B-P’s Brother,
Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell

"Policy and Wealth in Ashanti"
  Sir George S. Baden-Powell
  From: Major R. S. S. Baden-Powell, The Downfall of Prempeh: A Diary of Life With the Native Levy in Ashanti 1895-96. London, 1896.

IN 1895-96 we wage the fourth serious Ashanti war within half a century. The cost in blood and treasure, in valuable lives, felt so heavily by the august head of the nation, as well as by the nation at large, and in valued money, should be a very special concern to the representatives of the people. The ultimate unit, the tax-payer—whether home or colonial, looks for two groups of results as his reward. On the one hand, he hopes to see Christianity and civilisation pro tanto extended; and, on the other, to see some com­pensating development of industry and trade. Unless he, or “his servants the Government,” secure either or both these results, the question must be plainly asked, has he the right, and is he right, to wage such wars? In relation to Ashanti, the solution of this problem in politics has a very present and direct importance, as well as an indi­rect and more general significance.

First of all, the place in history of Ashanti as it stands to-day is remarkable. The “Gold Coast” was the one part of the African coast which attracted the earliest navigators of Western Europe, because of its gold.

The very first English traders—Windham, Lok, Hawkins, and others—visited Guinea for gold. This legitimate commercial adventure was, however, promptly superseded by another and even more profitable trade, namely, that in slaves. The one crying need of the gold mines and plantations, which European enterprise was just then opening up in tropical America,—in the West Indies, in Mexico, in Peru, in Brazil,—was black labour. From the days of the Greeks and Romans right down to modern times, Africa was the one great slave preserve; and to Africa came the Europeans to filch that human labour they so much needed in the New World. The trade speedily assumed enormous proportions, and overwhelmed all other forms of enterprise and commerce. The very lowest traits of the native races were thereby cultivated, and the most ruinous of all industries was developed. The south-east and the north-east trade-winds com­peted, as it were, to waft from Africa to America these human cargoes; and the heavy blight of the slave trade hung over Africa and over all attempts at European settlement or civilisation from the sixteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. All along that portion of the coast of Guinea which runs eastward from Cape Palmas to the Delta of the Niger, 1,000 miles in length, where the natives brought down gold and ivory as well as slaves, European forts and factories were established from the earliest times.

But, confining ourselves to the present century, we come to the period referred to by Mr. C. P. Lucas in his most admirable Historical Geography of the British Colonies:

“The English went for generations to Africa to follow up the slave trade. Then they went again to put it down.”

The putting an end suddenly to this great and vigorous trade burdened the nation with the responsibilities of the slave-trading merchants. Their forts and factories and settlements at once fell to the ultimate charge of the Home Government, and for the succeeding fifty years we see the British Government, with the steady vacilla­tion of a pendulum, alternately taking over administration from and handing it back to the traders.

Early in this century the Government found Cape Coast Castle itself to be rented from the Fantis. But the Ashantis were attacking the coast tribes, and setting up a very effective suzerainty, and claiming all rents and tributes;’ nor did they hesitate boldly to attack the whites.

In 1816 the Ashantis actually blockaded Cape Coast Castle, and in the following year the traders sent an embassy to Kumassi, where they made a convention recognising the suzerainty of the Ashantis, but stipulating for a British Resident at Kumassi. The following year the Home Government sent an embassy to Kumassi, and there was great friction between the Government and the merchants on the coast. The Ashantis, hoping to profit by these dissensions, made a formidable invasion of the small British territories in 1821.

In 1824 came the first Ashanti war. Sir Charles McCarthy led a British force, chiefly composed of native troops, across the Prah. But the force was completely demolished, and he himself slain. The consequence was a fresh Ashanti invasion, and they were only beaten off in their attack on Accra by means of the newly introduced war-rockets, which are said to have had a widely ­spread effect among the natives, who took them to be lightning and thunder in the hands of the white men. In 1831 followed a treaty freeing all the forts from Ashanti suzerainty. At this period Governor Maclean, under the rule of the mer­chants, established a quasi-British authority along a great stretch of coast, and set up sovereign claims. He maintained unbroken peace with the Ashantis.

In 1840 the Home Government once again took complete charge of the Gold Coast, and after this commenced the policy of buying out the smaller Dutch and Danish possessions.

