This book covers the hitherto largely unknown story of the British presence in pre-Independence Senegal. Lured to the region initially by the prospect of trade in gold, and later the trade in slaves, gum, beeswax and other commodities, British merchant and adventurers started writing accounts of their experiences exploring the rivers and coast of Senegambia. For brief periods in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the slaving and trading islands of Gorée and Saint-Louis came under British rule. In 1765 Senegambia became the very first British Crown Colony in Africa. Britain’s foothold on the coast of Senegal was rarely more than precarious, its early administrations characterised by corruption, drunkenness and violence, weakened further by disease and forever vulnerable to attacks by France its perennial and global rival. The brutality of one of the British Governors of Senegambia was to become legendary with thousands of people watching his hanging outside Newgate Prison. The book also covers Britain’s final administration of Saint-Louis and Gorée at the beginning of the 19th century, a period during which governance improved and the British Parliament outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire. Gorée and Saint-Louis were restored to France following the end of the Napoloeonic Wars, but tragedy and horror followed the shipwreck of a frigate carrying French administrators and troops, as immortalised in Gericault’s Le Radeau de la Méduse.
The book also tells the story of how the borders of The Gambia, which is surrounded by Senegal, came to be drawn and the negotiations that nearly led to Britain giving up its claims over Gambia in exchange for French possessions further along the West African coast. After a brief look at the history of Britain’s diplomatic representation in colonial Senegal the book ends with the extraordinary story of Operation Menace, a failed attempt in September 1940 to persuade Vichy forces in Senegal to declare for General de Gaulle which ended in Frenchmen killing Frenchmen and a British naval bombardment of Dakar.