Arthur Williamson O’Dwyer: A Saro in Calabar, Nigeria by Nigel Dylan Davies

Arthur Williamson O’Dwyer was born in February 21 1861 to Major Gage Hall O’Dwyer, a soldier in the 1st Indian Regiment (the First West India Regiment) and a Sierra Leonean mother. O’Dwyer attended a Roman Catholic primary school before entering the Wesleyan Boy’s High School where he met lifelong friends and acquaintances such as Dr. Albert Whiggs Easmon and Johnnie Moses Horton, who eventually became Freetown city treasurer.

After beginning work as a clerk in the Public Works Department in 1878 and then the Customs and Harbour Master’s Office in 1879, O’Dwyer became a trader at Grand Bassa, Liberia in 1880.

After five years of trading in Liberia, O’Dwyer travelled to southern Nigeria in 1885 and became the Consular Clerk to Edward H. Hewett, the Consular-General for the Bights of Benin and Biafra. After the formation of the Niger Protectorate, O’Dwyer was appointed Paymaster of the Wliydan, the chartered Government yacht of the newly formed administration. Shortly after serving in that post, O’Dwyer was appointed Clerk of the Post Office of Calabar in 1894, before being promoted to Chief Clerk in 1897.

In order to further prepare O’Dwyer for his duties (and possibly for promotion), O’Dwyer was sent to Britain to study the British postal service in 1898, and was tested by serving at general post offices in London, Manchester and Liverpool. In September, 1898, whilst serving at Liverpool, O’Dwyer was placed in charge of the despatch of West African mail and proved himself adequately capable of the role.

After proving his capabilities, O’Dwyer returned to Nigeria, and was duly promoted as Postmaster in 1900. In 1902, O’Dwyer was appointed Paymaster and Quartermaster of the Southern Nigeria Regiment and served in this role until his retirement (with pension) in 1906.

On November 25, 1907, O’Dwyer married Martha Judith Broadhurst of Pademba road; she was a descendant of John H. Broadhurst, a Mancunian merchant and his Sierra Leonean wife. The wedding took place at St. John’s Maroon Church and was conducted by Rev. J.R. Frederick, a Caribbean minister from St. Kitts who was in charge of Zion Methodist Church, (and whose daughter Ann married the Sierra Leonean lawyer T.J. Thompson). The bridegroom, dressed up in the latest up to date fashion was led in by Dr. William Renner and Dr. Albert Whiggs Easmon.

But even after retirement and marriage, O’Dwyer continued to engage in trade, and he became the first to open a shop for the supply of patent medicine in Calabar. O’Dwyer also opened other shops in Duke Town, Calabar and began to specialize in supplies of male and female clothing materials in addition to hardware, glass and chinaware (including Austrian glassware until the First World War). O’Dwyer also became a commission agent and auctioneer.

A.W. O’Dwyer also engaged in social activities, and he became a Freemason during his time in Liverpool in addition to becoming a member of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in Salford, Manchester.

O’Dwyer’s son, Gage Hall Hewett O’Dwyer (born of a Nigerian Efik mother), was a well respected businessman who was initially placed in charge of one of his father’s stores. G.H.H. O’Dwyer, like his father, was also a Freemason.

Descendants of A.W. O’Dwyer include George Dove-Edwin (1928-2009), the eminent Nigerian ambassador (of Sierra Leonean descent) whose mother was an O’Dwyer.