Contested freedoms : British images of Sierra Leone, 1780-1850.
The colony of Sierra Leone, between 1780 and 1850, was a unique practical expression of
British antislavery culture and ideology. This thesis reflects on how leading abolitionists imagined this
part of West Africa and what they intended to achieve there. The approach is multi-disciplinary and
draws on recent theoretical developments to investigate the creation and maintenance of hegemonic
images of Sierra Leone and its inhabitants during the colony's early years. The thesis points to
Manichean differences of interpretation which underlay images of Sierra Leone's native inhabitants, its
black settler and liberated African populations and the abolitionists who supported them. It also reflects
widely on images of Africa's physical environment. Throughout, the emphasis is on the struggles for
representational dominance which took place not only between antislavery supporters and their opponents
but within antislavery culture itself.
Much of that struggle centred around early utopian images of the colony. Sierra Leone was a
child of modernity at arguably its most optimistic and eloquent phase. It was seen as a place where
enlightenment ideologies regarding rights and progress could be practically enacted. The utopian
discourse persisted in spite of the colony's apparent commercial failure. However, images of the colony's
black inhabitants became increasingly negative. This thesis suggests that humanitarians (in seeking to
explain the difficulties they encountered in Sierra Leone) frequently appropriated the hostile images of
blacks which had been promoted by their pros lavery opponents.
Part Three of this study comprises an examination of travel writing about Sierra Leone. This
section builds on recent theoretical advances in our understanding of the importance of travel writing as a
cultural signifier. It insists that travel writing (as a promoter of images) is more than just a record of
individual journeys and lightweight observations. In particular the thesis examines the role of travellers
in perpetuating racist myths about 'other' cultures despite the use of narrative techniques which assert the
travellers' vulnerability and innocence. The thesis also reveals how travellers studied and reported land
and people within an imperial discursive frame that ultimately sought to appropriate and exploit them.