Transcript of Eugene Van Cooten’s journal for the quarter ending 15 September 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
Transcribed by Merle Van Cooten, 2023.
Rec Feb 19/5
E. van Cooten Journal for the Quarter ending 15th September 1850
July 28th. Since my last date I have still been suffering from fever and unable to do more than keep about attending those that are ill in our house and compound and others living near to us.
This morning Akitoye the ex King of Lagos sent a message to request me to visit one of his men and extract a ball. I called upon Akitoye, sat with him half an hour, and endeavoured to set the grand truths of the Gospel before him. He listened attentively to all I had to say, admitted the truth of it and said that when he regained his kingdom he would serve God, that now he was too poor and in too much trouble and was obliged to sit down in this town without cowries and away from the people he once governed – he repeatedly said that if God would restore him to his throne he would at once seek him. I tried to convince him that such a resolution was a mere delusion of the Devil and pressed upon him the importance of at once seeking to know and serve God. – that his present circumstances were more favourable for his doing so than when restored to his former prosperity. He seemed to have but little doubt that he would be restored to his former power in Lagos. If so may we not hope that a door will be opened for us in that stronghold of Satan & the slave trade and written communication to Abbeokuta.
I then went to the man’s house. Here I found a fine, sturdy young fellow covered with Palm Oil from his waist upwards , his right arm much swollen from a gun shot wound. I carefully examined it and probed it to the fullest extent of the probe but was unable to feel the ball – having dressed it and the thumb on the left hand which was nearly severed from it. I asked him the cause of his being wounded. He said that he with many others went to catch slaves when they got between this place and Lagos. They saw a canoe with two men in it who had come out to gather cocoa nuts – they attempted to seize them – the two men being armed – determined to sell their lives dear – this young man was in the act of going at one when he received the ball in his arm & another in his left hand- this caused his musket to fall from his hand. The two unfortunate men were however taken. I took occasion to reprove him & others who were present – his companions in sin for doing such dirty, sinful work – his only excuse was that he too was a slave and was obliged to do as his master commanded him. I remained some time endeavouring to explain the leading truths of the Gospel
Visited Agibode the chief of the Priests of Ifa who is suffering from acute ophthalmy – he is one who is convinced of sin but is still under its power- he is likewise convinced of the folly of his craft but needs grace to enable him to give it up. He has long promised to give it up and show his people that such things are but foolishness, but he only deceives himself – satan holds him still by many chains – County Fashions – & his wines are the strongest – he asks us to pray for him that he may have grace given him truly to repent before he dies – and that he may be made fit for heaven.
I then addressed several parties in the streets. Met a wild tumultuous multitude dragging the dead body of a man by a rope. This poor creature had been murdered in the morning being accused of witchcraft. It is customary with the witchcrafen to compel their victim to drink a certain water of a poisonous nature & whilst the poor creature is in a state of agitation he is declared guilty and sometimes murdered on the spot – at others early in the morning as is the case above. When it is said Jeso the god of witches has done it the body is then dragged thro’ the streets. It is afterwards put upon a frame work- opened & dissected & cut up. One part is given to one & another of the priests & witch catchers-with this disgusting portion they dance round& round the frame–it is then left to putrify in the sun if the vultures do not carry it away before. I believe Witch-Palaver’s are not so common as they used to be – but who can conceive anything more brutal and disgusting than the above spectacle – the people yelling and appearing half frantic.
In the afternoon took my usual class. Two Mohammedans passed by in the course of the afternoon. I invited them in. They came & sat down, & one continued during the afternoon service. I spoke to them they appeared very ignorant, made use of the usual replies to several questions. I put to them about their souls and Christ as the alone Saviour of sinners. One said he was without sin, and did not need a Saviour. One of them said if I would give him a Bible he would try & learn to read it – tho’ disbelieving him- I still gave it him in faith hoping it might fall into some poor sinner’s hand. Who felt himself such.
29th. Early this morning requested by Akitoye to visit the wounded man, he not being able to come to me as I had directed him yesterday. After another careful examination I was unable to feel the ball, tho’ I probed it today upwards of eights in depth. Not being able to feel it I was unwilling to attempt extracting as I should have to make too large an incision – I believe from the means used it will come out in the course of time from the opposite direction.
Addressed a few people in the Market. One man said that he and the people could not come to hear the word we spoke unless we paid them for it, but if our Queen would send out three ships full of cowries to give to the poor and sick etc. then their King would ring a bell and command all the people in the town to come and hear us. Such and similar demands are constantly being made. You can scarcely the [??]of their [?] they point to their mouth and their belly & say “Me hungry” -they will not be shamed out of it,
30th. Most of the day occupied in unpacking and repacking various things.
