Herbert Heelas Macaulay and his relevance to the excellence of Lagos

Herbert Heelas Macaulay and his relevance to the excellence of Lagos

Friday, May 26, 2017 7:52 am


Ambassador Oladapo Fafowora delivering the lecture

By Oladapo Fafowora

I am honoured by the invitation to me to deliver this inaugural Gold Lecture in memory of Herbert Heelas Macaulay, who died in Lagos on May 7, 1946, at the age of 81. The lecture on the continuing relevance of Herbert Macaulay to the excellence of Lagos is intended to mark the 71st anniversary of the death of Herbert Macaulay as well as the 50th anniversary of the creation of Lagos State. I extend my warmest felicitations to Governor Ambode on this auspicious occasion.

As a professional historian, one of my unfulfilled literary ambitions was to write a full length biography of Herbert Macaulay. There is, regrettably, none at the moment. This is because I find his public life, career, and politics in Lagos very fascinating. Therefore, I welcome and relish this opportunity and privilege of delivering this inaugural lecture on the life and times of Herbert Macaulay, who is widely regarded and acknowledged as the ‘Father of Nigerian Nationalism’.

I was only five when Herbert Macaulay died and never met him. It was as a school boy in Lagos that my late father, who was a civil servant himself in the colonial civil service, and a great admirer of Herbert Macaulay, first told me about him and his relentless struggle against colonial rule in Nigeria. Later, when I was 12, he took me to see Herbert Macaulay’s house, named ‘Kirsten Hall’, at 8, Balbina Street, Lagos, near the water front (the Lagoon). I admired the house and, for years, visited it often as I lived near- by, at Ita- Faji. It was an impressive and elegant one storey detached building which has, regrettably, since been demolished, giving way to what now looks like a grotesque Post Office junk yard. The site is now at the back of the General Post Office House on the Marina. Long after Herbert Macaulay’s death, the house remained a tourist attraction and a sort of political Mecca for his admirers and political associates. Given his prominence as an outstanding historic and public figure in Lagos, I think the house should have been preserved for posterity, not demolished.

The irony is that it was not the colonial authorities, but an indigenous government, that demolished the house to make way for the General Post Office, a singular display of the lack of a sense of history. Most of Herbert Macaulay’s friends and political colleagues also resided in the vicinity of the house, or within walking distance of it. Their houses have all been demolished too. The distinguished Nigerian administrator, Dr. Henry Carr, the first African Inspector of Education and, later, the first African Resident of the Lagos colony, resided at 15, Tinubu Street, now the site of the derelict federal Ministry of Finance; John Otunba Payne, the first African Registrar of the High Court, resided at ‘Orange House’, Tinubu Square, now the site of the Union Bank, and Dr. J.K. Randle, at 31, The Marina, all of them within earshot of Herbert Macaulay’s residence. It was a close- knit social and political elite that for decades dominated the politics and social life of Lagos colony in those days. Even when they were political rivals there was still great friendship and amity among them. They may disagree about political strategies, but they were all united and committed in their determined struggle and opposition to colonial rule in Lagos and Nigeria. They held liberal and nationalist political views and values that they wanted to promote in Lagos and Nigeria. Herbert Macaulay played a central role in this.

For over half a century, Herbert Macaulay was preeminent in this first generation of outstanding Nigerian patriots and nationalists. He was a major political and social figure in the politics of colonial Lagos. Like a Colossus he dominated and bestrode the city completely, leaving an indelible mark on its future. He was a man of many parts. As an engineer, architect, surveyor, journalist, politician, socialite, musicologist, patriot, nationalist, and defender of native land and rights, he was the ground norm for the contemporary social and political life of Lagos. Lagos was about Macaulay and Macaulay was about Lagos. It was a symbiotic relationship. The two were inseparable. He was born and lived his entire life in Lagos, except for the three years he spent in England studying as an engineer, architect and surveyor. He loved the city intensely and fought doggedly for the political and economic rights of its people. His love for the city was fully requited socially and politically by the people of Lagos. Like a mother hen the city protected and stood by him when he later faced political ordeals from the British colonial administration.

