Transcript of Eugene Van Cooten’s journal to 6 March 1851, found after his death
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 Aug 1/51
The Journal of the late Mr E.Van Cooten as found in his book.
Jany 1st Tho’ feeling weak & languid, I was anxious to begin the year by calling upon Acchau the King & the Chiefs. When I arrived at Acchau’s house I found it full of people, a meeting of the chiefs having been convened to receive a message from the Chiefs of Abbeokuta, 15 of whose messengers were present. Finding this to be the case, I saluted the King & Chiefs, took cold water with them & then left. Called upon the Chief of Akpiwa staying at present in Badagry. Then visited several families from house to house. Had an interesting conversation with a man & worshippers of Osun? They pay much respect to this idol, giving him the best place in the house. The man said, if I would feed & clothe him, he would give up his idols & serve my God. I told him to send me his god & I would believe him.
Jan 2nd. This morning about 7 o’clock a.m. the long Jackal made her appearance in company with H.M.S. Gladiator & Niger. Mr Gollmer & myself went to the beach to receive the Consul & remained from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. before he landed. He received a hearty greeting from the Sierra Leone people, Mr Hutton’s party and ourselves.
Jan 3rd. Unwell. Spent most of the day with the Consul.
Jan 4th. Present at a long interview between the Consul and Akitoye
Jan 5th Occupied as usual. Sent for to the Factory, to see a young man they said was dying.
Jan 6th. Occupied in making preparations for going to Abbeokuta. Attended a meeting of the Chiefs to hear the object of the Consul’s visit.
7th Jan. This morning at ½ past 7 I left Badagry with the Consul for Abbeokuta. Mr Gollmer accompanied us as far as Mo. At 10 a.m. we left Mo & pitched our tent at Majube, a distance of 30 miles from Badagry, at the rate of 4 miles an hour by the Consul’s watch. He kept in front at a rapid pace on Mr Crowther’s horse, & stayed for no one.
Jan 8th. This morning at 6 a.m. we struck our tent. I feared yesterday’s journey lamed my horse, I therefore footed it. At ½ past 5 we pitched our tent at Papa, a distance of 28 miles at the same rate as yesterday.
Jan 9th. This morning at ½ past 5 we struck our tent & arrived at Awayade at ½ past 2, a distance of 22 miles. Most of the people as well as myself were quite done up unaccustomed to walk so rapidly.
Jan 10th. This morning at 10 a.m. the brethren arrived & bid us welcome. We then proceeded to Abboekuta a distance of 10 miles. I should say the distance from Badagry to Abbeokuta is at least 100 miles as the path now stands, tho’ in a direct line, it may not be more than 60.
11-22 The time from 11-22 occupied in visiting the Chiefs, attending meetings etc. etc. all of which I doubt not Mr Townsend will fully enter in. I feel I shall have plenty to do in the way of medicine, enough I should say to form an hospital, if I may judge from the number that came to me. Extracted two balls, one from the left side, the other from the left thigh of 2 men.
Jan 22nd. This morning at ½ past 6, the Consul & myself left Abbeokuta. All the dear brethren & sisters were present to bid us “God speed”. The Brethren accompanied us to Awoyade.
Jan 24th. Reached Badagry this evening at ½ past 4, after a pleasant journey. I can say nothing of Abbeokuta till my next visit – more than that, I am much, much pleased with it & long to labour amongst the people. The rear might be much improved. £50 would be well spent upon it, & I would undertake to turn out with the men to improve it.
Jan 25th – 28th. Engaged with the Consul & attending meetings etc. Mr Gollmer, I trust, will mention all particulars. The Consul left us this afternoon accompanied by Akitoye.
29th Jany. Occupied most of the time in attending the palavers of the people.
Jany 30th. In the afternoon went to the beach intending to go off to the “Lady Sale” at the request of the Captain, as his Chief Mate is dangerously ill, but the canoe men would not take me off.
