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LAGOS, NIGERIA: Historical Notices of Lagos, West Africa.



Extremely rare – no other examples recorded – the first edition of Reverend Buckley Wood’s history of Lagos, one of the seminal sources on the city’s precolonial period, printed in Exeter in 1878.

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8°: 59 pp., bound in original patterned blue cloth with blind-stamped title (Very Good, internally clean and bright, just a few points of light discolouration, bearing old stamps of the ‘Section Basel des S.A.C. Bibliothek’ [Library of the Swiss Mountaineering Society – Basel Branch]’ to front endpaper and at top of title; some light wear and stains to covers).


This is the extremely rare first (and only original) edition of one of the seminal early histories of Lagos, today one of Africa’s largest metropolises.  We cannot trace the current whereabouts of another example in institutions, nor can we locate any sales records going back 30 years.  The work was written by Reverend J. Buckley Wood, an Anglican minister who lived in Lagos for 40 years where he was a principal of the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) mission, Lagos’ largest Christian institution.  The present work was published in Exeter, England, by a provincial printer, James Townshend.

Wood’s work was viewed right from the time of its publication as one of the most authoritative sources on the history of Lagos from the time before the city became a British protectorate in 1861.  The writing is enriched by the fact that he had access to oral historical accounts that are now otherwise lost to history.  Wood mentions in the introduction that he was asked to author the present work by John d’Arcy Dumaresq (d. 1878), the British Administrator of Lagos.

Wood recounts the purpose of the book:

“In order to the better understanding of the later history of Lagos, it is needful to give careful attention to such items of information as can be obtained, relative to what happened in its neighbourhood previous to its existence as a town.  In the absence of written records recourse must be had to tradition; but even tradtionary history will not carry us back to a period more distant than about the year 1730, or, at the farthest, to the year 1700, that is, to a period of from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty years ago.” (p. iv).

Dr. Nara Muniz Improta França’s stellar thesis on early Lagosian print culture notes that “Wood’s Historical Notices was frequently advertised in Lagosian newspapers” in the period after its publication, and it has remained a key resource for historians, quoted right up to the present day.  In 1933 a reprint was used by the Christian Missionary Society in Lagos, and in the absence of original copies, modern scholars have relied on the reprint.   


The Early History of Lagos

As recounted by Wood, Lagos (then known a ‘Eko’) first developed as a Yoruba settlement on Iddo Island during the 15th Century.  The village soon became a major centre in ‘Yorubaland’ the vast territory of the Yoruba people, a culturally advanced civilization, internationally known for their creation of magnificent bronze statues during the mediaeval period.  Lagos was first encountered by Europeans, when the Portuguese explorer Rui de Segueira visited the town in 1472.  The name Lagos derives from either the Portuguese word for ‘lakes’ or the city of Lagos in the Algarve.

The Lagos region subsequently was fought over between the Yoruba and Benin people, and it developed into a major centre of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, it was the suppression of the slave trade during the first half of the 19th Century that brought a permanent European presence to the region.  Christian missionaries (including the CMS mission) arrived in the area in the 1840s, where they generally enjoyed a positive reception.  Britain’s Royal Navy maintained a heavy presence in the area, and in 1849 Whitehall appointed John Beecroft the be the Consul of Benin and Biafra, with oversight of the Lagos region.

In 1851, Britain briefly conquered Lagos to install its preferred local ruler.  The next decade is known as the ‘Consular Period’ in Lagos, which saw the expansion of missionary activities and British institutions.  Britain annexed Lagos on August 6, 1861, in what was known as the Lagos Treaty of Cession.

In the coming decades. Lagos grew to become a major city, a status bolstered when Britain took control over the entirety of modern Nigeria in 1887.  The Protectorate of Nigeria was established in 1914, with Lagos as the capital.  Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, and while Lagos lost its status as the national capital to Abuja in 1991, it remains the country’s main centre and the second largest city in Africa (with a metropolitan area of over 16 million).


Reverend Buckley Wood: Missionary and Scholar in Lagos

Reverend J. Buckley Wood (d. 1897), a native of Yorkshire, served as an Anglican missionary at the CMS Mission in Lagos for about 40 years, from the 1850s until his death.  He was an important scholar of the Yoruba language and the history of the Lagos region.  He was also a pillar of the community and appears frequently in contemporary newspapers and accounts of the region.

While dedicated to spreading Christianity to the local people, Wood was a great admirer of the Yoruba culture and language.  In writing his works, Wood had the advantage of access to oral histories from Yoruba chiefs, as well as now-lost obscure written sources. 

Wood published the present book while on leave in Exeter, England.  It was followed by his Notes on the Construction of the Yoruba Language (Exeter: James Townsend, 1879).  He also published several articles, including On the Inhabitants of Lagos: Their Character, Pursuits, and Language,’ in the Church Missionary Intelligencer (1881), pp. 683–91.  Curiously, Wood’s Yoruban disciple, M. T. E. Ajayi, published his own work in Exeter, A Practical Yoruba Grammar (Exeter: James Townsend, 1896).


References: We can trace No Examples in Institutions.  See Nara Muniz Improta França, ‘Producing Intellectuals: Lagosian Books and Pamphlets between 1874 and 1922’, Ph.D. Diss., University of Sussex (2013), p. 48.

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