Though a patriot he was proud to be a British colonial subject and loved the British way of life. He dressed like an upper class British gentry, in well cut dapper 3-piece suits, complete with striking and colourful bow ties. He admired the liberal British political traditions of democratic and responsible government. The British colonialists came here claiming they were on a civilizing mission. The small educated African elite in Lagos, some of whom were freed slaves from Sierra Leone, admired them for this. Instead, the colonial governors and officials were brutal and trampled on the basic rights of the natives. This was why HM fought the colonial authorities in Lagos for their political excesses, particularly whenever they trampled on the rights of the indigenous people under colonial rule. He would not compromise on that regardless of the price he had to pay for his dogged opposition to the unjust British colonial rule in Lagos and Nigeria. This is the political tradition Lagos inherited from HM. It is what it has exemplified for over a century now. It was from Lagos that the nationalist struggle against British colonial rule began. It became the first capital of colonial and independent Nigeria until the capital was moved in 1990 to Abuja. Lagos has also been the major centre of political resistance and opposition in post colonial Nigeria to all forms of political excesses under both military and civilian rule, a legacy it inherited from Herbert Macaulay.

Early years, education, and public career.

Herbert HeelasBadmusOlayinka Macaulay was born on November 14, 1864, at Broad Street, Lagos. It was the year in which his maternal grandfather, the Revd. Samuel Ajai Crowther, a freed slave, was also consecrated in London as the first African Bishop of the Church of England. He was born in the Victorian era three years after Lagos was formally acquired in 1861 as a British colony. Nigeria did not exist then as a nation until the 1914 ‘Amalgamation’ that formalized British rule in Nigeria. Where exactly HM was born in Broad Street is, regrettably, not known publicly. It is a matter for future research. He was not a Creole, or from Sierra Leone, as many people thought him to be. He was born a full blooded subject of the British colony of Lagos. Unlike some of the Creoles who tended to look down on the natives and identified themselves with the colonial administration in Lagos, HM had absolutely no qualms in identifying himself fully with the natives and defending their rights as subjects of the British Crown.

Herbert Macaulay’s paternal grandfather, OjoOriare, a native doctor, was from Oyo. He and his wife, Kilangbe, were enslaved, but freed by the British anti-slavery squadron and taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they settled for a while, before returning to Owu (Abeokuta). It was while they were in Sierra Leone that Ojo and Kilangbe gave birth to Thomas Babington Macaulay, the father of Herbert Macaulay. As was the practice among freed slaves in those days Thomas Babington Macaulay simply dropped his father’s name and instead adopted a Christian name. In Freetown, Thomas Babington Macaulay was educated by the CMS at the CMS Grammar School and later at Fourah Bay College, a higher institution set up by the CMS for the training of priests. He was first sent to Abeokuta in 1854 and later ordained a priest of the Church of England in 1857. Shortly after, he returned to Owu (Abeokuta) as a CMS priest for missionary work there. But he was in Owu for only a year, returning to Lagos where on June 6, 1859, he founded and became the first Principal of the CMS Grammar School, Nigeria’s oldest secondary grammar school. It was a feat many thought impossible. He did not get any support from the colonial government which considered the project premature. It was not until 1909, fifty years after, that the colonial government founded the King’s College, Lagos, the first government owned secondary school in Nigeria.

Herbert Macaulay’s mother, Abigail Crowther, was the second daughter of Bishop Samuel Ajai Crowther. She and Thomas Babington Macaulay, Herbert’s father, were married in Abeokuta in 1854. They had four other children before HM and two after him. He was the fifth of the seven children in the rather large Macaulay family. This was not uncommon in those days among the clergy. Until he was five HM was given a kind of nursery education at home by his mother, Abigail. But in 1869, at five, he entered St. Paul’s School, Breadfruit, to start his primary school education there. He later went to the Christ Church School, Faji, to complete his primary school education. In 1877, at 13, he entered the CMS Grammar School, then at the end of Broad Street, where the UTC building now stands, and where his father, the Revd. T.B Macaulay was the Principal. He left the school in 1880 and his school records there show that he was brilliant in English, Logic, Mathematics, and Latin. He was reputed to be an independent- minded student and to have an alert and inquisitive mind, qualities which stood him in good stead later in his tumultuous political career. His father, the Revd. Thomas Babington Macaulay, died in 1878, two years before Herbert Macaulay, graduated from the school. Had his father been alive when he left school, he would almost certainly have liked HM to have been trained as a CMS priest in which calling he had an excellent pedigree. But destiny and providence beckoned him in a different direction in which he became famous.

