The manuscript that got “lost”: Remembering the Rev. Samuel Johnson, (Ayìnlá Ògún) – Tola Adenle

Samuel Johnson (1846-1901) and his wife.Rev. Samuel Johnson was an Anglican priest and historian of Yoruba descent and is most noted for his manuscript, The History of the Yorubas<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> More Vintage Nigerian photos

Samuel Johnson (1846-1901) and his wife.  [Photo Credit:]


The title page was gone before my spouse and I received the gift in late 1969 just before we got married.


Thank God, the book’s spine remained & still remains intact as of  May 2013.

Dr JOHNSONajani ogun

And the frontispiece:  the Rev. Samuel Johnson, Ayinla Ogun’s younger brother, Dr. O. Johnson, Ajani Ogun, book’s editor who had to rewrite the book when it was declared “lost” by the English publishers.  

Getting above pages scanned and added to update the essay has been a long time in coming because we kept the book overseas.  I scanned it two months ago, and am pleased to share with readers.  TOLA, July 3, 2013.

It is possible that I  missed a resolution of the problem of the “lost” original manuscript of what is arguably the first written history of any of the nationalities in the country because I’ve been almost as much out as in the country during the last three decades.  An incident that happened this past week (third week of August 2002) in England renewed my interest in Rev. Johnson’s The History of the Yorubas – The History – and what actually happened to the original manuscript of the book.

A thief or thieves broke into Charles Dickens home which I think is now a museum in broad daylight and made away with the first edition of A Christmas Carol, Dickens classic about Stooge, the man who originally had no use for Christmas.  What was stolen last week were three printed copies, albeit, the first issues.  Of course I know the value – academic, historical and sentimental of such, but Johnson’s “lost” manuscript was the original handwritten copy, the only one, and the result of “more than 20 years of labour”, to quote the words of his brother, the Dr. O. Johnson, (Ajagbe Ogun).  His labour of love finally made it possible for us to have the book.

Please allow me to quote three paragraphs from Dr. O.  Johnson’s preface to the book:

“A singular misfortune, which happily is not of everyday occurrence, befell the original manuscripts of this history, in consequence of which the author never lived to see in print his more than 20 years of labour.

 The manuscripts were forwarded to a well-known English publisher through one of the great Missionary Societies in 1899 and – mirabile dictu – nothing more was heard of them!

 The editor who was all along in collaboration with the author had occasion to visit England in 1900, and called on the publisher, but could get nothing more from him than that the manuscripts had been misplaced, that they could not be found, and that he was prepared to pay for them!  This seemed to the editor and all his friends who heard of it so strange that one could not help thinking that there was more in it than appeared on the surface, especially because of other circumstances connected with the so-called loss of the manuscripts.  However, we let the subject rest there.  The author himself died in the following year (1901), and it has now fallen to the lot of the editor to rewrite the whole history anew, from the copious notes and rough copies left behind by the author.”

 Anybody who has ever read through The History would know that the editor, Dr. Johnson, did a very good job of piecing together materials left by his great brother which finally got the book in print in 1921.  My husband and I have a copy of the 1937 edition which was used as an exhibit in a 1955 case.  The book has continued to be THE reference point for accurate referrals to matters of Yoruba ancestry and history.

We must get that original manuscript back if it is still in existence and I have a strong feeling it still is for two main reasons:

  1. Dr. Johnson’s wordings of above quoted paragraphs, especially the second half of the third paragraph.  Note the exclamations, none of which is mine.
  2. The English, nay, most other races, know the value of such original works.

It made very interesting reading recently how the English tried to con (“confidence” game is what it is!) an ancient Bible out of Nigeria but the Alake, Oba Lipede, learnt from how an earlier Bible had ostensibly been taken away to be rebound but was never returned!  I am sure the Alake, like most interested Yorubas, is aware of the countless works of arts in British museums and private hands across the western world either given as gifts, conned, stolen or picked up for a song.  Three of the world-renowned so-called Ife marbles were given as gifts by Owoni [Oni] Adelekan in 1896 to Governor Carter (for whom Carter bridge, Lagos is named) in the cause of getting the Modakekes out of Ife!  They are today at the British Museum.