31st Jany. Notwithstanding the feeling in town that war would commence today; not viewing things quite in the same light, I went off early this morning to the “Lady Sale” to see the Chief Mate, & 3 sailors of them, I found are seriously ill. At 2 p.m., returned all quiet. Felt very unwell the remainder of the day, the sun being very offensive & a strong Hamarttan wind blowing all the morning.
Feb 1st Several message sticks were brought to me this morning the Chiefs sending were
that the palaver was settled & thanking the white people for helping them to make peace. At 10 a.m. on my way to the town, I was told the Isas were coming, that they were close to the town – in less than half an hour, they were in front of the Mission house; some 120 canoes with about 350 men, well armed with muskets & spears. After staying on the opposite side of the river till 3 p.m., during which time they refreshed themselves by eating & received the message canoes from several of the Chiefs, they quickly moved on their way. Mr Hutton’s agent, Yesterday, requested me to ask the Captain of the “Lady Sale”, should he see a ship in sight, to hoist the signal left us by the Commodore. This morning, seeing a green boat, he did so, & she at once came in. Mr Hutton’s agent sent off a requisition stating we were in danger. when Lt Graham & 13 of the Prometheus at once landed, but the Isas having gone, & the town quiet, it was thought best for them next to land across the Lagoon. Lt Graham called upon us & offered us any assistance in his power.
6th. The last 4 days I have been ill with fever & unable to do any thing. This morning, feeling a little better, I was requested to see a sick man at the Factory. These frequent attacks, tho’ slight, teach me what a frail & helpless being I am.
8th. Again unwell.
9th. Lord’s Day. Went into the town, called upon the Chiefs, Balla & Nossu, had some faithful conversation with them both. Visited some sick, the mad woman, mentioned in my last journal, is almost well. The old man with cancer of the throat & tongue, died on the 7th.
10th. This morning I was surprised at seeing Mr Dennis walk into the house. He arrived from Whydah & has taken up his abode with me & seems to take a deep interest in the work of the Mission.
11th. Engaged most of the time with Mr Dennis in going about & attending to the sick. Mr Gollmer, not being well, I took the evening service.
12th – 15th Engaged much in the same way. Went to the beach yesterday & today to see Mrs Batten who is ill.
16th. Lord’s Day. Went into the town with Mr Dennis – spoke in 4 Palm Wine sheds to goodly numbers of attentive hearers. I felt better received today than I have done for some time. Called upon several sick. In the afternoon Mr Dennis addressed the people, as Mr Gollmer is suffering from boils; but a small congregation.
17th. Occupied some part of the day in going amongst the sick etc.
18th. Engaged in arranging for Mr Dennis’ journey to Abbeokuta. I accompanied him as far as Mo. He is anxious to see our Mission etc. & purposes staying there a week.
19th. Attended to the sick at home & at their houses. Their faith is increasing in “white man’s medicine” & the mustard seed will soon become a great tree. The young man that had his leg broken goes about upon crutches for the present–to many he is as one alive from the dead.
20th. This morning –went to the beach house to see Mrs Batten who continues ill. In the afternoon visited various people calling at the house of the old man recently dead from cancer of the tongue & throat. I found the place taken possession of by a party of idolators with their god, Shakpana, the god of smallpox, consisting of three idols, 2 feet high, all females – placed in a straight line & dressed in various coloured clothes, beads etc. One of them had a (word missing) of cowries. At each end were many strings of cowries attached to upright sticks enclosing the idols. There must have been at least 10 Hs in-form lying upon the ground was a large club to (missing word) the fury of the god – that he is terrible in his doings as when smallpox rages & becomes a scourge to the people. After saluting them I was about to speak to them when they all became loud & abusive to Marsh, not to me, & would not suffer us to remain. One man affected to be under the influence of the god & was about to become insensible when the people insisted upon our leaving. Feeling I could do them no good while in this state I reluctantly left. Passing by one of the Palm Wine sheds I generally speak in, I designed to come in & say a few words to them, which I did.
