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The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard is situated at one of the entrances to the city of Freetown’s main government hospital. It was the entrance to the compound where men and women freed from slavery were temporarily housed for documentation and minor medical attention before dispersal to settlements that came to constitute a British Colony. With the total suppression of the slave trade the Old King’s Yards ceased to be in use. In 1880, it was converted to the “Colonial Hospital”; which was further developed into today’s central government hospital. The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard now leading to a part of the central government hospital called Connaught Hospital records the purpose of the King’s Yard on a slab over the arch dated 1819. It reads:
“Royal Asylum and Hospital for Africans rescued from slavery by British Valour and Philanthropy Erected AD MDCC XVII – H.E. Lt. Col. MacCarthy“.
The Gateway to the King’s Yard was proclaimed a National Monument in May 1949.
Sierra Leone has a unique history regarding the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Along with many other African countries Sierra Leone was one of the major sources of slaves shipped to the Americas. Sierra Leone however, had a unique place in history when its present-day capital city Freetown, was established as a settlement for freed slaves from England and the New World. The slave trade was still continuing even after the British had formally abolished it in 1807. In efforts to halt the trade the British set up a naval unit off the Sierra Leone coast and a Vice Admiralty court in Freetown to try crew of ceased slave ships. In the November 1808, the court tried the crew of its first captured ship and released its human cargo for settlement in and around Freetown. Between 1808 and 1864, about 84, 000 “liberated African” as they came to be known, were freed this way and settled in Freetown and its surroundings (Wyse 1989). It was part of the organisational arrangement that the rescued slaves were taken first to a compound for temporal housing. The compound became known as the King’s Yard. From the compound the slaves were dispersed to various settlements in an around Freetown. At the compound the “Liberated Africans” received medical attention because of many of them arrived in conditions of ailment. Thus, the place was also known as an Asylum. When the slave trade was finally surpressed and the King’s Yard converted into the Colonial Hospital, its main gate remained in position and untouched. It is through this gateway that tens of thousands of Africans liberated from slavery passed to settle into freedom.
While some of the Liberated Africans were from the Sierra Leone interior, the majority came from afar from amongst such groups as the Hausa, Efik, Bambara, Yoruba, Nupe, Ashanti, Ibgo, and Kalabari, among others. One writer notes a major triumph of the human spirit in the fact that these arrivals in Freetown in a single generation not only survived their traumatic experience, but mastered the language and skills of Europe so successfully that they became a prosperous, professional and merchant elite across the West African sub-region. Among the famous people who passed through the King’s Yard as boy slaves into freedom were Samuel Adjai Crowther, the first Black Anglican bishop and John Ezzidio, the first African elected member of a Legislative Council in British West Africa. The Liberated Africans integrated with the earlier freed slaves from England, Nova Scotia, and Jamaica to evolve a new identiy called the Krio. The role of descendants of the freed slaves in the modernization process in Africa is severally documented in such works by John Hargreaves (1958), Martin Kilson (1969), J.F.A. Ajayi (1965), Kopytoff (1965) and Wyse (1989).
From the establishment of the naval base, a Vice Admiralty Court, and the King’s Yard for reception and documentation of freed human cargo, the Gateway to the Old King’s Yard holds universal value in reminding us of the organization of efforts to secure freedom from slavery for scores of Africans and put them on paths of self reliance and self worth. Inscription of the Gateway in the World Heritage List would accord the world protection of the only and single passage in Africa through which thousands of Africans walked away from slavery into freedom. We live in a world today were consensus is growing that freedom, democracy and human rights are consolidating as universal values. The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard endures as a very powerful symbol inspiring reflections on and contemplation of these values.
(iii) In the passage of thousands of people through the Gateway to the Old King’s Yard we see the terminal activities in the abandonment of slavery as a human value for freedom as another human value. The return of freed slaves to Freetown marked the end of the acceptability of slavery. Correspondingly, the arrival of the freed men and women in Freetown illustrated the pursuit of freedom as a universal value.
The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard largely remains intact. It is currently painted with white emulsion paint. As a minor interference with the integrity of the property, a 6 inches x 12 inches directional plaque made of cement has been placed by the main government hospital on one side of the gates’ wall. The Gateway is regularly painted in white emulsion paint. There is no other physical infringement on the property. However, insensitive development of new buildings and incongruous signage in the area ensnares the property and detract from its full appreciation and authenticity.
The Gateway to the King’s Yard was proclaimed a National Monument in May 1949. It is under the protection of by the Monuments and Relics Commission. As follow-up activities to this submission, the Commission is going to hold discussions with institutions that have national monuments and relics on their premises for the purposes of entering formal relationships for the protection of such sites. The protection of the integrity and authenticity of the Gateway to the Old King’s Yard will benefit greatly from such action.
The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard compares with Goree Island in Senegal and Elmina Castle in Ghana in standing as testament to one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity: the slave trade. The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard however pairs with Bunce Island to narrate Sierra Leone’s unique slave trade history. Africans went into slavery through Goree Island and Elmina Castle but never came back. These slave trading facilities tell a story of a one-way journey. In the case of Sierra Leone Africans went into slavery through Bunce Island and many walked back into freedom through the Gateway to the Old King’s Yard. In the passage of people into freeodm through the Gateway to the Old King’s Yard the world is reminded of the goodness that humanity is capable of achieving.
The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard compares with the Statue of Liberty in the United States in enduring as a highly potent symbol, inspiring contemplation of ideals such as freedom, human rights, democracy and opportunity. The Statue of Liberty still continues to welcome people who may be escaping tyranny from other parts of the world into the United State of America. The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard however is also a symbol telling the end of a particular epoch of man’s cruelty to man; and the beginnings of the world’s acceptance of African’s entitlement to liberty, dignity, human rights, and opportunity as universal ideals.