Looking into the annals of an institution as aged as Cambridge, one concurs with the dictum that ‘The past is a foreign country’. This is seen no less in the character of successive cohorts of Cambridge students, who—although different in their own way—reflect the circumstances and realities of their contemporary world. Surveying matriculation photos of the mid-twentieth century of my own college, King’s, I was struck by two things. The first was that the number of ‘freshers’ then was smaller, somewhere in the twenties or the thirties, such that they could be arranged for their group photograph in almost four or five rows. This, in stark contrast with my own photograph, in which I—along with over a hundred of my incoming peers—looked, with smiles, into the shutter of the camera, with the iconic King’s College Chapel as the backdrop. The second striking feature is that my matriculation photograph enjoys more diversity in the student body than those from fifty or sixty years ago.

But beyond the greater diversity in complexion found in more recent matriculation photographs, there lies a more subtle difference between the past and present. Over the last few decades, the expansion of higher education and the availability of scholarships, grants and loans has made a university education accessible to more and more people. A Cambridge education, particularly at the time of those photographs, was largely (but not solely) the preserve of the well-heeled. In this respect, despite their African provenance, many of the students about whom I had read shared a similar circumstance in life to their mostly English peers. But there were, of course exceptions to this rule: some students came here on scholarships and exhibitions provided by their alma mater, such as the one endowed by one of Africa’s leading schools, Ghana’s Achimota School. What can be said, therefore, was that while not all these students were drawn from the affluent elite of their home countries, they would have attended the best educational institutions then available to their generation, which proved optimum preparation for entrance into Cambridge.

Surveying the data gathered of 13 students entering the college between 1935 and 1956, one appreciates certain similarities—but also differences—among them. Most—if not all these students—hail from what were then British colonies, where knowledge of the English language and progression through the local British education system naturally paved the way to King’s Parade.

Three of the thirteen students profiled were the sons of chiefs, while one was of royal stock. Solomon Igbinoghodua Amekpivie Akenzua (1923-2016) matriculated in 1948, while the heir apparent of the kingdom of Benin, acceding to the throne thirty-one years later. Uno Bassey Ugot, the son of Chief Bassey Ugot, entered the college in 1947, graduating in 1951 with a Degree in Mathematics, Geography and Physics. The son of Chief Edmund Edun Boyo, a senator, Dr. Alexander Eyimofe Boyo had spent completed his secondary education in the UK, at Dulwich College in London. Having also spent time in Oxford, where he gained his DPhil in 1959, he later became one of the founding fathers of clinical pathology in Nigeria. He maintained ties with King’s and in collaboration with the college developed a junior fellowship programme which enabled top medical students from the Lagos College of Medicine to study for a limited period in Cambridge. Another medical doctor was Dr Isaac Babington Johnson, who entered the college in 1943, having studied at King’s College Lagos. In the course of his career, he had a number of different roles, serving for example as a surgeon at the Seaman’s Hospital in Greenwich and later become the Principal of a General Practice surgery in West London. Dr Stephan Tamunoibe Emmanuel Dan-Jumbo was a doctor.

Upon their graduation from Cambridge, they pursued different paths. Some entered the education sector. Alexander Osei Adum Kwapong (b. 1927-d. 2014)—later Professor and Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana—enjoyed an illustrious academic career, graduating with a Triple First in Classics (an impressive feat), before proceeding to postgraduate studies. Like Professor Kwapong, John Ayite Cronje, who joined the college in 1945, became a Classics lecturer, joining University College Ibadan in this capacity in 1949. Erisa Kironde also entered the education sector, becoming an Assistant Master at King’s College, Budo in 1954 and a lecturer at Makerere College in 1959. He later joined the Uganda Electricity Board as its director and in 1960 he became the Chairman of Saben & Co., an insurance company. Timothy Ansah, a Ghanaian, became Senior History Master and Assistant Headmaster at Fijai Secondary School in his home country.

For some, Cambridge—and more particularly, King’s—almost became a home from home, with at least three members of the same family coming here for their studies. The Hon. Mr Justice Sir Louis Nwachukwu Mbanefo—the son of Chief Mbanefo Odu of Nigeria—joined the college in 1935, initiating something of a family tradition. He was later followed at King’s by his cousin, Jerome Oputa Udoji, who entered it in 1945. In turn, Jerome’s son (and therefore, Sir Louis’s nephew), Patrick Mofunanya joined the college as a fresher in 1956 and followed in another family tradition, by becoming a practising barrister.

Another King’s Black Cantab, Mangus Akinwande Macauley, also became a barrister and was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1948. He later held a number of roles in the Nigerian civil service, becoming the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works and Transport in 1961.

Reference: King’s College Cambridge BAs and Freshman Photography, 1931-1951 (King’s College: Cambridge, 1963); Register of King’s College Cambridge, 1919-1958 (King’s College: Cambridge, 1963) -- available for consultation in the King’s College Archives.