31st Went into the town, visited the sick, spoke to various small groups in the streets and Market; had a faithful conversation with Agibode. I am feeling better and hope I shall soon be strong to labour and endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
August 1st. Visited various sick, also the Market and various streets, found but little opportunity to speak. Went over the market to see if I could find any greens or spices, but could find none. In the evening attended our Monthly Missionary Prayer Meeting – an ordinary attendance-.
2nd Spent the day within.
3rd. Occupied in the Store all the morning. In the afternoon laid up with fever.
4th The Lord’s Day. Went into the town, found my usual places under two trees empty. Address three small groups, two of them were attentive – one was abusive. One man offered to pay me to go about my business. I told them I was about it. Afternoon took my class–it is very astonishing how great the contrast is between the people of Abbeokuta, and those of this place. If you stand up under a tree or in a Palm Wine shed–and the people make a noise and try by that & other means to drive you away you will generally find if there are any Abbeokuta people present they will urge you to stay & will try to keep order – nor is it less marked in our congregation and school, while our people appear careless and with wandering eye, the Abbeokuta people are all attention. Oh that many, many more labourers could at once enter into this field and gather in the harvest. In the evening strong fever.
5th. Spent most of the morning out- but felt very unwell, came home, and was laid up with a smart? attack of ague.
6th. Went into the Town. Saw some sick. Spoke seriously to them, not feeling well, I came home and was laid up with fever.
7th Still suffering and unable to go out.
8th Went into the Town. Saw the sick in body, and addressed the sick in soul all seem dead. Lord when will these dry & dead bones live? A most painful circumstance occurred this morning – William Marsh insulted Mr Gollmer, I believe while in a state of intoxication* arising out of some misunderstanding on the part of Mr Hüber. I am sorry for it as he is truly a reliable man. Mr Gollmer has suspended him & will wait the decision of the Local Committee.
*He had previously been admonished by Mr Gollmer & solemnly warned that if found tipsy again he would be dismissed from the society.
9th. Went into the Town, had a long & pleasing conversation with two priests – Agibode & Edah
10th. Visited the Town – tho not feeling well. Met 4 troops of Mohammedans in all the pomp and display they could muster, this being a grand gala day with them. They appear to be a numerous party in this town.
11th. The Lord’s Day. Visited the Factory, early this morning. Prevented going into the Town for want of an Interpreter. Attended the morning service. In the afternoon took my class.
12th Laid up with fever.
13th. Went into the Town. Visited the Factory four of them being ill. In the evening felt very unwell, all night had strong fever.
14th. Laid up the whole day with a strong fit of ague.
15th. Went to Mr Smith’s house to arrange a few points. In the afternoon suffering from fever.
16th Visited the Factory. Went into the Town, visited several houses, some sick, others well. It is painful to see how readily some of the people admit the truth of all you say without in the least intending to adopt it or forsake their own evil ways. The better sort of them say that “they serve God” that all power comes from Him, that without Him they could do nothing – but when you press them close you find tis a mere form of speech among them, & means nothing, or is confined to temporal good – they have no spiritual conceptions, indeed how should they – “the natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit of God” etc. Or else they say what we speak is true but they are not able to do it – they must walk in the customs of their Fathers. In the afternoon very ill etc.
17th. Unwell – took the Communicant’s class in the evening.
18th. Lord’s Day. On my mattress all day.
19th. Visited the Factory, found all better. Went into the Town – addressed various small parties.
20th. Visited the town. Went to Mr Smith’s to arrange certain things about the house before he leaves for Abbeokuta.
21st. Visited the Factory. Assisted Mr Smith to pack his things for Abbeokuta
22-24 Employed the same way.
25th. Went to the Factory. Mr Gollmer & myself attended the morning service. As it was the last one we should spend with Mr Smith before he leaves for Abbeokuta.
26th. Assisted Mr & Mrs Smith to get off – they left us in high spirits about 2 p.m.
27th Spent the day on the Beach with Mr & Mrs Gollmer hoping it would do us all good. Hamilton arrived from S. Leone with Shingles and some bad bowels?. In the evening I was laid up with strong fever.
27th Still ill.
28th. Still suffering. Took possession of Mr Smith’s house.
Sept 7th. Been suffering more or less with fever since my last date, and unable to do much more than attend to the house & things left in my charge & the sick that come to see me.
