William Hughes (18?-1898) was the first African to be appointed as assistant district commissioner when the interior of Sierra Leone was declared a British Protectorate under the leadership of Governor Frederic Cardew (q.v.).

A Krio (Creole) police clerk, Hughe’s appointment was an unusual one. Governor Cardew, an ex-Indian Army colonel, generally appointed officers from the Frontier Police (inaugurated in 1890) to act as district commissioners and assistant district commissioners over the five administrative areas of the Protectorate.

In the Sherbro, however, which was within the Colony, he appointed Thomas Alldridge, a European trader of long standing in the area, as district commissioner. Alldridge had his headquarters at Bonthe, on the Sherbro Island, while Hughes was appointed to lmperi, on the mainland. Imperi had been deliberately kept within the Colony in order to continue vigilant detective work on the series of gruesome murders carried out by members of the secret Leopard Societies that had become active in the area.

Hughes, thoroughly acquainted with the laws of the Colony through his police career, was well qualified for the task of assistant district commissioner in a remote outpost. In 1897, the Sherbro rulers imposed an embargo on headquarters all trade passing from their country to Freetown.

They did this as an expression of resentment at the proclamation of the Protectorate, as well as against Cardew’s forthcoming house tax, even although they themselves were unaffected by the tax. Hughes, alone in Imperi, and observing the situation closely, reported that there were signs of a concerted outbreak hostility, as the Sokong (chief) of Imperi was making arrangements with other chiefs to resist the provisions of the Protectorate Ordinance.

His report, unfortunately, was treated lightly in official circles. At the end of April 1898, a few months after opposition to the house tax had led to an uprising in the north, led by Bai Bureh (q.v.), there was a spontaneous and widespread rising in the south.
The attacks were specifically directed against all western establishments and persons. Alldridge, alerted to the crisis by the influx of refugees into Bonthe, sent five policemen to Imperi as reinforcement for Hughes. But already, murder, looting and destruction on a large scale had taken place, and the kindly assistant district commissioner could not be found. Sokong had in fact taken Hughes inland where, after being tortured, he, together with his wife and his clerk were murdered at of Gbanbaia.

After order had been restored, Cardew objected to the rebuilding of the town, destroyed in the colonial counter-offensive later the same year, because of the murder of Hughes which had taken place there.

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