KUMASSI, 22nd January.
IT has given us some amusement here to read the statements of Mr. Hogan and others who, according to the last received budget of papers, have been enlightening the British public on the subject of Ashanti. They have, however, condemned themselves out of their own mouth, their prophecies have been altogether stultified by the outcome of events, and their general statements are equally wide of facts. Prempeh and his chiefs did not escape into the interior, partly because steps were taken to prevent them doing so, and chiefly because up to the last they had not been sure of the line that they would adopt. That the Ashantis would not fight could not have been foreseen, but could only have been guessed at, as subsequent events have shown.
It is now known that had it not been for the presence of the two white battalions in the expeditionary force, the Ashantis would have attacked, and might very possibly have stopped any column sent up. Eight thousand men had been collected in Kumassi only ten days before our arrival there, and are to-day not altogether disbanded. They were, as our scouts reported, waiting about in neighbouring villages ready for the call of their chiefs, who were in Kumassi. But the coup of Mr. Maxwell in arresting in full palaver the king, queen-mother, and all the leading chiefs has utterly demoralised them, and the nation is now like a flock of sheep without a leader. Had the people even guessed beforehand what the result of the coup was to have been, there is not the smallest doubt that they would have fought to prevent it.
When we arrived here on the 17th inst., Kumassi was full of its ordinary inhabitants. On the 19th, there was suspicion in the air. Numbers were trying to make their way out of the town; all the fetish priests at Bantama fled; there is little doubt, had the roads and the palace not been carefully guarded all that night, that Prempeh and other important personages would have been missing in the morning. By the evening of the 10th, the day of the arrest, there was not a soul left in Kumassi. With his characteristic promptness the Governor intimated that the force could now move down again, taking with it its string of prisoners, and on the 21st orders were issued for the move next day. A prison had been improvised by isolating a suitable collection of huts near the headquarters camp. All surrounding houses were levelled to the ground, and a guard was mounted to make it secure on all sides. Precautions had also to be taken, not only against escape or rescue, but against the suicide or assassination of the king; the disgrace, and more especially fetish and superstition, made it desirable to the king and to his people that he should not be removed alive from Kumassi.
Yesterday evening (the 21st) more reports came in of armed men being in neighbouring villages, and there were whisperings of possible reconnaissances during the night. Bantama, about a mile and a half from Kumassi, was the headquarters of the levy, and it was there, at two in the morning of to-day, I paraded a reconnoitring force—four companies of the scouts under Major Gordon, two companies of Houssas under Captain Mitchell, a Maxim gun in charge of Armourer-Sergeant Williams. Then we started: a long, silent string of men gliding past the outposts of the troops in camp, down through the deserted lanes of Kumassi, and out into the bush beyond. Suddenly our path becomes muddy, and then watery-we try to keep dry-shod, but in vain; ere long we are ankle-deep, then knee-deep, and deeper, and so we wade on and on through the cold and evil-smelling water swamps that lie below Kumassi.
Once past it, our way lies through the densest bush by a narrow, winding foot-track, whose line we guess at by feeling with a stick. Streams, fallen trees, and high-growing roots obstruct our way at every step, and our progress naturally is extremely slow, and, cold and miserable about the legs, we creep along. Hour after hour, mile after mile, in deepest silence; frequent halts while scouts examine points ahead, or to allow some closing up in rear. At last the dawn begins to show itself in the thick and dripping mist around us. The men all have their orders what to do on arrival at the village. The scouts will gain both flanks through the bush, followed by a section to either hand of Houssas; the Maxim takes the centre with the remainder of the Houssas, while the rest of the levy face about and guard the rear. The ammunition is ready, and we really hope that now at least a brush will be our reward.
Presently the scouts bring in a capture, a wild looking native talking in a strange up-country tongue. He is a slave, who has just made his escape from a village near our path, and which at this moment is full of armed Ashantis; but it is not the place we came to take. Here we know that 400 men are mustered, and so we press on faster in the gradually lightening gloom. Now we are near, the scouts check to reconnoitre, and the column closes up on tiptoe. Forward! A cry from the scouts. Too late! They’ve gone; got wind of our coming, and the place is empty. Nothing for it but to munch our biscuit and chocolate, and after a few minutes’ rest to march our weary way back-back through the bush, back through the long, wet, foetid swamp, and so to the camp.
Here we find the tail of the column just moving out upon its downward march, and we prepare to form the rearguard. But other orders wait us. Another village has just been reported to be full of men and treasure, so, after an hour’s rest and breakfast, once more the scouts turn out, and, backed by a fresh company of Houssas, proceed to visit the newly-designated point. Once more we ford the filthy swamp, which, with its repeated stirrings by many feet, has now "a fine old crusted" reek. Luckily we have not far to go-two miles will bring us there. A running scout was sent before to spy the place, and presently he meets us with the news we half expected-the enemy have gone, leaving five men there and heaps of boxes. So we press on silently. Our scouts capture one of theirs without a sound. Then we rush the village, and catch three men who have hidden away their arms. Among the huts lie strewn a host of boxes broken and empty. Within the little courtyards are piles of articles in jumbled-up confusion. The place itself was Prempeh’s country house, and his furniture was chiefly feather-beds, plates, dishes, and despatch-boxes. Delft of the commonest make strews the place, and is evidently looked upon as valuable by our men, who, after asking leave, proceed to pile themselves up with the largest dishes they can find. The place looks like a jumble auction sale. Old chairs and curtains, common decanters, a bust of her Majesty, common cotton cloths, gin bottles in profusion. At first it looked as though a hurried attempt at packing up had been made by the inmates, but one of our prisoners told another
tale. Valuables and jewellery had been securely packed in all the boxes here and placed in charge of a Sefwi slave, the king’s head drummer. The day before our arrival, this man had come, with others of his tribe, and had systematically looted the whole of the valuables, and was by this time miles away, hidden in the bush.
Once more we turned back to the camp, a disappointed crew. And on arrival there we found the Union Jack was flying half-mast high. Good Prince Henry! a martyr, if ever there was martyr, to his sense of duty. And then we started on our coastward march, not as we had pictured it, light-hearted and rejoicing, but tired and disappointed, and very sick at heart at this last crowning blow.