Lagos at 50: Herbert Samuel Macaulay memories, relevance lingers

Lagos at 50: Herbert Samuel Macaulay memories, relevance lingers

To mark one of  the celebration of Lagos at 50, the organisers  decided to bring  back the memory of our past Hero’s in which Herbert is one one them.  Herbert Macaulay was a front-line nationalist who is acknowledged to be the first among the founding fathers of the nation.

He tackled the British government at every turn in the early days of the struggle for our freedom, and became the leader and role model for younger nationalists in his day. Among those he inspired was Nnamdi Azikiwe who rose to become the first name in the three-man concert of the leadership that won independence for the country – the others being Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto. Of course, some of us still remember Zik, Awo and the Sarduana, to give their respective popular names.

But you may be surprised that even some secondary school students will be hard put to tell you who Herbert Macaulay is.

It may happen to any of the three men accepted as the cream of the founding fathers†also, and that in a future nearer than you think, since it could happen to Herbert Macaulay in that fashion. He was definitely the most celebrated politician of his time. Among his own people in Lagos, he was a veritable legend. They called him, Ejo n gboro, meaning a serpent at large in the streets, which depicts a dangerous situation.

Herbert Macaulay was indeed the personification of a state of affairs that should be handled with care. Songs were composed about his exploits and supernatural powers were credited to him.

Looking at him on the one naira coin, Herbert Samuel Heelas Macaulay kinda looks like a white man to me. Or let me say his moustache and names kind of sound foreign to me. As a youngster, I always wondered why someone with such a ‘strange and unNigerian’ name will be glorified as a Nigerian hero. Well, now I know berra…lol! Did you know that Herbert Macaulay could have actually been Nigeria’s first President, instead of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe? Did I hear you say how? Did you know he was also a musician? Do you want to know Herbert Macaulay’s last words on earth? His marital life? Read on…

Forget his unmistakable moustache, Herbert Macaulay was a man of towering intelligence. In Nigeria of today where many men struggle to keep and cope with one job, Herbert Macaulay was a clerk, civil engineer, architect, surveyor, land inspector, journalist, musician, nationalist and politician.


This Nigerian legend was born on the 14th of November, 1864 in Lagos State. His parents, who married in 1845, were Sierra Leonean Creoles (called Saros) and he himself was a grandson of the famed Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop of the Anglican Church and linguist. Crowther would later die after suffering a stroke on the last day of 1891. Herbert Macaulay was to become recipient of the gold pen presented to his grandfather, Bishop Crowther by Queen Victoria of England at the Windsor Castle in 1851.

Then, Herbert was just about 27 years of age. His family was a prominent one and his father, Reverend Thomas Babington Macaulay, an early missionary and priest of the Church of England established the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Grammar School, Lagos, Nigeria’s first secondary school in 1859.

He became the school’s first principal, a mighty achievement in those days and was also a very close friend of Sir John Glover while he was the Administrator of Lagos. Herbert’s mother was named Abigail Crowther, a brilliant trader, businesswoman and the second daughter of Bishop Ajayi Crowther. Macaulay’s father would later die on the 17th of January, 1878 during a smallpox epidemic.


Herbert Macaulay attended primary school in Lagos and his secondary education was also at CMS Grammar School, Lagos, then took up work as a clerk at the Lagos Public Works Department in 1881 after high school. Thereafter proceeded to Plymouth, England where he studied civil engineering (1891-1894) and became a member of many intellectual societies and circles upon graduation (he was an Associate Member, Institute of British Architects). He went to the United Kingdom in 1890 on a government scholarship and when he returned, he worked briefly as a Surveyor of Crown Lands (government surveyor) before deciding to go for independent practise as an engineer, architect and surveyor. He resigned in 1898.

The year Macaulay left civil service, he got romantically entangled with Caroline Pratt, who happened to be the daughter of an African Police Superintendent. They later got married but the union came to an end in August 1899 following Caroline’s sudden death. They had no kids from the marriage. Even after her death, he maintained good relations with the Pratt family and saw to their welfare. A devastated Herbert later married Maria Pase but some records indicated that he also kept a string of mistresses who bore him a battalion of children. Caring for the kids sapped his pockets but he had no option.

Herbert was the fifth child (out of seven) of his parents and his siblings included Owen Emeric Macaulay (died in July 1909, was Abigail’s eldest son), Thomas Fowell Buxton Macaulay (second child, died in September 1928) while the third sibling was Hugh Stowell Macaulay.

One of his sons, Ogedengbe Macaulay also took after him with his own militant brand of politics. Ogedengbe was a Zikist and at a time in 1948, with the NCNCno becoming weaker, he and some other Zikists decided to take some pro-active steps.

Lagos at 50: Herbert Samuel Macaulay memories, relevance lingers
Herbert Samuel Macaulay
Lagos at 50: Herbert Samuel Macaulay memories, relevance lingers
Dignitaries at the event
Lagos at 50: Herbert Samuel Macaulay memories, relevance lingers
Some attendees at the event
Lagos at 50: Herbert Samuel Macaulay memories, relevance lingers
Students of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism at the event
Share With Friends

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.