R.J. GHARTY [properly KWAMENA AKYEMPONG (1820 – 1897), later KING GHARTY IV of the Fante Confederacy].
Extracts from a Guide for Strangers Travelling to Kumasi, the Capital City of Ashanti…With Notes on Climate, & c.
London: Edward Stanford, 1873.
In the 1860s, Britain consolidated its control over what is today coastal Ghana, creating the Gold Coast Protectorate in 1867. However, the interior of the region, being central and northern Ghana, comprised the domains of the Ashanti Empire, a culturally sophisticated, militarily potent and generally well-led state. The British and the Ashanti had been antagonists since the 17th century, as their rivalry had already resulted in two wars during the 19th century. Despite Britain’s technological advantage, the Ashanti had generally bested their opponents, as they were masters of stealth, guerilla warfare, while the Ashanti lands, covered by swamps and jungles and traversed by numerous rivers, were famously difficult to penetrate.
During what became known as the Third Anglo-Ashanti War (1873-4), Britain was hell-bent on vanquishing the Ashanti and assuming control over all of Ghana, a region rich in natural and human resources, one of the most valuable targets during the ‘Scramble for Africa’.
In late 1873, British mounted a well-equipped military expeditionary force led by one of their best commanders, General Sir Garnet Wolseley. However, while planning the expedition, Wolseley and his general staff were confronted with a very difficult choice, being where to lead their army from their base at Cape Coast Castle, on the littoral, into the interior, towards the Ashanti capital, Kumasi. While several Europeans explores had successfully trekked from the coast to Kumasi, the question of the exact route and the timing (due to the region’s seasonal rains) was critical, as the incredibly treacherous terrain ensured that even the best prepared force was still a sitting duck for Ashanti ambuscades.
The present map was carefully compiled from a variety of the best textual and cartographic sources (the ‘Authorities Consulted’ are listed below the title) by Edward Stanford Ltd., then the world’s leading map house. As Stanford had a long-term contract with the British War Office, the map was a de facto official work. It was issued in late November 1873, only about a month before Wolseley’s men set off from the coast for Kumasi and would have been intended as a strategic aid for senior British politicians and military officers in London, as well as members of the public who had a stake in the conflict. Importantly, it was by far and away the most accurate and detailed map of the Gold Coast-Ashanti region made to date.
Focusing upon the map, the territories of the British Gold Coast Protectorate, in the south, are shaded in pink, while the domains of the Ashanti Empire, in the interior, beyond the sacred River Prah, are shaded in green. The coastlines are precisely charted, based upon superb trigonometric surveys undertaken by the Royal Navy, while the areas near the littoral are also quite well mapped. The seaboard is dotted with numerous European (now all British controlled) outposts (ex. Accra, Cape Coast Castle, Elmina, Fredericksburg, etc.), being former slaving bases. Rivers are carefully delineated, while annotations describe various aspects of the countryside or recent events, with points of elevation expressed by hachures, with spot heights noted in feet.
However, as the eye wanders ever more into the interior, the level and the accuracy and detail sharply declines. While the map still shows the locations of major Ashanti towns, as well as the routes of certain major rivers, with decent accuracy, along with explorers’ notes on natural resources (ex. gold) and the locations of markets, elsewhere the information tends to be conjectural.
Only a single travel route into the deep interior is marked, represented by a dotted line, running from Cape Coast Castle up to Kumasi (Coomassie), which appears in the upper centre of the map. In contrast, the relatively empty space that lies on either side of this itinerary corridor is quite well mapped, labelling the numerous villages it passes, along with the rivers that need to be forded. Yet, this route, which passes through rugged topography, thick jungle and through malarial swamp and across raging rivers, presented what was far from an easy passage, as indicated by the note in the Mozi Mountains, that reads ‘1600 ft. perpendicular elevation / Barriers of Ashanti Kingdom’. Any British military expedition into the deep interior would have to make swift progress to avoid being totally decimated by a trifecta of tropical disease, torrential seasonal rains, or being cut down by Ashanti warriors, masters of stealth, who could seemingly appear and disappear out and into thin air.
A fascinating and significant feature of the present work is the map’s accompaniment by the pamphlet Extracts from a Guide for Strangers travelling to Kumasi, the capital city of Ashanti (London: Edward Stanford, 1873), an octavo 11-page work, pasted into the front cover of the map. The work is distilled from R.J. Ghartey’s A Guide to Kumasi (Cape Coast Castle, 1864), which has the distinction of being the first printed travel book on the Ashanti Empire, and one of the most important early published works by a Ghanaian author.
