Transcript of Account of Eugene Van Cooten’s last journey by William Marsh, March 1851

Item in Church Missionary Society archives held by University of Birmingham Cadbury Research Library

CMS/B/OMS/C A2 O86/1-11

Nigeria: Yoruba Mission 1844—1934

Mission surgeon and evangelist: Badagry 1850-1851
/1-6 Letters 1850-1851;
/7-10 Quarterly journal extracts: Mar 1850 – 6 Mar 1851;
/11 Account of C.’s last journey [to Porto Novo] by William Marsh, his interpreter Mar 1851

Item 11

Transcribed by Merle Van Cooten, 2023.

Account of Mr Van Cooten’s last journey by William Marsh, his interpreter as requested by P.A. Gollmer.

Mar 4th. 1851. Mr Van Cooten set out towards Porto Novo by land. As there are many villages between the sea and the River Ossa, he determined to take the Beach Road leading to these villages in order to preach to the people. After we had walked about 4 miles, Mr Van Cooten had a strong attack of fever which disabled him from going on; he then sat down hoping after a little rest he might be able to go on. After a little rest he tried again but it seemed to aggravate his complaint, for he was vomiting and breathing strongly. Now I began to think of going back. This was proposed, but he, thinking he would be soon better, said he thought nothing serious. In order to ease him I contrived a hammock and begged him to allow himself to be carried by two of the men who followed us. To this he had a strong aversion; for he did not like his fellow men to carry him; but by my begging and urging him he at last complied. We walked through an extensive plain in a very hot sun, until we came to a shady & fine place. Here we rested two hours, and thence proceeded to Kome and reached about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The chief who is also a priest received us courteously. Kome is a fine and quiet village. Diseases are not common here; the people are mostly very healthy. Mr Van Cooten appeared better this evening; he sat up reading for some time in the night.

Mar 5th. This day is sacred to Seriki, the chiefs of the gods of Kome, who has his origin from the sea and resides in a Creek by Kome, who goes out yearly, as a warrior, and captures men, women, bullocks, sheep etc. The priest and chief, being open and free allowed us to enter Seriki’s house, who is an ugly rude image riding upon a horse, with weapons of was in his hands. While we were at Seriki’s house the priest was then offering loola? water to the god, where number of men, women and children were on their knees. Left Seriki’s house and we went about the village. Mr Van Cooten preached to a good number of people after which we returned to our lodging and took breakfast. After breakfast we prepared to proceed. I again begged Mr Van Cooten to allow himself to be carried to which he with reluctance agreed. We came next to Hovirogboi where Mr Van Cooten preached to a good number of the villagers who were very attentive. We proceeded thence to Ija where we proposed to lodge. Ija is about 4 miles off Hovirogboi and yet the difference between the people being so great, that one would not wonder if told that they live 200 miles asunder. Everything at Ija wears a gloomy aspect, the people poor, sickly, mean, filthy, shy, unfriendly and what not. No one would approach us except a little girl, who assisted me in sweeping a poor shed where we intended to lodge without liberty from anyone, for none would approach to us. The cause of this people being so lamentably different from their neighbours is a mystery. Mr Van Cooten is somewhat languid this evening. Here my fears and anxiety were increased and of course appeared in my face and deportment, which led Mr Van Cooten to ask me in a most lovely manner whether I had a wish to return home and be among my family. Then disclosed my fears and experience about the life of Europeans, my delicate condition as it regarded him, and the blame I was likely to incur on his account. At this he smiled and encouraged me by saying he would pass at Domingo’s slave Factory and there get some medicine, and then all would be well.

Mar 6th. This morning, Mr Van Cooten appeared somewhat better. We took a walk round the village, after which we prepared to leave Ija. We left Ija and came next to Takete Towhe which is about 3 miles off Ija, and yet the people are vastly and wonderfully different from the Ijas. Here the people were collected together under a beautiful and comfortable shed. Mr Van Cooten preached to them. We left Takete Towhe, walked about 2 miles came to Peringbe directly having Porto Novo on the north. Here also Mr Van Cooten preached to a good number of people. We left Peringbe, walked four miles south, came to Domingo’s Slave Factory. Took our lodging on a shaded spot, and I was sent to inform Domingo of our arrival. We continued at our humble lodging that night. Mr Van Cooten was not well this evening.

