Did you know the southern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt was named for the British politician of the late 19th century who became Secretary of State for the Colonies for five years between 1910 and 1915? It gets more interesting. Viscount Harcourt was part of British nobility from birth and was elevated to the peerage as Viscount of Stanton Court in Oxfordshire County and ascended to the position of Secretary at a somewhat early age but there was a dimension to his life that is almost missed by the history books. According to Andy Hughes, the man had a dark side to him that either unknown at the time or deliberately ignored- he was a sexual predator of a reported voracious appetite. As Hughes puts it, he was “a bit of a sex pest”. Loulou, as he was known in his time, had a taste for both young boys and girls alike.
Two cases were most vaunted in Hughes book. First was the case of the 15-year old daughter of Viscount Esher (Reginald Baliol Brett), a fellow peer, historian and politician of British repute of the era who Harcourt attempted to sexually assault. The said victim, Dorothy Brett, was quoted to say
“It is so tiresome that Loulou is such an old roué. He is as bad with boys as with girls… he is simply a sex maniac. It isn’t that he is in love. It is just ungovernable sex desire for both sexes.”
The second was the case of Edward James who Harcourt attempted to prey upon at the age of 12. That incident brought his unsavoury habit to light as the boy’s mother exposed him but that knowledge stayed within elite circles even till his death. Rumours have it that the incident forced Harcourt to commit suicide but that has been a matter of controversy by itself.
How Port Harcourt came to be named after him is an indication of how little regard the British had for the pre-existing cultures and norms of the places they colonized. A simple correspondence of letters resulted in the city being named after Viscount Harcourt as Lord Lugard could not find a name “fitting” for the new port.
The recent spate of rape cases has seen an uproar on and off social media and since the above information came to light, people have been calling for a renaming of the city. It figures but one doubts that those calls will have an impact off social media- where it really matters- as matters as history is not our favourite subject. Then again, knowing this was meant to educate and maybe one day, we can change it. It does really start with the education and liberation of our minds.
Andy Hughes, The Pocket Guide to Scandals of the Aristocracy, Pen and Sword, 2012, p 19-180