THE BEGINNINGS OF FORTS AND FACTORIES
Although Europeans had been trading along the Benin and the Escravos Rivers for centuries, they had built no fort or factory along the coasts of the Warri Kingdom. We have already mentioned how the Portuguese and the Brazilian Christian settlement in Warri was or some time maintained.
When however the Dutch took over control of the trade along the Benin River, they were not so interested in trade with Warri. The English were never actively engaged in the Warri traffic.
It was therefore left to the French to open up the river for some form of organized European Settlement. The interest shown by the French was purely commercial. The man who undertook this enterprise was Captain J.F. Landolphe.
This Captain was not new to the Benin River which he had visited as a Junior Officer in April 1769 and then in November 1771 during which he probably formulated an idea of gaining control of the Benin River trade from the Portuguese.
in February 1778, he sailed for the Benin River with no intention of going to Warri. The Benin River had always been a misnomer and had confused many people from Europe.
Landolphe thought that all the settlements along the Benin River were under the Oba of Benin. Having stopped at the “UREJU BAY” where the Royal Town of “UREJU”, often called “Reggiotown” in European Charts, was situated, he proceeded to Ughoton, from where he went by land to Benin City. He made the necessary commercial contacts before returning with a large number of slaves.
*While returning home, torrential storms and rain made it difficult for him to cross the Benin River bar on May 12, 1778. His Ship was grounded. As soon as he was able to refloat the Ship, he returned to UREJU Bay.
The news of the Frenchman’s predicament reached the ITSEKIRI Capital and this was a great opportunity of undermining the Benin influence and diverting the French trade to Warri.
OLU EREJUWA at once sent IYATSERE OKORODUDU to the Frenchman’s help. Landolphe’s problem was to feed the crew and the slaves until the weather improved enough for him to set sail.
When he had been in Benin, he had asked permission to build a Factory at the mouth of the Benin River only to be told that the territory was under the jurisdiction of the OLU of Warri. They wanted the Frenchman to build the Factory at Ughoton.
Thus, there was fierce commercial competition between Warri and Benin.
IYATSERE OKORODUDU met Landolphe and handed over to him the presents from the OLU. At the same time, he surveyed what the Freshman most needed. He hurried back to Warri and shortly returned with two large Canoes carrying 10,000 Yams with which the slaves could be fed during the period of waiting.
This marvellous gesture surprised Captain Landolphe and he was deeply grateful. Friendship between him and IYATSERE OKORODUDU developed.
#It is most important to stress that Warri was a Maritime Power which had at her disposal the Force to cut off trade with any of the hinterland peoples.
Her Navy consisted of large Canoes, the largest of which the Frenchman saw being about Sixty (60) feet long and Ten (10) feet in the beams; on these Canoes were mounted as many as Twenty (20) pairs of Swivel-guns on crossbeams placed at intervals of Five (5) or Six (6) feet.
Such large Canoes were capable of carrying One hundred (100) Men armed with Guns and Sabres, Pistols and Forty (40) Paddlers.
Such a formidable Force by a people who could swim and lived most of their lives in the river, was a sufficient deterrent to challenging the ITSEKIRI Supremacy along the Benin River.
*IYATSERE OKORODUDU did not fail to impress on the mind of the Frenchman the invincibility of the ITSEKIRI Navy. From time to time, he came to the UREJU Bay to visit him until the weather was good enough for him to sail away.
*A second opportunity for getting Landolphe to the Capital arose in 1783. Again he went straight to Benin without contacting IYATSERE OKORODUDU. He was now very well aware of the commercial rivalry between the Benin and the Warri Authorities and he might have hoped to catch on it.
The Benin Market was more tried and resourceful than the less frequented one. Any prior negotiation with Warri might jeopardize his interests in Benin. Having obtained the slaves, he set sail. The same Climate conditions as before confronted him and again OKORODUDU came to his rescue with Forty (40) Canoes of Twenty (20) Peddles.
Landolphe had no hesitation in accepting the IYATSERE’s offer to tow his Ship to Warri and presently the Powerful Canoes were pulling the Ship with its Cargo of slaves to the Capital.
When the Frenchman got to the Capital, he was surprised to find signs of Christianity. He and his slaves and crew were well provided for all the time they were there at the expense of the King and his Chiefs.
From now on, it became clear to him that the opening of Commercial Relations with the Warri Kingdom would be to his own advantage. The Captain was to take advantage of this opportunity to gain control of the Benin River for France against British and Portuguese enterprise.
The Frenchman asked the OLU for the right to build a Factory at the mouth of the Benin River. This would mean that instead of going to Benin, he would have a Station where he could keep his stock until he was ready to Ship his commodities to France.
OLU EREJUWA was very willing to grant the concession which would divert trade from Benin to Warri. The agreement concluded, every arrangement was made for Landolphe’s comfort. Houses were provided for him and his crew, and slaves attended to all their needs.
Very content with the hospitality which he had received, Landolphe sailed away when the weather improved in the hope of coming back to build the Factory.
Since nobody in the Capital could speak French, OLU EREJUWA proposed that a member of his household should go to France to learn the language and act as Liaison between him and the French.
Landolphe agreed and took Prince BOUDAKAN with him to France.
The French fleet left France in July 1786 and did not arrive at the Benin River until November. This was before OLOGBOTSERE EYINMISANREN had been relieved of his Custom’s Post at BOBI. Landolphe therefore paid him a courtesy call, informed him of the safe arrival of Prince BOUDAKAN and then asked for a site for the building of the Factory.
OLU EREJUWA was consulted and granted the permission. Labour was provided from BOBI.
Prince BOUDAKAN like DOMINGO before him was a disappointment to the ITSEKIRI People. Converted to a Foreign Culture, he held himself aloof, talked arrogantly and showed little respect for the traditions which the ITSEKIRI People held so dear.
In the meantime he was a great help to the French with whom he seemed to maintain amicable relationship to such an extent that Landolphe named one of his Ships after him.
After going with him to the Capital and presenting the OLU with a full-furnished Bed and a Stick with a Silver knob. Landolphe came back with him to complete the Fort and Factory at “UGBORODO” at the mouth of the ESCRAVOS RIVER.
With the completion of the work; it consisted of a two (2) Storey Building, Stores and Stables.
With the establishment of this Factory, Landolphe was in fact opening to trade the Escravos River which led to the Capital.
He developed the Island which he heavily fortified against surprise attack. When he felt he was comfortably secure there, he decided to buy the land from the OLU who readily sold it to him for articles worth 800 Francs.
As soon as this arrangement was completed, the Frenchman set up a Customs Post at UGBORODO where he exacted duties and gained complete monopoly over the trade along the ESCRAVOS RIVER.
END OF PART FOUR