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Abraham Essell V. Rebecca Davis (1928) LJR-WACA

Abraham Essell V. Rebecca Davis (1928)

LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal


This appeal raises a question as to the title to certain lands in the Gold Coast Colony. The lands are not tribal or family lands, and it is common ground that the title to them must be determined substantially in accordance with English law.

The action was in form an action by the respondent, Rebecca Davis, claiming as owner of the land an account against the appellant as caretaker thereof of the tributes, tolls and rents collected by him since the year 1911, and an order for payment of the amounts found due. The appellant defended on the ground that the respondent was not the owner of the land, but that the ownership thereof was vested in one Sara Quagrainie, the devisee thereof under the will of her father, Charles Barnes Acquah, deceased, for whom and for whose devisees the appellant was caretaker. It is common ground that the question of title is properly raised and may be determined in such an action.

The action was commenced on the 13th December, 1923. The name of one J. E. Sampson, a brother of the respondent, appears on the writ, which purports to be in the name of the respondent, ” per J. E. Sampson.” Mr. Sampson is dead. He appears to have had no personal claim to the land. The respondent was the real plaintiff.

The Native Tribunal before whom the action first came on for trial decided the question of title in favour of the respondent. On appeal to the Cape 0oast Provincial Commissioner this order

was reversed and the action was dismissed and the appeal allowed with costs. The respondent appealed to the Supreme Court of the Gold Coast Colony, who on the 9th July, 1927, allowed the appeal with costs and restored the order of the Native Tribunal. The present appeal is brought by leave granted on the 17th December, 1927.

The parties concerned are all natives of the Colony.

It will be convenient for the sake of clearness to state first the facts supporting the title of the said Sara Quagrainie, on whose behalf the appellant is prosecuting the appeal, and then to consider the claim set up by the respondent.

The lands in question are called Agissu, and are part of a larger area called Ekwambassie, situate in the Saltpond District. Ekwambassie includes also three other parcels of land, the names of which need not be mentioned, but may be referred to as ” the three other parcels.” These three other parcels were formerly the property of Charles Barnes Acquah. The nature of his title is immaterial to the present question.

Prior to the 16th February, 1881, the Agissu lands were the property of one Abina Owoodoowa (hereinafter referred to as Abina).

She appears to have been indebted to one F. A. Parker, who recovered judgment against her in an action in the Supreme Court of the Colony.

On the 16th February, 1881, the following certificate was issued under the hand of the Judge or Commissioner, viz. :—

See also  Rex V. Jeremiah Terry (1944) LJR-WACA



A.D.. 1881.




THIS IS TO CERTIFY that FRANCIS A. PARKER has been declared the Purchaser of the right, title and interest of Abina Owoodoowah in the measuages, lands and tenements hereinafter that is to say all that land situated at Aguisoo called Aguisoo on the North is lied a river called Kina on the East the same river Kina on the West is bounded with three Coconuts trees, 1 Boxwood tree in ‘the End which said messuages lands and tenements were sold in execution of a decree in the above suit by order of this Court dated 24th day of January 1881.

Dated at Saltpond the 16th day of February 1881.

On the 19th February, 1881, Parker executed a conveyance of the Agissu land to Charles Barnes Acquah, his heirs, executors and assigns. The explanation appears to be that the debt, the subject of the action, though nominally owing to Parker, was really a debt due to A_.cquali, Parker being a mere nominee or trustee for him. This appears from a document signed by Abina and printed at page 64 of the record.

The title of Acquah to the Agissu lands was impeached by or on behalf of Abina in an action tried on the 17th August, 1882, before the then acting Chief Justice, who decided in favour of Acquah, though he, for reasons not now apparent, considered the transaction by which PCrker obtained the land from Abina to be of a very doubtful character.

There is no direct evidence of any further claim of Abina against Acquah in respect of the ownership of the Agissu lands.

On the other hand, on two occasions in his lifetinie, viz., in 1895 and in 1909, Acquah successfully maintained actions for trespass upon the said lands. Acquah died on the 18th May, 1909, having by his will dated the 6th March, 1907, devised the Agissu lands and the three other parcels of land to his wife, Elizabeth Acquah, for her life, and after her death to his daughter, Sarah Quagrainie, absolutely.. By a deed of gift dated the 8th iarch, 1907, he gave the same lands to his wife, but as this deed contains no words of inheritance, she presumably took thereunder a life estate only. Thit; last fact is not disputed.