The author, known to the British as ‘Mr. Robert Johnson Ghartey’, was a member of the Fante royal family, and an incredibly successful merchant, based in ‘Anamaboe’ (Anomabu). His real name as actually Kwamena Akyempong (1820-97), who in 1868 became the King-President of the Fante Confederacy, as King Gharty IV. The Fante, whose territory lay in what is today coastal Ghana, were longtime allies of Britain, and enemies of the Ashanti, so were always happy to assist the British in the designs against Kumasi. As such, the present work is indicative of the great reliance that Europeans placed upon their indigenous African allies for geographic intelligence, sources that are not often properly credited.
The present pamphlet features a detailed record of the itinerary that Kwamena Akyempong, accompanied by Reverend William West and the Fante Price John Osoo Ansah, took while travelling from Anomabu, on the coast, to Kumasi, in March 1862. The itinerary is largely the same as that depicted on the map, save that Kwamena Akyempong’s party departed from the coast at Anomabu (about 11 miles east of Cape Coast Castle, the departure point on the map), with the routes merging just above Dunquah, about 20 miles inland.
The work traces Kwamena Akyempong’s itinerary in the form of a long-running chart in which its central vertical register features the ‘Names of Towns and Villages’, along with notes on the various way stations (re: security tips, natural features, origins of names, etc.); the register on the left notes the travel times between each station, assuming an “Average rate of travel, 3 miles an hour (walking of riding in a hammock)”; while the register on the right records the ‘Estimated Distances from Anamaboe to the River Prah’, and then from the ‘River Prah to Coomasie (Kumasi)’, taking readings per the numerous stations along the route, in total following an itinerary of 170.5 miles.
The pamphlet is rounded off with notes on the region’s climate (with special attention to the seasonal rains), and the languages spoken by the indigenous peoples in each area, etc. An advertisement for the present map appears on the final page.
The record of Kwamena Akyempong’s itinerary to Kumasi was an invaluable source for General Wolesley in planning the 1873-5 expedition, and it remained a seminal guide for the British military in the region until at least 1900.
A Note on Rarity
The map is rare. We can trace 7 institutional examples, held by the Afriterra Library (Boston); British Library; Bodleian Library (Oxford University); National Library Scotland; University of Birmingham Library; Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand); University of Kentucky Library; while only some of these examples feature the Extracts from a Guide…to Kumasi pamphlet, as present here. Moreover, we are aware of only a single other example as appearing on the market in the last 25 years.
Historical Background: Wolseley vs. the Ashanti
The Gold Coast (today’s Ghana) was long considered to be one of the most economically valuable parts of Africa. It was inhabited by culturally sophisticated indigenous nations and possessed a vast wealth in gold, precious tropical hardwoods, cash crops and ivory. However, for centuries, Europeans were primarily interested in the region as a source for slaves, and England, the Netherlands and Demark all long held a fixed presence along the coast to facilitate that ignoble industry.
The Ashanti Kingdom, located in the interior, centred upon its capital city of Kumasi, was by far and away the most powerful tribal nation in not only the Gold Coast, but perhaps all West Africa. It was allied with the Netherlands and had tense rations with the British. The coastal lands were dominated by the Fante Confederacy, which long had good relations with Britain. The main British base in the region was the massive, whitewashed bastion of the Cape Coast Castle, which they held since 1664. It was located within the territory of the Fante people, just to the east of the infamous salve fortress of Elmina.
However, as Britain sought to abolish the global slave trade in the first decades of the 19th century, it came to covet the Gold Coast’s other resources, and endeavored to both exclude other European powers from the region and to gain control over the indigenous nations and their riches.
Beginning in the 1820s, the British engaged in a momentous on-and-off contest with the Ashanti for domination of the country that that resulted in five wars. This was often a well-matched context, as the Ashanti were brilliant and brave warriors who on many occasions outwitted and defeated the British, who were caught complacent owing to their technological advantages.
During what was known as the First Anglo-Ashanti War (1823-31), the British attacked the Ashanti Confederacy, but were defeated. Notably, in 1824, the Ashanti killed the British governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles McCarthy; the Ashanti king was said to have used his skull, lined with gold, as a drinking cup! In 1831, the British recognized the sovereignty of the Ashanti, accepting the Pra River as the British-Ashanti boundary.
Tensions rose again, during what was known as the Second Anglo-Ashanti War (1863-4), when after an Ashanti incursion across the Pra River, the British mounted an abortive invasion of Ashanti territory that ended in the status quo antebellum.
