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Old Fourah Bay College Building

Date of Submission: 01/06/2012
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Office of the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
State, Province or Region:
Sierra Leone (Western Area)
Coordinates: N8 29 574 W13 12 650
Ref.: 5744
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The Original Fourah Bay College building is located in the east end of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Fourah Bay College opened in 1827 as the first institution of higher learning in modern sub-Saharan Africa after the collapse of the one at Timbuktu. Until the Second War Fourah Bay College offered the only alternative to Europe and America for British colony West Africans who wanted a university degree. The Original Fourah Bay College is a four-story structure built of dressed blocks of laterite. Sierra Leone’s first coloured Governor, Staff Sergeant Major William Fergusson laid the building’s foundation stone when its construction started in 1845. The building construction was supervised by the African American Reverend Edward Jones, who became the institution’s first principal. The Old Fourah Bay College is perhaps the single most influential institution in Africa in accounting for the penetration and acceleration of the spread of Western education on the continent.

The Original Fourah Bay College building was in regular use till the Second World War, when the college was temporarily moved outside Freetown for security reasons. After the war it became the headquarters of the Sierra Leone Government Railway; and later as a Magistrate court in the 1980. The building ceased to be in use in early 1990. The Original Fourah Bay College building was proclaimed a National Monument in 1955.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The establishment of the Old Fourah Bay College itself was in pursuance of idealisms on the part of Christian philanthropists to spread Western civilization in Africa. When Lord Mansfield’s ruling of 1772 ended slavery in England, a serious social problem of caring for the multitude of freed black people in the country arose. A group of English philanthropists found it convenient to relocate the people newly freed from slavery to the area in Sierra Leone that is today known as Freetown. The social concerns about a destitute population in England acquired the trappings of idealism in which Freetown began to be visualized in the words of one historian, as an ‘’experiment in social engineering” of Western civilization in ‘dark Africa’.  The spread of Western education stood at the center of the experiment.

Following their establshment of the first boys and girls high schools in West Africa, Christian missionaries continued their education efforts with the opening of Fourah Bay College in 1827. It became the first institution of higher learning in modern Sub-Saharan Africa after the collapse of the one at Timbuktu. Fourah Bay College was the seat of learning in colonial West Africa; earning Sierra Leone the moniker the “Athens of West Africa”. Fourah Bay College pioneered the emergence of the earliest generations of West Africa’s educated elite. In truthfulness to the idealism of engineering of Western civilization in so-called ‘dark continent’ Fourah Bay College trained clergy played pioneering roles in the spread of Christianity in West Africa. For instance, Samuel Adjai Crowther, registered as the first student at Fourah Bay College became the first Black Anglican Bishop. Crowther was the pioneer clergy who brought and spread Christianity in the Niger Delta of present day Nigeria. Fourah Bay College trained James Johnson became the second Bishop of the Niger. Alexander Babatunde Akinyele obtained his Licentiate in Theology in 1906 and Bachelor of Arts in 1912 from Fourah Bay College and went on to become the first Anglican Bishop of Ibadan. Fourah Bay College product the Reverend Thomas B. Macauley was sent to Nigeria by the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) and worked in Lagos.

