‘Victorian Morality in the Gold Coast’ by Guest Contributor Agyaakoo

Consequences, or the troubles of Mr Thomas Hughes[1]

My Hughes has put a woman in the family way. And things were about to get nasty. This world of ours is one of Consequences. In view of this, some wise persons have said that it’s best to always speak truth, because if you do, you can afford the luxury of forgetfulness. If on the other hand, you choose to embrace the seductions of untruth, you need to be constantly on the alert with strategies for evading discovery. But what I want to talk about is the idea of Consequences not Truthfulness. And even deeds done in secret have ways of finally marching out with their long train of Consequences.

Take the absolutely true story of Mr Thomas Hughes, for example. In the early 1800s, Mr Hughes was a big man in Cape Coast, a member of the small but powerful Fante elite who have been described by historians as ‘Euro-Africans’. Euro-Africans was a fitting designation for this small group that in contrast to the larger society from which they sprang had western education and were also Christians.[2] These Euro-Africans were mainly merchants, with a few religious ministers and doctors. And at least outwardly, they subscribed to Victorian moral codes. Compared to the people around them, these were fabulously wealthy men.

Mr Thomas Hughes was one of these men. And Mr Hughes has had sexual intercourse with Effuah Affebeah, to whom he was not married. And the Consequence was that she had taken seed. Mr Hughes realised he was in a moral quandary, as this situation was in sharp contradiction to his Christian and Victorian morality. He was in dissonance. So he had her carry out an abortion, and paid 68 pounds (a fine sum at the time), in order ‘to purchase the silence of the parties involved.’[3]

There were more Consequences: as they say, when Trouble comes, it comes not singly but in droves. His deeds didn’t stay secret for too long. And soon after his secret became a talking point in Cape Coast, he was standing trial in the court of Captain George Maclean in 1846. He was found guilty by Captain Maclean of ‘the crime of conspiracy to cause and causing an abortion’, and fined a sum of 40 pounds.

But Consequences wouldn’t leave Hughes alone. As this trial was about ending, in comes Nancy. Hughes had also ‘done it’ with Nancy and later gotten her to carry out an abortion. And being a master in the cynical art of using money as an instrument of manipulation, Hughes had also paid Nancy for her silence.

But the women involved also suffered their share of Consequences. Affebeah got a prison sentence for her complicity in carrying out the abortion. Nancy’s escape was narrow, since she claimed not to have had a hand in her own abortion. This is what Maclean told her: ‘It is well for you for if you had I would have treated you as I have the woman Affebeah’.

But in a perplexing turn of colonial justice, Maclean ordered the women to return the ‘silence-fees’ to Hughes since he hadn’t gotten the silence that he paid them for. Also, he said that he couldn’t increase the punishment of Hughes following Nancy’s revelations, since Hughes had already been punished for Affebeah’s abortion.

So far, it would appear that Hughes had emerged the victor. He had been fined only 40 pounds but had had the 68 pounds bribe he gave to the women refunded to him, giving him almost 30 pounds balance. The following year, when Mr Cruikshank took over as Judicial Assessor in the Gold Coast, he reviewed the case, found it insufferable and submitted the case for retrial. The jury returned a verdict of guilty and in October 1847, Hughes was slapped with a twelve-month jail sentence. Thus opened another Pandora’s Box of Consequences for Hughes.

And I should state that from this point on, nothing seemed to make sense anymore. Hughes didn’t spend the entire twelve months in jail. Very interesting things happened in the Gold Coast! After ‘having undergone two month’s labor in chains’ the very jury that returned a verdict of guilty against him presented a petition to the governor  to commute his sentence into a fine of a 100 pounds. Interestingly, Cruikshank, the man who ensured that Hughes got behind bars in the first place, was also the same man who advised Governor Winniett to grant the petition.

Now, was Hughes grateful for this gift of providence? For the where!? He rather complained that in imposing the fine, they should have taken into account ‘the severe punishment he had already undergone’. He also had other complaints: more Consequences. His complained that upon returning from prison, all his debtors whom he’d had imprisoned had been freed by Cruikshank, thus causing him to lose over 60 pounds (but Cruikshank justification was that he had taken an initiative to decongest the prisons of debtors who had no hopes of repaying their loans anytime soon, and that this wasn’t done with the aim of causing injury to Hughes).

Even more Consequences awaited Hughes after jail. Two weeks following his release, the entire justice system of the Gold Coast was hot in pursuit. According to him, monies to the tune of 60 pounds were extorted from him by the courts. He said that this was the money which Captain Maclean had ordered to be paid to him. Of course, Maclean by then was dead, so he literally couldn’t come to ‘remove his mouth’. But Cruikshank wasn’t dead, and his reply to Hughes’ charge was that he (Cruikshank) had made as part of the condition for Hughes’ release that he would forfeit the refund of his bribe-money. Apparently, Hughes had agreed to this arrangement. Here’s an excerpt from a letter he had written to Governor Winniett before he was released from jail:


I have committed a crime for which the sentence of the Law has been passed upon me and whether the sentence shall be extended to its full rigour depends on Your Excellency.

The shame and self reproach with which I now solicit Your commiseration I hope no man shall ever feel who has not deserved to feel them like myself.

When so much has been given to justice I humbly entreat that mitigation such as it should now be may be given to mercy’.

I’ve made many references above to Mr Hughes’ ‘complaints’. So you might want to know: To whom did he complain? He complained to no other than the Government of the British Empire, no less! Those Gold Coasters were intrepid. Like Araba Stamp, they ‘didn’t fear huu!’ He despatched a petition straight to Downing Street, seeking redress. But in his comment on the petition, the acting governor at the time, Mr Fitzpatrick, described Mr Hughes as something of a moral hazard to the colony. Is this the Pot calling the Kettle black? The sexual exploits of European representatives on the Coast (missionaries, administrators, traders, adventurers) were legendary.

So this is the story of the copulation of Mr Hughes of Cape Coast, and the Consequential drama that flowed therefrom. For Gold Coast News, this is AGYAKOO reporting!

[1] Source: ADM 1/2/5: Governor’s despatches to the Secretary of State ( in London) from 30th June 1849 to 21st December 1850, PRAAD Accra.

[2] A part of this group was made up of those who were then referred to as ‘mulattoes’.

[3] To give you an idea of how large a sum this was, when James Bannerman was appointed as Judicial Assessor in 1850, his annual salary was about the same amount.

consequences GNA Accra 030

3 comments On ‘Victorian Morality in the Gold Coast’ by Guest Contributor Agyaakoo

  • I love the history in this write up. I think its important that we recognise how Victorian morals have influenced us…even worse some of these archaic laws which were inherited from the colonial administration are still on our statute books

  • This is indeed perplexing. Especially since it’s history.
    The injustice!
    I am going to think more about this and be back.

  • As was before those times, and as it has been since then, the complexities of sex in society prevail. Probably will too, another century on, if the earth still exists by then

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