Vincent Cyril Richard Arthur Charles Crabbe, Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, outstanding legal luminary.
Born on October 29, 1923 at Kinkam in Ussher Town, Accra, to Richard Arthur Crabbe, a Chief Registrar of the Gold Coast Judicial Service of Nii Yao Duade We, and Stella Akoley Lartey, a seamstress from the Nii Walakataka We of Osu, Vincent Cyril Richard Arthur Charles Crabbe was the youngest of his father’s children.
What’s in a name?
The name Crabbe is Flemish in origin and can be traced to Friesland, a province northwest of The Netherlands.
Charles’s ancestor is said to have come from Norfolk in the United Kingdom to work for F.A. Swanzy’s Company, which was mainly based in Accra.
While working, he had three children with a woman from James Town.
It is by these three children, one of whom was Charles’s grandfather, that the family spread to different parts of the country.
All siblings of Charles had been given several English names, a tradition that continues in the Crabbe family.
Being the last born, he had to take on the names of his father, that is Richard Arthur, plus those from his father’s cousins, Vincent and Cyril, and Charles from the man who performed the kpojiemɔ, the outdooring/naming ceremony.
An aunt, who witnessed his naming ceremony, however insists that he had two other names, Adolphus and Earnshaw.
Going by this, his full name then was Vincent Cyril Richard Arthur Adolphus Earnshaw Charles Crabbe.
Throughout his elementary and secondary schooling, he used only two of his names, that is Charles Crabbe.
It was when he was about to enter the Inns of Court that he decided to use all his names except for Adolphus and Earnshaw.
Growing up in a large family, there was so much one had to do at home that the chance to play outside was rather limited.
Of course, they still managed to go out and play but it was not so often. Charles or Charlie, as his siblings called him, enjoyed playing ‘nyonkyele’ with his friends who lived close by their house.
They sang and chased one another under the moonlight.
He enjoyed playing football with a local team called “The Majestic”.
He also became a leading figure in a popular Christmas time pantomime, The Downfall of Zachariah Fee, written and directed by Sir Arnold Weinholt Hodson, the Governor of the Gold Coast from 1934 to 1941.
Charles acted in Zachariah Fee which was staged at the King George Memorial Hall (now the Old Parliament House) with one of his favourite teachers, C.T. Nylander, and schoolmate Warren Gamaliel Akwei (alias Kofi Ghanaba), the famous drummer.
Charles’s father died 11 months after he was born. Until his death, R. A. Crabbe was the Chief Registrar, the most senior staff of the Gold Coast of the Judicial Service. Charles knew very little about his father.
However, growing up there were all sorts of characteristics which he might have inherited from his father but did not know until he was told.
For instance, when he was a child, he used to part his bushy hair straight from the forehead to the back of the head.
One day while walking around the post office area en route to Kinbu School, two elderly gentlemen stopped him, “Young man, what’s your name?” one of them inquired:
“My name is Charles Crabbe,” he answered.
“Do you know Mr R. A. Crabbe?” enquired the gentleman.
“No sir. I don’t know him, but I am told that he was my father.”
The two men looked at each other. Then one of them said, “Like father, like son.”
Justice Crabbe did not know what that meant. Back home after school, he narrated this encounter to his mother and asked what they meant by “like father, like son”. His mother responded saying, “Well, Charles, your father used to part his hair like you do.
I have been observing this, but I did not want to tell you.”
Charles’s mother taught him the dignity of labour. She taught him and his brothers how to cook and sew. Sewing was his mother’s source of income.
But during the Second World War, she got a contract to supply the Army with kenkey.
The Army used to be called the Royal West African Frontier Force comprising personnel from The Gambia, the then Gold Coast, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Charles assisted his mother. In addition to the kenkey for the soldiers, Charles used to distribute kenkey to certain families who had standing orders with his mother before going to school at Kinbu.
Charles’s mother was the anchor of his life. She had such a magical effect on him, disciplining him when she should and encouraging him to be confident in his abilities.
Education — Doctor by dream, attempted economist and lawyer by choice and interest
In those days, the official age required for starting primary school (known as junior school in those years) was five or six.
The normal test, however, was not a birth certificate, rather children were asked to put their right hand over their head.
If the tip of their hand touched their left ear, then it meant one was old enough to start school irrespective of age.
Fortunately, Charles passed the hand-to-ear trial and gained admission to the Junior Boys School near the James Fort Prison.
By the time Charles completed Junior School, which was a total of three years, he was well grounded enough in literacy and numeracy skills to enable him to move to the Government Boys Senior School at Kinbu.
Charles gained admission to Accra Academy in 1939. While in Accra Academy, his dream was to become a medical doctor, a desire that became even stronger after he completed the school in 1943. Accra Academy was then located at Ellen House at James Town.
Among his teachers at Accra Academy were A.K. Konuah (who taught Latin) and K.A. Gbedemah, the politician, who taught Chemistry before entering into politics. Mr Gbedemah took keen interest in young Charles not only for his academic performance but also for his integrity and commitment to duty.
After Accra Academy, Charles applied to do a pre-med programme at Achimota but due to prevailing circumstances, sadly, he could not gain admission.
The telegram that was sent inviting him to attend the interview did not arrive on time. Unable to gain admission into Achimota College, he enrolled in a six-month science course at Odumase Presbyterian Boys School (PRESEC, Legon) and returned to Accra after the programme.
Following his brief studies at PRESEC, Odumase, he started work as a Second Division Clerk at the Headquarters of the Gold Coast Police Force.
During the February 1948 Riots, Charles was assigned to be part of the crowd, gathering intelligence for the Police Service.
After working at the Police Headquarters for some time, he decided to go for further studies.
While working, Charles relinquished his interest in science and studied privately for an intermediate BA through correspondence with Wolsey Hall at Oxford.
Instead of pursuing his interest in medicine, he went to London to study Economics at the City of London College, Moorgate from 1950 to 1952.
On November 6, 1949, Charles resigned from his work at the Police Headquarters and left the shores of the Gold Coast for England to pursue further studies.
This is an excerpt from the book, “Unfinished Journey: The Life and Times of VCRAC CRABBE” authored by Kwesi Amoak.