Across Anglophone West Africa Fourah Bay College produced the bulk of the educated African personnel in the relatively high positions in the colonial service at the time. Products of Sierra Leone’s educational institutions pioneered education endeavours in Nigeria. When Alexander Babatunde Akinyele graduated from Fourah Bay College in 1912, he became the first Ibadan indigene to obtain a university degree.  Akinyele oversaw the establishment of Ibadan’s first secondary school and became its first Principal in 1913. Akinyele later became the first Nigerian Vice Chancellor of Ibadan University. Another Fourah Bay College graduate Kenneth Dike became the first Nigerian to head the University of Ibadan. In 1859, Reverend Thomas Babinton Macauley from Fourah Bay College founded the CMS Grammar School in Lagos as the first secondary school in the whole of Nigeria.The CMS Grammar School produced the earliest crop of Nigeria’s political leaders and Civil Servants, including Herbert Macauley and Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Products of Fourah Bay College were leading figures in decolonization political activism and were political leaders in the newly independent African States. These included Ghanaian author, journalist and politician J.E. Casely-Hayford, Ladipo Solanke, and Kenneth Dike of Nigeria. Kenneth Dike helped organize the First International Africanist Conference in Ghana. The West African Students Union (WASU) founded by the Nigerian Ladipo Solanke and the Sierra Leonean Herbert Bankole-Bright provided the earliest opportunity for political and civic activism for students from British colonies. Kojo Botsio who obtained his undergraduate degree from Fourah Bay College became Ghana’s first Minister of Education under Kwame Nkrumah. A leading figure in the Convention People’s Party Botsio served twice as Foreign Minister of Ghana. In Nigeria a graduate of Fourah Bay College Sam Mbakwe became Governor of Imo State.

(iii) Old Fourah Bay College bears an exceptional testimony to the appearance and spread of Western civilization in Africa. For a century, Old Fourah Bay College was the laboratory for experimenting with the transfer of Western governance ideas, religion, political organization, and public service bureaucracy. It produced the earliest set of Christian clergymen  who took Christianity to other parts of West Africa. It produced the earliest leaders in West Africa who organized political groupings that were forebearers of today civil society groups and political parties. Fourah Bay College produced the earliest generations of Western type professionals and public administrators.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Save for minor damages to rafters, ceiling, windows, and board floors as the case may be, the Original Fourah Bay College building was largely intact up till 1998. During the civil conflict in the country (1991-2002) the building was used to house people displaced from other parts of the country. It was during the occupancy of the building by war displaced people that the building caught fire in 1999. The building’s roof, and top floor ceiling and rafters are now lost. The board floors and board windows are also lost. Apart from such losses, the structure is intact. In 2007, the Original Fourah Bay College building was on the World Monument Fund’s list of historic sites in distress. In 2010, the United States engineering firm of Atkinson-Noland and Associates (Incorporated) which specialises in historical conservation did a structural assessment of the building to inform restoration and preservations intentions of the Bunce Island Coalition. The Bunce Island Coalition had desires to use the building for the purposes of a museum.  The assessment report was handed over to government. The Bunce Island Coalition nolonger desires to use the building for the purposes of a museum. The report counted deteriorations and changes to the property in a number of areas emanating principally from weathering and improper human activities.

Government desires that the building be restored to maintain its material, architectural design, and related integrity. Perimeter fencing has been placed round the building to keep away intruders. The Monuments and Relics Commission of Sierra Leone which is in charge of the building has not been able to impose protection authority over it due to lack of resources.

Comparison with other similar properties

Old Fourah Bay College compares with Timbuktu as Africa’s pioneering institutions of higher learning. Timbuktu was Africa’s answer to higher learning in ancient times while Fourah Bay College was Africa’s answer to pioneering higher learning in modern times. Timbuktu had international dimensions to the extent that it attracted scholars and students from across the Arab speaking worlds in particular. Old Fourah Bay College was however much international in its higher education efforts. While English Christian missionaries established the institution, its first principal was an African American. Following his departure, the heads of Fourah Bay College were for a long time British. The instructors were predominantly European. Old Fourah Bay College attracted students from all over Anglophone West Africa. Old Fourah Bay College’s higher learning efforts had a specific mission to engender a type of civilization. Old Fourah Bay College compares with Timbuktu as both intellectual and religious institutions. But whereas Timbuktu was an Islamic institution, Old Fourah Bay College was a Christian institution. The Christian mission of the Old Fourah Bay College influenced the institution’s higher learning bearings. Thus, we see Old Fourah Bay College starting as an institution to train priests and other personnel for the Church. Old Fourah Bay College was one building of dressed stone and Timbuktu was a conglomeration of earthen structures.