Antique Zanzibar Sketches
The drawings of W. A. Churchill.
William A. Churchill was the younger brother of the British Counsel at Zanzibar in the late 1860's. He came for a visit to the Islands bringing only his talent and his sketch pad but these resulted in some remarkable views of early Zanzibar.
The railway depicted in this fine sketch is not the famous Bububu Line, which was built in 1905 and ran north out of town after passing through the N'Gambo neighborhood. Rather it is the very early Tram line that was built by Sultan Barghash.
This narrow-gauge tram line was one of the very first tracks laid in sub-Saharan Africa. It ran south of town to the Sultans Palace at Chukwani. The trams were at first pulled by horses when the line opened but in 1881 the first locomotive engine ever imported to east Africa arrived from England. This locomotive was named the "Sultanee" and it hauled the Tramcars on this line until it closed in 1892.
In this sketch Churchill captures the image of one of the many business men from around the world who took up residence in old Zanzibar.
The Zanzibar army was not well organized in those days, the Navy having priority on the best resources and men, however it's rather open recruitment practices did cause to the army to become at least a temporary home for many of the professional soldiers of that age.
Even then women made up a large percentage of the workforce which kept Stone Town running asa functioning city perched on the edge of the vast and at that time mostly unexplored continental wilderness that was old Africa.
Some Zanzibar women are represented as powerful figures in society.
The formalities of government caught Churchill's attention.
As did the plight of the slaves and the spirit of the Sultans troops.
By the late 1800's Livingstone was seen as a hero and a martyr in England.
This fine print must have sold well.
Churchill exercised some artistic liberty in his drawings (displaying perhaps an Orientalist zeal) but still many of his works were remarkably life like. Below are some old photos of scenes like those which must have inspired these sketches.
W. A. Churchill's brother was the diplomat Henry Adrian Churchill who was the Zanzibar Counsel from 1867 to 1870. H. A. Churchill had a long diplomatic career, seemed interested in helping the people wherever he served, wrote an article on cholera in Zanzibar in 1870, corresponded with scientists about the possible use of a certain Chinese bird to reduce the swarms of mainland Tsetse flies and acted as a mentor for the more famous British Counsel John Kirk, who served as his surgeon and vice-counsel during those years.
Prior to his appointment in Zanzibar the elder Churchill worked as secretary and interpreter on the Staff of the British Commissioner with the Turkish Army in the Asia, he took part in the defense of Kars, and was for a time a Russian prisoner. His last posting was as British Counsel at Palermo in 1879. He died in 1886.
It is a bit unclear when William visited his brother on Zanzibar and the long delay in the publishing of these unsigned and undated sketches, (not published until the late 1800's) makes dating these works difficult. However assuming William did not stay long on Zanzibar after his brother's departure, due to ill health, I believe these are views of Zanzibar from about 1870.
Compiled and Edited by Barghash 2004.
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