14th November 1895.
No sooner has his name appeared in the list, as published by the press, than circulars flow in upon him from outfitters, money-lenders, insurance agents, and others, anxious to utilise such a chance of sucking money as the occasion may afford. And his daily post is further swelled by letters of congratulation from his friends both far and near. Envious comrades congratulate him, while they beg his help to get them taken too, and ill-spelt appeals come from his men for him to get them to the front. At the War Office he finds that bustle without fussiness prevails, but the number of officers seeking their orders there is far outnumbered by those who have come to beg for any vacancy that may occur.
And then he has to face a medical examination by a board of doctors, who test his soundness in wind and limb and eyes; the dentist sets him up for faring on "hard tack," and the surgeon vaccinates him, as the Gold Coast now teems with smallpox. At stores and shops he spends much time in choosing what he wants from endless stocks of what he is pressed to take. The dealer’s estimate of what is necessary differs in a wonderful degree from that which is the outcome of experience. Kind friends press on him presents of varied utility, from hip-baths to tea-coseys. On every hand he is asked-as though the fact of his being appointed to the expedition made him ipso facto a full-blown authority on it-what is to be the actual good of the campaign, apart from the active employment it may give to eager officers and men. And where does the return come in for the expenditure of thousands of pounds and many lives on a bit of West African swamp that can be of no use to anybody?
So he turns to the handbooks and returns of the United Service Institute, and there he finds that this Gold Coast colony produces an annual revenue of some £202,000; its expenses run to something under £180,000; it has an export and import trade of over £720,000 each, of which some £530,000 goes to the United Kingdom; and that the amounts are steadily increasing year by year. But all this trade is only derived from the eastern and western extremities of the country; the trade of the centre remains stagnated and barred by the opposition of one tribe there located, namely, the Ashantis. Were these people to act in a friendly and peaceful manner towards their neighbours, a large increase in the prosperity of all would result; but now, as of old, they remain an obstacle to progress and development. In early times the Phoenicians, and in later times the Portuguese, had exploited the riches of the Gold Coast. So long ago as 1366 French traders from Rouen settled there for the purpose of digging gold, and styled their port La Mina (Elmina). These remained there for nigh a hundred years. Danes, Dutch, and English, Portuguese and Swedes soon followed them with trading ventures all along the coast. In 1672 the English Royal African Company established itself at Cape Coast Castle, as well as at several other points, and paid its way till 1821, when, damaged by the abolition of the slave trade, it transferred its property to the Crown.
Meanwhile, the Ashantis had already made themselves unpleasantly known as the bully tribe of that region by their raids on their more feeble neighbours, especially the Fantis of the coast. These latter had come to be considered as the protégés of the English. Consequently, after two such raids, in 1807 and 1817, the English established a Resident at Kumassi, but he had to be withdrawn after a short residence, and again the Ashantis came down in 1819. In 1823 they proceeded to invade the Wassaw territory, but the Gold Coast was now a colony of the Crown; the Governor, Sir Charles Macarthy, with 500 native troops and twelve European officers, endeavoured to oppose their advance. He had, however, committed the usual British fault of under-estimating the strength of his enemy; ammunition ran out (it is even said that through one of those mistakes that do sometimes occur, the kegs which had laboriously been carried to the front as bearing ammunition were found when opened to contain but supplies of vermicelli)—the result—disaster. The Governor’s head went to make a drinking goblet for the savage king, and very few survivors lived to tell the tale. The Ashantis’ further advance was only stayed by a deadly outbreak of smallpox in their ranks, so that for a season they withdrew. But two years later again they took the field, this time to find us with our allies well prepared and organised. The result was a very decided victory in our favour, which brought about a lengthened spell of peace and prosperity to the colony. In 1831, Governor Maclean concluded an important treaty with the Ashantis, Fantis, and other tribes, in which the Ashantis renounced their pretended suzerainty over all others, while the Fantis on their part agreed to abstain from giving cause of offence and retributory raids, and all consented to refer to British arbitration any disputes that might arise. To this treaty a further clause was added in 1848, in which Governor Winniett obtained the abolition of human sacrifices by the Ashantis.
But the Ashantis were not made for peace or treaties. Blood and loot had for them charms that could not be resisted. In spite of treaties, human sacrifice at the rate of some 3000 per annum still went on. Raids were attempted in 1853 and 1863. Then, in 1872, the Fantis provoked attack from their ever-ready neighbours by quarrelling with a tribe of Ashanti allies at Elmina. Fighting took place. The British were dragged into it partly to defend their Protectorate and maintain treaties, and partly because the Ashantis had seized and held as prisoners certain Europeans.
Experience had then shown that the natives never felt bound to any extent by treaties, however solemnly they might have been entered upon, and that any show of hesitation, or even of leniency, on the part of the British was construed by friends and foes alike as a sure sign of weakness. Consequently, the expedition under Sir Garnet Wolseley was organised on a footing such as precluded all chance of failure. His main column of 1400 white troops advanced direct on Kumassi, while columns of native allies made demonstrations to divert the Ashanti forces. The king, recognising our determined front, sent in message after message of submission and promise of amendment in the future; but Sir Garnet took them for what they were worth, and never paused in his onward march; and it was only after the pseudo-submission had been broken down in a series of toughly-contested bush fights that he finally captured and destroyed the capital, and left the king a fugitive.
In the treaty of peace which thereupon resulted, the Ashantis promised to renounce all suzerain rights over various neighbouring tribes, to open their country to trade, to stop human sacrifice, to pay a war indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold, and to keep the road from Kumassi to the Prah open and clear of bush. And how have these promises been observed? The Ashantis have raided their neighbours, have taken over 2000 Koranzas, traders cannot pass through Ashanti, the main road has never been kept clear of bush, the war indemnity still remains to be paid, and human sacrifice continues as before-to wit, some 2000 captured Koranzas are said to have been decapitated in the past two years, as many as 400 being killed at one time on a special occasion.
As for the expedition itself, matters are being now organised on the most practical and economical basis. A picked and compact force is being sent out, consisting of some 2000 regular troops in all. By the time they arrive on the Gold Coast, the staff sent on in advance will have prepared the road before them for the first 70 out of the 120 miles to Coomassie. Five depot camps will have been established between Cape Coast Castle, the base, and the river Prah, which forms the frontier. Bridges will have been built over the numerous rivers and streams, telegraphic communication will have been set up all along the line, and two fortified posts will have been made beyond the Prah to cover the cutting of the road and to protect communications in the enemy’s country. Twelve thousand carriers will have been collected for transport of supplies, baggage, and sick. So that our troops will, on arrival, have nothing to do but to march straight forward on to the enemy’s capital at the best pace the climate will allow. Already to the northward officers are organising the Koranzas to threaten the Ashanti rear, while native troops are getting into position on his eastward flank. One of the highest authorities in the land has prophesied that the Ashantis will make a stand, and come into action with us about January 9, near Edunku. What wonder, then, that he who has his orders for the front presses on his final arrangements with a feverish haste, and will only be happy when, one fine morn, he stands upon the deck, with pyjamas blowing in the land breeze, to receive the snaky welcome of the misty, low-lying shore?