In September, 1881, at only 17, he was appointed a clerical assistant and indexer of Crown Land grants in the colonial Public Works Department (PWD) in Lagos. This gave him a useful and first hand insight into land ownership in Lagos, and the reckless manner in which the colonial government was grabbing land illegally from the natives. Within three years of his appointment he was promoted a draughtsman and clerk of Crown Land grants. He was so diligent in his duties that he was awarded a colonial government scholarship in 1890 for further studies in England in civil engineering and surveying, the first to have been rewarded with a colonial government scholarship. His family antecedents, as the grandson of Bishop Ajai Crowther, were no doubt useful. By 1890 British rule had extended beyond the colony of Lagos, with British Protectorates in the South and the Niger Coast. The award of a government scholarship to HM later proved to have been a costly mistake on the part of the colonial government as it equipped him later to challenge British colonial rule in Lagos. It exposed him to the genteel British way of life and liberal democracy. He was in Plymouth, England, for the next three years studying, not only civil engineering, but architecture, surveying, including railway surveying. He qualified as a civil engineer (CE) in 1893, the first Nigerian to do so. He was also admitted as a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), as well as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS). His lecturer at Plymouth, Mr. Bellamy, reported that he was a ‘capable and hardworking student’, and that his conduct was ‘perfectly satisfactory’. Bellamy recommended to the colonial government in Lagos that after a few years of practical experience in Lagos HM should be sent back to Britain for further training in civil engineering. But the colonial government denied him that opportunity.

It was another fatal mistake by the colonial government. This was, perhaps, the beginning of his grievances against the colonial government. Further training as an engineer would eventually have earned him promotion to a senior engineering post in the colonial civil service. But this was not in the plans of the colonial government which was reluctant to allow Africans in the civil service to rise above the junior ranks. HM was not the only African to which opportunity for further training abroad or advancement in the colonial civil service was denied. This was why the Yaba Higher College, later established by the colonial administration, could only offer training to Africans as half doctors and half engineers. The same treatment was meted out to the legendary Sir Samuel Manuwa in his early medical career. He had to acquire additional medical qualifications to merit being made a full medical doctor. Later, having survived all professional prejudice and odds, he rose to become the Chief Medical Adviser to the colonial government. He was the first African to have been allowed, grudgingly, to head a major department in the colonial civil service.

The practical effect of this short sighted administrative colonial policy by the colonial government was that Africans, even when fully qualified, were denied advancement to senior posts in the colonial civil service. It was this obnoxious practice in the colonial civil service that drove Africans who wished to advance their careers to go into such professions as law and medicine and to go into private practice. As western education began in the Port cities of Lagos and Calabar, and Abeokuta later, these cities later became the major centres of political agitation against the British colonial government in Nigeria. And Lagos, being the capital of colonial Nigeria, was the place where such unrelenting agitation against colonial rule began. HM was later to play a leading role in this anti-colonial agitation.

Entry and resignation from the colonial civil service

In September, 1893, on returning home from England, he was given appointment as a Surveyor of Crown Lands in Lagos. But his conditions and terms of service did not meet his expectations. In October, 1893, soon after Herbert Macaulay’s appointment as a Surveyor, on a salary scale of 90-150 pounds per annum, his poor salary scale was taken up in the Legislative Council by the Revd. James Johnson, a nominated member of the colonial Legislative Council, who pointed out that a white Foreman in the PWD junior to HM, earned 250 pounds p.a., while a clerk in the Surveyor’s department earned 100 pounds a year. Governor Denton said that Macaulay’s salary was not determined by his professional qualifications, but by the value of his work as determined by his superior expatriate officers. Eventually, Herbert Macaulay’s salary was increased to 120 pounds p.a. for a year, and thereafter in accordance with his performance. The salary scale for Africans in the colonial service remained unsatisfactory even after the debate in the colonial Legislative Council. There were also several cases of discrimination against Africans in promotions to positions of higher responsibility. Besides, at a time of severe racial discrimination in the colonial civil service HM, like several other Africans, often ran into unjustified charges of insubordination. His own grandfather, Bishop Samuel Ajai Crowther, the first African bishop in the Church of England, was equally subjected to the same discriminatory treatment when, as the CMS bishop on the Niger, his junior white colleagues falsely accused him of fraud, for which he was relieved of his appointment and forced to return to Lagos in disgrace. It was only recently that the Archbishop of Canterbury exonerated him and apologized publicly for the shabby treatment meted out to Bishop Crowther. These were the circumstances that led HM to resign his appointment as a government Surveyor in September, 1898, after only five years in the PWD of the colonial civil service. He never worked for the government again. He was only 34 and his future uncertain. The British colonial administration was happy to get rid of him finally. He too had had enough of his lack of progress and frustrations in the colonial civil service and was happy to leave. Many other Africans also left the colonial civil service in disgust. In October, 1898, he obtained a government license to practice privately as a civil engineer, architect, and surveyor. He had seen how the colonial authorities looked down on Africans, even when they were fully qualified. He decided he would devote the rest of his life to fighting against this gross injustice and for the emancipation of the Africans from colonial rule. That was the origin of his long and difficult nationalist and patriotic struggle against foreign rule and domination in Nigeria.

