Journal of Tours of Duty in West Africa

Biblio-file: Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
April 1, 2010
A.F. Elliot, "Journal of tours of duty in West Africa,"

A.F. Elliot, "Journal of tours of duty in West Africa," unpublished manuscript with drawings, watercolors, and photographs. 1866-1879. Les Todd

Surgeon Major A.F. Elliot M.R.C.S, a British physician who served with the British Army in West Africa, kept detailed journals during the time he was stationed in modern-day Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana. The journals record six of his tours of duty, spanning the years 1866 to 1879—a time of great upheaval in colonial West Africa.

Most significantly, his sixth tour of duty from 1873 to 1874 took him to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana—a former center of slave-trade operations and the regional capital of Britain's colonial government at the time. There, attached to the 2nd West Indian Regiment, he recorded a graphic firsthand account of the Third Anglo-Ashanti War, including descriptions of the fighting between the British and Ashanti forces and treatment of the wounded.

Away from the battlefield, Elliot chronicled the customary treatments of British soldiers and vaccinations and other aid for Africans, especially children. He also took frequent hunting trips; sketched wildlife; met tribal royalty and an emigrant from America to Liberia, likely a former slave; visited a "lunatic asylum"; and witnessed numerous floggings and a tribal circumcision ceremony. After attending an inquest for "a Kroo boy called Jim" in Sierra Leone, Elliot writes that the boy "was badly horsewhipped by a native master on Sunday and died on Thursday, the body was exhumed—the jury's verdict was natural causes [emphasis his]."

The Englishman's ambivalent response to his unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings is evident. Complaints of "this horrible stagnant West Africa" and speculations on how to "civilize" the African population are juxtaposed with sympathy for the mistreated and drawings, watercolors, and photographs recording his fascination with the world around him.

Remarkable for their detail, length, distinctive voice, and variety, the journals are an invaluable resource for understanding the British colonial presence in Africa.