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Letters Home - The African Academy, Clapham 1799-1805.
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The African Academy was set up by a group of reformers called the Clapham Sect. The Clapham Sect included Henry Thornton, William Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay and the Reverend John Venn. The 'Clapham Sect' fought to abolish slavery. As part of their campaign they brought boys from Africa to be educated at what became known as the African Academy. This happened between 1799 and 1805.

It is hard to know what the boys must have felt as they arrived in London. We only have lists of names and places of origin in the Parish Register. The letters below have been written to try and imagine what their experience must have been like.

Author: †Lin Carey

North West View of Holy Trinity, Clapham, c.1800.

Elma's TIP!
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Click on the notes at the end of each letter as you read the story. They will give you lots more detail.

8, Rectory Grove
August 1800

To Duke Geloram of the Susoo County, Sierra Leone, Africa.

My Dear Father,

I cannot yet write very well in English, but my school-teacher says I make progress. So I mean to keep my promise to you and tell you some of the things that have happened since I came to England.

London Docks, c.1810.

I arrived here in the spring of this year with Mr Macaulay and twenty other boys from our country. Of all these I knew only two at the start, William Fantimance and James Bubucaree, but at the end of our long voyage we were all friends. There were also four girls with us, who were not to attend our school, and were sent to be taught in another town when we landed.

Once arrived in England we were put into a number of covered carriages drawn by horses, to take us to the village of Clapham. It rained very hard as we travelled, so that we thought we had come in the rainy season, but we were told that this sort of weather happened all the year round here.

A Carriage in Brixton, 1820.

From the bright green fields we saw on all sides, I think this must be a rich country, but much in it is strange. We passed through towns with great buildings all pressed together, and some of them as tall as trees! The house where we stay now has many rooms, and one of them is just for eating. The English eat three times a day, men and women sitting down together, and for the most part they do not wash before eating as we do. Our first meal was mutton, with a lump of yellow stuff called pudding which I could not eat, but I am more used to their food now.

View of Clapham Common - North Side. The African Academy (1799-1805) was on the north side of the common.

We are sent to school in a big, square stone house where we sit in rows to practice our letters and learn the Bible. Many of the other boys have already been taught both these things back at home, and I am behind them. But I mean to work hard, as you told me, and to come home full of learning.

Your son,


[See notes about this letter]

3, Church Buildings,
Clapham Common

May 1801

My Dear father,

Much has happened here since my last letter. We have moved to a new schoolroom, at the home of a Mr Sharp who is the friend of our Director. I was not very well able to tell you about the houses here before, but I will try to describe them now. Clapham is called a village, but to us when we arrived it seemed a great town. The houses are made of stone or bricks, and many of them stretch upwards with one floor built upon another. At Mr Macaulayís home, where we stay, the ceilings are so high that a tall man cannot touch them, even on the upper floors where we sleep.

Manor House, Clapham, c.1790.

Behind the houses are enclosed fields that they call their gardens, filled with fruit trees and plants I never saw before. Our school-house stands in a garden behind a whole row of houses which the English call a terrace, all joined together. At first it is impossible to tell where one house ends and the next begins, but there is a great stone archway in the wall near one end of the row, and walking through that we come to grass and trees, and then to another house of red bricks. Inside, we climb a staircase to a big, echoing room with chairs and desks set out for each of us. There are whole shelves of books, and the ceiling is arched, as they are in the English churches. It makes us feel important to have such a grand room made just for us, though it is often cold.

School Scene, 1825.

The English people are all very kind to us. When we first came here many of the neighbours visited us and brought us presents of food, which tasted very strange to me. Even stranger was the sight of so many white people all around. I had grown used to Mr Macaulay and his friends, and to the red-faced sailors on the ship, but I had seen few white women. Most of all, I was struck to see boys and girls of my own age with such strange pale skins. I believe I stared at them as much as they stared at me. In a short time, however, we grew used to each other, and now we sometimes play together on the great heath-land that they call the Common, which is opposite our house. They have shown me many games that I mean to teach my little brothers when I return.