Life in private practice as an Engineer and Surveyor.

His private practice as a licensed Engineer and Surveyor did not bring HM much success either in the early years. The colonial authorities made sure he did not get any government jobs, the most lucrative. There were only a handful of Africans rich enough to engage and pay him for his professional services. He designed very few important private buildings in Lagos. These plans and valuation included Alex Taylor’s house on Victoria Street, Henry Carr’s house at Tinubu Street, Akinola Maja’s house, and the Doherty Villa in Campos Square. In December, 1898, the year he left the civil service, HM married Caroline Pratt, the daughter of an African Superintendent of Police. The marriage came to a sudden end with Caroline’s death in August, 1899. There was no child of the marriage and HM vowed he would not remarry. But he had mistresses from whom he had 16 children.This was not unusual in those days among the educated African elite, most of whom sired children outside wedlock. Among his children and direct descendants were Frank Montague Macaulay, son, who predeceased him tragically, and Oliver Ogedengbe Macaulay, son, who followed his illustrious father into the NCNC.Theformer distinguished vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. BabatundeKweku Adadevoh, now deceased, was a grandson. Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, who died during the Ebola epidemic, was a great granddaughter.
The care of these children cost him a lot of money which he could not afford as his private practice as an engineer and surveyor had been a failure. Even though he was largely insolvent HM was generous to a fault handing out money readily to his friends and relations in need. For example, Sarah Coker, the daughter of JP Lalubo Davies and Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the legendary freed African slave girl brought up in royal circles in England, lived with Herbert Macaulayfrom 1909 until her death in 1916.This made his financial situation even worse. He was in financial difficulties all the time. He was often harassed by the colonial authorities and taken to court for his alleged failure to pay his taxes and electricity bills.

In 1913, he suffered the first of his numerous major financial setbacks for which he was sent to jail. One Mary Franklin, a freed slave, had been placed in the care of Abigail, Herbert Macaulay’s mother. When she died in 1912, Mary had named HM her executor. In July, 1913, barely a year later, the colonial government claimed that HM had improperly taken a sum of 350 pounds from Mary’s estate for his personal needs. But there was no complaint from the Franklin family about any fraud on the part of HM. His plea that the money in question was used to pay off debts owed by Mary’s estate was dismissed. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced wrongly to two years imprisonment. In referring to this injustice in his study, ‘Modern and Traditional Élites in the politics of Lagos, Cambridge, 1975, Dr. Dele Cole, the historian, provides some evidence that the trial of HM in 1913 was unjust and unfair. He notes that the prosecuting counsel, one Mr. Robert Irving, had been Macaulay’s tenant who was out to pursue a private vendetta. HM had obtained a court order in December, 1912, to evict Irving. The acting Chief Justice imposed a fine on HM despite the five assessors in the court returning a not guilty verdict. According to Dele Cole, ‘the will of the testatrix was read in public at the request of Macaulay and the loan he obtained in order to clear the debts of the testatrix was explained to the beneficiaries of the will’. Besides, the principal beneficiary of the will, Macaulay’s niece, testified in court that she did not engage Irving to prosecute the case. Yet he was convicted of intent to defraud. His petition to the Governor General, Sir Frederick Lugard, was ignored. This financial scandal affected his private practice and finances very badly. Herbert Macaulay’s parents had left him and his six sibling’s two properties at 32, Kakawa Street, and 23, Odunlami Street. But the income from these two properties was barely enough for the expenses he incurred on the large Macaulay clan. By 1931, all his older brothers and sisters had died, leaving him to care for his two younger siblings and the children of his older siblings, now dead. This was a heavy financial burden that HM was ill equipped to cope with. Often, he was in debt and had to borrow money to pay off his debts. His friends, Dr. C.C. Adeniyi Jones, and Barrister Eric O. Moore, often stood as sureties for him when he needed loans from the banks.

Herbert Macaulay was a great socialite and found solace from his political travails in music in which he had developed a taste when he was a student in England. He learned the violin obtaining a certificate in it from the Trinity College of Music in London, and became quite good at it. When he returned to Lagos from England his love of music continued and he turned his residence at Balbina Street into a concert hall. A former German Consul in Lagos, Arthur Kirsten, an accomplished pianist, was Herbert Macaulay’s personal friend, and he and HM played music together, with crowds watching them. With this he was able to drown some of his financial worries.

