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The only known example of a fascinating cyanotype (blueprint) plan of Sekondi, capturing the Gold Coast’s (Ghana) main commercial port during the Edwardian boom period of economic and infrastructure development – a value artefact of the the Industrial Revolution and urbanism in Sub-Saharan Africa.


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This is a fine engineers’ blueprint plan of Sekondi, then the Gold Coast’s busiest commercial port, as well as a major regional centre of administration and a key British military base.  The site of the Dutch outpost of Fort Orange (established 1642) and later the British base of Fort Sekondi (1682), the location had long been valued as one of the few natural harbours in West Africa that could shelter capital ships.

While Britain had maintained a presence along the Gold Coast for hundreds of years, and had formally established a colony in the littoral region in 1867, it was not until the wake of the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War (1895-6) that Britain gained proper control over the interior, unlocking the Gold Coast’s immense economic potential.  Indeed, unlike many of the other European colonies in Africa, the Gold Coast was profitable, producing gold, fine tropical hardwood timber, cocoa, palm products, as well as other tropical cash crops.  The local people were also highly industrious, making the colony worthy of grand investment.  The British hold over the Gold Coast was confirmed by their victory during the final Anglo-Ashanti showdown in 1900, which resulted in the entire country becoming a British protectorate in 1902.

As a critical element towards bringing the Industrial Revolution to the Gold Coast, in the late 1890s the British began to develop Sekondi as a major industrial transhipment centre.  This  role was solidified in 1903 upon it becoming the seaward terminus of the Government Railway, which headed northwards, deep into the interior, as far as Kumasi.  Within only a few years Sekondi become one the of the World’s largest entrepôts for gold, cocoa and timber.

The present map, made around 1905, shows the layout of the city in great detail, outlining all major buildings, labelling roads and rail lines, in addition to indicating land use patterns.  It is valuable as stellar example of early industrial urbanism in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The map shows the Government Railway sweeping down into the city from the north, to terminate at specially constructed quays on the harbour shore, for the purpose of conveying products directly from train to boat.  Outlined in the town’s commercial district are Fort Sekondi; harbour works; post office; law courts; market; bank; prison; cold storage; hotel and the country club.  To the southwest of the centre, near the shore, are the residential areas (mainly inhabited by local peoples) of ‘Accra Town’ and ‘Housa Town’.  To the north, in the interior are the chapel, army barracks, hospital and the country bungalows of important British officials.

Sekondi later benefitted from the construction of Gold Coast’s first deep-water harbour, completed at nearby Takoradi in 1928.  Sekondi was later merged with its neighbour to form Sekondi-Takoradi, and today serves as the capital of Ghana’s Western Region with a population of over 500,000.  Its port plays a major role in the the economy of Ghana (as well as the landlocked Sahel countries), handling 62% of Ghana’s annual exports and 20% of its imports.


Cyanotype: Cartography in Brilliant Blue

The present highly technical map would have been made in only a very small number of examples for official planning purposes.  Its gorgeous blue tone is the result of the cyanotype (blueprint) printing technique, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘sunprint’.  This photographic printing process involved the use of two chemicals: ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide.  Invented in 1842 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel, the technique was favoured by engineers, as it produced technical diagrams of sharp contrast and clarity.  It also had the advantage of being very low cost and easy to execute (by those properly trained).  In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the technique gained wide popularity for architectural and engineering plans (i.e. ‘Blueprints’).  This led it to be adapted to cartography, often to maps of a technical nature, such as urban models and plans for mines and infrastructure (such as the present map).  A limitation of the cyanotype medium is that it could yield only a very limited number of copies, such that virtually all cyanotype maps are today extremely rare.

Cyanotype maps were especially popular with British military cartographers and civil engineers operating in colonial frontier regions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in India and Africa.


References: N/A – Seemingly not recorded.

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