Sir George Dashwood Taubman Goldie (20 May 1846 – 20 August 1925) was a Manx administrator who played a major role in the founding of Nigeria.
He conceived the idea of adding to the British Empire the then little known regions of the lower and middle Niger, and for over twenty years his efforts were devoted to the realization of this conception. The method by which he determined to work was the revival of government by chartered companies within the empire, a method supposed to be buried with the British East India Company. The first step was to combine all British commercial interests in the Niger, and this he accomplished in 1879 when the United African Company was formed by successfully drawning together the three largest British firms operating on the Niger, Holland Jacques and Company, in which Goldie himself owned a controlling interest, Miller Brothers, and James Pinnock – to create the United African Company.
In 1881, Goldie sought a charter from Gladstone’s government. Objections of various kinds were raised. To meet them the capital of the company (renamed the National African Company) was increased from £250,000 to £1,000,000 in 1882, amending its constitution to allow it greater leeway in attaining political rights of administration both from the British Government and from the local rulers with whom the company negotiated treaties, and as head of the National African Company, Goldie made the company by far the largest firm on the Niger.
At this time French traders, encouraged by Léon Gambetta, established themselves on the lower river, thus rendering it difficult for the company to obtain territorial rights; but the Frenchmen (three French companies) were bought out in 1884, so that at the Berlin Conference on West Africa in 1885, Goldie, present as an expert on matters relating to the river, was able to announce that on the lower Niger the British flag alone flew. Meantime the Niger coast line had been placed under British protection.
Through Joseph Thomson, David McIntosh, D. W. Sargent, J. Flint, William Wallace, E. Dangerfield and numerous other agents, over 400 political treaties drawn up by Goldie were made with the chiefs of the lower Niger and the Hausa states. The scruples of the British government being overcome, a charter was at length granted in July 1886 and the National African Company became the Royal Niger Company, with Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare as governor and Goldieas vice-governor. In 1895, on Lord Aberdare’s death, Goldie became governor of the company, whose destinies he had guided throughout. The Royal Charter gave the Royal Niger Company, the power to control the political administration and trade policies of any local territories with which it could gain legal treaties, provided that the company did not interfere in local religions, laws, or customs, except insofar as was necessary to discourage the practice of slavery. Under Goldie, the Royal Niger Company became a commercial empire of its own, crowding out both foreign and local trade in a bid to end competition on the Niger.
Despite the grant of a Royal Charter in 1886, the Royal Niger Company’s mission and its potentialities failed to appeal to the general public; and even when in 1900 the Territory, with its area equal to that of Germany and the British Isles combined, was added to the Dependencies of the Empire, the new Protectorate was regarded with indifference and suspicion as a present burden and a probable source of future trouble.
It was, however, evidently impossible for a chartered company to hold its own against the state-supported protectorates of France and Germany, and in consequence, on 1 January 1900, the Royal Niger Company transferred its territories to the British government for the sum of £865,000. The ceded territory together with the small Niger Coast Protectorate, already under imperial control, was formed into the two protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria.
From the proceeds of the surrender of its (The Royal Niger Company’s) charter to the British Government in 1900, the company were able to make a special distribution to its shareholders amounting to 145 per cent.
After several discoveries of Mineral wealth in the Norther Nigeria Protectorate, the dismal view on Nigeria as a colony was quickly overturned, with Lord Crewe declaring that:
“there is no part of the Empire about which higher hopes may properly be entertained than the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria“; and the Colonial Report, in emphatic corroboration of this optimistic opinion, asserted that “very few countries have witnessed such great changes for the better in such a short space of time, as has been the case with this Cinderella of the British Dominions“.
This is in contrast to the view held by the British Government and its people within less than a century earlier when:
“The Niger”, as Colonel Mockler-Ferryman tells us, “was absolutely tabooed; its name was mentioned only in whispers, and the British public regarded it as an unlucky, pestilential spot, out of which no good could ever come.” It must be remembered, in explanation of this pessimistic attitude, that all attempts to explore Nigeria and open up commerce on the river had failed more or less completely; a great number of lives had been sacrificed in successive expeditions, and no practical good had been accomplished.