In 1863 another attempt at armed interference with Ashanti took place. The second invasion was made; but the result was a terrible military disaster, chiefly due to the undertaking of opera­tions at the wrong season, and the consequent abandonment of the expedition owing to the terrible ravages of sickness among the troops.

The trend of opinion in England at this moment was against the widening responsibilities of empire, and in 1865 the House of Commons adopted the notorious resolution of withdrawal from the West Coast of Africa, in which it was declared: “All further extension of territory or assumption of government or new treaties offer­ing any protection to native tribes would be inexpedient . . . with a view to ultimate with­drawal from all (West African possessions) except, probably, Sierra Leone.”

But this “Little Englander” resolution proved mere waste paper in the face of the actual work in process on the West Coast. As a matter of fact, the purchasing of the smaller foreign settle­ments marked a great consolidation and strength­ening of the British power at the very moment when the self-sufficient representatives of the people were passing their most impracticable and impossible academic resolution.

But this first consolidation of British power twenty-five years ago on the Gold Coast found the powerful Ashanti nation—one versed in all the worst forms and practices of fetish and barbaric tyranny—closely hemming in all our settlements and small protectorates. Some great conflict between the two powers became inevit­able.

In 1873 occurred the third Ashanti war. When Sir Garnet Wolseley arrived at Cape Coast Castle, he found the Ashanti forces at its very gates. Commodore Commerell had been seriously wounded by an Ashanti ambush at the very mouth of the Prah ; and Sir Garnet fought his first pitched battle with the enemy at Abrakampa, not eight miles from Cape Coast Castle.

Thus 25 years ago on the Gold Coast the Queen’s authority barely extended outside the forts and factories established 250 years before.

But the results of the Wolseley Ashanti war were very significant. By a series of brilliant actions and marches, Sir Garnet very speedily captured the Ashanti capital, and dictated terms to the king. The military work done was all that could be desired: the political action which followed was the very reverse. We had seized and occupied the fountainhead of Ashanti barbarism; we had it in our power completely and finally to purify the whole stream of Ashanti influence. Instead of this we retired, imagining, in our folly, that a nation steeped to the lips in barbarism and savagery would abide by and carry out the terms of a paper convention.

The consequences of our folly developed rapidly and surely, and in twenty years came to disastrous fruition. Every vice, every evil, every terror known to savagery came to be rampant over all Ashanti. The main clauses of the convention­—the war indemnity, the abolition of human sacri­fices, the keeping open of the roads, and the freeing of trade and traffic-remained a dead letter.

Thus, in defence of the interests of our own colony and of numerous natives, we were compelled once again to use force, and enter upon the fourth Ashanti war.

The one permanent gain due to the 1873 cam­paign was that the British frontier was carried up to and across the Prah river.

But the whole of the area behind our own possessions, with a boundary running by the Hinterland of the new German acquisitions in Togoland, past the eastern ends of French Guinea and the French Soudan, round by the borders of the Niger Company’s territories, down to the frontiers of the new French possessions in Dahomey—all that area, where not overrun by the mysterious Moslem forces headed by “Samory,” was in 1895 under the domination of the Ashanti king, Prempeh.

His rule involved all the insecurity inevitable to active slave-raiding; all the cruel misery and drain of population incidental to the system of wholesale human sacrifices; all the destitution and retrogression due to ruthless repression of industry by the ruling powers; no profits of industry or trade were safe; no man could be sure of reaping what he sowed, or of retaining the price he obtained for the wild but valuable products of the forest. All gold found or obtained by any form of work had to be delivered up to the chief or king. All was stagnation, poverty, and cruelty.

The mere putting an end to such a state of affairs would be even a noble reason for conquest by force of arms. And when, for the other reasons of broken treaty-pledges and the material damage done to our own interests and to those of the natives for whom we had become responsible, armed interference on our part became necessary, then those among us who had watched such affairs recognised a grand opportunity for doing a great and good act on the part of the British power.

In 1823 we sacrificed the lives of our own men and the lives of the enemy without securing any good in return for so much evil.

In 1863, again, we sacrificed 1000 lives on our own side and untold numbers of the foe, but no permanent good results follow.

In 1873 once again we embarked on a campaign against the same Ashantis, at a human sacrifice to ourselves of 300 killed and wounded and an untold loss to the enemy.