Mar 7th. Mr Van Cooten preached to a good number of people at our lodging. At 9 o’clock we went to see Domingo who was very busy at the beach, shipping oil and landing goods. He received Mr Van Cooten with all civility and tokens of friendship. They immediately fell to conversation about different things. He expressed his joy that Akitoye had applied to the English Government for protection and that he hoped through Akitoye’s friendship with the English the slave trade might be abolished. He told Mr Van Cooten that he had spent hundreds of pounds in order to place Akitoye on his throne, but failed in the attempt. He wonders, he says, that the English should be so playing upon the abolition of the slave trade which they could have done in a very short time: that is by taking some slave ships with slaves and crews and all to Brazil, and present the ship, slaves and crews to the Brazilian Government and then demand that justice should be done according to the treaty, and then although the Government is weak yet justice should be done agreeably to the treaty: and making examples of a few ships, others would be afraid of carrying on the slave trade. As for himself as an individual he would be glad to see the slave trade put down, but as long as his friends, competitors and rivals are permitted to buy slaves, he also would continue to buy. Many other things passed between Domingo and Mr Van Cooten, which I had not the opportunity of knowing, being kept in another room. Domingo, considered as a man, is an excellent person and may be justly said to shame many a man, though under different circumstances. Everything bespeaks order in this village. A vast trade in oil is carrying on; hundreds of men and women are daily coming from Porto Novo importing their palm oil for sale and exporting goods in exchange. This village contains above 1000 persons, mostly his domestic slaves whom he keeps in good order, he settles them by pair, a man and wife. Whenever he buys a man and wife he gives them the worth of 25 crowns; 10 in cowries and 15 in roll tobacco, by which the woman is enabled to carry on trade for her and husband’s support. She is now at liberty to carry on trade for herself, but the husband works for the master, and receives 400 cowries, about one shilling weekly, from Domingo. All the free and native emigrants from Brazil, receive gratuitously from Domingo £1 monthly, and he also assists them in carrying on trade.

Mar 8th. This morning we were told to prepare to return to Pirengbe where Mr Van Cooten intended to keep the sabbath. Domingo provided a hammock and four carriers for Mr Van Cooten. We left Domingo’s about 10 o’clock and reached Pirengbe something between 11 and 12 o’clock. At 1 o’clock Mr Van Cooten wished me to go and tell the king of Porto Novo that he was coming to his town and would stop a few days with him. I then left Pirengbe, passed a village called Gbokpa, and got into a canoe to cross a creek leading into the River Ossa. This creek is full of River monsters, worshipped by the people of Porto Novo. I saw about 8 of the dreadful animals as we passed along, while my fellow passengers were praising and admiring them. I came to the court of the proud and self-conceited king of Porto Novo where I was detained until about 5 o’clock. The king after having heard that a white man had sent a message to him, he sent twice to examine me with questions; as Whence is that white man? Of what country? What is his business? Through what places has travelled? What business has he with Domingo? If he intended to come and see the king, why has he taken such a crooked course? etc. When I found that the king would not give me an answer I sent to him to say, Goodbye to him and that I charged not to sleep. This moved his highness to send word to say the whiteman might come. I returned, and reached Pirengbe nearly 7 o’clock when I found that Mr Van Cooten had sent a message to Domingo for some particular medicine. The messenger returned about 8 o’clock with some medicine but not the one wanted, because Domingo had it not. This evening Mr Van Cooten was in a languid state and had no sleep all the night.

Mar 9th. Lord’s Day. The sickness increased on Mr Van Cooten. I therefore proposed that we might go to Porto Novo, and if not improving, we might there hire a canoe and go on home. He said I hope to be better in the course of the day and preach to the people. From this time he grew worse and worse, vomiting very frequently. At 12 o’clock his appearance was greatly altered. At 1 o’clock I found his water was bloody. This aggravated my fears and I told him that we might go to Porto Novo and thence home. I dislike, he said, to travel on the sabbath. But I said necessity makes it lawful in many cases. But the sun is too hot, he said; but the way is shaded, I said. To my joy then he complied. We left Pirengbe about two o’clock. In the way he ordered me that as soon as we landed I should go and tell the king that he could not stay, but pass on home, because he was not well. This I did as soon as we landed. But a little while after I had returned from the king he ordered me to return to the king and tell him he would not go because he was better. This, with reluctance, I went and told the king. About 7 o’clock he took some soup and bread.

About 8 o’clock a very powerful and convulsive cold attacked him which shook him so violently that all the persons in the compound heard the shaking which lasted for more than half an hour. He had also some very severe and internal pains, which led him to say in a low but audible voice, “Oh my pains, my pains, my pains! But why should I murmur? It is God who teaches me a lesson for my carelessness and neglect” (Here he referred to his not bringing medicine with him). After the abatement of the fit he said to me, you have crossed rivers and creeks with me, but I am now going to cross the last river, and land to the place where I shall be freed from pains, sickness, temptation, sin, etc. But I interrupted him and said, God will spare you for usefulness. Then he exclaimed, not my will but thine be done, O God. I am thankful that thou hast enabled me to make thy name known unto thousands. He now spoke of Mr Muller and Mrs Van Cooten’s devotedness; I am not afraid, he said, to die; I know my Redeemer. Then he spoke very solemnly to his boy and me of the danger of delaying repentance, the uncertainty of death and of the joyfulness of dying in the Lord. He wished me to write, as he could not, something he wished might be done after his death. But he could not prevail upon me to take up a pen, for I thought God would yet spare him; I only promise to keep in memory everything he told me.

Mar 10th. Got up about 5 this morning to search for a suitable canoe to hire to return to Badagry. After a long talk and trouble, I got one and was ready to start about 8 o’clock. We reached Badagry about 3 o’clock; all the people in the compound when they saw their dear Master, burst into tears……….