Sierra Leone, a British colony on the W. coast of Africa, forming one of the West African settlements. It occupies a small peninsula terminating in Cape Sierra Leone, lat. 8° 30' N., Ion. 13° 18' E., and extending N. to the estuary of the same name. Along the N. bank of this estuary is a narrow strip of territory belonging to the colony, which also includes the district around the mouth of the Sherbro river, about 70 m. down the coast; area, 468 sq. m.; pop. in 1872, 38,936, of whom 107 were Europeans and 1,741 were native Christians. The peninsula is mountainous, some of the peaks rising to the height of 3,000 ft. above the sea; but there are tracts of level ground, and several small valleys, the whole being well watered and for the most part densely wooded. The lower districts are purely alluvial, but in the more elevated parts the geological formation is volcanic, and iron ore occurs. Free Town is the capital, in addition to which the colony contains several considerable villages. The climate is deadly to Europeans. The wet season extends from May to November inclusive; the average annual rainfall is 160 inches, and the mean temperature not far from 82° F. From February to December, 1871, of the 98 Europeans resident at Free Town, 24 died, a death rate far exceeding any other in the British dominions.
This excessive mortality, however, is confined to the coast; the mountain villages, only 3 or 4 m. inland from Free Town, are described as quite salubrious. The land breeze, which begins to blow in the evening, comes over swampy ground laden with malaria, and the unwholesome mists cling to the lower terraces. The soil is not naturally very productive, but cassa-da, cacao, maize, ginger, ground nuts, Guinea corn, yams, plantains, sugar cane, and fruits are all successfully grown. The principal exports are palm oil, nuts, hides, and timber; the total value of the exports in 1871 was £467,755, against imports to the amount of £305,849. In the same year 411 vessels of 110,646 tons were entered in the colony, and 409 of 110,-919 tons were cleared. The established educational system is inefficient. The colony has two bishops of the church of England, and there are 100 Christian ministers of all denominations, many of the most intelligent being natives; but the Mohammedan priests from the interior have achieved tenfold the success of the Christian missionaries in making converts. The colonial governor, who is appointed by the crown and is officially known as the chief administrator, is the executive of all the West African settlements.
He is assisted by a legislative council, of which some of the members are pure negroes. The revenue in 1871 was £80,486, collected partly by import duties on spirits, tobacco, and gunpowder, while the expenditure amounted to £76,130. - The settlement was originally formed in 1787 by Granville Sharp and other British philanthropists, with the view of providing a suitable home for destitute negroes from different parts of the world, as well as promoting African civilization. The first foreign inhabitants were destitute negroes from London, nearly 500 in number. These were followed in 1790 by more than 1,000 freed slaves who had been collected in Nova Scotia, in 1800 by about 500 maroons from Jamaica, and in 1819 by a disbanded West India negro regiment. In 1807 the Sierra Leone company, which was organized by Sharp, Wilberforce, and others, and had previously controlled the colony, transferred all its rights to the British government. From that time until recent years the population was largely augmented by the introduction of the negroes taken from slave ships by vessels of the British navy.