Meanwhile, Britain consolidated its control over the Gold Coast. In the post-slavery era, Denmark and the Netherlands found that their establishments along the region were no longer commercially viable. At the same time, Britain had different objectives; it wanted to build its global empire, even at great initial financial cost. The British hoped that they could eventually make the Gold Coast profitable by fostering the agrarian and mining sectors. Denmark sold its share of the Gold Coast to Britain in 1850, while Britain made the Gold Coast a Crown Colony in 1867. The Netherlands sold its share of the Gold Coast to Britain in 1872; and this foretold real trouble between the British and the Ashanti.
During the mid-19th Century, Victorian Britain was in the process of changing the nature of its global empire. It was no longer content to have economic dominance or suzerainty over its colonial domains; it increasingly wished to possess and directly control the territory and its indigenous societies. This was true in what is today Ghana. For centuries, the littoral regions of the ‘Gold Coast’ was dominated by an archipelago of European forts, while the interior was home to the mighty Ashanti Confederacy, a culturally and militarily sophisticated nation made wealthy from the great gold fields that dotted its domains. By the latter 17th Century, the Gold Coast was divided amongst the England (based in their fort of the Cape Coast Castle); the Netherlands (headquartered at the Elmina fort); and the Denmark, which controlled the modern Accra region. For generations, the Europeans were content to maintain economic relationships with the indigenous nations and had little interest in interfering with the territories beyond the immediate vicinity of their forts.
The Ashanti enjoyed a special relationship with the Dutch, who allowed the landlocked nation to use Elmina as their gateway to the sea and a conduit to international trading markets. Upon Britain assuming control of Elmina, the Ashanti were frozen out, devastating their national economy.
In the early months of 1873, the Ashanti responded by invading the Gold Coast with a force that ranged, at various times, between 12,000 and 60,000 men. While their assault upon Elmina failed, they ensured that the Gold Coast became ungovernable for British, whose forces were confined to their coastal forts. Whitehall was outraged and determined to seek redress.
Enter General Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833 – 1913), who was already on his way to being known as one of the two greatest British military commanders of the Victorian Era (along with his arch-rival Frederick Roberts). Wolseley was already a veteran of 20 years of service in conflicts on three continents. He was one of the leading proponents of the ‘Cardwell Reforms’ that aimed to make the British Army a professional, ultra-disciplined force in the Prussian model, while constantly striving to employ the latest technological innovations. His clockwork operations inspired confidence wherever he went, giving rise to the popular phrase “everything’s all Sir Garnet”, meaning, “All is in order.”
Wolseley recently burnished his reputation for ‘special operations’ by leading a force over hundreds of miles of the Canadian Shield, from Toronto to Manitoba, to successfully extinguish the Red River Rebellion (1870). Wolseley seemed to relish being assigned missions that were thought to be impossible due to the forbidding and mysterious nature of the geography, disease-ridden climates and formidable local opposition. The situation in the Gold Coast ensured that he would not disappointed.
In May 1873, Wolseley approached the War Office, proposing to lead a punitive expedition against the Ashanti, submitting a detailed proposal. This offer was accepted an on August 13, Wolseley was appointed to raise and command the mission.
While what was to be known as the ‘First Ashanti Expedition’ (or the Third Anglo-Ashanti War) was a relatively small venture by the metric of the British imperial endeavours, it proved to be remarkable in many represents. Per Wolseley’s progressive designs, it was to be fast and light, meticulously organized, and employing novel technology. It was also to be one of the the first modern media savvy military operations, with frequent reports from the expedition’s officers published in London’s major newspapers, while prominent reporters, such as Henry Morton Stanley, were embedded with the force.
Wolseley was a stellar judge of character and talent. The command corps that he selected for the expedition to the Gold Coast consisted of several young officer who would later attain great fame, often supporting Wolseley’s subsequent endeavours. This so-called ‘Ashanti Ring’ or ‘Wolseley Ring’ consisted of John Carstairs McNeill; William Francis Butler; Redvers Henry Buller; Hugh McCalmont; Henry Brackenbury; George Pomeroy Colley; Baker Creed Russell; Henry Evelyn Wood; John Plumptre Carr Glyn; and John Frederick Maurice.
