Fourah Bay College was founded by the Church Missionary Society in 1827, for the purpose of training Africans as schoolmasters, catechists and clergymen. The establishment of Fourah Bay College intended, on the one hand ,to provide its pupils, the children of the freed slaves and liberated Africans with opportunities to obtain training in basic skills, needed to survive in their new environment, and on the other hand, to train those of its pupils who displayed the requisite aptitude as teachers and priests.

In 1876, the CMS succeeded in getting the College affiliated to Durham University, which meant that the students could sit for Durham’s matriculation examinations and take Durham University degree examinations, although Durham had no control over the appointment of lectures and lecturing. The affiliation led to a revision of the courses includes Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, History, Natural Science, French and German.

In 1938, the Colonial Government decided to review its relationship with the college and appointed a Commission to inquire into and report on its financial positions, status and aim. Apart from recommending that its course be modernised and diversified, it also recommended a more reliable method of funding which would ensure that the college would always be assured of funds. During the Second World War, the colonial government took over the college buildings as part of its war effort. The college was moved temporarily first to Cline Town and later to Mabang about forty miles away from Freetown. It was just at this time that the colonial administration decided to set up a Commission to investigate and report on higher education in West Africa.

In May 1950, by an ordinance of the Government of Sierra Leone, a new Council was established with a representative each from all sections of the community, including the missionary societies, which supported college and government. In 1954, the college was visited by a Commission under the Chairmanship of Mr.J.S. (later Lord) Fulton. This Commission was appointed by the governor to make recommendations inter alia on a long-term policy for Fourah Bay College. As a result of that Commission, the college embarked on a phase of development for the institution of degree courses in science and Diploma courses already established in Arts and Economic Studies.

Notwithstanding these developments the college continued its work in Theology, Education and Extra-Mural Studies. By the 1958/59 session, there was encouraging progress, at least for a time, in Applied Science. A department of Engineering Technology was started and engineering building and workshop were erected and equipped and a three year diploma course was instituted on a sandwich basis  the second year being devoted to practical experience. Students awarded the diploma with sufficiently high marks were admissible, with certain exceptions to the B.Sc degree course in Applied Science of Newcastle.

Early in 1958, expanding University work threatened to outstrip accommodation unless the non-graduate teacher training commitment was discontinued. In February 1958, the government was convinced that the separation of its training from FBC was inevitable and in November promised to effect the transfer to a separate teacher training college before September 1959.

FBC then moved towards University status and in January 1965, a Royal Charter constituting Fourah bay College as the University College of Sierra Leone was granted. The affiliation with the University of Durham continued and degree in Arts, Science, Economic Studies, and Postgraduate Diploma in Theology and Education were awarded by the University to successful candidates from FBC. The college awarded its own Diploma in Engineering and License in Divinity. As from the 1965/66 session, courses leading to a degree in Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering were started. An undergraduate diploma course in Aquatic Biology and Fisheries was introduced in October 1971.

As from 1st September 1966, the college became a constituent college of the university of Sierra Leone which itself was constituted under the University of Sierra Leone Act 1967.Students, however, who had earlier matriculated in the University of Durham, continued pursuing courses of the University of Durham.

In 1972, a new act ‘The University of Sierra Leone Act’ was passed in parliament. This established a unitary system embracing Fourah Bay College, Njala University College and one or two other smaller colleges. Each college though has a large measure of autonomy.

Fourah Bay College since its foundation has catered for and continues to cater for Sierra Leonean and non-Sierra Leonean students from the entire continent of Africa and beyond.

The governor of Sierra Leone, Samuel Ajayi Crowther was the first student to enroll at Fouray Bay. Fourah Bay College soon became a magnet for Creoles and other Africans seeking higher education in British West Africa. These included Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ivorian’s and many more, especially in the fields of theology and education. It was the first western-style university in West Africa. Under colonialism, Freetown was known as the “Athens of Africa” as an homage to the college.

The first black principal of the university was an African American missionary, Reverend Edward Jones from South Carolina in the United States. Lamina Sankoh was a prominent early academic; Francis Heiser was principal from 1920 to 1922. Abioseh Nicol was the first Sierra Leonean administrator in 1966.

In 1967, the College was merged with Njala University College, Moyamba District, to become the University of Sierra Leone, with a federal system. The latter was replaced in 1972 by a unitary structure which came to include the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) and the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM).