (1985-1993) at one time the college’s public Orator at convocation ceremonies, and successor to Prof. Edward Blyden 111 as Public Orator who held the position for over ten years, then Prof. Victor Strasser-King (1993- 2003) took over the principalship when C. P. Foray’s term expired.
Other principals include Dr Redwood-Sawyerr, Dr Aiah Gbakima whose tenure has now come to an end and is now on the way out, but by all indications, appears unwilling to say ’adieu’ at this point in time. Undoubtedly this was an impressive line of distinguished and eminent academics and administrators by any standard. In spite of some setbacks, Fourah Bay College shares a proud heritage. The college realises her responsibility in continuing to maintain her rich tradition of excellence and competitive quality education.
It was shocking to learn that during the ten year civil conflict , Fourah Bay College was again threatened with destruction by the rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Forces (the R. U. F.), causing much vandalism and destruction when they got up to Mount Aureol, ripping off computers from the administrative building, mistaking them for television sets only to realize that they were in fact not television sets, and subsequently smashed them on rocks.
In spite of all that Fourah Bay College went through in nearly two hundred years of her existence, the college is really a ’survivor’ and has stood the test of time and history, having educated not only Sierra Leoneans like Sir Milton Margai , Dr John Karefa-Smart, current President Ernest Koroma, the second Sierra Leonean government President / Prime minister, Prof. Eldred Jones, Prof. Arthur Porter, but also West Africans like Kojo Botsio, Joseph E. Casely-Hayford from the Gold Coast, Samuel Adjai Crowther who had the enviable No. 001 in the college’s admission register and immortalised at the college by the Adjai Crowther Amphitheatre on Mount Aureol being named after him, Sam Mbakwe, and Alexander Babatunde Akinyele all from Nigeria among others. The Adjai Crowther Amphitheatre on campus is always the venue for University convocations but also the target for students’ anti-government demonstrations. Fourah Bay College deserves every commendation for her resilience from the shocks of the civil conflict and continued buoyancy as an academic institution of renown.
Today, the 182 year old Fourah Bay college, has four Faculties, including :
1. Faculty of Arts
2. Faculty of Engineering
3.Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences and
4. Faculty of Social Sciences and Law.
Five institutes have over the years been introduced, and these include,
1. Institute of Adult education and Extra-mural studies
2. Institute of African studies.
3. Institute of Marine Biology and Oceanography
4. Institute of Population studies and
5. Institute of Library and archive studies and Mass communications.
With such diversification of faculties and institutes, one might optimistically note that Fourah Bay College is once more ready for the forward march from the state of inactivity occasioned by the ten year civil war, to new heights and remains a University of hope for the future not only for the education of Sierra Leoneans , but to opening her doors to international students reminiscent of days gone by. Her future lies not in looking back at her yesterday of life, but in looking forward to the future for happiness over her continued academic performance and achievements , happiness in her services to humanity and as a competitive international university of fame.
In eighteen years time, the college will be observing her bi-centenary year as a degree granting institution and she will be celebrating in grand style two centuries of existence. It is the hope that all Fourahbites / Aureolites still living, especially those at home, will actively participate in that memorable celebration. It is a commendable achievement for Black Africa’s first university to survive two hundred years of existence, though punctuated by some unavoidable difficulties. But these difficulties are now part of her history and her focus now is forward-looking.
Finally, it is my hope that this narrative of the college’s history in the last 182 years will help throw more light to all interested in her past to the present and will have more understanding of what Fourah College has gone through in her history. From humble beginnings in Leicester as a christian institution, to her present international status as a university of brighter hopes for her future on Mount Aureol
* The writer welcomes your comments on this short history.
and can be reached at; either email@example.com or