aof document

Chemin de Fer du Soudan
in AOF Series O 57

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

Go to Table of Contents Read Disclaimer

Rapport du conducteur des Ponts et Chausees, Directeur de Travaux,
"Chantier de Saboucire-Kounda"
(July 28, 1880)

This 17-page report describes the work on the first section of the railroad to be completed in 1880.

(p1) On April 6, 1880, the Governeur-General gave the order for work to begin. On April 18, railroad construction began at kilometer 215.36, and on May 29, construction was completed to kilometer 208.9165. The workers labored an average of 12 hours a day for 28 days to produce about 5 kilometers of finished rail.

(p5) While discussing possible reasons for the low productivity, the author mentioned the "mauvaise volonte des travailleurs" (poor attitude of the workers). The workers were all from Logo, the region around Dinguiré, southeast of Kayes along the river.

(p7) Why were the results so poor? Partly because the workers were not well organized. Twenty-seven people cut wood, cooked and got water, while only thirty-three did the actual work.

(p11) Workers received rations of rice and either fresh or salteed meat.

(p12) In addition, the workers were offered a half ration of biscuits in the morning before work in roder to motivate them.


Proposal for a canal between Kayes and Koulikoro (St. Louis, March 21, 1881)

With the failure of the first attempt to build the railroad in 1880, businessmen in St. Louis began to offer alternative ideas. This proposal for a canal to extend navigation beyond the the Senegal River to the Niger River would permit ship traffic to continue to use the harbor at St. Louis, protecting the advantage already held by local businessmen.


C. de Verminck, letter regarding a contract to transport workers for the railroad (Marseille, October 18, 1881)

(p1) Four hundred railroad workers will be transported from the coast of Sierra Leone at Krou by steamship. The letter refers to them as Kroussinians.

(p2) The charge will be 100 francs per man to cover transport and food.

(p3) The letter also mentions that M. de Verminck has agents at Rufisque (who handle negotiations with the government) and at Sierra Leone (who do the "recruiting").

NOTE: The contract was accepted by the French administraiton. See Ministre de la Marine et Colonies Cloué to Gouverneur-Général (Paris, October 31, 1881).]


Telegram (Dakar, January 9, 1882)

A ship arrived at Dakar with 200 men to work on the railroad. The captain of the ship wanted instructions to proceeed to St. Louis.


Letter from de Verminck's agent Ernest Vohson in Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone, January 12, 1883)

This letter presents a a bill for the recruitment of 200 men for work on the Chemnin de Fer du Soudan. Each man costs one pound sterling and the commission is 5%, so the total is 210 pounds which, at an exchange rate of 25.3 francs to one pound, equals 5,153 francs.


Labor contract (Sierra Leone, no date)

(p1) The 200 men sent from Sierra Leone to work on the Soudan railroad were divided into groups of fifty, each with a first and second headman. The first headman got 2.10 pounds per month. The second gets 1.10 pounds per month. A laborer got 25 shillings per month, plus 5 shillings worth of "fishmoney" and 60 units of rice per month.

The contract was for six months staring from their arrival at Goree and ending on the day of departure. In other words, it did not include their travel time from Sierra Leone.

The workers only received their fishmoney during the time they worked, and they receifved their pay upon the successful completion of their contract. There was no sick pay, but they had the right to see a doctor and if they became too sick to work, they would be repatriated.

(p2) This page includes the names and the "marks" of all the headmen. They have English names like John Smart, James MacCauley and Tom Lewis.


M. Arnaudeau, "État du Personnel necessaire
pour le chemin de fer de Kayes à Bafoulabé"
(no date)

This is a twelve-page report on labor needs for railroad construction.

This is a table showing the types of work involved in building a railroad and distribution of workers from Europe, Morocco, China and Africa on the different tasks along different portions of the railroad:

TASK Europeans Moroccans Chinese Africans
Workers needed for construction in Kayes
Loading and unloading 6 - - 200
Construction 16 - 40 150
Machine maintainance 10 - - 50
Brick & tile-making 4 - - 50
Workers needed on the first section (40 kilometers) from Kayes to Dinguiré
Grading roadbed 12 600 - -
Track-laying 6 - 200 -
Stone hauling for bridges 4 - 25 -
Iron for bridges 10 - 50 50
Miscellaneous 16 200 200 -
Subtotal 84 800 515 500
Workers needed for the second section (40 kilometers) from Dinguiré to Gouina
Subtotal 10 150 150 200
Workers needed the third section (50 kilometers) from Gouina to Bafoulabé
Subtotal 6 100 100 250
GRAND TOTAL 100 1,050 765 950


Directeur de Travaux to Gouverneur- Général, letter (Kayes November 24, 1882)

This letter describes the extent to which sickness incapacitated the railroad workers.


"Rapport Annuel," n°56 (Kayes, 31 December 1882)

(p1) The railroad construction personnel included 583 Moroccans. Many Europeans and Moroccans suffered from sickness.

(p4) This page includes statistics on the progress of the work, such as number of hours, amount of earth dug and transported, etc. The most interesting statistics deal with the number of workers. From them, it is possible to infer that they worked an average of 8 hours per day.

The maximum and minimum number of workers per day ranged from 55 to 8. The number of hours worked, in total, on each section, ranged from 17 to 39, while the average number of workers ranged from 39 to 17. The results look something like this.

Section Average number of hours worked per day Average number of workers
Kilometers 23-27 312 hours/day 39
Kilometers 32-38 290 hours/day 36.5
Kilometers 39-41 276 hours/day 34.5
Kilometers 41-44 140 hours/day 17

The work on the last section of railroad construction produced a slightly higher average number of hours of labor, but a note states this section passed through ground that was composed of small rocks, and so was more difficult to dig and clear.


Directeur du Travaux, "Rapport du fin de l'année" (1883)

(p1) Forty-three Europeans worked on the railroad. In addition, there were also four European doctors and two paymasters.

(p2) This is breakdown on the origin of various workers. These notes include only those statistics that deal with Africans, plus those of other groups who performed the same kind of work.

Type of work Europeans Morrocans/Algerians Chinese Africans Totals
Carpenters - - 2 30 32
Iron workers - - 3 20 23
Masons - - 27 50 77
Laborers - - - 700 700
Laptots (river boatmen) - - - 200 200
Other work 68 1,200 - - -
TOTALS 68 1,200 35 1,000 2,303


Commandant Supérieur de Haut Fleuve to Gouverneur-Général,
"Rapport d'inspection" (Kayes, July 3, 1884)

This is an 8-page report. On page two, the author mentioned the difficulty of travel in the region. They were required to change from the train to foot to horses. Apparently, it was simple to requisition horses from villages.