1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Freetown

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FREETOWN, capital of the British colony of Sierra Leone, West Africa, on the south side of the Sierra Leone estuary, about 5 m. from the cape of that name, in 8° 29′ N., 13° 10′ W. Pop. (1901) 34,463. About 500 of the inhabitants are Europeans. Freetown is picturesquely situated on a plain, closed in behind by a succession of wooded hills, the Sierra Leone, rising to a height of 1700 ft. As nearly every house is surrounded by a courtyard or garden, the town covers an unusually large area for the number of its inhabitants. It possesses few buildings of architectural merit. The principal are the governor’s residence and government offices, the barracks, the cathedral, the missionary institutions, the fruit market, Wilberforce Hall, courts of justice, the railway station and the grammar school. Several of these institutions are built on the slopes of the hills, and on the highest point, Sugar Loaf Mountain, is a sanatorium. The botanic gardens form a pleasant and favourite place of resort. The roads are wide but badly kept. Horses do not live, and all wheeled traffic is done by manual labour—hammocks and sedan-chairs are the customary means of locomotion. Notwithstanding that Freetown possesses an abundant and pure water-supply, drawn from the adjacent hills, it is enervating and unhealthy, and it was particularly to the capital, often spoken of as Sierra Leone, that the designation “White Man’s Grave” applied. Since the beginning of the 20th century strenuous efforts have been made to improve the sanitary condition by a new system of drainage, a better water service, the filling up of marshes wherein the malarial mosquito breeds, and in other directions. A light railway 6 m. long, opened in 1904, has been built to Hill Station (900 ft. high), where, on a healthy site, are the residences of the government officials and of other Europeans. As a consequence the public health has improved, the highest death-rate in the years 1901–1907 being 29.6 per 1000. The town is governed by a municipality (created in 1893) with a mayor and councillors, the large majority being elective. Freetown was the first place in British West Africa granted local self-government.

Both commercially and strategically Freetown is a place of importance. Its harbour affords ample accommodation for the largest fleets, it is a coaling station for the British navy, the headquarters of the British military forces in West Africa, the sea terminus of the railway to the rich oil-palm regions of Mendiland, and a port of call for all steamers serving West Africa. Its inhabitants are noted for their skill as traders; the town itself produces nothing in the way of exports.

In consequence of the character of the original settlement (see Sierra Leone), 75% of the inhabitants are descended from non-indigenous Negro races. As many as 150 different tribes are represented in the Sierra Leonis of to-day. Their semi-Europeanization is largely the result of missionary endeavour. The only language of the lower class is pidgin-English—quite incomprehensible to the newcomer from Great Britain,—but a large proportion of the inhabitants are highly educated men who excel as lawyers, clergymen, clerks and traders. Many members of the upper, that is, the best-educated, class have filled official positions of great responsibility. The most noted citizens are Bishop Crowther and Sir Samuel Lewis, chief justice of Sierra Leone 1882–1894. Both were full-blooded Africans. The Kru-men form a distinct section of the community, living in a separate quarter and preserving their tribal customs.

Since 1861–1862 there has been an independent Episcopal Native Church; but the Church Missionary Society, which in 1804 sent out the first missionaries to Sierra Leone, still maintains various agencies. Furah Bay College, built by the society on the site of General Charles Turner’s estate (11/2 m. E. of Freetown), and opened in 1828 with six pupils, one of whom was Bishop Crowther, was affiliated in 1876 to Durham University and has a high-class curriculum. The Wesleyans have a high school, a theological college, and other educative agencies. The Moslems, who are among the most law-abiding and intelligent citizens of Freetown, have several state-aided primary schools.