His liberal religious views and tolerance.

In matters of religion, though a Christian, the son of an Anglican priest and the grandson of an Anglican bishop, the Rt. Revd. Samuel AjaiCrowther, HM held liberal views. He was a member of the Confraternity of the sons of the Clergy in Lagos, but there is credible evidence that he accepted aspects of traditional African religion. The new Christian religion had not yet taken deep roots in Lagos. There were fissures and open disagreement by the Africans with the white clergy and Christianity over some aspects of African culture and way of life, such as polygamy and cultism, which the Church decried and condemned uncompromisingly. This conflicting view on religion was to lead some African Christians to break away from the Anglican Churches to start their own African Churches. The African Church (Bethel) at Broad Street, which broke away from St. Paul’s, Breadfruit, was one of such break away churches. It was in this situation that Herbert Macaulay’s liberal views on the Christian religion and its relevance to the natives was formed. His private papers showed that he practiced various forms of black magic and divination. Most of his contemporaries, including the African clergy, did too and probably still do even today, despite the apparent determination of the Churches to stamp out these practices. HM was also interested in sacrifices which explains his generosity to all beggars. Although a member of the Anglican Church, he did not mind associating publicly with members of other Churches such as the C&S, and other religious groups. He embraced the AdamuOrisa in Lagos and showed a keen interest in African traditional medicine. After all, his grandfather, Oriare, was a medicine man. Besides, anxiety, superstition and deep distrust were rife among the educated natives, even as they are today. Like his contemporaries, HM tried to ‘protect’ himself and his large family through the practice of African divination, a way of life that the natives believed in and were used to. All told, Herbert Macaulay’s private religious life was a mixture of belief in the old and the new. He was a Christian who, nonetheless, recognized the African traditional religion. He was a courageous man who practiced what he believed in, but respected other religions, including Islam, as well. To a large extent, the situation of religious tolerance that exists in Lagos today is owed to leaders such as HM who were not religious bigots and who accepted other religions as legitimate. This accounts for the peaceful co-existence in Lagos among all religions and faiths.

As a strong critic of British rule in Nigeria.

HM was an active and leading member of the small educated and politicized African elite in Lagos. He had as friends and associates lawyers, doctors, and business men, most of whom shared his opposition to colonial rule in Lagos and Nigeria. Many of them too had been victims of the excesses of colonial rule in Lagos. A few of these men who had been less vocal in their opposition to colonial rule were nominated as members of the effete Legislative Council, which had no powers really, and merely rubber stamped whatever the colonial governor wanted. But HM did not enjoy such favours in view of his well known and implacable opposition to the colonial governors. As he was left out in the cold by the colonial authorities he got himself involved in local and national politics on which he expressed his views freely and boldly to the annoyance of the colonial authorities. He was affectionately called by his admirers ‘the Wizard of Kirsten Hall’ because of his uncanny ability to obtain classified information, including secret official minutes, which he used to embarrass and attack the colonial government. His favourite press medium was the Nigerian Chronicle, a journal, which he used to oppose the policies of the government on such public issues as the trade in liquor, the water rate scheme, the building of a separate Church (now Our Saviors’) for the whites, and the efforts of Governor Egerton in 1909 to suppress free speech in the colony. He felt he needed a newspaper of his own to fight the injustice of the colonial government in Lagos.

The Eleko Affair.

In 1927, HM and his friend, Dr. John AkinladeCaulcrick, a medical practitioner and politician, bought the Lagos Daily News, the first daily news paper in British West Africa. Macaulay was responsible for the reports and editorial views of the paper. In June, 1928, he had become the proprietor and manager of the paper. HM used the paper to fight his political battles with the government and his political opponents in Lagos. But he soon got into trouble with the government when his paper carried a story that the car which was to bring the deposed ElekoEsugbayiof Lagos back from exile in Oyo would be blown up by his opponents. It was a rumour and the paper reported it as only a rumour. TheEleko affair divided Lagos very badly. The colonial government felt that the publication was an incitement and that it was bound to fuel the existing tensions in Lagos and lead to possible violent clashes. The colonial government was furious with HM about this and decided to take him and Caulcrick, his associate, to court for publishing the rumours. They were both found guilty. Dr. Caulcrick was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with an option of 50 pounds fine. HM was jailed for six months without any option of fine. For the second time HM found himself in jail. The paper survived Macaulay’s conviction fitfully until 1938 when it ran into financial difficulties due to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

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