Each time we press our frontier a little forward. But, to the disgrace of our statesmen, each time, even this last time in 1873, we retire from and surrender to the despotism of savagery all the area of Ashanti proper; and in so far make our own country responsible for all the fetish practices, the human sacrifices, the slave raiding, and other such curses, which have brooded over that land and its unfortunate inhabitants for the past quarter of a century.

Here, again, as in many another instance, the philanthropy of the British nation has seen and judged aright of the evils of such barbaric despot­ism, and has set itself, regardless of cost, to crush such despotism. But here again, as in so many other instances, the statesmen in office, as a rule through craven fear of electioneering results, have ignored the further moral obligation of setting up some better power in the stead of that which we have destroyed.

As in Zululand in 1881, so in Ashanti in 1873, we crushed a great native organisation and retired, setting up nothing in its place. The invariable consequences follow, namely, a recrudescence and intensification of previous cruelties and barbarities, further dishonour to the national credit, and ulti­mately fresh expense, fresh expeditions, and fresh human sacrifices in war.

Such must not be permitted to be the result of the 1895-96 expedition. We are bound in honour to the natives to provide them with some better form of government than that from which we have saved them by force of arms. We have crushed the barbaric despotism, but we have yet to make our conquest over the demoralising agencies of slavery, savagery, and drunkenness. We have yet definitely to set up the Queen’s peace over all this new area; yet definitely to establish law, order, and security. And to accomplish these ends, all we have to do is to administer. The means to this end are elastic, and must be suited to the special circumstances of each district and date. The whole area must at once be divided into pro­visional districts, and a white chief placed over each. Armed support each must have, and white assistants, as many as he needs, be always available. Gradually must be instilled the leading ideas of our civilization—the sanctity of private property; individual liberty; security for person and property, and so forth. There are instruments to this end to be found in native courts, armed police, legitimate revenue-raising, and so forth.

Another side to the political aspect must be at once taken in hand. We must cultivate the most friendly relations with the independent powers bordering on this our province,-with the Ger­man and French colonies on either side, and with the daring and independent chief “Samory” at the back,—and with them not only make mutual and final demarcations of frontier, but also insti­tute such combined arrangements as shall pro­hibit and prevent the deleterious trades in spirits, arms, and ammunition, and all other infringe­ments of the salutary ordinances of civilised authority.

Such is the policy of honour we must pur­sue; and  it is the policy of common sense as well.

Over this Ashanti area, which now comes definitely under our flag, there exists, according to indisputable evidence, abundance of wealth, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The following records of exports indicate what has occurred before and after our Gold Coast Colony spread its administrative aegis as far as the Prah, and this will give some indication of results in pro­gress and prosperity which the spread of British jurisdiction can bring over all the Hinterland of that colony:—

Exports from the Gold Coast Colony




Palm oil



Palm kernels






Monkey skins









The value of the colony as a new market for British produce is seen by remarking that ten years ago the imports were less than £300,000, and now they are close upon £600,000.

But the figures of actual trade hardly indicate what is the main feature in the wealth of an ex­panding colony, and that is the corresponding power of the expansion of trade. The following table gives at a glance the records of expansion at twenty-year periods of the Gold Coast Colony:— 





Area (square miles)




















     Index Numbers




In rough result this colony, which nearly trebled its commercial value in the twenty years preceding 1873, has nearly quadrupled its commercial value in the last twenty years, and three-fourths of the total trade is with the United Kingdom.

But this new province has as yet had no more exploiting than a “mere scratching of the earth.” In all the staples there has been no systematised production as yet. We have indications of many minor products of value, such as grain, ivory, quicksilver, and petroleum. But in regard to the staples, much remains to be done before this area can be said to be producing anything like its legitimate output.

Take gold, for instance. As I have said, hitherto the chief or king took all the gold that was found—a far heavier levy even than that of the  English Crown on the gold miners in Wales. And yet there are indications in numerous old works, and, above all, in the undoubted fact that natural nuggets, indicating alluvial gold deposits, abound among the native hoards, that we have not yet got hold, in any appreciable degree, of the natural stores of the precious metal which gives its name to all the coast.