8th. Lord’s Day – Not well. Partook of the communion of the body & blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. A peculiar season – Mrs Gollmer was present. Her first entrance into the house of God since her long & serious illness. May our God spare her long to partake of many more such hallowed seasons. It was likewise the first time I had partaken of it in Africa. Soon we shall drink the New Wine of the Kingdom when faith shall be turned into sight. Took the afternoon service.
14th I have again been suffering with fever & dysenteric symptoms – the whole week. Kept about, prescribed for many sick several of them from Abbeokuta, these people seem to come with confidence and I doubt not if I was these I should have plenty to do in healing the body.
15th. Lord’s Day. Tho’ far from well I went into the Town, was well received in two or three places – the people listening attentively but in two I met a different reception – in one I was told to go away for they had had too much Palm Wine and could not hear me. I attempted to say a little but they became abusive and told me to go. I passed on to another shed which proved worse than this, the men were not drunk but held fast bound in the chains of the devil. They would not hear what I had to say. As I continued to speak, one took a stick and shook it at me. I smiled at the poor deluded creature and desired him to put it down which he did. Finding them becoming too abusive I shook the dust from off my feet and left with them some of the awful threatenings of God’s Word against those who spurn the truth & cast it from them. As I turned to leave them, they stood up & gave one loud & horrid yell –Shall these dead in sin become alive to righteousness? Called upon Akitoye – he seems to have plunged deeper into heathenism. In two of his rooms he has a white cloth suspended upon the wall covered with large patches of blood, the size of a man’s hand. Here he performs some of his heathen rites.
16-17. Suffering from fever.
18th. Engaged in sending locals [or loads] to Abbeokuta.
19th. Occupied in the same way – Saw the young man with the gun shot wound. The ball is still in the arm but he has the full & entire use of it – and is quite well. I am thankful I adopted the course I did.
22nd. Lord’s Day. Went into the Town, found plenty of people. Some willing & others unwilling to hear. Some told me they did not want us but the Portuguese as they were hungry and wanted cowries. Not one I asked could tell me where the soul went when the body dies. Visited some sick at the Factory and in the Wesleyan spard?
Accompanied Mr & Mrs Gollmer to Agido. We had a pleasant day. The old chief appeared glad to see us & gave us a hearty welcome. I was much pre[?] with his open and intelligent countenance. I hope soon to go and stop there for a few days when I trust I shall know more of him.
24th Engaged in arranging loads and cowries for Abbeokuta
25th Occupied in various ways about the house and premises. The quarter has come to a close , and I find I have done even less than the last. Oh that I had both health & strength! This quarter has closed in gloom as to our work, tho’ not as to ourselves for we are all better than when it dawned upon us. Mrs Gollmer is very much better & is gaining strength every day. But there is as little disposition to hear the glad tidings of Salvation on the part of the people as at the first instead we seem to be on the verge of some great crisis – we can already perceive the heavings & throes – but as yet only mine[?] & filth [?] are cast up. At times I am led to think our remaining amongst this people is but casting pearls before swine for this people have again & again spurned the offer of Salvation and cast the truth from them. We should shake the dust off our feet against them & pass on to some other place. & yet I do not say abandon this station. No, all I would say for the present is “be still & know that I am God”.
26th. Occupied indoors all day – sent a few lrads? to Abbeotuka.
27th. Visited various sick persons.
28th. Lord’s Day. Went into the Town. Spoke to parties of people in different parts of the Town. Visited a Chief called Balla who has been suffering from sciatica. On my way home I was again grieved at seeing an old woman dragged by the feet with ropes by a party of Witchfinders, followed by a multitude of men & women, then came their friends, the whole singing, yelling & shouting at each open space they came to, where there were stalls or sheds they stopt & danced around the body, then suddenly seizing the rope, they commenced running, dragging the body after them thro’ various parts of the town. A large number of them had a three pronged fork of wood as these & the whole body passed before me I could only compare them to the devil & his agents let loose amongst man. I felt not only grief but anger [words not able to be read] my feelings which is not only right but essential in a country like this. ). Oh when will these horrid practices cease? In the afternoon took my adult class. Attended evening service. Felt far from well.
29th. Took off a large pendulous Sarcomatous tumour from Mrs Mange’s right ear – the growth of several years. Attended several sick. Occupied in sending locals? to Abbeokuta.
Dear brethren, pray for us.
Ever yours & sincerely
E.C. van Cooten