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The First BA in Africa? NS Davis has been found! Two editions ago, in June 2011, we asked if you could help us prove that Durham created the first BA in Africa. At that point, we only knew that the graduate’s name was NS Davis. However, after a big response from Durham First readers, we now know more. Matthew Andrews takes up the story.

Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone, founded in 1827 by the Church Missionary Society as a much-revised version of a pre-existing school called the Christian Institution, was affiliated to Durham University on 16 May 1876.

Negroes, and this would be the first instance of their having obtained actual degrees in any of the universities, and he could not help but feel this spoke well for civilisation and Christianity in Central Africa’.

By the time of its affiliation, the College had already gained a strong reputation in the region and earned for Freetown the title of the ‘Athens of Africa’.

Sadly, the University’s actions also attracted racist attacks. CE Whiting recorded in his history of the University (Sheldon Press, 1932) the comments in a London newspaper, criticising the action of the Senate… ‘that the next step would probably be the affiliation of the Zoo’.

On being affiliated to Durham, Fourah Bay became a broader institution, with a curriculum embracing a wide range of topics including ‘Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French, German, Comparative Philology, History and Geography, as well as Moral Philosophy, Political Economy, Logic, Mathematics, Music, and some branches of Natural Science’. The first six students to graduate were conferred their awards in December 1878; one student gained a Bachelor of Arts and the remaining five received the Licentiate in Theology. That BA graduate was Nathaniel Davis, who was ordained sometime shortly afterwards. Davis went on to become a tutor at Fourah Bay College.

The Durham University Journal (the official journal of Durham University 1876 and 1995) carried the remarks from the subwarden of the time on these first degrees, and we quote: ‘these students were pure

Students at Fourah Bay continued to take Durham degrees until 1969, when students then started to take degrees from the University of Sierra Leone, to which the College had become affiliated in 1966. To return to our original question, the history of Fourah Bay, and indeed whether it awarded the first BA in Africa, is closely related to the establishment of another West African educational institution, Liberia College. This was an Americanfunded institution founded in 1851, but which did not admit students until 1863. A somewhat sporadic success, it graduated only ten students between 1866 and 1902. To determine whether Durham created the first BA in Africa, we still need to ask further questions. First, what education

Pictured: the late Rev. NS Davis, MA formerly a tutor at Fourah Bay College.

was provided by Liberia College in this period? Liberia College, although not as successful as Fourah Bay, did produce ‘graduates’ earlier; but what was the status of these degrees? Second, although we now have an image of Nathaniel Davis (see above) from the archives of Palace Green Library, it would be wonderful to find out what else is known about him. The University Calendar records some of the simple facts of his career, but did he leave traces anywhere else? So once again, we are asking for your help. Do you know anything about Liberia College or the life and achievements of Nathaniel Davis? We would love to hear from you: This DF article is based on a fascinating article by Matthew Andrews (MA Seventeenth-Century Studies, St Chad’s, 1997-98 and BA Philosophy & Theology, St Chad’s, 1994-97). Matthew is currently studying part-time for a DPhil at Oxford University in the development of English higher education during the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the foundation and growth of Durham University. The original article is available on request and can be viewed in full at

Durham First issue 32  

Durham University's alumni magazine - Spring/Summer 2012

Durham First issue 32  

Durham University's alumni magazine - Spring/Summer 2012