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West African Railways

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y30448W

Scope and Contents

A collection of photographs created by the railway engineer Charles Bell Swan. The discovery of gold at Tarkwa during the 1890s provided the stimulus for the establishment of the Gold Coast Government Railway. Sekondi was chosen as the terminal port to support mining operations and construction began there in 1898, reaching Tarkwa in 1901. The line was extended to Kumasi in 1903. Items 1-18 and 44 document the building of the harbour facilities and station at Sekondi, and the European and African workers engaged in their construction. Other photographs illustrate festivities to celebrate King Edward VII’s coronation in Aug. 1902 and Christmas of that year.

Work on the Lagos Government Railway began at Lagos in 1893 and the first section to Ibadan was opened in 1901. In 1907 it became the Lagos Railway. It appears that Swan was employed soon after in the extension of the line from Ilorin to Jebba and then beyond to Zungeru. This involved two significant landmarks: the major engineering feat of bridging the Niger River at Jebba and the junction of the Lagos Railway with the Baro-Kano Railway at Minna on 1 Jan. 1912, which linked the two Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria.

Photographs 19-20, 22-43 and 45 relate to Swan’s tenure with the LGR/LR. They include images of bridge construction and camps at Akerri, Egebi, Igberi, Boboji and Jebba, and of European and African workers engaged on the works. The Jebba photographs can be dated by the celebration of George V’s Coronation in June 1911. Item 21 features a boating scene on the Leam River at Leamington.


  • Creation: 1902 - 1912

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Charles Bell Swan was born in Gateshead in 1870. He was employed as an engineer by the Gold Coast Government Railway and the Lagos Railway.


1 album(s) (45 images in 1 album)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The album binding is broken and a number of photographs have been badly damaged by water.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Charles Swan's grand-daughter, Mrs R.B. Whaley, in 2009.


This collection level description was entered by MJC.

Date information

DateText: The dates are approximate..


Swan, Charles Bell, 1870-1943, railway engineer

Includes index.
2010-10-12 15:45:30+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom