Why This Building Remains One Of The Most Popular Monuments In Nigeria

1861 --- An illustration of a slave auction published in the , February 16, 1861. --- Image by © CORBIS
It all started around 2am when I heard my tummy rumble in an unfriendly manner. It was in the early hours of my second day which I had planned on visiting one of the most popular monuments in Nigeria. I needed no cleric to tell me it was a running stomach.
I wondered for a while why stomach and nostrils have to run when in trouble but I couldn’t find any answer before rushing out to the backyard to allow them out before I messed up the mat on which I slept alongside peter (the first son of my host) and Segun (peter’s cousin who came to stay with them for some time).
On getting to the backyard, I remembered the joke we had after supper the previous night, that 80% of the houses in the village don’t have a proper toilet. So everyone was advised to eat with caution. Taking it for a joke, I recklessly devoured the bowl of semovita with fresh fish placed in front of me.
most popular monuments in nigeria
Thats the white devil- i finished everythin
The truth actually dawned on me as sweats crawled down my bony chest while the chirping of the crickets combined perfectly with my heartbeats to make a melodious beat- Sweet enough to make a hit track for any dead artist.
I jolted out of my reverie when I noticed something was about slipping out through my anus. I looked around, saw a black nylon bag which I had been given the day before to conceal the bread bought at Aradagun on my way to Ajido. That was all I needed!
*                                          *                                   *
I woke up few minutes past 11am after I had earlier woken around 5am to wash the plates and other utensils we used the night before. I swept the compound too.
Peter informed me about the little fault the car just developed. So I was happy I’d have more time to relax for him to rush down to Badagry market to buy a new fan belt for the car.
NB: The car belonged to peter’s dad. As an influential personality in the village, he was capable of owning an automobile.
I was really very tired.
We refueled the car at a nearby station after we got it fixed before jetting out around 2pm.

Arrival at The first storey building in Nigeria.
Save for the faint inaudible noise emanating from the horns of automobiles on the main road. The compound could pass for a grave  yard.

We had been directed to meet Sunday, a young lad whom I saw intelligence legibly written on his face the moment I shook his hands. He was going to be our guide for the day. He had just finished with a group of secondary school students who have come for an excursion. And with the look of accomplishment on the students’ faces, I could tell Sunday would do a good job.
₦200 was all we needed to pay per head to have full access to this monument.
Without wasting much time, Sunday motioned us to follow him into the magnificent edifice and we obeyed with keen interest. On getting inside, he officially welcomed us one of the most popular monuments in Nigeria. Then he started.

When and why did the missionaries come to Nigeria?

“Around the early 1800s when slave trade was officially abolished, it was still ongoing illegally in some countries. So what the British were doing to instill discipline on illegal dealers was patrol the high sea to intercept slave vessels conveying slaves from Africa to other parts of the world.

Hence, any slave being rescued during this mission (no matter the nationality) will be taken to the present day Sierra Leone, where they were being trained by missionaries. This is why this place is called Freetown. It belongs to nobody in particular.

The slaves that have been trained got their education from Freetown before returning back to their respective countries.
The ones from Nigeria, on getting back home, invited the missionaries down here to replicate the same missionary training. So these missionaries got here around 1842 while others came 1845.

The missionaries and their missions
The first missionary who came to Nigeria to preach the gospel was

Thomas Birch Freeman

Reverend Thomas Birch Freeman.
Freeman was a missionary of the Methodist church who was deployed from Cape Coast (today’s Ghana).

How Freeman started Christianity in Nigeria.
When Freeman got to Badagry on the 21st of September 1842, he immediately started preaching the gospel on that very day. Hence, that day was regarded in history as the day Christianity started in Nigeria.
The second missionary who came to Nigeria was Rev. Henry Townsend from the CMS. By the time Henry got to Badagry on the 17th of December 1842, Freeman had already gone to Abeokuta. Therefore Townsend continued preaching in Badagry till the 21st of Dec. 1842 when he met with freeman in Badagry. They agreed to do a joint service as they celebrated the first Christmas in Nigeria on the 25th of December 1842.

Rev. Henry Townsend's picture in one of the most popular monuments in Nigeria
Rev. Henry Townsend

How the first storey building in Nigeria was constructed.
In 1843 Townsend also left for Abeokuta where he later returned to England to give a report of how things were in Nigeria. So he was sent back to Nigeria in 1845 with a mission party. This mission party included Charles Andrew Gollmer, Samuel Ajayi Crowther amongst others Alongside 4 carpenters and Labourers.

