2004-12-24 / Travel

Warner M. Montgomery’s Adventure Travel The Rio Nunez Expedition Part 2: The Battle of 1849 comes to life

This mid–19th century drawing by a European artist of an indigenious Rio Nunez family hangs in the Boké Museum.
This mid–19th century drawing by a European artist of an indigenious Rio Nunez family hangs in the Boké Museum. As we walked around the ruins on the banks of the Rio Nunez, I recalled the famous Battle of 1849.

The British, based in Sierra Leone, and the French, based in Senegal, had been tempted for decades to stick their colonial noses into the area known as the Rivers of the South – the Rio Nunez and the Rio Pongo, now a part of Guinea.

Most of the local traders on the Rio Nunez were Englishmen who had married into local families and established slave trading factories. A Belgian minister visited the area in the 1840s and reported that 15–20 vessels, mostly French, visited the area annually. He reported that peanuts were replacing slaves as the major African export, and it would be a good place for renewed Belgian commerce.

This drawing of the Battle of 1849 in the Boké Museum was made by P. J. Clays. It depicts the French and Belgian warships and the landing of the marines. The original is in the Musée Royal de l’Armée in Paris, France.
This drawing of the Battle of 1849 in the Boké Museum was made by P. J. Clays. It depicts the French and Belgian warships and the landing of the marines. The original is in the Musée Royal de l’Armée in Paris, France. During a civil war between the local Landuman chiefs and the powerful upcountry Fula chiefs, the European traders found themselves caught in the middle. Each of the European traders appealed to their home country for help. French, Belgian, and British warships soon steamed up the Rio Nunez to protect their citizens.

In 1848, France was granted “most favored nation” status by the Fula governor. French traders were allowed to fortify their factories at Boké but were forced to pay higher duties to the Fula governor and higher anchorage fees to the local Landuman chiefs.

The British traders demanded equal rights and compensation for their factories which had been confiscated by the French. Conflict broke out again among local chiefs and a chief’s son was kidnapped.

A Belgian warship intervened to take advantage of the situation and landed marines. Within days British and French warships appeared and four forces faced off. A peace palaver failed, and the British warship was called back to Sierra Leone, effectively removing Britain as a colonial power in the area.

The Landuman army retreated to Boké and fortified themselves in the formerly British factories by the river. Joined by the Fula army, the Belgian and French forces bombarded Boké destroying warehouses and factories.

In a treaty of April 5, 1849, the Landuman chief declared his loyalty to the Fula governor and granted cessions to Belgium and France. He promised to protect European traders, and declared open trade on the river.

The British traders appealed to their government for damages to their factories. The British government demanded payment by the French government, but after two decades, their demand was dropped.

When the French and Belgian warships left the Rio Nunez, anarchy reigned, factories were pillaged, and commerce came to a standstill. In the 1860s, France moved in and colonized the area as French Guinea.

(Next week: The battle site in 2004.)

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