have inhabited the area outside of
Banjul island for may millennia before the Portuguese navigators Antoniotti Usodimare & Luiz de Cadamosto, entered the mouth of the
Gambia River in 1455 before being ejected by hostile locals. They
returned in 1456 and managed to reach
James Island further upstream.
After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 the British had to find
an alternative to James Island, which was situated on the river, to
better control access to the river and enforce the Slavery Abolition
Act. The first reason was because the Americans, Portuguese, Spanish & French
continued to trade in slaves. Secondly to protect British commercial
interest in the interior of the region.
In 1815 Sir Charles MacCarthy (Governor-in-Chief of
all the British settlements on West Africa) gave an order to Alexander Grant,
a British officer, to sail down from the Senegalese island of Gorée
with a 75 strong detachment from the Royal African Corps, to look into the possibility of establishing a
military stronghold in Gambia. After a tour and inspection of James
Island they settled for St. Mary's Island (then known as 'Banjulo'
by the Portuguese).
On the 23rd April 1816 Captain Alexander Grant entered into a treaty with Tomani
Bojang, the (Mansa) 'King' of Kombo, for the cessation of the island which was duly
purchased by the British Government for a yearly payment of 103 iron
bars, which was the equivalent of £25 at that time. The island was re-named St.
Mary's Island (after Cape Point's St. Mary area) and a settlement was established named Bathurst, after
the then Secretary of State for the British Colonies, Henry Bathurst.
Grant proceeded to construct an army barracks
barracks which could hold
80 soldiers & house six cannons to guard the entrance to the
Their task however, was made extremely difficult as Bathurst was
essentially a flat land mass which was
mosquito infested and susceptible to regular flooding. By 1821 a
number of official buildings were finished which included the
Barracks, a hospital, and a court house among others.
That same year Bathurst was put on a more formal footing when it was
incorporated and administered under the authority of the Governor of
Sierra Leone. In 1843 The Gambia became a colony with its own
Governor, judicial system, executive and legislative councils.
However, in 1866 the settlement was once again bought under the
authority of the Governor of Sierra Leone and it was not until 1888
that it reverted back to a colony in its own right.
Government's policy was that apart from the cost of defence all other
costs of maintaining the colony had to
be derived from customs duties on
imports. In 1822 Sir Charles MacCarthy, after his tour of the West
Africa commented about the improvement in commerce of Bathurst being
greater than any of the other posts occupied by her Majesty's forces
on the coast.
After 3 months and a lot of effort by Grant's men and having endured high death
rates from malaria and other swamp fevers the island soon became secure enough for it to be used as a trading
stronghold which allowed British traders to transfer their base from Gorée
Island to Bathurst. Some of these merchants were the descendants of
earlier inter-marriages between British colonists and locals on Goree
who were known as the senioras who were Mulatto. These last people
eventually owned large estates particularly country homes in the
The former name of
Banjul is Bathurst.
Named after Henry Bathurst in 1816.
Renamed Banjul in 1973.
Prior to 1816 known as Banjulo.
Acquired city status in 1965.
MacCarthy Square (July 22nd Sq.), was named after Brigadier Sir
Charles MacCarthy (governor of Sierra Leone and the West African
Settlements). It was at the very centre of the cluster of
Government buildings. The first public buildings encircled the
square. They were the Government House and a six gun battery,
barracks, officers’ mess [now the Government offices in the Quadrangle],
and the Colonial Engineer’s Yard, which later became
1818 the total population of the new settlement was around 600.
By 1826 this figure had risen to 1,800 (excluding the garrison)
of which 30 were Europeans. In the 1830s ship loads of liberated
African refugees landed in Bathurst and were transported to the
Liberated African Yard. Goderich Village was created near Oyster
Creek by the Colonial Government in 1832 to specifically assist
Africans. By the middle of the 19th century
the local population of Bathurst was 4,000 as well as 190
This growth in the numbers of people was caused
by an influx of freed slaves from Freetown, fugitives evading
justice and people from the
of Gorée Island & St. Louis in Senegal.
Such was the uncontrolled migrations that Lieutenant Governor
Mackie tried to put a stop to it. His job was made difficult by
the religious wars raging in the region. Over time people from other tribes of West Africa also joined them
enabling Bathurst to grow from a fort with a few outlying local
villages into a city within 100 years. The reason for this
growth was because the deep port allowed large ships to dock and
thus propelled Bathurst into one of West Africa's main trading
gateways, particularly entrepot trade, to other West African
The settlement's local divisions was
reflected by the various people who had come to live there.
Bathurst was planned and divided into districts for specific
There was Soldier Town where the
pensioners from the West Indian Regiments and Royal Africa Corps
resided. There was Jolof Town,
which was largely made up of artisans and mechanics from the
people of the Wollof ethnic group. There was the poorest sector
known as Moka or
Mocam Town, which
was later re-named Half-Die
after the Cholera epidemic of 1869 killed many there, was populated by
immigrant labourers from the Kombos and up-river areas. There
was also Melville Town occupied by the Akus which had earlier
been settled by the Jolas. And finally there was
which was occupied by the Mulatto descendants of mixed African
and Portuguese parentage. As the settlement grew street names
were given which were from either prominent merchants or
generals who served in the Battle of Waterloo. In recognition of
his efforts to stop the slave trade along the river a street was
named after him called Grant Street.
The settlement was declared capital of the
newly established "Crown Colony and Protectorate of The Gambia" in
The port town
gained the status of a city in 1965 which was the same year The Gambia
became independent. In 1973 Bathurst was re-named
After a period of stagnation and decay in the
1980's the capital saw a rapid exodus of much of the
Banjul and out into the Kombos creating the Greater Banjul area.
Presently old and decaying residential homes and commercial buildings
are being demolished and are being largely replaced by new commercial
warehouses and residential apartments.