Gollmer had already designed the structure of the building before leaving England, so, on getting to Badagry, they erected the building in 1845 with the carpenters and Labourers playing a pivotal role.
That compound served as the mission house where different missionaries were based till 1978 when they all left.
There were about 10 major buildings (including a church and a boarding school) erected within this compound but all have collapsed except the mission house since it was the only one made with burnt bricks while others were just made with planks.
Though the major aim of the missionaries was to introduce Christianity, they included western education and even mechanized agriculture into their schedule.”

The materials used in constructing the building
Sunday concluded his storytelling in this room by showing us the materials used in constructing this monument.

materials used in the first storey buildin in nigeria.
The corrugated roofing sheets being examined and compared
first storey buildin in nigeria.
A cracked floor exposing some burnt bricks used in constructing the building
materials used in the first storey buildin in nigeria.
Today’s nails(left) VS the nails used for the building(right)

We tried comparing them all to the building materials we have today and I couldn’t help as I shook my head in disappointment. The diff was very clear! These items were heavier and looked more reliable than what we have today in the country. I for once thought the standard organization of Nigeria (SON) should be scrapped.

Description of the interior of the building
Within the building were six bedrooms, 2 palours and 4 stores while the toilet and bathroom were located outside (perhaps Gollmer forgot to involve a plumber in his plan… Lol)

one of the 6 rooms in the first storey building in Nigeria
one of the 6 rooms

Sunday Said Those Labourers and Carpenters occupied 2 of the rooms till they left for England- leaving the missionaries behind while the missionaries occupied the rest.
We moved to the next room.

The historic Agia tree
Here, we were told about the historic Agia tree- An umbrella tree which served as a general meeting point (village) for the people of Badagry due to its huge nature and wide branches. This tree, according to Sunday stood 150feet high and about 30 feet in circumference.

The historic Agia Tree
The historic Agia Tree

“Freeman on getting to Badagry discovered that beneath the tree was the best spot for his mission, so he preached Christianity there for the first time. They continued under the tree until they were given the parcel of land where the church building was erected in 1845. This land was given to them by the Mobee family.

Read about my disappointing experience at the Mobee family museum.

This tree started showing signs of old age around 1930 when the branches started falling off. On 20th June 1959 it was blown down by a fierce storm at 11:45pm. It stood for about 350 years before its demise.” What a strong hero! I managed to say.
Sunday continued: “A monument called the Agia tree monument was later built to replace it in 1958, right beside the Badagry town hall- since the tree usually served as the town hall in its days.

The Agia tree monument
The Agia tree monument

Today, it’s now been converted to a tourist centre where people from all over the world come to see (especially during Christmas)”.
I jokingly asked which church now lays claim to the monument and Sunday laughed as he replied that the place belongs to the community and not any church.

The first primary school in Nigeria
“While freeman and co were in Badagry”, he continued, “a couple named Mr and Mrs De Graft were in charge of the Sunday school which was later renamed St. Thomas primary school. It was established in 1845.
Mr Claudius Phillips (the first teacher in Nigeria) occupied one of the 6 rooms.

Mr Claudius Phillips
Mr Claudius Phillips. The school master. He was the head of the first school in Nigeria. He was here for 33 years
rooms inside the first storey building in Nigeria.
Negro inside Claudius Phillips’ room. At the top right is the picture of the first primary school in Nigeria and on the left is that of Phillips.


It started with the enrolment of 40 men whose average age was 45 years and each spent 12 years for their primary education due to the difficulty they faced before learning the English language.
After their graduation 12 years later, they were employed by the missionaries as interpreters and teachers. They were actually paid for their services. This payment was what endeared other people to enroll into the school- shooting up the literacy rate.
“Funny enough, St. Thomas school is still standing on that very spot till date”., added Sunday. “It’s now 171 years in session”.

