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. 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.
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 of West Africa. 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.
In 1867, Britain declared the coastal areas of the region to be the crown colony of the Gold Coast, and endeavoured to extend it authority into the interior, and notably over the Ashanti Kingdom. The British defeated the Ashanti following a military expedition during the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War (1873-4), sacking Kumasi; however, they 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).
Robert Baden Powell first became a well-known figure upon publishing his account of the expedition, The Downfall of Prempeh; A Diary of Life with the Native Levy in Ashanti 1895-96 (London, 1896), in which he set out moralistic justifications for the endeavour that would have been quite convincing to a Victorian British public, even if they would not hold much water today.
The Present Map in Focus
This excellent grand format map, executed to a large scale of 8 miles to the inch, showcases all of the southern Gold Coast, from the Atlantic littoral up to 7° 30´ North (beyond which point the country was largely unknown to Europeans, let alone mapped to any degree of reliability). The coastlines are precisely accurate, due to advanced surveys executed by the Royal Navy, while the picture of the immediate interior is relatively sound, based on itinerary surveys with the positioning of many points (usually villages) fixed by astronomical observations. Beyond that, generally, the further one looks inland, the less precise and detailed the map becomes.
Importantly, the map labels the territories of the various tribal nations, and sub-divisions in manner far more extensive and accurate than on any other map of its era. The British colonial capital, ‘Akra’ (Accra), appears in the lower left, while midway along the coast is ‘Cape Coast Castle’, located in the lands of the Anglo-allied ‘Fanti’ nation, traditionally the main English trading base in the region, and more recently the launching point for military expeditions inland to the Ashanti territories. ‘Kumassi’ (Kumasi), shown to be at the heart of the Ashanti lands, is located around 210 km north of Cape Coast Castle, near the middle of the map.
The ‘Reference Note’, located below the title, explains the symbols for ‘Routes approximately correct’, shown as continuous black lines; ‘Routes of doubtful accuracy’, as dashed lines; and ‘Mission Stations’ (often the only permanent European settlements in the interior) represented by a circle surmounted by cross. This shows that while systematic trigonometrical surveys of in the interior had not yet been endeavoured, the map’s coverage is highly impressive, as the courses of numerous rivers, roads, trails and the locations of hundreds of villages are noted with a high degree of accuracy, despite the fact that the regions were infested with disease and often covered by ‘Dense Forest’.
The map also depicts the region’s telegraph system, which was the only way that the British could send or receive messages from London with any useful speed. The terrestrial telegraph lines are show to run along the coast, marked as tacked lines, noting the locations of telegraph offices (‘T.O.’). Submarine lines are shown to run under the Atlantic to and from Accra, including the ‘Branch Cable from Grand Bassam (West African Submarine Telegraph Company)’, which continued to Cotonou (Dahomey) and Luanda (Angola); and the ‘Submarine Cable from Europe & Sierra Leone (African Direct Company)’, which continued to Lagos.
The map is clearly an excellent strategic aide for guiding a British Army into the interior, and especially towards Kumasi, being the War Office’s primary purpose for making the map. Many of the relevant inland routes are shown with considerable confidence and were proved to be accurate during the 1895-6 Scott-Baden-Powell expedition.
The map would also have had many commercial uses, guiding members of trading companies towards interior villages where they could acquire resources, such as gold, cocoa, rubber or precious hardwoods.
The map also served another key purpose in being the only map to show the approximate boundaries to a large scale between the British Gold Coast (here outlined in pink) and the French Ivory Coast, to the west (outlined in green); and German Togoland, to the east (outlined in yellow).
The demarcation of these boundaries was highly important to both the British and their European rivals, as they were keen to control as much of the region’s precious resources as possible, while clamping down on cross-border smuggling, which was a major problem. The line in the lower right margin reads: ‘Note – The boundary between the ‘English and French possessions had been taken from the text of the agreement between Great Britain & France of July 12th 1893, but had not been demarcated on the ground and the line must therefore be regarded as only approximately correct’.
The Anglo-German border was likewise not properly surveyed, although the map labels a ‘Boundary Pillar’ erected on the eastern bank of the Aka River where the line suddenly jogs east-west. It would be some years before these boundaries would be trigonometrically surveyed.
The present map is part of sequence of works that represented the first broadly accurate large-scale maps of the Gold Coast. Previous to this sequence, all maps of the country could be described as inaccurate, or, at best, skeletal. The first issue of the sequence was the Map of the Gold Coast and Neighbouring Territories, issued in London for the War Office in 1887, with an updated edition issued in 1889. The present map, executed to the same scale as its precursors, was first printed in 1895, employing an entirely new lithographic matrix and was significantly updated from the 1889 map. This map was reissued using the same matrix in 1902, featuring updated information. Importantly, the present map served as the underlying basis for Henry Wallach’s excellent mining-cadastral map, A Map of the Gold Coast with Part of Ashanti: Showing the Positions and Areas of Mining Properties (London: Edward Stanford, 1900).
One will notice that the map features no upper neatline. This is because the War Office wanted the map to have the possibility of seamlessly connecting to an intended map of the northern, or deep interior, parts of the Gold Coast, executed to the same scale and style; however, this map was not available in 1895. They had to wait until the publication of George E. Ferguson’s Map of the Hinterland of the Gold Coast Colony. Provisional Issue. (Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1897), which while a new, separate map in and of itself, could be connected to the present work.
A Note on Rarity
All examples of any of the issues of the early large-format War Office maps of the Gold Coast are very rare; they all seem to have been produced in only a small print run for professional use.
We can trace 6 institutional examples of the present 1895 edition, held by the British Library; Afriterra Library (Boston); Bodleian Library (Oxford University); National Library of Scotland; University of Manchester Library; and The London Library.
The present example of the map comes with an august provenance, being from the library of the noble estate of the Spletchley Park, Worcestershire, owned by the Berkeley family, which has an over 900-year-long history of service the English, and later British, crown.
References: British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 65330.(15.); Afriterra Library: no. 634; Bodleian Library (Oxford University): 722.11 t.1 (4); National Library of Scotland: Map.l.17.76; University of Manchester Library: MMGS E (288); The London Library: Atlas Cases, Extra Large, Maps 1 Africa; R. Bagulo BENING, Ghana: Regional Boundaries and National Integration (Ghana Universities Press, 1999), p. 40; J. A. BRAIMAH, The Ashanti and the Gonja at War (1970), p. 8; Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, vol. 10 (1969), p. 126.
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