One word more as to gold. It has often been a fact of history that the value of the output of

gold in a given country has not exceeded the cost, that, in some cases, the gold obtained at a total cost of £5 the ounce, has, of course, fetched in the market only £3, 17s. 6d. And yet the dis­trict or country prospered exceedingly. The fact is, that the raising of gold means considerable success to a great many incomers. It also means considerable loss by means of considerable expendi­ture to a great many others. But it means in the aggregate the coming into the district of the successful and the unsuccessful, and the expendi­ture there of much wealth by both classes. The consequence is, a great many other industries spring up, and many hitherto unnoticed local resources become developed.

It is the same with other industries, as, for instance, that of timber-getting; and it is cer­tain that portions of the Ashanti forests consist of valuable African mahogany.

A word must be said on the modern method of discovering and developing the unknown resources of such a country. This is nowadays done by means of concessions from the Government. In regard to these, the very first point is to discover that any particular concession is obtained fairly and squarely; and the second point is to see that the financial arrangements are equitable.

The most modern proposal is, that the Govern­ment should only grant concessions for which large sums are paid, which the Government under­takes shall be expended in the public works neces­sary for the carrying out of the concession, such as roads, bridges, railways, telegraphs, and water supply. But in making such stipulations it would be foolish and wrong on the part of the Govern­ment to insist on too high a price for concessions. In untried and unknown countries the develop­ment of any industry is carried on at considerable and unknown risk, and the commercial value of an untried concession must be calculated with due consideration of these unknown risks, and a balance struck by prospectively large profits. In short, as large a margin of possible profit must be left to the investor, or he will not face the pos­sible losses. Nor should he alone be saddled with expenses, such as those of providing improved means of communication, which necessarily benefit so large an area of country and so many other persons.

With an official policy of development, based on sound financial principles, and controlled by adequate knowledge of such countries, there should be no difficulty in securing the rapid industrial opening up of all Ashanti.

I n two matters, however, the Government must take action forthwith. A light railway must at once be constructed to the Prah, with a view to ultimate extension right into the Hinterland; and a sufficient breakwater must be built, probably at Accra, to render easier the landing and shipping of goods.

In this work of the political and industrial regen­eration of Ashanti, the missionaries, to say nothing here of their immediate and great religious work, do give invaluable aid. They are, as they have been before, ready to establish stations at all available centres over the interior, and thus to set up the standard of Christian and civilised lives for all men to look at. And they become, as they are already in the more settled districts, invaluable in all matters connected with the education of the natives.

As is proved by the recorded results in all other cases, thus to set up the British idea and British administration over all this great new area is bound very speedily to yield handsome returns in com­merce and finance, to the great advantage, not only of the traders and shipowners already engaged, but also to the exporters and manufacturers of the mother country. It is no mean advantage to them to discover, even in Ashanti, a new market which, if properly organised, should take in a few years probably from two to three million pounds worth of British produce each year.

Moreover, in thus setting up strongly and de­finitely the Queen’s peace over this great native area, in the place of the degrading, demoralising, and pauperising regime hitherto dominant, we shall be bringing to perhaps four or five millions of natives all the advantages of peaceful industry and commerce, and teach them, in the most prac­tical manner, the benefits of attaching themselves to a civilisation which, as they will then very speedily come to see, has its roots in those high principles of law, order, justice, and goodwill for all men, which are, after all, the guiding lessons taught by our firm national religion.

The nation, therefore, has good cause, whether from the religious, the philanthropic, the financial, or the commercial point of view, for very great gratitude to those who, at great risk of life and health, have so signally and speedily crushed the opposing barbaric forces which stood in the way of a wholesome and profitable regeneration of all Ashanti.

In Ashanti the British nation can now do a piece of work of inestimable material benefit to themselves and to the natives, and which can become an invaluable object lesson both for our­selves and for foreign nations, in the extension to tropical areas of the benefits of Christianity and civilisation.



Major R. S. S. Baden-Powell, 13th Hussars, Commanding The Native Levy. The Downfall of Prempeh: A Diary of Life With the Native Levy in Ashanti 1895-96. London, 1896.

  Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell, K.C.M.G., M.P., was B-P’s oldest brother. He served in the Colonial Service and as a Member of Parliament.
  Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links based on the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. They are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P’s brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell as well as to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.
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