Back in 2014, I wrote a post about an article that Agnes Conway (an archaeologist I've been researching for many years) published in the Westminster Gazette in 1914. This article, a preview (in a sense) of the book that became A Ride Through the Balkans offered readers a taste of the experience that Agnes and her travelling companion Evelyn Radford had had in Scutari just months earlier.
A month or so ago I came across references to a series of three articles Agnes wrote in The Weekly Westminster Gazette (an offshoot of the aforementioned periodical) in 1923. The Weekly Westminster Gazettecan be read (on microfilm) at the British Library, and I recently made a trip there to track down the series.
Her articles covered her trip, taken in 1919, to Sierra Leone, which was then under British control. While in Sierra Leone, Agnes was travelling with the colony's Governor, Richard James Wilkinson and his wife Edith (Baird) Wilkinson; thus, she rather consciously highlights the colonial hierarchies on display in the official engagements she witnessed as part of the Governor's entourage.
Agnes begins the series with a brief discussion of the colonial settlement of Sierra Leone. She traces this history from the 1780s with the transportation of formerly enslaved Black men and women as well as former Black Loyalist soldiers from Britain's North American colonies, who had been living in Britain. These 'settlers' had to put down roots among the Temne people who lived in the area where these families first settled; and Agnes describes how the settlers and their descendants (known as Creoles or Krios) were distinct from the Temne people.
Her second article, subtitled "The Waterways of Sierra Leone" describes a journey she took with the Wilkinsons to Port Loko. What stands out (depressingly) in this article is the way she describes a local boatman who objects, vociferously, to her desire to take his photograph. The language that she uses to describe the boatman and his objections are steeped in racialised terms, and she makes an explicit link between the 'local' people, as examplified by the boatman, and savagery. Her photographs were and remain a significant resource in archaeological and historical terms, and her description of photographing this boatman makes for distressing reading.
The last article in the series is a detailed description of the Government's school at Bo and the plans to institute a series of schools with the aim of instructing students in the art of writing their local language, Mende, using the Roman alphabet. She chronicles how a student at the school was required to translate easily between Mende and English in order to convince visiting Chiefs to send their sons to the programme. Agnes's text highlights how colonial education was promoted locally in a fair amount of detail.
These articles chronicling Agnes Conway's brief but little-known trip highlight her perspectives on part of Britain's empire in Africa in ways which draw sharp attention to the assumptions, prejudices and colonial attitudes that she displays in this piece of journalism. And in her own words she reveals the invasiveness of her photography – an insight that should be taken into account when viewing the images she took.
Conway, Agnes, 1923. Aspects of Overseas Life: Sierra Leone. – I. The Weekly Westminster Gazette, 6 Jan: 8.
Conway, Agnes, 1923. Aspects of Overseas Life: The Waterways of Sierra Leone. – II. The Weekly Westminster Gazette, 13 Jan: 13.
Conway, Agnes, 1923. Aspects of Overseas Life: Sierra Leone. – III. Schools in Sierra Leone. The Weekly Westminster Gazette, 30 Jan.