Why must we get the manuscript back?

One, for the same reason that others cherish such records.   It belongs here.

Two, our recent history in this country points to one thing:  that we are a people in search (‘need’ may be a better word) of our past.  The history taught in schools (even far back to  our time) is superficial.  The ancestral home of the Yoruba has always been taught in schools as Mecca but The History qualifies that claim and our kids must know so that whatever the watered-down History/Geography known as Social Studies teache,s will be appreciated for what it is: a cursory look; after all, it is taught only at junior secondary level.

If our kids can learn of advances made by our ancestors before the coming of “civilization”, advances like working with smelt iron long before there was any school, they may have the impetus to strife for loftier heights; they may, just per chance, have heroes of the past to emulate rather than most of the “heroes” and “great” men of the present

whose “achievements” lie in making money the Nigerian way, not earning it, if I may put a twist to an advertisement line of a brokerage house [ …we make money the old-fashioned way, we earn it.]

Three, we must get it back because of the Yorubas in Diaspora and they number in the millions.  We must note the full title of the book and the implications of the words: The History of the Yorubas – From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate.  There are arguably more Yorubas in Diaspora than any ethnic [Black] group from the African continent.

Four, and finally, the Rev. Johnson wrote it so that the facts there would become knowledge to many.  In his preface written in the third person dated at Oyo in 1897, he wrote:

“Educated natives of Yoruba are well acquainted with the history of England and with that of Rome and Greece, but of the history of their own country they know nothing whatever!  This reproach it is one of the author’s objects to remove.”

How right, and how wrong!

The Rev. Johnson remains right about our knowing more about the outside world than about our history.  His effort of more than two decades towards removing our people’s ignorance, alas, is wrong.  His beloved Yoruba language would go the way of Latin if most of us are not so ravaged by poverty that kids are kept out of school or spend but a few years there before joining the myriads of unemployed or underemployed.  This segment remains the main speakers of Yoruba today while English has become the language of choice that middle and upper classes speak to their kids and alas, even the lower class has adopted it.  A little girl told me the other day that “it has tay/te/teh” since a friend stopped by to see me.  I acted as interpreter to my husband who thought that my visitor had “stayed”!  I explained to the father that the girl should learn written and spoken English at school; I had been trying to convince him of the importance of speaking his language to his kids.  In this regard, I tell all and any that I find depriving their kids of their mother tongue that there is no need to force English as a first language on their children; they will not be necessarily better (or even good) in the language.  After all, I grew up speaking my dialect and learnt proper Yoruba (only Ekitis, Akures, Ondos, etc. can know how difficult “proper” Yoruba is!) before learning English.

Manuscripts like these are a part of the business of the two big Auction Houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s

which distribute, so to say, such documents by way of sale at exorbitant prices to museums and private collectors that can properly store these so that they will always be available to all.

To get the original manuscript back or, at least, find out what actually happened to it, Yoruba organizations like Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders can, for a start, declare a Centenary of the death of the illustrious Rev. Johnson (though a year late).  They should go through the federal government to the British government for assistance in finding out what actually happened to the manuscript.  The second major duty for the extended Centennial must be a grand design to reissue The History in paperback and the book presentation should be done NOT in the usual manner of book “launches” in Nigeria which generally sees books presented with fanfare and millions raised but most of the books are never in circulation. Money raised will be needed to donate several copies to all schools, especially in Yoruba-speaking area.  Most big libraries in and outside Nigeria should be noted about the re-issue while presentations should also be made in countries where Yorubas in Diaspora reside.

Before the reissue, the Johnson Centennial Group can work with descendants to submit pictures and other relevant documents that can be used in writing an introduction to the edition.


The Comet on Sunday, September 2002


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11 Comments on “The manuscript that got “lost”: Remembering the Rev. Samuel Johnson, (Ayìnlá Ògún) – Tola Adenle”

  1. folakemiodoaje Says:

    Got to this post following your comment to Mr Tao on Lagos, computer village.

