Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

202 : African connections – plaques and memorials in London

London, the imperial city, has very few memorials to the people who connected Africa and Africans to that empire in the nineteenth century. A plaque to Henry Stanley on the house where he died in 1904 is off Whitehall, another is on the childhood home of Mary Kingsley, and others to Frederick Lugard and David Livingstone are outweighed and, but for its isolated location in Hyde Park, overshadowed by the granite column to John Hanning Speke who in the 1860s was associated with British awareness of the source of the Nile in Uganda. His partner Richard Burton has a very exotic grave in Mortlake, but he is now more likely to be confused with the twentieth century actor of that name. There are memorials in Westminster Abbey and graves in various cemeteries including Sir George Goldie of Nigeria in Brompton (which states he was the ‘Founder of Nigeria’); and also in that west London cemetery is Sir Roderick Murchison whose name was given to the Nile’s falls in Uganda. Unmarked, but in the old soldiers’ section, is the grave of William Bonny who was a sergeant in the British army’s medical department who had served in Africa and then on Stanley’s Emin Pasha Relief Expedition which crossed Africa in 1887-1890. He had no connection to Bonny in west Africa.

General Charles Gordon, who was killed in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1885 has a memorial statue on the Victoria embankment. Lord Napier of Magdala (which is in Ethiopia) has an equestrian statue near Queen’s Gate in Kensington. He died in 1890.

The son of the exiled French Emperor Napoleon III was attached to the British army in Zululand where he was killed in 1879. The family had settled in Chislehurst to the south east of London, and there is a memorial in the local Catholic church and a substantial cross on Prince Imperial Road but the body was moved to Farnborough in Hampshire in 1888.

Inscriptions give some details, as with Captain Temple Phipson-Wybrants of the Gordon Highlanders, whose grave in Woolwich cemetery notes he died when exploring the Sabi River in Eastern Africa in 1880. Hugh Meller, author of London Cemeteries (1981) observed the heap of granite rocks in Willesden cemetery and its inscription ‘Ernest Schwarz of the Kalahari’ who died in Senegal in 1928 and asked ‘who was he?’ He was a professor in South Africa, born 1873, whose The Kalahari or Thirstland Redemption was published in 1920. Reputations fade fast.

Sir Samuel Lewis who was buried in Acton in 1903 was the first African to be knighted (see page 021). He was a leading member of African society in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sir Hugh Clifford who had been governor of the Gold Coast (Ghana) died in 1941 and is buried in Putney Vale. His African reputation was overshadowed by Gordon Guggisberg whose Sussex grave is to be seen on page 058. Joseph Jackson Fuller (see page 026), a Jamaican who spent many years as a missionary in Cameroon into the 1880s, was buried – like so many nonconformist Christians in London – in Abney Park. Recent restoration and clearance work has uncovered his 1908 gravestone.