The ‘Ashanti Ring’ had an awesome challenge in front of them. To strike a devastating blow against the Ashanti, they would have to move their force from Cape Coast Castle 160 miles (260 km) to the Ashanti capital of “Coomassie” (today: Kumasi) through jungles, across rivers and over malaria-ridden swamps, all the while dodging stealth attacks from the Ashanti warriors who were masters of guerrilla warfare. Many veterans of campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa warned Wolseley that this was a case of ‘mission impossible’; yet that only seemed to spike the general’s determination to press ahead. Wolseley was aware that the Ashanti campaign must be completed within a narrow window, during the West Africa dry season, which lasted between December and March. Should the mission get bogged down beyond that, the British force would be totally decimated by disease and trapped, as the travel routes would become impassable due to torrential rains.
A major factor that imperilled Wolseley’s ability to carry out the mission was that the British had only limited accurate information on the interior of the country beyond the immediate vicinity of the coastal forts. It was assumed that the best possible route needed to be found for the expedition to be completed within the necessary timeframe. Any error in orienteering could doom even an otherwise well-prepared operation. Wolseley had personally spent months combing through all the reports, maps and records he could find at the various Whitehall ministries. However, as he prepared to depart for the Gold Coast, his signature self-confidence was tinged with an uneasy feeling that he was leading his men into an abyss!
On September 12, 1873, Wolseley, accompanied by 35 staff officers, departed Liverpool aboard a dilapidated, rat infested steamer, the SS Ambriz. A team of engineers had been sent to the Cape Coast Castle in advance, while the great majority of the force would arrive after Wolseley’s command party. Before their departure, Wolseley and his officers had gone to great lengths to assemble every scrap of research material available on the Gold Coast and the Ashanti lands. During the three-week voyage, in the words of Winwood Reade, one of participants, “The saloon of the steamer was half a brigade office, half a reading-room, the table being covered with blue-books, despatches, and books of African travel”.
The Ashanti Ring became Wolseley’s ‘brain trust’, continually probing the sources to glean slivers of truth from various reports. The goal was to find the ideal route through the country and the best method of approach to Kumasi. By all accounts, the ring took their job seriously, doing their best with sources that were, for the most part, decades old.
How the Expedition Unfolded
Wolseley and his party of officers arrived at Cape Coast Castle on October 2, 1873. They immediately set about preparing in advance of the arrival of their main force. Redvers Buller was placed in charge of gaining intelligence, aided by the team of engineers who had already arrived, as well as local Fante tribesman. Wolseley sent frequent despatches to London, making specific requests for materials and troop specializations. Notably, Wolseley had succeeded in ensuring that his troops would arrive in special, more comfortable uniforms geared for the tropics, winning a concession from the army old guard who long resisted such innovations.
The engineers commenced building the route out of Cape Coast Castle in November, although the bulk of the expedition’s force arrived at the end of December and the beginning of January 1874. The force eventually consisted of 2,500 army regulars, plus several thousand West Indian and African auxiliaries.
Wolseley and his brain-trust considered two main potential rotes to Kumasi that in good parts followed the routes depicted upon the present map in and Kwamena Akyempong written itinerary, options that the general described as “madness” and “difficult and dangerous”. Yet, he made these options more appetising by convincing the previously hostile tribes who lived along the left flank of these routes, to join the British cause against the Ashanti, their mutual enemies. Once this danger had been negated, the engineers informed him that that a route up that direction was the most expeditious. As there was no possibility of moving a sizeable force at once along what would be a narrow corridor, Wolseley decided to divide his army into three to four different columns, which would move at different times, to converge before the decisive attack upon Kumasi.
Construction of the single-lane road towards Kumasi proceeded with great speed, a project micromanaged by Wolseley, a notorious taskmaster. Fortified rest stations were built at the end of each day’s march, roughly every 10 miles (16 km). Once they reached Prasu, on the Pra Rvier, the boundary of the Ashanti lands, they built a sizable forward base and hospital, and forded the river with a bridge made of pieces prefabricated in England. The Prasu base was stocked with 400 tons of food and 1.1 million rounds of ammunition, and by January 24 was connected to the coast by a telegraph line.
Towards the end of January, the British advance parties began to encounter Ashanti patrols, resulting in skirmishes. The British employed aggressive tactics to compel the Ashanti to retreat at the Battle of Amoaful (January 31,), which importantly opened the way towards Kumasi.
Apparently, the Ashanti, who were normally very brave fighters, were alarmed by the speed and force of the British expedition and believed that they could not win a direct contest. Their only option was to bog the British down in guerrilla warfare and watch them fall due disease during the rainy season. They abandoned Kumasi before the British force arrived in the city on February 4, 1874.