21st. Went into the town with Mr Marsh & visited the market & spoke to a few people. Called upon Akitoye who is sick, had some talk with a party of Mohammedans. They are gaining ground here. I was surprised to see many young men join there. I was speaking to each one with his leave. I should have passed them in the street & have taken them for pagans as they were not dressed as Mohammedans. Many join their ranks without assuming the dress (except in gala days) till they have been well initiated in the religion of the false prophet.
22nd. Occupied most of the day in writing letters for England & attending to the diseases of the body.
23rd. Lord’s Day. Went out this morning deeply depressed on account of my own corruption & the power of indwelling sin. I felt as if I could not say a word, but the Lord opened my mouth & disposed the hearts of the people who seemed to hear me gladly. Addressed the people in 4 sheds & under 2 trees. In the first shed I was told the word I spoke was good, but they were so fast tied to their idolatry that they could not give it up though convinced it was wrong. A Yoruba man followed me out & said he “had been seeking peace but could not find it. He had been a Mohammedan but left because he did not believe in it”. He then became an idolater but this gave him no rest- he did not believe in his idols. Whilst serving them he was stolen & sold. When set free, he went to Ilorin where he found his mother. She insisted he should turn again to the religion of his fathers, but he would not. He was afterwards sold & was not long since redeemed. He asked how he should get peace, he was not a Mohammedan nor an Idolater- “Would God be angry if he followed what his heart told him to do” I read & explained to him from the 6-16 verse of the 11 chap. St Paul’s epistle to the Romans & then set before him the way by which he might obtain “a peace which passeth all understanding.” In the next shed I was told to be patient – they were convinced of the truth of the word we preached but were not able at once to cast away their idols – they know they could not help them & that it was sin to worship them. They had heard Abbeokuta had believed the word & they expected it would reach Ijie, Ibadon & further on & that soon they would receive it. In the third shed, a tumult was raised, one party saying I should stay & speak, the other, that they had their Ipas at home & could worship them there. As I have been always well received in this place & there were a good many upwards of a hundred people in it, I was loath to go and resorted to a stratagem – one of Patoy’s Scripture Plates. I held it up, their attention was arrested & all were silent. I then addressed them at some length. Of late I have treated them more as children & in each place I have (missing word) by asking them two or three questions, generally answering them myself. When leaving I give them two more to consider by the following Sunday.
There is nothing English in any congregation as you enter a Palm Wine shed, you see an assemblage of men, some lying at length on the sand, others sitting playing various games- one here & there matting a cap or sewing a cloth – but by far the greater number buying & drinking palm wine. (missing word) out by one man from a large country pot into calabashes – women with cooked provision also formed a part of the same – to all this is added a great noise. As I am generally known in these places, I require them to be silent, to cease playing their games,& sometimes I have got them to leave off drinking till I have finished speaking. These Palm Wine sheds seem peculiar to Badagry & the villages belonging to it. There are as many as (missing word) in Badagry.
In the afternoon Mr Gollmer, not being well, I took the afternoon service, but a thin attendance.
24th. A man called upon me this morning. He came from Abbeokuta on purpose to ask my advice, having spent 80 Hs upon country doctors without deriving any benefit. Went to the beach – saw Mrs Batten & other sick.
25th. Occupied with the sick. Received delightful intelligence from Christian friends – felt comfort in the earnest nature of the Committee’s letter.
26th. Most, indeed the whole day, was lost on the beach. Went in the morning to receive the cases from the Jersey Lass. After waiting there the whole day returned without a case.
27th. Not well. Operated upon a man for Hyd-
28th. Much the same as yesterday – in the afternoon visited a few sick.
1st March. Went to the beach, but did nothing.
