History of West Africa

The Royal Niger Company, 1884-1900

A.) The Company's Genesis

British merchant GEORGE T. GOLDIE, active in the lower Niger region since 1877, in 1879 organized the UAC (United Africa Company) which combined British traders active in the Niger region and, in effect, took control of the Lower Niger river. The company was renamed NAC in 1882 and ROYAL NIGER COMPANY in 1886, when it received a CHARTER, placing it formally under British protection and providing it with far-reaching rights, to administrate the territories transferred to it by treaties with native chiefs.

B.) International Recognition of the British/RNC Claim

Since 1884, G. Goldie and his agents acquired treaties from chiefs and emirs along the Niger and Benue rivers, penetrating deep into the territory allocated as British sphere of influence at the Berlin Conference of 1884/85. In its attempt to obtain such treaties, the RNC found itself in competition with French and German agents; the RNC acquired a treaty with Sokoto in 1884 just days before the arrival of a German agent, a treaty with Borgu in 1894 just days before the arrival of a French officer. The British government negotiated the RNC territory's border with German Kamerun (1885, 1886, 1890, 1893). France continued to dispute RNC claims over the interior of Nigeria. In 1892 French Lieutenant Mizon acquired a treaty from the Emir of Muri (on the middle Benue) and hoisted the French flag; France did not support his action and Muri remained within the RNC/British sphere of interest. Only in 1898 was the border with the French possessions fixed by agreement.

C.) RNC Administration

The RNC seat of administration was located at ASABA on the banks of the Niger river. Her military force - the Niger Coast Constabulary - was centered at LOKOJA. The RNC established a network of stations, mainly along the Niger and Benue rivers; RNC control in effect did not reach much beyond the stretches adjacent to navigable rivers - the Niger, Benue, their affluents and river arms (i.e. the territory within the reach of gunboats). The RNC established a rudimentary justice system (a High Court of Justice) and a police force - the constabulary. Its main concern was company trade and the exclusion of foreign competition to their claim of political control.

D.) Reaction of the Natives

Native tribes for generations had traded with European merchants, the basis of that trade being an unwritten agreement : the whites would only trade with their coastal trading partners; the trade with tribes of the interior would be a field reserved for the African trading partners of the Europeans.
The UAC/NAC/RNC, now establishing a number of stations along the Niger and Benue rivers, broke that agreement and thus caused the outbreak of hostilities (Onitsha 1879, Akassa 1882, Niger Delta 1886, an attack by the Brassmen on Akassa 1895).
The standard company response was to dispatch gunboats on punitive expeditions; in these expeditions, Royal Navy vessels were involved.

E.) Economy

The cultivation of plantation products such as palm oil, by natives, in the Niger Delta was encouraged. Otherwise, the RNC policy was to exclude foreign competition in its trade with the natives, by the means of charging high import tariffs (in violation of the Declaration of the Berlin Conference) and by confiscating wares imported in circumvention of these tariffs.
Main import products were cloths and alcoholic beverages.
In 1892 the Royal Niger Company joined the Universal Postal Union.

F.) Civilization

At the Berlin Conference the European powers agreed on ending the slave trade, a policy pursued by the Royal Navy off the West African coast since 1908. Yet the RNC was little able to end the ongoing slave trade within the territory it claimed; its range of action was limited to the areas adjacent to navigable stretches of the rivers.
The RNC supported missionaries, to whom the task was left to "civilize" the natives. Missionaries reported incidents of practices such as cannibalism.
The task to "civilize" the inhabitants within the territory claimed by the company certainly did not feature high on its list of priorities.

Timeline of Nigerian History, from Nigeria Exchange
Encyclopedic description of Kamerun's Philatelic History from Sandafayre's Atlas (scroll down)
British Colonial Rule and Urhobos and Urhoboland 1891-1960, posted by Urhobo Historical Society
Article Sir George Goldie, from EB 1911
History of the Nigerian Postal Service, from Nigerian Postal Service
History of the Southern Nigeria Regiment, from Land Forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth
History of the Nigeria Police Force, from Nigri Police Foce
Articles Joseph Thompson, Bida, Illorin, Borgu, Kabba, Lokoja, from EB 1911
Article Royal Niger Company, from Historisches Seminar, Univ. Hannover, in German
Yoruba War 1877-1893, from ACED
The Catholic Church in Nigeria, a brief history, from CBCN
Ian McCall, Nigeria, a Personal History, has several chapters on George Goldie
DOCUMENTS Sample of a Treaty between the Royal Niger Company and an African Chief, from CUNY
Flag of the Royal Niger Company, from FOTW
Text of a Blank Printed Paper used by Royal Niger Company in signing treaties with Niger Delta Communities, 1880es, posted by Urhobo Historical Society
British Colonial Rule in the Niger Delta : Treaties, posted by Urhobo Historical Society
Royal Niger Company, Nana Olomu, River Ethiope and the beginnings of British Colonialism in Urhobo lands, 1894-1899, from Urhobo Hitorical Society, selection of historical documents
Royal Niger Company Medal, from The British Empire
Orders and Decorations of the United Kingdom : Pt.2, before 1914, posted by Lukasz Gaszewski, scroll down for Royal Niger Company 1886-1897 (1899), has only ribbon colours
Nigeria images, posted by National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Article Niger Company Ltd., from Deutsches Koloniallexikon, 1920, in German
Royal Charter, for the Royal Niger Company, 1885, poted by Kingdom of Benin.com
Kingdom of Benin.com, click : Dokumente. German language site; still a number of the documents are in English.
Portrait of Sir George Dashwood Taubman Goldie, 1898, from National Portrait Gallery
Papers of Frederick Dealtry Lugard, Baron Lugard of Abinger: 1871-1969, from Archives Hub, list of files
Correspondence RNC-Lugard 1894, posted by Rhodes Univ., Dept. of History, with reference to Borgu expedition
Treaty of the Royal Niger Company (with native chiefs), posted by M. Kudrati
On Gando/Borgu, in "The Great Round World and What is Going on in it", Vol.1 No.53, November 1897, posted by Gutenberg Library Online
REFERENCE Toyin Falola, The History of Nigeria, Westport : Greenwood 1999
A.C. Burns, History of Nigeria, London 1929, esp. Chapter XIII : The Royal Niger Company, pp.163-176
Article Niger Coast Protectorate, in : Statesman's Year Book 1895 pp.190-191 (on events of 1894) [G]
Article Niger Territories, in : Statesman's Year Book 1895 pp.191-193 (on events of 1894) [G]
Article Niger Territories, in : Statesman's Year Book 1898 pp.194-195 (on events of 1897) [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on October 20th 2007

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