The present appellant was appointed by Acquah, caretaker of the Agissu lands, and this appointment was continued after his death by Elizabeth, his widow, and after her death by Sarah Quagrainie. The caretaker of ‘ land, according to the law or custom of the Colony, appears to be not a mere rent collector, but to be entitled to the possession or receipt of the rents and profits of the land in his own right as against third persons, though of course, he has to account to the real ,owner,

The appellant as such caretaker regularly collected tribute from farmers on the land, both before and after the death of Acquah. He has successfully maintained actions for trespass on several occasions, in one of which a rival caretaker appointed on behalf of the respondent was a defendant. In this action he obtained a judgment, dated the 27th February, 1914, declaring that he was entitled to hold, possess and occupy the Agissu lands as caretaker against the respondent. Subsequently by another order in the same action, dated the 10th June, 1914, it was declared that, according to the true construction of the order of the 27th February, 1914, the appellant had no authority to evict any perion living or being on the lands other than persons living or being on such portion of the lands as he was entitled to occupy

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himself. This order appears only to affect his right as -against certain occupiers to actual possession, but not his right to receive tribute. In giving judgment on the 27th February, 1914, the Court expressly declined to make any declaration as to the right or title of the present respondent to the Agissu lands.

So far, from the date of the transactions in 1881 down to the present time, the actions of the parties and the results of the somewhat extensive litigation were consistent with the ownership by Acquah and his successors- of the Agissu lands. In 1911, however, during the trial of an action in which Elizabeth Acquah was plaintiff and Rebecca Davis was defendant, an incident happened which has proved the occasion for tilt present trouble. The writ in that action has not been produced, but it appears from the judgment of the Full Court in the present action that the action was one in which Elizabeth Aequah claimed as against the respondent a declaration that she was entitled to the three other parcels of land, as, indeed, under the will and the subsequent deed she was, but as tenant for life only. Whether this claim extended to the Agissu lands is not proved, but their Lordships think that it may be inferred that it did from what took place at the trial. The case was heard before Earnshaw J. on the 28th April, 1911. Mr. Bucknor was counsel for the plaintiff, who, it must be remembered, was only tenant for Iife of the Agissu lands. The defendants as to the three other parcels of land relied on a deed of gift, dated the 20th June, 1898, by Acquah to the respondent. It would seem that this was accepted as sufficient evidence of her title to the three other parcels of land, and the judgment declared that she was so entitled. There appears in the record in that action the following passage as quoted by Hall J. in his judgment in the present case.

” Mr. Bucknor for plaintiff.

” Mr. Brown and Sampson for defendant.

” Mr. Bucknor for plaintiff said that on going through documents he had found a certificate of purchase showing that Rebecca Davis had purchased and was the owner of Agissu land. The plaintiff Kojo Mbroh possesses through Rebecca Davis. Mr. Bucknor therefore asked to withdraw the claim. Mr. Brown consented.

” Claim struck out with costs for defendants to include yesterday and to-day.

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” Certificate of purchase with receipt attached was produced on notice by the plaintiff and was delivered to the defendant Davis as being hers by the Court.”

This judgment was afterwards attacked by Sera Quagrainie, Elizabeth Acquah having died, but only so far as it related to the three other parcels of land, and on the ground that the deed of gift of 1898 was a fraud on creditors.

The documents produced were a Certificate of Purchase given Privy

in an action in which Acquah was plaintiff and Abina was Council.

15th Nov.,

defendant, and a receipt endorsed thereon.


The certificate is in the foilolving terms, viz. :—

‘‘ Txtis IS TO OINTITT that R1INNOCA DAVIS has been declared the Abraham PURCHASER for the sum of TN/4 POUNDS MN SKILLINGS -of the right, Brasil

title and interest of AWNS Oweonoosst -in the meesnages lands andv.

tenements hereinafter mentioned, that is to say :Rebecca

” All that piece or parcel of land situate at Agissoo bounded on the Davis. North by river Kina on the South by Charles B. Acquah’s land and on the East by Aherne land and river Oki and on the West by Ocra and Lord

Sobina Buatin’s land.Warring-


” Which said messuagea land and tenements were sold in execution

of a decree in the above suit by order of this Court, dated the Slet day of October, 1892.

” Dated at Cape Coast the 11th day of January, 1893.


” (Signature of Judge) Acting.’

And it purports to be signed by the Acting Judge.

The endorsed receipts is as follows :—

” 210 10s. Od.

” Received from Mrs. REBNOC► Davis the sum of Ten Pounds Ten Shillings being a piece of land which she bought in the satisfaction of the Writ of Ft Fa issued on the above case.


” 30th November, 1892.

” (Signed) C. S. VERTAGE,

” Sheriff Messenger.”

The Court in the order now appealed from have accepted the view that the lands mentioned in this certificate were identical with those mentioned in the certificate and transfer of 1881, and that, notwithstanding the last-mentioned certificate and transfer, the transaction of 1893 effectually vested the lands in the respondent.. –

The Provincial Commissioner avoided the difficulty by holding that there was no sufficient evidence of the identity of the lands described in the two certificates respectively. On this point their Lordships are of opinion that there are no sufficient materials on which to arrive at a definite conclusion, but the) are willing for the purposes of this judgment to assume that both certificates related to the same lands.

They will humbly advice his majesty accordingly

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