2nd. Lord’s Day Went into the town. Spoke at some length in two Palm wine sheds, the people being unusually attentive – & in the market. In the first shed, one man said, after God had made black man & white man, He put before them two boxes & told them to choose. The black man tried the weight of each & found one much heavier than the other – this case he supposed to be the most valuable & chose it. When they opened them, the heavy one was found to contain hoes, tools etc, the light one – books, papers etc. Thus the black man became the father of those who cultivate farms & the white man of learning & the book-people. I soon took his fable to pieces & showed him from the Scripture that learning & agriculture had a different origin than the one he mentioned. Another told me “not to trouble coming to them, they were too old to learn. Their children might & that bye & bye, the word would grow “. This is a frequent objection. A Yoruba man rebuked the other for making it & said they should follow the example of the book people in Abbeokuta etc. In answer to a parable I gave them a description of the love & tenderness of a father to his son – & the ingratitude of the child in disobeying the parent in all things, instead of loving & thanking him, the child should love & serve some senseless image – what would the parent do to that child! One man replied – “tho’ the child deserved to be punished & be cast away forever from his father – yet the father could not do so for he would feel that the son was a part of himself & his heart would go after him”.
This answer brought to my mind the parable of the Prodigal son which furnished me with an answer. I very much felt the want of some suitable means to bring the gospel to bear upon the women. In all these sheds you meet only men, except here & there a woman selling – going from house to house, is the only way I at present see or occasionally in the markets; but they are then so absorbed in trade that you gain but an indifferent hearing – the former is the best tho’ attended with much (missing word). When going amongst them in this way, I often think of Mr Tucker’s memorable remark at the dismissal of several Brethren for India & China – Mr Cobbot etc., of what the people of India said of a certain missionary –“This is the man for us” – because he like Paul sought to “be all things to all men.”
I am more & more convinced that notwithstanding all that has been said & that which I have seen of the ingratitude & selfishness of this people, they are very susceptible of kindness, having kindly feelings & do possess that sterling virtue – gratitude, but it must be sought out. A man must identify himself with them, enter into their feelings, bear with their dullness & foolishness & by kindness & gentleness prove that he seeks to do them good & sure I am tho’ he has nothing to give them but the words of eternal life he will receive the gratitude of most. Attended the afternoon service, Mr Puddicouibe? Addressed the people – after which visited a few of the people.
3rd. Went to the beach in hope of obtaining the cases of goods from the Jersey Lass but was again unsuccessful in consequence of the canoe being engaged to carry water to the Lady Sale – had much to do the whole of the afternoon & early in the morning with the sick.
4th. This morning early accompanied by Mr Marsh & 4 men I started for the villages beyond Akpa – by a different route to the one I attempted in Novr last. At 10 a.m. I began to feel very unwell, having had strong fever last night but feeling better I thought I might venture. At 11, I became very ill with fever, vomiting & diarrhoea. I kept on for half an hour more, when I became so ill, I was obliged to be carried to a shady place where I rested for two hours; after which I proceeded on to Kumi, a small Popo town , containing a population of from 6 to 800 – distant from Badagry 10 miles. The people, tho’ Popo’s are differently marked to those of Badagry and appear different in many respects. They are more orderly, quiet & honest. I was much struck with the confidence they seem to repose in one another, shown in leaving their houses open when they go out. They have but small farms, as they devote most of their time in making salt & palm oil. They subsist chiefly upon corn, made into Agidi, sweet potatoes, fish palm oil & cassata. They appear healthy & free from those filthy diseases craw-craw & yaws. Their chief idol is Tesere-a sea god, who is said to go to war every year. A sacrifice is made to him every year on the beach. The headman, in whose house I am staying is the chief priest of this idol, has a large place built for it. It consists of a wooden figure about 2 feet high, seated upon a rude figure of a horse. Alligators are held in great veneration by them. The way to the town is by a creek 1 1/2 mile long & which takes its rise from a small fountain about a mile from the beach about half way-some 20 yards broad, which is said to abound with alligators. They believe no thief can enter their town. If one attempts to do so, the canoe is surrounded by alligators & it cannot move, till the man has confessed his guilt. I was told this was the case with a man a short time ago, who had stolen salt from the beach, disposed of it at Badagry & was returning to this place, when his canoe was surrounded by alligators etc.
