By Martin Banham (University of Leeds)
Christopher Fyfe, ed., Anna Maria Falconbridge: Narrative of Two Voyages to the River Sierra Leone during the years 1791-1792-1793. Liverpool University Press, 2000. p 231, ISBN 0-85323-643-7. £14.95 (pb.)
This extraordinary memoir of travels to the embryonic Sierra Leone at the end of the C18th. (complemented by the journal of Falconbridge’s second husband, Isaac Dubois, and ‘An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa’ by her first husband Alexander Falconbridge) has been enterprisingly edited and informatively introduced and glossed by Christopher Fyfe, himself a distinguished historian of Sierra Leone. Falconbridge’s experiences put her firmly alongside those other – though later – female travellers to the West Coast of Africa, Mary Slessor and Mary Kingsley. Accompanying her husband (whose anti-slavery credentials were established by his chronicled horrors of his experience as a surgeon on slave ships) to Sierra Leone in 1791, on behalf of the Sierra Leone Company, she survived disease, rough living conditions, the death of her husband and eventually political chicanery by the Company, and produced in these chronicles – in the form of letters to a ‘dear friend’ in Bristol – an detailed and sensitive description of the early attempts to establish a settlement for freed slaves and others on the shores of the Sierra Leone river. Her observations on the various personalities involved – African and European – are detailed and acute and her sheer courage and determination demands admiration. Her eventual conflicts – after an initial honeymoon period – with the directors of the Sierra Leone Company and other elements of the abolitionist movement cast an interesting light on some of the hypocrisy (and incompetence) sometimes to be found in those circles. Christopher Fyfe has allowed Falconbridge’s narrative (as with Dubois and Alexander Falconbridge) to speak for itself, but significant passages of editorial comment, informative footnotes and pertinent illustrations enrich the chronicles. Fyfe and his publishers have done a great service in making these fascinating memoirs available.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 63 (2000), pp. 82-83]