The Father of Nigerian Nationalism

Herbert Macaulay was a Nigerian nationalist, politician, surveyor, engineer, architect, journalist, and musician, considered by many Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism.


Herbert Macaulay was born in Broad Street, Lagos, on 14 November 1864, to the family of Thomas Babington Macaulay and Abigail Crowther. His parents were descendants of people captured from what is now Nigeria, resettled in Sierra Leone by the British West Africa Squadron, and eventually returned to present-day Nigeria.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was the founder of the first secondary school in Nigeria, the CMS Grammar School, Lagos. Macaulay attended primary school in 1869 and continued his education at St Paul’s Breadfruit School and CMS Faji School in Lagos until 1877. He then attended CMS Grammar School, Lagos, for his secondary education until October 1880.

In 1880, Macaulay joined his maternal uncle’s trade steamer and embarked on a trade and missionary journey across the Niger River, visiting Bonny, Lokoja, Gbebe, and Brass. After attending a Christian missionary school, he took a job as a clerical assistant and indexer at the Department of Public Works, Lagos.

With the support of the colonial administration, Macaulay left Lagos on 1 July 1890 to further his training in England. From 1891 to 1894, he studied civil engineering in Plymouth, England, and was a pupil of G.D. Bellamy, a borough surveyor, and water engineer in Plymouth. In 1893, he became a graduate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London. Macaulay was also an accomplished musician, receiving a certificate in music from Trinity College, London, and a certificate in violin playing from Music International College, London.

Upon his return to Lagos in September 1893, he resumed work with the colonial service as a surveyor of Crown Lands. He left the service as a land inspector in September 1898 due to growing dissatisfaction with British rule and the position of Yorubaland and the Niger Coast Protectorate as British protectorates. There were also allegations of abuse of office and pursuit of private gain, which led to his resignation.

In October 1898, he obtained a license to practice as a surveyor. Macaulay married Caroline Pratt, daughter of an African Superintendent of Police, in December 1898. However, their marriage came to an end in August 1899 upon Caroline’s death during childbirth, and Macaulay vowed never to marry again. He had other liaisons and companionships in his life.

Macaulay was a socialite in Victorian Lagos, organizing concerts and film shows at his residence, “Kirsten Hall,” on 8, Balbina Street in Yaba. He was nicknamed the “Wizard of Kirsten Hall” for his ability to obtain classified information.


By the end of the 1800s, Macaulay had become a political activist and joined the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society. He opposed many colonial policies and fought for the rights of the masses. He founded the Nigerian Daily News and wrote opinion pieces on political issues.

In 1923, he founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), the first Nigerian political party, which won all the seats in the elections of 1923, 1928, and 1933. The party aimed to promote democracy in Nigeria and increase Nigerian participation in the country’s development. However, it was limited by Macaulay’s preoccupation with defending the House of Docemo and his desire to control the party.

In 1944, Macaulay co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Nnamdi Azikiwe and became its president. The NCNC aimed to bring together Nigerians to demand independence.


Macaulay fell ill in Kano in 1946 and later died in Lagos. His leadership in the NCNC passed to Azikiwe, who became the first president of Nigeria. Macaulay was buried at Ikoyi Cemetery in Lagos on 11 May 1946.

His private collection, The Macaulay Papers, is held at the African Section of the University of Ibadan Library and includes a vast assortment of political materials and personal documents.

In 1979, Macaulay was featured on the 1 Naira banknote until 1991 when it was replaced by a coin also portraying him.

A biopic titled The Herbert Macaulay Affair, covering about three decades of his life, was released in 2019 by Nigerian filmmaker Imoh Umoren.

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1 Comment

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