Transcript of Eugene Van Cooten’s journal for the quarter ending 25 June 1850.

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 7

Transcribed by Merle Van Cooten, 2023.

Rec Jul 19/7               

E. van Cooten Journal for the Quarter
                                                            Ending 25th June, 1850

Dear Brethren

In consequence of almost continual illness from 22nd March to the 25th June I have not been able to do much more than lie on my bed, I have therefore little to offer in the shape of a Journal.

March 8th. Yesterday evening we came to anchor in Badagry Roads, after a trying and disagreeable passage of eight weeks. This morning we all landed safely for which I trust  we were all truly thankful. Mr Smith, the school children and many of our people were on the beach to welcome us to Badagry.  I am sorry to say we found both Mr & Mrs Smith unwell. Still they gave us a hearty welcome. I cannot describe the feelings which filed the heart of Mrs van Cooten, and my own when we felt that we had indeed arrived at the haven we had so long desired in prayers.  We poured out our hearts to our Heavenly Father beseeching Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit and make us a blessing to these people.

9th. Engaged all day on the beach receiving our goods from the ship.

10th. Lord’s Day. Attended the morning and afternoon services, taught in the Sunday School.

11th. Spent the day on the beach.

12th. Accompanied Mr Townsend to the beach to welcome our Native Teachers from Sierra Leone last evening. Some 80 liberated Africans came with them those I fear will do no good to their country, being heathen.

22nd. The first ten days has been occupied in unpacking , drying and repacking the various  articles which got wet on board the ship, and in landing. Also in attending several ill with fever at the Factory and elsewhere. This evening laid up with Balias Remittance Fever.

27th. Convalescents but very weak. Mr & Mrs Townsend & Mr Corruthers with our Native Teachers and their families left us for Abbeokuto – my heart went with them. I felt much pleasure in meeting Mr Corruthers. May he long be spared to benefit his country.

April 13th. During the past fortnight I have been up and down with fever and not able to do much more than keep about. I have visited the sick almost daily, also the day school for a short time and twice visited the class of communicants. I cannot but say there is room for improvement both in the school and in the class.

Sunday 14th. Visited several families and spoke faithfully to them. In the afternoon took an adult class which I hope to continue during my stay at Badagry as it is of no use going out in the afternoon in the town to preach to the people as most of them are the worse for drinking Palm Wine.

15th  Unwell with strong intermittent fever.

Sunday 21st. Feeling better I went into the town and spoke to the people in several places. I am thankful to say in one place I had a large number of attentive hearers . Placing myself under a tree I commenced speaking with a man, who was pealing sticks for rope, re the nature and observance of the Lord’s day, he was willing to hear what I had to say and he then ceased from working in a short time. Circle within circle had formed themselves around me. Having spoken for some time, a Calabash full of Palm Wine was handed thro the crowd intended for the man above referred to. I received it and handed it back, much to the amusement of all – this circumstance led me to make a few remarks upon the sinful habits of meeting together to drink Palm Wine and idle their whole time away. It is painful to see hale, strong men, day after day and week after week squandering their time, regardless of every thing but the love of appetite. In the afternoon met my class. Afterwards in company with Mr Gollmer visited a headman & remained with him some time.

22nd. Spent an hour in the school. Visited several sick. In the P.M. we had a meeting of the chiefs – six were present and the representatives of three – after stating to them the reason why we had come amongst them i.e. to make known to them the word of God  how anxious we were for them to attend the preaching of that word – that we wished to instruct their children in the true knowledge of God, & urged them to let us have more – that they would refrain from selling Palm Oil on the Sunday etc.  We then gave them the cowries voted by the local committee as a present with which they seemed quite pleased. They made us no promises but admitted all we said to be true, said that they believed we sought to do them good. They appeared pleased in the proposal  of Mr Huchen’s teaching their boys the art of carpentry, coopering etc. About 4 p.m. they left us.

23rd Attended the school for a short time, visited several sick.

24th Engaged the same way as yesterday.

25th. Early in the morning  visited the Factory, saw several sick there and elsewhere. At ten a.m. Accompanied Mr Gollmer  to visit the parents of some of the school children and other parties. In the evening attended our week day service.

26th. The early morning spent as usual in visiting the sick. I feel a great deal of the missionary work may be done at the bedside of the sick. I sadly feel the want of an Interpreter that I might go into the Town and streets and speak to the people as often as I pleased. At present I am confined to the Sunday when either Puddlecomb, one of our visitors or George Williams, who has charge of the boys, accompanies me.

27th Attended the sick. In the evening took the class of communicants, all present but one.

