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ThrowBack Thursday – James Pinson Labulo Davies: A Pioneer Nigerian of Many Firsts (2)

While captaining merchant vessels owned by Saros and navigating the coast between Freetown and the Niger Delta, Davies Labulo used the opportunity to trade in Palm Oil and cotton – a relatively lesser known trade commodity for African merchants. Within a few months, he had purchased two condemned slave ships at auction and began shipping these merchandise directly from Nigeria to Britain.


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Davies finally settled down in Lagos in 1856 working per time as an agent for a London mercantile firm – 5 years after Lagos bombardment and his war injuries.  He subsequently opened a trade office in Lagos where he was receiving consignment of import directly from Britain and employed scores of people.

The manner in which Davies prospered his business between Britain and Lagos was so strong that he gained more powerful connections in Britain. By 1862, Labulo Davies had become so successful and cultured enough that recommended was recommended by Queen Victoria of England to marry her beloved goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonnetta. Sarah Bonetta, originally named Aina, was a Yoruba princess whom British soldiers had previously freed from the slavery of a Dahomean king.

Labulo Davies got wedded to Sarah Bonetta at Brighton by the Rev. Henry Venn, the honorary secretary of the Christian Missionary Society in London.

On return to Lagos with his wife, Labulo Davies collaborated with his bosom friend and fellow Saro (Sierra Leone) returnee and first African bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, to form The Academy. The Academy was the first modern centre for public enlightenment in Lagos and in Nigeria.

In a similar vein, as of June 6, 1859, Labulo Davies had given the seed funding (£50; equivalent of ₦1.34 million in 2014)) to found CMS Grammar School to Thomas Babington Macaulay, father of Herbert Macaulay and son-in-law to Samuel Ajayi Crowther. CMS Grammar School which opened in 1859 became Nigeria’s first secondary school. In 1867, Davies also made further contributions of another £100 (equivalent of ₦2.68 million in 2014) toward a CMS Grammar School Building Fund, alongside a few other notable Lagosians in his time.


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Captain J.P.L Davies was also renowned as a pioneer farmer with large patches of land for farming. He was credited with obtaining cocoa seeds from a Brazilian ship and from Fernando Po Island in 1879/1880; planting the seeds enmasse in his farms and popularizing cocoa with other farmers in the Yoruba hinterland with the assistance of Jacob Kehinde Coker until the cash crop became popular in West African mainland and beyond. Davies also planted kolanuts in 1882 in his farm at Ijan, Agege. Kolanuts was transported and traded across the Southwestern Nigeria then but was not cultivated by the farmers.

For up to twenty years after cocoa became known as a highly valuable crop, Davies was responsible for most of all the cocoa export to other countries from Lagos through his farms and logistics concerns. Cocoa made Labulo Davies arguably the wealthiest Nigerian in his time with a disposition for philanthropy. And by association, the cocoa crop also became a major source of wealth for many West African households and governments.

Captain Davies died at his Lagos home on August 29, 1906. He was buried at Ajele Cemetery, Lagos, while his legacy would mostly be remembered for many of his great exploits which helped to mold modern Nigeria society.

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Macaddy Gad

Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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