Fairview Historical Society Articles Archives

“Hero or Villain
The Halifax Public Gardens and its Secret!”

HomeArticlesVideoseBooks & PDFsLocal AuthorsSponsorsContact

Submitted by: Devonna Edwards

Our beautiful Public Gardens guard so many secrets inside its rod iron pickets, including one in the southwest corner near the gate at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Summer Street. There in front of a London Plane tree is a plaque in memory of Lieutenant Henry Edward Clonard Keating, son of Edward Keating who was the City Engineer for Halifax in 1872. 

Lieut. Clonard Keating was killed on October 9, 1898 at the age of 27 years old in the line of duty, while serving with the Royal West African Frontier Force on the Niger River Nigeria (British West Africa) during the struggle for Africa. In his youth Clonard Keating attended Morris Street School (no longer there) in Halifax and in his honour the pupils and teachers of Morris Street School planted a tree in the Public Gardens on Arbor Day in May of 1899.

In 1925 a plaque was installed by the tree (still there today) which reads:

Planted by the children of Morris Street School in memory of Lieut. Henry Edward Clonard Keating 1st BN. Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians) Killed on Service at Hela, Nigeria on October 9th 1898.

At that time Lieut. Clonard Keating was thought of as a hero, killed in a treacherous attack by the Natives on the River Riger at the Island of Helga, but the full story is not often told. Clonard Keating was born in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1871 but moved to Halifax with his family when his father, who was born in Halifax accepted a new job as City Engineer. 

Lieut. Keating joined the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, where he asked to be transferred to the West African Frontier Force. The British were concerned at that time about French Colonial expansion in West Africa and were building up their troops to defend their British Colonies. Keating then became part of the 1st. Battalion and began his journey arriving at Lokoja on May, 1898. Next he boated 400 miles up the river to Lafagou arriving on Sept. 12. 

He had 22 men under his command and ruled over a 60 mile district from Lafagu, Nigeria to Rofia and Illah.  Although he was stationed at Lafagu, he visited Rofia and Illecon every six weeks. In early October he took his first tour of inspection of his own-river posts and when it was time to return to Lafagu that same month, he took 14 of his soldiers to the island village of Hela to gather more canoes for his return trip.  The villagers of Hela refused his request to provide canoes for them, so Lieut. Keating killed the King of the village and stole the canoes while abducting several of the villagers to paddle them.

The villagers in retaliation attacked Keating and his soldiers with bows, arrows and spears. Although Lieut. Keating and his troops returned fire, they soon ran out of ammunition and became sitting ducks. A hand to hand combat then broke out, with many of Keating`s men dying on the shore before his party was able to paddle away, but the villagers that he earlier kidnapped soon overturned some of the canoes and their slim chance of escape evaporated. The villagers chased them down in their canoes, throwing spears and firing arrows at the fleeing troops. Lieut. Keating was wounded five times before a spear to his head killed him and soon the rest of his men followed him in death.

As an act of revenge, General Morland ordered an attack on Hela and sent his British force to kill the villagers and destroy their homes which they did with brutal force, razing the entire village. Still the British were not finished with their punishment and later attacked a nearby village, killing many more. The reports of the West African Frontier Force for 1897-98 described Morland`s Campaign against Hela as “rapid“ and “ effective“. 

Keating`s body was later recovered and buried in the new British Fort at Yelwa, a half mile away from Hela. At Keating`s gravesite his comrades built a memorial with a brass plaque and erected a tablet. A memorial plaque was unveiled to honour Keating in Saint Luke`s Anglican Cathedral, Halifax. At that time an exercise was held at St. Luke`s Hall by the pupils and teachers of Morris Street School, it was described in a Halifax newspaper on May 9, 1899 which said: 

Six little boys in sailor costumes with British ensigns in their hand marched up to the stage where in the center was placed the picture of the gallant Lieutenant surmounting that of her majesty Queen Victoria, both draped in the colours of the Royal Canadian Regiment.

Miss Ruth Bell read:

The tree planted by the teachers and pupils of Morris Street School in the Public Gardens at Halifax, May 8, 1899 and is dedicated to the memory of Lieut. Henry Edward Clonard Keating, 1st. battalion Princes of Wales Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians) now stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

He was killed in a treacherous attack by the natives on the River Riger at the Island of Hela, near Rafia on Oct. 9, 1898. A poem was then read and an appropriate address was then delivered by General Lord Seymour, commander of the forces. The memorial plaque in Saint Luke`s Cathedral was later lost in a fire.

Another plaque was put up in the parish church at Birr, Ireland (where the Leinsters` depot was located) to honour Keating and other Leinsters killed in Africa the same year. Also at Aldershot, England, Keating`s name was included on a tablet to the memory of all the men of the West African Frontier Force who died or were killed in Nigeria.

There is a tombstone for Lieut. Keating located at Saint James Cemetery in Toronto, probably erected by his father who moved there to become City Engineer of Toronto, a post he held until 1898. His master plan for Toronto Harbour development included creation of the Keating Channel.

The British invaded Nigeria because they wanted it`s rich resources, such as palm oil and palm kernel which were used in Europe to make soap and as lubricants for machinery before petroleum products were developed for that purpose. They also wanted the export trade in tin, cotton, cocoa, groundnuts as well as other products. Another reason for British colonization in Nigeria was that they wished to prevent other European rivals from seizing land there and thus taking away resources that Britain wanted for their own. Britain used its military to colonize Nigeria with brutal force, even though there was considerable resistance from the Nigerians, they were no match for the mighty British forces, who  crushed them into submission.

Colonial Nigeria was ruled by the British Empire from the mid-nineteen century until 1960 when Nigeria achieved independence.

Similar Posts