28th Lord’s Day. Visited the Factory early in the morning, spoke very faithfully to several ill there. Felt much drawn out towards them. One of them I fear will die. At 9 1/2 a.m. went into the Town, addressed a goodly number of men in a Palm Wine shed they were all waiting the arrival of Palm Wine, some playing at a game called – I offered them the good wine of the gospel, some rejected it and attempted to drive me away, making a great noise so that my voice could not be heard, but a large party of them told me to stay and they would hear the message I brought to them. They then spoke to the others who attempted to drive me away & they held their peace.  Having spoken to them for some time I next stood up under a tree and addressed a number  of men, women and children. I asked them if they would meet me under the same tree every seventh day. Many promised they would. Addressed fifty or sixty men in a Palm Wine shed. Dropt the good seed of eternal life in passing along the streets amongst several small groups.  Stood up in the market and address a number of women selling fish. I next stopt to speak to a man making a cap under a tree, in a very short time I had a goodly number around me – all who passed stopt to hear. Oh that many, yea all, who have been hearers of the Word this day were doers of it! Visited the dying man at the Factory – in the afternoon took my class, & visited several sick.

29th  Arose with fever. Visited the Factory. Then went to see a man who had part of a Kola nut lodged in his throat. I found him suffering great pain & scarcely able to breath the nut having been there four days, which had caused extensive inflammation and swelling. I dislodged it without much difficulty but the poor fellow died some hours after from suffocation, the family believe from poison, a woman having put the Kola nut into his mouth by some means it got into his throat & there remained & soon caused swelling and inflammation. As soon as I heard of his death, tho suffering from fever, I visited the family, fearing they might attach blame to me. They appeared to take my visit kindly, and expressed themselves quite satisfied with what I had done. I took the opportunity of speaking to them  about their souls. The woman I hear is in custody – she remained [?] laid aside by fever.

30th  Still suffering from fever. Visited the Factory & other places of sickness.

May 1st  Better but not free from fever – visited the Factory – the poor man before referred to, died this morning, mortification having come on yesterday afternoon – he had been suffering a long time from dysentery. He knew the way of salvation but I fear had not faith to lay hold  of it. The rest of the day obliged to lie quiet.

2nd  Free from fever. Visited a few people. In the evening attended our monthly Missionary Prayer  Meeting. A good attendance.

3rd.  Remained at home the whole day.

4th Visited the Factory, and others not well.

5th. Lord’s Day. Prevented going out in consequence of very heavy rain, which continued nearly the whole day. Attended service in the house, the church having been blown down last Thursday night. At 2 p.m. a tornado blew down part of the compound fence & partially unroofed the school house.

June 18th  From the last date May 5th to the present I am sorry to say I have been laid low on a bed of sickness, suffering both in body and in mind. On the 6th of May Mrs van Cooten was taken ill with fever, which terminated as you already know on the night of the 13th at half past twelve o’clock, her end was peace for her life was hid with Christ in God. During the whole of her illness I was ill with fever, and unable to render her the assistance she required or I desired she should have – but time is short we must weep as tho’ we wept not. I have not been able to attend to more than the sick from our own house, which few are aware of this past six weeks has been a very unhealthy one & I am sorry to say still continues so.

19th  I am thankful to say that we all feel a little better to day tho’ I am so weak I am unable to get about. I feel I must submit to the will of my Heavenly Father who thus put me aside for a little season. It is nevertheless very painful to be laid aside for so long a time when there is so much work to be done.

20th  Feeling somewhat better this morning. I unpacked and put to dry the shipment of Books per “Jenny Lass” which I am sorry to say are much injured.

21st. The quarter is nearly come a close and I have done nothing, this tries me much. I long to bring the Word of God to each man and press it upon his conscience until it has again & again been carried to them. I  would not despair. The Lord doubtless has a people in this place, and in His own good time will gather their souls. The present is a waiting time, God would try our faith and patience. May we be found faithful unto our Lord. At the present time all lies stressful in the general darkness – dead in sin – debased in mind – depraved in habit – but our encouragement is that God has commanded us to ‘sow beside all waters’ & has said ‘in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not’. It is for us to sow the good seed. Others perhaps may be called to gather in the harvest.

If I might suggest one thing for the benefit of Badagry it should be this i.e.  that a Christian merchant of some capital should ‘sit down amongst us’ who would introduce those articles much needed by the natives & take Palm Oil in exchange. The Factory proposes to do so but they do not import the articles much desired by the  people – added to which they seek too large a profit upon their goods. Agriculture claims the same attention, these combined and carried on with steady persevering efforts in connexion with the preaching of the Gospel, in the high ways and by ways would I doubt not soon cause the human field in which we now labour, to be covered with[?]

