The records of the Ghana (Gold Coast) lawyers/legal practitioners from 1860s to 1887 includes: The list settles who is the first West African lawyer.
(1) EMISANG, George Emil (Gold Coast/Ghana)
George Emil Emisang (ca 1833 – 1901) was the first Western-educated lawyer in Gold Coast (now Ghana), an unquestionable authority on aboriginal laws, an expert in commercial law (in today`s world mergers and acquisition) and a prominent merchant. He was also a gifted polyglot who spoke five languages, viz: Dutch, Portuguese, German, English and Fantse. He was trained in Holland and in Germany and was appointed a magistrate by the Dutch. He practised at the bar of the Supreme Court.
Evidence of Emisang`s position as the first lawyer in Gold coast is found in the preface of John Mensah Sarbah`s own book Fanti Customary Laws. John Mensa Sarbah wrote in a letter to Eminsang:
“Dear Mr. Eminsang, — Pardon the liberty I take in sending you this open letter, with this my first attempt in the Thorny paths of literature. I dare do so, for not only you are a Native of the soil and one of my father’s friends, but also the senior member of the Bar of the Western Province of the Supreme Court of the Gold Coast, having commenced to practice when we, who are now members thereof, were but schoolboys.
—John Mensa Sarbah, Law Courts
Eminsang was the leading lawyer who single-handedly facilitated the commercial transfer of the ownership of Dutch possession in Elmina and Gold Coast to the British in 1872. This legal genius was made a Commander in Elmina once the British had bought Elmina Castle, but the locals mistrusted the situation and he relocated to Cape Coast.
Among his many achievements, Eminsang served as consular agent to the Dutch in Elmina (1878–1879), and also to the Congo and the United States in Cape Coast Castle (1890).
(2) SMITH, Francis (Gold Coast/Ghana) and (3) RENNER, Maxwell
Long before 1887, there were two prominent Cape Coast lawyers. One was Francis Smith(1844-1912), who was appointed a Puisne-Judge in 1886. The other was Maxwell Renner (B.A., LL.B., Oxon.) Although both of them had Sierra Leonean fathers, their mothers were Cape Coasters
((4) SAPARA WILLIAMS, Christopher Alexander (First Nigerian Lawyer)
Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams was Saro (descendants of a returnee Afro-Brazilian). In March 1875 he proceeded to England for further studies, and on 17 November 1879, he was called to the English Bar – the first Nigerian to be fully qualified as a legal practitioner. He returned to West Africa and on 27 August 1880, was enrolled as Barrister and Solicitor of the Gold Coast Colony, Lagos then being administered as part of that Colony.The scope of Sapara Williams’s legal practice spanned both the Gold Coast and Nigeria. From 1891 until probably his death on 14 March 1915, he was the leader of the Bar in the two colonies. Sapara Williams` brother, Dr Oguntola Sapara was also a medical doctor in the Gold Coast and married in Chapman Ferguson Grant`s family, thus why some Grant family members bear the name Sapara-Grant.
(5) SARBAH, Mensah John
John Mensah Sarbah (June 3, 1864-November 27, 1910) was called to the Bar in 1887 in England. John Mensah Sarbah was also, patriot and statesman, was one of the most outstanding nationalists of the Gold Coast at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. He made a lasting mark on national life in politics, education, and law.
He was born at Cape Coast in 1864, and was the eldest son of John Sarbah, a merchant, and of his wife Sarah. He was educated at the Cape Coast Wesleyan School, and at Taunton School Devon, England. He entered Lincoln’s Inn in London in 1884 to study law, and qualified as a barrister in 1887.
Adewọye, O. (1971). Sapara Williams: The Lawyer and the Public Servant. Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, 47-65.
Crabbe, A. (1971). John Mensah Sarbah, 1864-1910: His Life and Works. Ghana Universities Press.
Ephson, I. S. (1971). Gallery of Gold Coast Celebrities, 1632-1958 (Vol. 1). Ilen Publications.
Sampson, M. J. (1937). Gold Coast men of affairs (past and present). Dawsons.
Sarbah, J. M. (1904). Fanti Customary Laws: A Brief Introduction to the Principles of the Native Laws and Customs of the Fanti and Akan Districts of the Gold Coast. W. Clowes and Sons, limited.
Tenkorang, S. (1973). John Mensah Sarbah, 1864-1910. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, 14(1), 65-78.
Kweku Darko Ankrah