The British were amazed by the size and sophistication of some of the building and artwork they encountered in the Ashanti capital. Impressively, the royal palace featured a library with “rows of books in many languages”. Nonetheless, this was a punitive expedition, not a cultural heritage tour. Wolseley ordered that the palace be levelled by dynamite, while the rest of the city was sacked and burned. Feeling that this was a clear enough message, the British promptly left Kumasi, heading back to the coast, while maintaining their fortified road system between the Cape Coast Castle and Prasu (which lay within British territory).
Wolseley, the Ashanti Ring, and most of the troops quickly returned home, before the deadly rains commenced in March. Amazingly, the entire British force suffered only 18 deaths from combat and 55 from disease, with 185 wounded. This was an incredibly low casualty rate for a tropical battle zone.
In July 1874, the Ashanti were compelled to sign the Treaty of Treaty of Fomena. The Ashanti had to pay Britain an enormous indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold; had to agree not to cross the Pra River except for reasons of commerce; had to open their lands to free trade with Britain; and were compelled to end the traditional custom of human sacrifice. The legacy of the expedition was that it served to anchor enduring British power in West Africa. While the Ashanti would militarily contest British power on two further occasions, eventually resulting in the annexation of the Ashanti lands to the Gold Coast colony, in 1902, they would never again pose an existential threat to British hegemony in the region.
Upon his return to London, Wolseley was hailed as hero and laden with honours, for what was inarguably one of the best executed mid-scale military operations in British history. He would go on to achieve great success in campaigns in South Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, eventually becoming the Commander-in-Chief of the entire British Army. The Ashanti Expedition also did much to advance the careers of the members of the Ashanti Ring, most of
However, the sacking Kumasi only succeeded in temporarily laying the Ashanti low, as the latter quickly regained their vigour and soon posed a potentially existential threat to Britain’s coastal holdings. The Ashanti state remained independent, and happily traded gold, cocoa and rubber with Britain’s rivals, France and Germany, while allowing the Britain only limited access to these resources.
By the early 1890s, Britain ardently desired that the Ashanti nation be ‘tamed’ and they especially wanted control over the massive gold deposits that lay in the kingdom’s territories. They pressured the Ashanti leader, King Prempah, to agree to accept that his nation become a British protectorate, but this ‘offer’ was refused. In 1894, the British turned up the heat, and while King Prempah sent delegation to London to negotiate a diplomatic settlement, Whitehall was in no mood for compromise and procced to launch a full-scale invasion of the Ashanti lands.
In thar became known as the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War (December 1895 to February 1896), the British sent a force of regularly led by Colonel Sir Francis Scott, supported by a levy army of Gold Coast tribal troops (the Ashanti had many local enemies!) led by Major Robert Baden-Powell (1859 – 1941), who would later gain global fame for his role in the Siege of Mafeking, South Africa (1899 – 1900) and as the founder of the Boy Scout movement. The forces were armed with new fearsome weapons, including Maxim machine guns and 75mm artillery shells that could easily mow down any opposition in a direct altercation.
Armed with copies of the present map, which would have served as their primary geo-strategic aid, the expedition set out from the coast to Kumasi in December 1895, following the same route travelled by the British expedition of 1873-4. King Prempah, realizing that his forces had no chance against this juggernaut, ordered his fighters to stand down, in the hopes that a negotiated settlement could still be achieved. When the British reached Kumasi, they meet no opposition, and demanded that King Prempah pay them the totally impossible sum of 50,000 ounces of gold! When the king failed to do this, he and many of his leading noblemen were arrested and exiled to the Seychelles.
The British left Kumasi on January 22, 1895, returning to the coast two weeks later. Despite their success, they were left with a bitter taste, as 50% of their entire force fell severely ill with tropical diseases; many died, including the Queen Victoria’s grandson, the Prince of Battenberg.
The British formally made the Ashanti Kingdom into one of their protectorates in 1897, although this measure would not ensure the end of Ashanti resistance. During the Fifth Anglo-Ashanti War, or, War of the Golden Stool (March to September 1900), the British conquered and annexed the Ashanti state, and while the Ashanti people continued to exercise some measure of local autonomy, their country was dissolved and integrated into what would become Ghana (which attained its independence in 1957).
References: Afriterra Library (Boston): no. 3653; British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 65330.(3.); Bodleian Library (Oxford University): 722.11 t.1 (7); National Library Scotland: Map.l.33.53; University of Birmingham Library: p DT510.2; Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand): MapColl -536a 1873 41809; University of Kentucky Library: G8850 1873 .E39; OCLC: 556410776, 317252648, 1180867704; Mittheilungen aus Justus Perthes’ Geographischer Anstalt…, 20. Band (1874), pp. 26-32.