As regards agriculture we should have to encounter many difficulties arising from the nature of the soil – it being little else than pure sand except a very narrow strip running parallel with the river. Also this is composed chiefly of decayed vegetable matter & slime, during the rains this is often under water & unfit for any thing but rice. Arrowroot & a variety of other plants grow in the dry season. The sugar cane also seems to grow luxuriantly, which if  cultivated would I doubt not yield a good action as it appears to contain a large proportion of deccharino matter. I would recommend that it be tried on a very small scale first – say in one of the small £5 mills. Proposed by Reverend Mr Vine.

But above all what we need most for this part of the Mission Field – is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a large measure. We need it for ourselves for where there is so much secular work it needs much grace to keep “fine gold from becoming dim”.

Our people need it for a spirit of gain has taken possession of the hearts of too many of them. I felt this very soon after my arrival. Mrs van Cooten & myself both felt that our Mission was of too secular a character. This we daily deplored, and made a subject of prayer. I confess I am without experience in such matters and it is with all humility I would suggest a remedy. It is a matter I have frequently mentioned to my dear Brethren at Badagry, and they with myself have admitted the evil to exist. The remedy I would suggest is this – that the Parish Committee be most urgently urged to send the amount of the goods in Dollars or Cowries as often as convenient or at least with sufficient to meet the current expenses of the Mission, leaving out the Missionaries salaries. This I believe would do away with the necessity of purchasing goods from the Factory to give to the people to sell to obtain cowries for the use of the mission-or selling them Bills for the same purpose.

I believe it has and will continue to exercise a most harmful influence upon the minds of those so employed and likewise very much hinder the usefulness of the missionary and places him in a wrong light, in the eyes of his people, and in that of the heathen.

I believe the sale corals, beads etc. all fraught with the same danger for the people are not contents with a small profit but look for 100-or 50 percent. We censure the people at the Factory for charging exorbitant prices for their goods, but our own people are guilty of the same offense. My objection does not apply to those who are professional traders and connected with our Mission – for the points I would most press upon for notice dear brethren is this – that the Missionary becomes too much of a dunning clerk. The people get into his debt. The cowries come in very slowly, often new goods must be had to pay off old debts. The Missionary has constantly to remind them of their debt and so in time he must lose his influence as a Spiritual teacher. I leave you to answer if such a state of things is a healthy one. And such is the present state of our station.

25th Still suffering with fever, but the quarter ends. I therefore close this miserable apology for a Missionary Journal. I will for a moment glance over the past quarter. I am almost led to say that the Lord has a [?] with us – may He in His rich mercy [?] his anger from us and cause the light of His  [?] countenance to shine upon us and give us His peace.

The quarter opened with the sunshine of promise but it has closed in gloom. We found all things quiet – the school orderly, but of their attainments I could not then form any opinion. I have since repeatedly visited the school & examined the boys. Much has been done but much, very much, remains to be done.  They need strict, steady & careful superintendence. Of the minds of the people I was also unable to judge but I have come to the decision that they are very far from a spiritually minded people. A fortnight after my arrival I was taken ill with fever. Mr Huben soon followed then Mr Gollmer. We soon got over the fever but from the first fortnight of my residence here I have not been free from fever for three days together. Then followed the illness of poor Mullen – the blowing down of the church, the fence & the roof of the school house.

The death of my beloved wife.

The serious & continued illness of Mrs Gollmer, the frequent slight attacks of Mr Gollmer, preventing him attending to his duties. The protracted illness of Mrs Smith who has been suffering for a long time from classic Dearrha. The “Craw Craw” which broke out in the school upon some 15 or 16 boys – the disorders of the school & the loss of two or three boys – these & other circumstances have cast a heavy gloom upon  our little Mission family.

The state of the Natives is likewise a daily source of grief to us – they are a gross & sensual people, but nothing is too hard for the Lord – “He ruleth in the armies of Heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth. We have not yet carried the offer of salvation thro’ a crucified redeemer, to every man here. Till we have done this we must not relax our efforts but increase them to the utmost of our power.

May the God of all grace give us grace to be faithful.

In conclusion I would say it has been a very unhealthy season – both Europeans and Natives have suffered & died. I have attended seven Europeans at the Factories. One died of dysentery, another died of fever, I think Yellow fever. I did not see him, being ill at the time. I believe the new systems with quinine possessed a definite advantage over the old –  I have treated all with quinine except two which were successfully treatd Homeopathetically.

I have had one or two cases of Inflammation of the liver – plecena?, spleen etc. etc. etc. etc.

I am, dear Brethren,
Yours sincerely,
E.C.van Cooten