A visitor to West Africa in 1954

west african diary pages 001This fragmentary, though fascinating Diary, that occupies a section of a tiny Address Book, was found in the Jot HQ archives. It records a visit to west Africa in the first few months of 1954 by an anonymous male diarist whose remark that Africa’s dry season of Harmattan was ‘our winter ‘ suggests that he  may have been a native African or have had African heritage. He also mentions visiting his mother in Ghana. Moreover, a solo entry in the Address Book  dated two years before the Diary mentions ‘ English lessons ‘, and the erratic spelling and awkward grammar of the Diary entries are also strongly suggestive.


The diarist’s impressions of Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast ( which in 1957 gained its independence as Ghana)  must be read alongside the names and addresses that appear throughout the Address Book of people the diarist either encountered on his voyage to Africa, met while there or had previously jotted down as contacts to be visited. The diarist seems to have been a salesman of some kind keen to open new trading links between the UK and West Africa. For instance, there are allusions to ‘sorting out ‘samples, possibly of shirts, to show to potential clients and there is a reference to the ‘potentialities’ for Bavarian beer.  The diarist would not have been the first business man to have booked a voyage on the famous Elder Dempster ships that ran regularly from Liverpool to ports in West Africa, carrying goods there and returning with raw materials. On each voyage there would have been a limited number of places for passengers—perhaps two dozen or so. Our diarist appears to have stayed in Africa from late January until May before leaving for London and then for Sweden.


On his voyage out on the S. S. ‘Apapa’ he befriended some fellow passengers and started each day with a long run around the deck. In Africa he was entertained by local business men and dignitaries, and he recorded his impressions of these people as well as  social mores and political movements of the two countries he visited, while all the time expressing love for ( presumably ) his wife Mavis.


28th. January, 1954. Sailed today from Liverpool 4.30, sharing  Stateroom with a Mr Udoh, a business (man) who own the raffia shop in Manette St., London.

After high tea I took a bath. Mr Udoh played some records. Many Africans were shower-bathing. In bed at 10. Read till about 11.30.


29th Friday. The steward brought us tea at 6 a.m. breakfast at 8 consisting of chilled grapefruit and the grits.

30th. Entered the bay biscay at mid-night. Our threefold luxury travel was interrupted at 2 a.m. Two big gush of waves raced through our port-hole drenching Mr Adeoye & Miller’s beddings. Mine was partly soaked also. Water raced to & fro the room until 6 a.m.


Read again today. Played my first table tennis. Won one & lost 2.


31st. January. Shower at 7 a.m. After breakfast sorted some of my samples out. The sea is still choppy. Played table tennis and beat Mr Udoh. Studied from 2 to 4.30 pm.


1stFebruary. The sea is still very choppy. (at) 2 arrived in Las Palmas. A lovely city. This is Africa —saw women carrying loads on their head ; and boys and women walking bare-feet. The weather is tropical, so nice! In the market we saw some really tropical fish, and fresh, so fresh. Returned on board at 12.45, we pulled out at 2 o/c, leaving behind a picturesque city.


3rd. Feb Weds. The weather is really that of Africa. The sea is so calm & serene. No jackets today. It was a Carnival Dinner tonight . The meals—good. Shitta Esq took picture afterwards in the Saloon, and on deck. Ran three miles with Mr Udoh…followed with a shower.


4thFeb.Thursday. After breakfast Jimmy & I ran a mile on deck and did some P.T. followed by a hot shower ( crossed out is ‘ and a massage by Nurse Ako-Nai’). Took picture the African Purser, a Nigerian Doctor. Shitta took a group of us. Studied for 3 hours. The sea was not all that calm. Some ship’s officers were shivering .


5thFeb Friday. It is Ha Mattan, our Winter. The morning is cold. The sun rose brilliantly at 8 a.m. Played a game of ludo after breakfast. Ran a mile with Jimmy followed by a hot shower and a massage by Nurse Ako-Nai. It’s getting warmer now 11.45 a.m.. Read little. Had a cinema show tonight at 7 We are in Africa!


February 10th1954.Saw Mr (   ) today– a licensee, promised to send me an order before Saturday. Then saw a Syrian onion dealer. Met Mr Fisabe at Barclay’s. He invited me home for some cold drinks. Then to Mr Camara’s . We went to Kissy village, from there saw some business men. Potentialities here for Bavarian beer . Then to Mr Karim, an Administrative Sectary—he provided a bottle of whiskey. The lads drank half of it. I showed him some samples—he liked the shirts (sharkskin). He would like to place and order. Seeing tomorrow evening at 5.30 with the finished article. Then off again to Mr Te, a young lawyer, he also offered drinks, and played some nice gramophone records, an enjoyable day.



February 11th. Friday. Had my first plantain today. Saw an Englishman bargaining for two live chicken. Had some sugar-cane this evening.


February 12th. Had some casava today with stew, very nice. I was taken round the Government printing plant this afternoon by Mr Casal. Meet many people there. Took my laundry this morning and got it at 5 p.m.

Splendid for Africa…

Freetown street


To be continued. [R.M.Healey]




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