Tag: shillings

The King’s Shilling


The events recounted below are true, and took place in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria, in the Summer of 1947. The author was a young, newly arrived, civil servant in the British Colonial Service, recently separated from active duty in Italy and North Africa as a Major in the British Army. The gentleman in the photo to the right is a former slave, and the iron rings he is holding were his manacles. The term “The King’s Shilling” is used facetiously in this story: it is generally used to refer to the payment of one shilling to military recruits (and sometimes reluctant ones) in the United Kingdom between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

One morning Mallam Muhammadu Azare presented himself and announced that a girl was outside urgently asking to see me, as she was anxious to be officially manumitted from slavery. I must confess that at first I thought he was pulling my leg! Recourse to the legal books on the office shelf and a somewhat more careful inquiry of my mentor, convinced me, however, that this was not the case.

In the early 1900s, when Sir Frederick Lugard, began the process of replacing Sir George Goldie’s loose administrative system in Northern Nigeria with a formal British Protectorate, the issue that loomed largest (almost to the exclusion of all else) was the question of what he called “domestic slavery,” that is, the fact that most (if not all) of the domestic retainers of the Sultan and his Emirs (as well as of minor chiefs and many office holders too) were either people who had been born into slavery or who had actually been enslaved by capture.