Clapham Common, Nineteenth Century.

As the weeks passed it grew colder and colder, and even with the great fireplaces they have here and all the bedding that we could pile on top of us, we began to shiver at night and could hardly work during the day. There came a day when it was so cold in the schoolroom that the ink froze, and we were sent home to huddle around the fire. The next morning I looked out of the window as I woke and saw the Common all white! I called to the boys who shared my room to come and look. My friend Samuel Tamro thought that some white flower or grass had grown overnight, but running out to look closer we found the same white stuff on the road and on top of the gateposts. Touching it, we found that it was very cold, and melted away to water in our hands. One of the older boys, William Small, then said he had seen this white stuff before, and it was called snow. None of us have ever seen it in Africa, but a few of the boys lived in a Western country called Nova Scotia before they came to Sierra Leone. William said that he remembered snow falling from the sky there when he was very young.

Farm in South London, 1885.

The cold went on for a very long time, and many of us became ill because of it. We were greatly relieved when Spring came again, although Samuel and George Kizell, who share my room, are still coughing. Now that we no longer shiver all day our schoolmaster, Mr Greaves, has set us to work harder. If we are to go home as good Christians, he says, we must be baptised, and first we need to be instructed fully. As well as writing and reading our Bibles, we also learn counting, and sometimes Mr Greaves shows us how to work wood and metal. I am studying hard, and hope to make you proud of me.

Please give my respects to my mother.

Your dutiful son,


[See notes about this letter]

3, Church Buildings,
Clapham Common

July 1802

Dear father,

I hardly know how to tell you the news. My friend George Kizell is dead! So are five others, including William Small and William Fantimanceís cousin David. Last winter was colder than the one before, and so damp that we all caught chills. Mr Macaulay and his wife sat us in front of the fires in our rooms, wrapped us in blankets and made us drink canary wine, but I thought I should never stop shivering. When spring came at last I recovered, but five or six of the other boys were still so weak they could not rise from their beds. Then, in the summer, there was an attack of a disease they call measles. Those of us who fell ill suffered coughs and fever, and red spots appeared all over their bodies. After this they quickly grew weaker, and most died. George seemed to rally at first, but to my great grief, he had been so weakened by his illness over the winter that he could not fight the disease, and he died at the end of June. Only three boys who caught the illness survived.

I could not write to you until the school was declared free of infection, but please be reassured that I am healthy, though very low in spirits.

Inside of Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, c.1800

Mr Macaulay and Mr Greaves have declared that some of us are to be baptised all together at the end of this month. Most of the boys they have chosen are those who are furthest ahead with their Bible studies, but we suspect that one or two are picked because they are weak and sickly, and our guardians still fear for them. James Fantimance, the younger brother of David, told me that the Reverend from the church came to baptise his brother privately, only the night before he died, so that his soul would go to heaven.

Samuel and I comfort each other as best we can. We are not to be baptised now, but Mr Greaves says that we are doing well in our studies. He and Mr Macaulay talk as if we shall all go back to be missionaries and teach our countrymen to be Christians. But although I wish to be a good Christian, Father, I do not know if I can be a missionary. I cannot be glad that David and George and the others are in heaven. I would rather they were alive again. But Mr Macaulay says that everything that happens is Godís will.

I miss my home more than ever now, but I shall stay here and do as my teachers tell me. Please give my love to my mother and brothers. I pray to be able to see you again.

Your affectionate son,


North West View of Holy Trinity, Clapham, c.1800.
[See notes about this letter]

Lory Gelorum lived at the African Academy for another three years. He was finally baptised in Holy Trinity Church, Clapham in 1805, as were William Fantimance and Samuel Peter Tomro. But the boys at the Academy continued to suffer from the cold and from illness, and half of them died. After 1805 the remaining students were sent back home to Sierra Leone.

baptismal record for Lory Geloram

baptismal record for Lory Geloram

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