Right of Reply: Herbert Macaulay Not Fair To Henry Carr

Right of Reply: Herbert Macaulay Not Fair To Henry Carr

Thursday, July 2, 2020 4:30 pm

Henry Carr, left, Herbert Macaulay and MKO Abiola


By Debo Adetula

I refer to your story, titled, “Railways, Education, Politics: How Macaulay Laid the Foundations- Abiola,” published on TheNEWS online platform on Tuesday, 30 June 2020.

It appears MKO Abiola bought into Macaulay’s jaundiced, unfair, and personal attacks on Henry Carr, a view that has gone unchallenged in public circles but has been comprehensively rubbished in academic circles.

Read MKO Abiola’s tribute on Macaulay here

The “Henry Carr must Go” pamphlet contained a malicious and slanderous characterization of Carr’s father, Amuwo Carr. Macaulay asserted that Amuwo Carr deserted his wife Rebecca to settle in Abeokuta when in reality Amuwo was not a polygamist and instead died in poor health and was almost blind when Carr was seven. Out of the multiple attacks that Macaulay directed at Carr, this was the only one that prompted a response from Carr when some of the Lagosian elite, showing their dissatisfaction with Macaulay’s publication, organized a dinner honoring Carr. At said dinner Carr described the pamphlet as “nothing but the ravings of a lunatic…(of) a mind coarse, of gross perception, and with a disastrous lack of a sense of delicacy”.

Additionally, what evidence do we have that Macaulay’s pamphlet influenced Lugard? In Carr’s capacity as Director of Education, he provided multiple recommendations to the Colonial Government. Some of his recommendations included the setting up of King’s College Lagos and Queens’s College Lagos! Carr was an expert in his field and very few people know about Carr’s legacy in the founding of these Nigerian institutions.

One would think that Carr had his head in the skies but the facts say otherwise. Here is Carr’s very pragmatic recommendation for the reformation of the Southern Nigerian elementary curriculum:

“I listened to a lesson in English History given by the principal teacher…It seemed to me that too much time was wasted on such abstract ideas as ‘civilization’, ‘education’, ‘art’, and ‘industry’, and too little attention given to concrete facts and positive information…it did not seem to me that the children took any intelligent interest in the history of the early British Kingdoms. If history should be taught at all, it should begin with the history of Old Calabar, the Protectorate and West Africa..The same lines should be followed in geography. The pupils should first be taught to observe what is round about them…the aim being to bring them into contact with nature and the life they have to live”.

I would take Macaulay’s challenge of Carr’s recommendation with a grain of salt. Why? Macaulay refutes it with the account of one exceptional student (Mobolaji Akinsemoyin). Carr was probably underscoring the need to normalize what seemed like an exception! He wanted to see excellence at scale in the form of multiple Akinsemoyins, Carrs and Macaulays (considering Carr and Macaulay themselves were exceptional students). I think the article by MKO Abiola could have underscored Carr’s brilliance. One author notes how Carr’s book “Key to Mr. J.B. Lock’s Elementary Trigonometry” created some sensation in Mathematics circles in England” and caused “publishers to correct the errors in Wormall’s Arithmetic”. Like Macaulay, Carr was a polymath – in addition to being a mathematician, Carr pursued training as a lawyer after getting passed up for promotion by the prejudiced British colonial service.
One would think that based on MKO’s piece, that Carr was just a British stooge who despised his fellow Nigerians when the facts don’t support this idea. Finally, if the Governor-General (Lugard) found Carr completely lacking, why did Lugard appoint Carr as his Deputy (Provincial Commissioner of Lagos Colony) in 1918?”

Here’s Robert W. July’s searing critique of Macaulay’s obsession with Henry Carr.

“Chief among his [Macaulay’s] targets was Henry Carr. The origins of Macaulay’s antipathy towards Carr are obscure. Partly it could have arisen out of differences of viewpoints as to Africa’s needs and objectives; yet the opinions of the two men were not so very far apart in terms of ultimate goals.

Both were thoroughly assimilated into European culture which both agreed would play an important part in Africa’s future. Both were devotedly loyal to the British crown and saw Nigeria as a permanent part of the British commonwealth of nations. The differences were therefore of degree rather than kind, of methods and not of objectives, rooted as much in personal antipathy as in difference over principle.

In its early stage, Macaulay’s hostility centered on Carr’s role as Resident of the colony in resisting Macaulay’s efforts on behalf of the House of Docemo.

Later it became a recurrent complaint – a peevish, tiresome attack through newspaper and pamphlet which picked up issues twenty years old as though they had occurred the day before and generated violent outbursts over matters seemingly long since dead and forgotten.

Carr, who made few public appearances and statements and who never commented publicly on Macaulay was known to have dismissed these performances as ‘the ravings of a lunatic’, but they could not have failed to trouble him.

In searching Macaulay’s recurrent fulminations for a reasonable motive, the suspicion grows that he could not bear to admit that Carr might have had qualities of mind and character to which he aspired in vain. During one of his assaults on Carr, Macaulay sneeringly remarked, ‘His political character has derived s positively carmine tinge…from that supercilious air of self-conceit, the offspring of an irresistible fascination engendered in his ill-cultured mind by the nauseous and revolting phantoms of his own supreme superiority’. In fact, it was Macaulay whose self-conceit was the more inflated, whose sense of superiority needed constant nourishment.

Macaulay was the supremely popular figure, the darling of the people of Lagos; by comparison Carr was remote-respected but not loved. Still Macaulay showed all the signs of psychological insecurity which required ever larger doses of popular acclaim. Clever, articulate, celebrated and on the side of the angels in his espousal of the causes of the day, he may have lacked Carr’s simple integrity and he may have realized instinctively that his emotional response to the world around him was unequal to Carr’s quiet thoughtfulness.

Carr was the one person he could not surpass. Deep down there was an admiration which unhappily mutated into jealousy, and out of jealousy finally arose hatred’”

Page 390-391 from “The Origins of Modern African Thought” by Robert W. July

See the 2 texts below for a good understanding of both Carr and Macaulay; men who thoroughly disliked each other but were actually very similar in their anglophile nature and educational pursuits. Carr’s voluminous 18,000 book library served as the foundation for the University of Ibadan Library while Herbert Macaulay’s personal papers are now part of the African Section of the University of Ibadan Library.

– “The Origins of Modern African Thought” by Robert W. July

– “Modern and Traditional Elites in the Politics of Lagos” by Patrick [Dele] Cole

Note that Macaulay and Carr had a personal relationship before their dispute.

Macaulay was the architect of the Henry Carr mansion in Tinubu, Lagos. We don’t have an authoritative understanding of the nature of their falling out. It seems the details are lost to history and ‘gist’ among the Lagos elite.

See this submission from Bimbola Babarinde about the Henry Carr Mansion.

Henry Carr’s house designed by Macaulay.


• Mr. Debo Adetula is a business and technology professional with a keen interest in history.


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