One of the most significant figures in the preservation and promotion of Sierra Leonean’s cultural heritage is Dr. M.C.F. Easmon (1890-1972). Easmon was well-known medical doctor who, after retiring from the medical profession, presided over the Monuments and Relics Commission for many years and is regarded as the founder of Sierra Leone’s National Museum.
McCormack Charles Farrell Easmon was born in Accra in the Gold Coast (Ghana) where his father, a prominent Krio doctor, was working at the time. He was educated at the CMS Grammar School in Freetown and later at St. Paul’s Preparatory School in London. He attended Epsom College in Surrey and, after graduating in 1907, was awarded scholarships to study medicine at the Medical School of St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He qualified in medicine and surgery in 1912, and the following year passed the examination of the London School of Tropical Medicine.
When Easmon returned to Sierra Leone in 1913, he was refused a post in the West African Medical Service because of his colour. There were then two categories of doctors – Europeans in the ‘colonial service’ and Africans in the ‘local service’. Easmon, forced into the separate and lower category despite his excellent qualifications, became Country Hospital Native Medical Officer. But he campaigned for years against racial discrimination in the medical service, earning the antipathy of the British authorities who called him the ‘Yellow Peril’. During World War I, Easmon enlisted in the army and served as a medical officer in the Cameroons. After the war, he returned to England for further study and, in 1925, was awarded a medical qualification in obstetrics and gynaecology.
For the next twenty years, M.C.F. Easmon served in a variety of medical posts in the Protectorate, where he acquired a profound interest in the customs and traditions of the upcountry peoples. He published a series of scholarly articles on Madam Yoko, various paramount chiefs, the famous Massaquoi Crown, and Sierra Leone’s distinctive country cloth. He also became an accomplished amateur historian, publishing several well-researched articles on the early history of the Freetown colony.
Easmon retired from the medical service in 1945, and had the satisfaction of seeing the British finally unify the two separate medical services the following year. But at the age of fifty-five, Easmon embarked on an entirely new career. He served part-time on various government boards and was at one point a director of the Bank of Sierra Leone, but his principal interest was the preservation of Sierra Leone’s historical and cultural heritage. In 1947, he became the first chairman of the Monuments and Relics Commission, and presided over the official declaration of many national historic sites. As a member of the Sierra Leone Society, he spearheaded the founding of the Sierra Leone Museum in 1957 and became its first curator, working untiringly to acquire worthy exhibits for the museum and to set up attractive displays. He also worked hard to acquaint the public with Sierra Leone’s history and culture, hosting a popular radio programme called ‘Sierra Leone in Retrospect’. In 1954, Easmon was awarded the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).
M.C.F. Easmon fell ill while on holiday in England in 1969 and never returned to Sierra Leone. He had one his battle against racial discrimination in the medical service, but his work to preserve Sierra Leone’s historical and cultural heritage had only just begun.
- Easmon, M.C.F. 1924. Sierra Leone Country Cloths. London: Waterlow & Sons.
- Easmon, M.C.F. 1939. ‘The Massaquoi Crown’, Sierra Leone Studies (O.S.), 22, pp.83-87.
- Easmon, M.C.F. ‘Madam Yoko, Ruler of the Mende Confederacy’, Sierra Leone Studies, N.S.
- Easmon, M.C.F. 1956. ‘Sierra Leone Doctors of the Nineteenth Century’, Sierra Leone Studies (N.S.), 6, pp.81-96.
- Easmon, M.C.F. 1958. ‘Sierra Leone’s Own Museum’, West African Review, Vol.XXIX, No.373, pp.820-821.
- Easmon, M.C.F. (ed.) 1961. Eminent Sierra Leoneans (in the Nineteenth Century). Freetown: Sierra Leone Society.
- Fyfe, C. 2004. ‘Easmon, McCormack Charles Farrell (1890-1972)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Kabba, M.R.A. (ed.). 1988. Sierra Leone Heroes: Fifty Great Men and Women Who Helped to Build Our Nation, 2nd ed. Freetown: Government of Sierra Leone.
- Patton, A. 1996. Physicians, Colonial Racism, and Diaspora in West Africa. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.