By Joe Burnley (Originally published on the Hard Times Blog)
The city of Victoria was the solution to the vexing problem of Spanish harassment at Fernando Po. The Baptist missionaries who resided in this small island using it as a hub for their work there, and in the Cameroons, had finally lost patience with the Spanish authorities. The British had used Clarence as a base for their naval squadron from where their man o' wars patrolled the gulf of Guinea to disrupt the trade in human slavery, which had been abolished in England, but was still the main trade in that area at that time. They tried to encourage the more legitimate trade in palm oil. This occupation led to the creation of a Creole society at Fernando Po.
The Rev. John Clarke and Dr. George K. Prince, stopped at Clarence on Fernando Po, en route to the Nigerian interior. Their reception by the head of the naval squadron was extremely warm. Freed slaves and other black immigrants pleaded for the establishment of a Christian presence on the Island. The two men advised their superiors in England on their findings, and in 1842, Thomas Sturgeon (1810-1846) arrived on Fernando Po from England. This was followed by the Jamaican Joseph Merrick (1818-1849), Alexander Fuller(D. 1847), and his son Joseph Jackson Fuller (1825-1908) in 1843. Alfred Saker (1814 - 1880) arrived the following year with his wife.
A lot of other Jamaicans , freed slaves from Sierra Leone had made the island their home. Joseph Merrick and his group had ventured to the mainland of the Cameroons, first stopping at Bimbia and then on to Duala. Alfred Saker also went to Duala were he setup his headquarters for operations in the Cameroons. Merrick had established a settlement at Bimbia by 1845, and was translating the Bible into the local Isubu dialect.
In early February 1843, Spain had asserted its long-standing claims to the island. The captain of a Spanish fleet planted the Spanish flag at Clarence, renamed the city Santa Isabel, and proclaimed his intent to establish the Roman Catholic Church as the official religion of the island. On the 23rd of May 1858 a Spanish steamer was visible from Clarence. Don Carlos Chacon the Governor-General of all the islands belonging to Spain in West Africa was on board.
On January 5, 1846 virtually the entire community at Santa Isabel, including newly arrived recruits such as Joseph Jackson Fuller, petitioned Queen Victoria stating that they believed they were under British protection when they immigrated to West Africa.The appeal by Christians for Britain to intervene on their behalf resulted in sporadic correspondence over the next few years. Even with some successes, these had been attained at great cost. The ranks of missionaries had been decimated by disease. Even the Jamaicans who were black had also succumbed in great numbers. Don Carlos Chacon immediately sent for Saker and informed him that the Protestant form of worship must cease. All this made the move to the mainland was inevitable.
Saker embarked on the task of finding a suitable place, with an agreeable climate, free of disease. He did not want to settle at Bimbia for fear of diseases, but found Ambas bay quite tolerable. Its natural beauty captivated him. He then went to Chief Bile (King William), and negotiated to buy the land at Ambas Bay. The shrewd chief was an old hand in these things and extracted a tidy sum from the Baptists.This was 1858. He then returned to Fernando Po and prepared the congregation for the move to Ambas bay. He would later rename the settlement Victoria after the reigning Queen at the time.
On the 12th of August the first party of settlers landed from Fernando Po. One of the members of this party was Stephen Burnley, father of the Late Rev. Joseph Ebakise Burnley first African pastor of The Native Baptist Church in Victoria till 1936. Saker now concentrated on building homes for the new emigrants.
The children of some of the converts at Bimbia, Bota and others from neighbouring Bakweri villages and the islands were brought to Victoria for training. Saker then drew up a constitution with laws for the proper governing of Victoria. A town council and court for the administration of justice were established. Rev. Diboll of Santa Isabel came to supervise and advice the new leaders. He presided at court and kept records of the proceedings.
In 1866 Horton Johnson was appointed president of Victoria. It was a very high honour for a coloured man at the time, but unfortunately he died in 1867. The next agenda was the building of schools, and the first Bakweri to enroll in one of these schools was Peter Mokoko-Mokeba. He was followed by David Nanjia Carr and Samuel Eyum Sama. At this time Mr. Pinnock was the senior teacher assisted by junior teachers like Joseph Wilson jr., Isaac Johnson (son of Horton Johnson), Charles Steane (father of the late CharlesNako Steane who founded the present Victoria Baptist School in 1932).
In 1869 another school was opened in Bota as a result of the influence of George Luma Martin, the first convert from Bota land to settle in Victoria. In 1873 another school was opened at mapanja under Stephen Burnley.