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In transcribing the following portion of Baker’s article I have relied on the Hathi Trust’s online version and its invaluable, if a bit rough, OCR text. I have indicated page breaks, added both subtitles and additional paragraphing for easier reading on screen, and linked this text both to another part of his essay and other documents on this site, including articles from other Victorian journals, maps, and illustrations from contemporary periodicals. Please notify the webmaster if you encounter typographical errors. — George P. Landow

“From whatever point of view we regard slavery, it is an unmitigated evil. . . . I have endeavoured to exhibit the evil of slavery, while describing the difficulties attending a too sudden emancipation.” — Samuel W. Baker


The following passage appears near the end of Baker’s essay on the ancient history of slavery, its relation to certain religions and societies, and his recommendations for ways to end it in Egypt. His fierce hatred of slavery as an abomination makes a sharp contrast with his anthropological or sociological understanding of the role slavery plays in various societies just as his apparent advocacy of “women’s rights” (his term) collides with his shocking racism where the inhabitants of subsaharan Africa are concerned. Even that racism seems odd when he sympathetically discusses both the differences between tribes or ethic groups and describes successful attempts to introduce crops and thereby improve their health and safety. Given his emphasis upon explaining the effects of slavery to the nature of specific societies, one finds odd his complete inability to relate the work habits of subsaharan Africans to their climate and his consequent racist statements about Negro laziness. Such dismissive racism seems particularly unexpected when he explains how simply providing peace, seeds, and basic equipment allowed African groups to create flourishing agriculture. Still, he is a man who clearly believes slavery an abomination and who has managed to clear an entire portion of Africa of slave traders. — George P. Landow

Decorated initial M

There is no portion of the globe more blessed by nature than a great part of Africa, especially the equatorial regions that I have lately annexed to Egypt. It is impossible to conceive a more beautiful country, combining unbounded capabilities. We frequently meet with magnificent scenery in Europe, such as we enjoy to view in Scotland or in other mountainous countries: but unfortunately such bold landscapes generally denote a sterile soil. In Central Africa we have every beauty of mountainous scenery, combined with the most fertile soil and healthy climate. There is an unlimited area with an average altitude above the sea of 4,000 feet, which embraces all that man could desire. In the hands of Europeans this would become a mine of wealth. Never was a country so specially designed by nature for the production of coffee. In the country of Usui the coffee-shrub is indigenous. The sugar-cane is met with; but the natives only chew raw coffee and suck the juice of the cane, being as ignorant as their own rats of their pro per uses. This ignorance extends to the want of appreciation of their country. They know nothing of its capabilities, neither do they care.

At the same time there is a large population divided into numerous tribes, who are constantly at war with each other. Taking advantage of the anarchy of Central Africa, the slave-hunters had an unbounded field for their operations. Thus a country which should be a paradise, was converted into an infernal region. Thousands of slave-hunters from the Soudan, organized as a military force, burnt, pillaged, massacred, and violated at discretion. Horrors hitherto unknown in savage countries were introduced. A country that I had seen in former years teeming with villages, and rich in native wealth, was rendered desolate. The young girls and boys were carried off into hopeless slavery. The old were massacred. The natives on all sides detested the sight of a stranger. Even a traveller was considered as the harbinger of some calamity.

This desolation was the result of the slave trade, and every abomination was committed in the name of “God and the Prophet."

My task was to bring this chaos into order. The first step necessary was to establish a government to give protection to the oppressed. This necessitated the annexation of the country [to Egypt]. The next step was to abolish the slave trade, and to drive the slave-hunters from the country. It was necessary to establish a line of military stations from Ismalia to Unyoro, a distance of 330 miles. Protection would insure confidence among the natives. This once established, would be followed by general improvement. European seeds of vegetables, &c., were distributed among the tribes. These throve luxuriantly. Agriculture was generally encouraged. Natives were forbidden to make war with other tribes without the sanction of the Government. Thus peace was established throughout a large extent of country. Legitimate trade was organized, instead of the pillage to which the natives had been accustomed. The slave-hunters were driven from the country at the point of the bayonet. A slight tax on corn was cheerfully paid for the support of the troops. The Government was established. For the first time in history, the Ottoman flag represented English ideas of liberty and justice, and was regarded by the natives as the symbol of protection.

The Steam Engine as “Missionary”

In that distant portion of the Nile, in N. lat 4° 54’, I left an excellent Missionary for the improvement of African savages. This is a power that will in a few years create an effect that could hardly be achieved by any other agent, a purely English Missionary—Steam!—which even during our own lifetime has been the great civilizing instrument of the world. As England first launched a steamer to cross the Atlantic, so have Englishmen built the first steamer at the last navigable limit of the Nile. This fine vessel of 108 tons, constructed of steel, by Messrs. Samuda Brothers, was carried in sections with incredible labour across the Nubian deserts for upwards of 400 miles on the backs of camels. She now, at a distance of nearly 3,000 miles from the mouth of the Nile, represents the industry of the shipwrights who constructed her, and the enterprize of the Khedive of Egypt, whose name she hears. Another steamer is lying in sections at Gondokoro, ready for transport to the Albert N 'yanza. When a steamer shall appear upon that vast lake, Africa will awaken from her sleep. The difficulties that have hitherto kept her in savagedom are those of transport. Those difficulties will vanish. The Khedive is about to connect Khar toum with Cairo by railway. The White Nile will bring the produce of Central Africa to the terminus, and the great lake will form the nucleus for a trade, the dimensions of which will depend upon the integrity and honour of the Egyptian Government. By these means will Africa draw nearer to civilization. In the late expedition that I had the honour to command, I feel that I have been the humble tiller of the ground; the seeds I have sown will, I trust, be nursed by others until they shall bear fruit. This fruit I may not live to enjoy: but as England’s colonial prosperity is the grand result of those first explorers who laid the sound foun dations, I trust that in the work I have accomplished, the cause for which Eng land has always striven will be advanced ; and that when my name shall long have been forgotten, the prosperity of Central Africa, and the liberty of her people, may date from the Khedive of Egypt's expedition—which first crushed the abomination of the slave trade of the White Nile.

Related Material about, Egypt, the Sudan, and the British Empire


Baker, Samuel W. “Slavery and the Slave Trade.” Macmillan’s Magazine. 30 (July 1874): 185-95. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the Cornell University Library. Web. 3 September 2020

Last modified 3 September 2020