The first School in Nigeria
The first School in Nigeria

As we ascended the staircase which was reconstructed in 1990, I was awed as I felt maximum comfort while ascending the strong wooden stairs.

below is what Andrew Gollmer and henry Townsend said about the building:

Gollmer's speech concerning the first storey building in nigeria
Gollmer’s speech
Townsend's speech

A slave called Ajayi
“His biological name was Ajayi”. Sunday started. He, born in 1809 inside Oyo state in a small village called Osogun. Ajayi crowther was captured at the tender age of 12 when the Fulanis invaded the small village during a war and captured everyone therein in 1821.
The Portuguese finally bought him in 1822 after several selling and reselling within Nigeria.
NB: slave trade at this time has been banned. Therefore it’s now an illegal act.

While on transit to Portugal, the British navy (as earlier explained) intercepted their ship on the high sea to rescue the slaves and also punishing the traders. Though, some of the slaves died during this rescue mission, but the survivors were taken to Freetown as usual for restoration.

Ajayi Crowther
Ajayi Crowther (credit: pulse.ng)

How Ajayi became Samuel Crowther
Reverend John Raban was the one who baptized and converted Ajayi on the 11th day of Dec. 1845 when he was also given the baptismal name: Samuel Crowther.
Crowther was the name of one of the missionaries who trained him.
Ajayi after his baptism was sent to Britain for his primary education at St. Mary parish school, after which he was later sent back to Freetown in 1847 to study language and theology at the Furabay College.
Samuel Ajayi Crowther got married in 1849 to Suzan Thompson whose real name before baptism was Asano. She was a Muslim and they were both part of the survivors during that rescue mission. They both had 3 children.

How Herbert Macurley came into the picture.
One interesting however was that when they were captured, Ajayi, Asano and another guy called Ojo were somewhat close since they were about the same age bracket. Over there in freetown, Ajayi’s baptismal name became Samuel Crowther while Ojo’s turned Macurley. Ojo had 9 children and the eldest was Barbinton Macurley. He was the founder of CMS grammar school- the first secondary school in Nigeria.
Barbinton later married one of Ajayi’s daughters called Abigail. Both of them then gave birth to Herbert Macurley- a man considered to be the founder of Nigerian nationalism.

Herbert Macurley
Herbert Macurley

How the English Bible was translated into Yoruba
While with the missionaries, Ajayi had though them to speak the Yoruba language. This was what helped the successful translation of the English bible to Yoruba.
Gollmer worked on the vocabulary while Ajayi was busy with the interpretation because as at this time, Gollmer had started preaching in Yoruba without any interpreter, so it was in this room that Ajayi completed the translation, after which it was sent to Britain for translation.

- The English bible and Yoruba bible: 174 and 171 years respectively
– The English Bible and Yoruba Bible: 174 and 171 years respectively

The big blow which hit Badagry
In 1847, Ajayi left with Henry Townsend to Abeokuta while Gollmer remained in Badagry. When Gollmer left Badagry for Lagos due to some issues, the Badagry mission station then became a house station, while the new settlement in Lagos Became the new mission station. This is why the one in Badagry is the 89th diocese when it actually ought to be the first in Nigeria.

Rev. C. A. Gollmer
Rev. C. A. Gollmer

Ajayi Crowther’s death
Becoming a bishop in 1854, Samuel Ajayi Crowther died at the age of 82 in 1891 on 31st December.
Though he still suffered a lot before his death mostly due to some racial controversies about why a black should become a bishop. So he was deprived of many entitlements before finally dying of stroke”.

Lastly, we were shown the first modern safe in Nigeria.

First modern safe in Nigeria. (1856)
First modern safe in Nigeria. (1856)
First modern safe in Nigeria. (1856)
First modern safe in Nigeria. (1856)
Currencies in the first modern safe in Nigeria. (1856)
Currencies in the first modern safe in Nigeria. (1856)

Sunday concluded his narration on a very emotional note. one would think he is directly related to Ajayi Crowther.
We ended it all at the well dug in 1842, Located beneath an almond tree within the compound. “This well till date has all the qualities of good water. It also served the people of the community”. Sunday bragged.While we were at it, some students rushed in, raced towards the well and started drawing from it to drink.

First well in Nigeria
First well in Nigeria
Funny girls drinking from the First well in Nigeria
Funny girls drinking from the First well in Nigeria

I took few more shots with my camera phone, thanked Sunday very well for his time and patience before heading back to the car alongside Peter.
We really were anxious to explore the Badagry heritage museum. And just like the red beast knew our intention, it started immediately peter twisted the ignition key.