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Arthur London Gold Coast Photographs, 1910-1920 (Bernath Mss 315)


600+ black and white photographs, most taken by Arthur London of scenes in and around Kumasi from 1909- 1921. There also are photographs of the voyages to and from Africa, as well as Arthur, his wife Edith, son Arthur James Godfrey, daughter Joy, his mother, and what appear to be other family and friends in England. The last photographs, from the early 1920s, are from Australia and probably were taken by Edith or other family members

Arthur William London was born in 1880 in Croydon, England, south of London. His father died when Arthur was teenager, and Arthur helped support his mother working as a clerk for a butter exporter. In 1903 he took a position as a junior clerk at Lagos Stores, in Lagos, southern Nigeria. In 1906, while on leave, he married Edith Moore, also of Croydon. Since Arthur worked in West Africa the rest of his life, the marriage endured long periods of separation. In 1907, he changed employers, to F. A. Swanzy and Co., which had been active in West Africa since 1789 and which was the largest trading company on the Gold Coast (now Ghana). He initially was in charge of Swanzy stores in southern Gold Coast, but by the time the photographs in the collection begin, was based in Kumasi, the inland capital of the Ashanti region.

In September 1919 Edith joined her husband in Kumasi, for what was to be his farewell tour before relocating back to England. While Edith was there, he suddenly became ill and died on January 17, 1920, possibly of peritonitis of the appendix. After settling his affairs, Edith travelled back to England, and then moved with his mother and their two children, Arthur James Godfrey and Joy, to Australia, leaving England in November 1920.

Much of the information about Arthur London's life has been provided by David Dorward, who has done extensive research on Arthur London and economic history of Ghana. For further information about Arthur London and his time in Ghana, see: David Dorward, "Arthur London, Chief Agent of Swanzy and Co: A Biography of Imperial Commerce on the Gold Coast," African Economic History, No. 29 (2001), pp. 61-77.

The photographs originally were housed in highly acidic albums but have been rehoused in mylar sleeves and three-ring boxes for preservation purposes and to permit examination of the backs of the photographs for descriptive information. Most of the photographs have no captions and very few have dates. Some of the captions were by London, but others appear to be comments or questions by Edith. In a few instances she writes about making copies of the prints and sending them back to him. He apparently developed the originals himself in Kumasi.

The photograph albums as received were numbered by an unknown party but were not arranged in chronological order. The container list has attempted to reorganize the albums in chronological order, although the photographs within the albums sometimes appear not to be chronologically arranged. Album 1, not present in the collection, may have included images of earlier years in Lagos.

Sample items from the collection

Not too good. The surroundings are too dark for the big dog. don't you think? Fluffy looks like a wee kitten "a dear little miss" as Roy says.

Nov. 24 1910 Roy is enraptured with this "dear little doggie a dear [MS. illegible] kind [?] mamma.what a pretty little thing it must be. quite a lady's doggie.

Nov. 24th 1910 This is real good what a mad scramble

Can you see yourself at the window[?]

Location unknown--likely near Kumasi.

River in Gold Coast--likely near Kumasi