Friday, 17 September 2010

Who Do You Think You Are: Hugh Quarshie (2)

In the programme, Hugh Quarshie's uncle Jimmy Phillips - his mother's brother - showed him a book called the Pen-Pictures, containing a series of biographies in which Hugh's grandfather had an entry.

In full, the book is titled The Pen Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities, published by the Ghanaian businessman and author C.F. Hutchison. It was published around 1928, and gives biographies in blank verse of some 162 Ghanaians ("Gold Coasters") who, according to Hutchison, were important pillars of society, standing at the root of modernisation and development in the Gold Coast Colony. The list includes both western-educated men (and three women) from a budding middle class, and traditional chiefs (some of whom had had a western education as well) who were instrumental in the policy of merging traditional rule with British colonial rule. Almost all biographies come with a portrait picture of the subject involved.

In 2003 I decided that, because of the importance of the book for Ghanaian history, as well as its rarity, the book warranted a new scholarly edition, properly annotated, and with an explicative and analytical introduction. With the help of Carla, my wife, who retyped and copy-edited the complete text, this project was finished within a year. The book was published in 2005. Since then it has turned into a bible for the study of the early 20th-century Gold Coast elite.

Cover of the 2005 edition (Click to access the full size image in Picasa.):

The entry for William Reginald Phillips is interesting in several ways, and quite detailed, referring to his "whiteness" and his mix of African and European heritage, as well as giving details about his school days, law studies, business, marriage, and his lodge membership. Having already looked into the Kamerling family history in depth, it was fairly easy to produce an annotation sketching the context of Phillips's connection to the Kamerling family and Abi village.

Print from the old edition:

In the television programme, the old edition wetted Hugh's appetite to find out more about his grandfather, which he of course subsequently did. It was the new publication that put the Wall-to-Wall production team on my track in September 2009, and started a co-operation that culminated in the television recording of March this year, and the broadcast of 7 September. Obviously, the existence of the new book could not be divulged to Hugh, as it would have given the game away.

It was my privilege to present the book to him after the recording in the National Archives in The Hague. Hugh then told me he was also affiliated, through his mother's sister's husband, with the Bartels' family. This family was very prominent in Elmina in the nineteenth century, and also constitute one half of the Bartels-Hutchison clan of Elmina and Cape Coast, which figures prominently in the book and of which the author, C.F. Hutchison, was a member. It's a small world...

Prints from the 2005 edition:

M.R. Doortmont (ed.), The Pen-Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities. A Collective Biography of Elite Society in the Gold Coast Colony. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2005.

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