    Pleasant surprise to read this post, only about three weeks ago, I was at a friend, she showed me a copy of Rev Samuel Johnson’s book. I looked briefly through and I knew I needed my own copy; luckily it is available on Amazon, I was elated! My copy has been dispatched now, really looking forward to receiving it.

    I completely agree with you on the importance of getting the manuscript back as it rightly belongs to the Yoruba people. Interesting enough, this is the point I raised with my friend that I would have loved to see such important book like this to be widely read and even available in school for reference.

    I think it can be done if we can track down where it is kept and get necessary signatories to approve the transfer.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Folakemi,

      Thank you very much for your comments on Rev. Johnson’s HISTORY OF THE YORUBAS. It’s been a book close and dear to my heart since we got it and I read through it in 1969. At a point, I thought we had lost it because I misplaced it in all the moves we made the last 40-something years and a replacement was out of the way because the one we received is older than me!

      Isn’t it great to have committed people like you because I am fascinated by your readiness to dig deep once you pick up information: Yoruba language, et cetera. Pardon me but I do mean it: that’s why the ideas you research, though simple Nigerian, Yoruba or Ife/Modakeke affairs make pleasurable and informative reading.

      I think I’ll go to AMAZON and post the review there – at least two or three paras followed by the link. May be it would interest others.

      Pardon this delay; this is the first opportunity to check the blog since yesterday.


      Liked by 1 person


      • folakemiodoaje Says:

        Many thanks Mrs Adenle for the nice remarks.

        Please do post it on Amazon as book reviews are very useful. A reviewer on Amazon UK said he/she read the book 60yrs ago in school which suggests there’s once a time that Rev Johnson’s book was given deserved attention, a pointer to where things started to go wrong – loosing sense of what connects us.

        And big thank you for bringing Rev Johnson’s work to life.


      • emotan77 Says:

        Dear Folakemi,

        We are all working towards the same goal.

        Thanks, and regards,

        Liked by 1 person

  2. oluwafemi Oyeyinka Says:

    Emotan, good day it is very sad that 3 years after your post nobody has commented… I came across this book about a year ago and have a scanned electronic copy… I actually just started reading and to say I am upset is an understatement… I decided to research more this morning and came across your post. The book is older than even my grandfather besides it is so detailed and got me asking so many questions…. Why are histories like these taken away from our people? I will like to please communicate more with you. I will be grateful if you please reply. Thank-you.

    Liked by 1 person


    • adebayoalonge Says:

      Hello Femi,

      Can we do something together to get this original manuscript back?



    • emotan77 Says:

      PS. Mr. Adebayo Alonge,

      I will pass your note to Mr. o as regards your message which I mistakenly thought was meant for me.

      It would be great if anything – never too late for such things like this – could be done. I tried unsuccessfully.

      Thanks very much.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Mr. Oyeyinka,

      Thanks very much for your mail of over two years ago!

      It was sad that at the time that you stopped by in 2015, none had commented on the essay but it’s perhaps as sad that it’s today that I first saw your comments; it’s not due to neglect but I found it today with Mr. Alonge’s whose address I will pass to you through an email.

      The way comments show up makes it difficult to miss: even if an essay showed up years back and a blog visitor posts comments today, October 5, 2017, the comments icon would show today.

      Yeah, it’s really sad that important subjects like this do not seem to matter to those who govern in Yorubaland.

      The essay was actually first used in my Sunday column for THE COMET ON SUNDAY in September 2002, 15 years ago last month. THE NATION metamorphosed into THE NATION ON SUNDAY for which I wrote for many years.

      Without going into details, I must mention that I did try at that time without success. It would be great if younger people of your generation could rise to the challenge.

      It is a document that we must not let go of without putting in the effort at retrieval.




  3. emotan77 Says:

    Dear Egbon,

    Thank you very much. It’s such a disgrace. A fate so sad!

    Fond regards,



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