The headman being out when I arrived, I took up my abode in his piazza & had a little rest which I greatly needed. The afternoon & evening I spent in speaking to the chief & people. I never met children more quiet & orderly than here. I feel amply recompensed for the pain I suffered in reaching here.
5th. Passed a very disturbed night in consequence of the beating of a large fetidoh? drum close to my head the whole night.
At 12, a heavy tornado roused all, as the rain came pouring. As soon as this ceased, ten women, said just to have entered the world, kept up a dreadful noise till morning. This morning while at prayers, the chief passed through us with a cocked hat on, a clean white cloth & various white marks upon the body – he was going to sacrifice to the idol. This he does once every 8th day. At this sacrifice, he offers two kolas & a little water burying the Kolas in the sand behind the idol. When the idol demands a cow or a goat, they give it to him. He invited me to enter as I passed by, which I did, &had some conversation with him. I then went over the place speaking to the people & going into several god shrines in each of which the people were orderly & attentive. I saw 6 of the finest cattle I had seen since my arrival in Africa, said to be captured by their god. At 12 started for the next village leaving s.s.w. an hour & a half walk brought us to the small village of (word missing). Here many of the people were out, some were worshipping their idols etc. Stating the object of my visit I asked them to assemble themselves together. This they soon did, close to their idol house. I then set before them the plan of salvation. After doing so at some length & going over the place, which occupied some two hours, we started for Ija, a small market town distant about 4 miles from (word missing) thro’ deep sand. Each side of the path as far as the eye could see on either side was covered with Pine Apples. As I entered this place I was again taken with fever, the people very suspicious hesitated for some time about letting us spend the night there. Seeing an empty shed, I asked if I might have it. They said,yes. I then had it swept & tried to get hot as I was now very cold.
6th. Passed a sad night with fever. is morning I addressed the people at some length. They chiefly make palm oil & cut wood which they sell in the Porto Novo market, this place being subject to the king of Porto Novo. There are large farms being cleared near all these villages, but there is very little cultivation trees 33ft. Leaving this, we came in ¾ of an hour to the neat & clean village of (missing word) Some glad to see you, others as if they wished you gone. Five miles further leaving almost due west with a point to the right we came to (word missing). Here I remained nearly 4 hours – after resting a little. Went into the town & spoke to the people. Tis a large place & contains I should say some 8 or 9(hundred/thousand?)souls. Most of the people in these villages make large quantities of palm oil which they dispose of to Domingo. Leaving this, we set off for Domingo’s village. ¾ hour brought us to a fine broad creek kept in good order & fine canoes passing to & fro in rapid succession loaded with palm oil or empty oil pots, or goods. It was pleasant to see how alive & business-like every one appear to be – each seemed to have something to do. The path for 4 or 5 miles was well thronged with natives returning or going, each with a load upon his head. At 5 p.m. I entered the village, feeling very unwell. I threw myself upon a mat & sent Mr Marsh to inform Domingo I have arrived, if I might see him but through some mistake. (lines missing)
The following was found on a scrap of paper in his Journal.
A priest of (word missing) told me today how the palms of the hand & the soles of the feet of black men were white. He said God made black man first, then white man. The black man, being very impudent, asked God to let him visit the other world. God told him to remain, but he wont go. So God gave him a fowl to eat & he went. He found a very long space covered with water, but very shallow, he therefore passed over to the dry land, the water not covering his feet & that when he wanted to drink, he put his hands in the water and lapped it as a dog would, and that is why to this day, all black men have the soles of their feet & the palms of their hands more or less white. The white man then came but not being so impudent as the black man, God gave him knowledge & the book. When he came to the water where the black man had crossed, he found it very deep – but on the land he saw the breast of the fowl the black man had eaten. This gave him the idea how to make a canoe – which he did, and crossed over. After that white man left the child canoe and made man canoe, then big ships with which he crossed over the water to other countries — but black man never got further than the Country in which he first entered.
The above is a fine copy of the Journal of the late E.Van Cooten.
signed Pat Gollmer