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Men You Should Know- Herbert Macaulay

He was born and christened, Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay, on the 14th of November 1864, in Broad St. Lagos to the family of Thomas Babington Macaulay and Abigail Crowther. The man- popularly referred to as Herbert Macaulay, was a Nigerian nationalist, politician, engineer, architect, journalist, and musician and is considered by many Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism.

Macaulay: Early years and Education

Herbert Macaulay was born to a family with a Christian history. He was the grandson of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop in the Anglican Church. Herbert’s father, like his grandfather, was a CMS missionary and the founder of the CMS Grammar School in Lagos. His urban upbringing, Anglican education, and later European education made Macauley a part of the Lagos intelligentsia. His parents were children of people captured from what is now Nigeria, resettled in Sierra Leone by the British West Africa Squadron, and eventual returnees to present day Nigeria.

From 1869 to 1877, Herbert had his primary school education. He was educated at St Paul’s Breadfruit School, Lagos and CMS Faji School, Lagos. From 1877 to October 1880, he attended CMS Grammar School, Lagos for his secondary education. He was a student at the school when his father died in 1878. In 1880, he joined his maternal uncle’s trade steamer and embarked on a trade and missionary journey across the Niger River visiting Bonny, Lokoja, Gbebe and Brass. After going to a Christian missionary school, he took a job as a clerical assistant and indexer at the Department of Public Works, Lagos. Thereafter, with the support of the colonial administration, Macaulay left Lagos on 1 July 1890 to further his training in England. From 1891 to 1894 he studied civil engineering in Plymouth, England and was also a pupil of G.D. Bellamy, a borough surveyor and water engineer in Plymouth. In 1893, he became a graduate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London. But Macaulay was cut for more than just academics, he was also an accomplished musician who received a certificate in music from Trinity College, London and a certificate in violin playing from Music International College, London.

Macaulay: Career and a Spirited Nationalist

Upon his return to Lagos in September 1893, he resumed work with the colonial service as a surveyor of Crown Lands. He left the service as a land inspector in September 1898 due to a growing distaste for the British rule over the Lagos Colony and the position of Yorubaland and the Niger Coast Protectorate as British colonies in all but name. Macaulay’s resignation from the service of the Crown was linked to his growing resentment at the racial discrimination practised by Europeans in the civil service. He established himself as a private surveyor in Lagos and emerged as a spokesman for the anti-British rule movement. In 1908 he exposed European corruption in the handling of railway finances and in 1919, he argued successfully for the chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London. As a result, the colonial government was forced to pay compensation to the chiefs. In addition to that, Macaulay ran a network of informants who he paid handsomely. Many times, minutes from colonial government meetings would be leaked in newspapers that Macaulay was associated with.

Macaulay is regarded as one of the first Nigerian nationalists and for most of his life a strong opponent of many colonial policies. As a reaction to claims by the British that they were governing with “the true interests of the natives at heart”, he wrote: “The dimensions of the true interests of the natives at heart are algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the Whiteman’s pocket.” Whole sections of colonial government files and telegrams can be found in the Macaulay Papers at the Africana section of the Library at the University of Ibadan.

Macaulay: Later Years and Demise

But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Macaulay understood this maxim well. The understanding made him a great socialite in Victorian Lagos. He organized concerts at his residence (named “Kirsten Hall” after his German Consul friend Arthur Kirsten) on 8, Balbina Street in Yaba. Macaulay was nicknamed “Wizard of Kirsten Hall” because of his ability to obtain classified information.

In 1944 Macaulay co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) together with Nnamdi Azikiwe and became its president. The NCNC was a patriotic organization designed to bring together Nigerians of all stripes to demand independence. On 7 May 1946, Macaulay fell ill in Kano and later died in Lagos.


Tamuno, Tekena N. Herbert Macaulay, Nigerian Patriot. Heinemann Educational, 1976. p. 12

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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