Las Palmas, 16th February.
The expedition to Ashanti, having succeeded without hitch or hindrance, one is apt to lose sight of the difficulties that were quietly overcome in its prosecution, and of the important results of its consummation; whereas, had the preparations been a little less complete in their character, these difficulties would have been more apparent, and disasters possible, and, perhaps, even greater credit would have redounded in the end to those charged with the conduct of the whole. As a matter of fact, this expedition now stands among the many small expeditions of late years as a pattern one for punctuality and rapidity of progress. To these points its success was entirely due, and they were the result only of careful preparation and thorough organization; and though every branch distinguished itself by playing its part in a manner as nearly as possible approaching to perfection, the following services have without doubt scored for themselves a record performance — namely, the Transport, Supply, Medical, Telegraph, and Special Service Corps.
The Transport organized in a very few days, one might almost say hours, a larger force of human transport than has before been attempted, and its working has from the first been as eminently satisfactory as it has been vitally necessary to the progress of the expedition. The Supply, ordnance as well as commissariat, has similarly been an unqualified success. Abundance of stores of the right kind have been available from first to last at every stage of the operations. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, and nothing superfluous or useless seems to have been brought, which is no small triumph where some 14,000 men of most varied nationalities and requirements had to be catered for in a land whose products consisted of a very meagre supply of plantains. The medical arrangements were as complete and efficient as could be devised: medical officers and sick hammocks distributed among the corps, bearer company for transport of sick and wounded, field hospital close up, hammock train laid in, relieving posts for rapid transport of sick to the coast, excellent base hospital at Cape Coast Castle, with sea transport to the capacious and well-equipped hospital ship, the Coromandel. The Field Telegraph was an unqualified success. It was laid with surprising rapidity, and thus permitted the advanced force to be within rapid communication with headquarters during the whole of the advance to Kumassi. The Special Service Corps — the object of much criticism in England — gained a reputation for itself that must have caused the liveliest satisfaction to the hearts of its supporters. Its small tactical units were eminently suited to the work on hand; the care which had been exercised in the selection of its men as possessing stamina and other qualifications to meet the peculiar conditions of service on the Gold Coast enabled the corps to maintain its strength and efficiency to a marked extent when contrasted with the ordinary line battalion employed on the same duty; and the emulation of each unit working with all the energy begotten of esprit de corps was productive of the best results in practice.
Perhaps one might also add to this record of "records" the fact that the local government worked throughout most effectively and loyally in assisting the expedition. Its employees had already effected much before the head of the expedition proper had even set foot in the colony. The telegraph had been laid — and in a very substantial manner — as far as Mansu; the whole of the material for the bridge over the Prah had been collected at Prahsu, and merely required to be roped for use; the road had been cut and made, and rest-camps set up from the coast to Prahsu, and the work of collecting natives to act as carriers or native levies had been effected with good results. These were points which an ordinary eye would look at as the natural aim of the local officials, but how seldom do we see them giving their aid in this way, even though the success of an expedition means everything to them. And it must be a source of gratification to many a taxpayer (and I, alas! am one of them) to see that our departments can "run a show" of this kind in a way that transcends anything that has been done in Madagascar, Abyssinia, or Cuba. It is true that it is but a small one, but if your workman u can make a watch, you bet he can make a clock."
With all these organizations thus perfected, the expedition did not, as it could not, fail to succeed; and yet a few faults in previous preparation or a very little mismanagement might have produced a very different result. One need only look to the history of the strip of territory next to Ashanti, namely, Dahomey, or to the late conquest by France in a similar climate against a similar enemy, namely, Madagascar, to see what terrible expense in life and money has been avoided by the use of a well-planned organization endowed with thorough efficiency in all its working parts.
The secret of the perfection in the preliminary arrangements lies in the fact that most of the heads of the staff at the War Office were themselves employed in the previous campaign in Ashanti, and have been therefore able to order things in accordance with their own personal experience of the country and climate; and the viciousness of this climate is shown by the fact that, in spite of all the forethought and precautions that were taken, no less than fifty per cent, of the men and something like eighty per cent of the officers were attacked by fever. The practical result of the efficient organization of the expedition was the " rushing " of the Ashantis. At best the Ashantis are slow to mobilize, and on this occasion they were also doubtful how to act pending the return from England of the envoys they had sent there, and consequently had till then only partially mobilized their army. Within two hours after the returning envoys had crossed the Prah on their journey to Kumassi our advanced force had also crossed and followed close upon their heels. The information given by these envoys to the expectant people in Kumassi was to the effect that the British force had been overrated, and was still a long way off. Armed men were then called up, and a raid was organized against the Bekwais, who showed signs of defection; but before the orders had been fully carried out, the Ansahs arrived with fresh information of the British force of white troops being well on the road, and Bekwai itself was suddenly occupied and prepared for defence by our force on the very day on which the Ashantis were to have attacked it. Additional columns were, at the same time, reported as advancing against the capital from the north and from the south-west. There was consequently panic among the leaders; orders and counter-orders were issued — one day it was to be war, the next day peace. Envoys were sent to meet the troops with orders to make every effort to delay their advance till something could be done; but in vain. The stream of invasion flowed steadily and rapidly forward. There was nothing for it but to distribute all the treasure and valuables for concealment in different parts of the country till the troublous times were over; and then king and chiefs must satisfy the British with whatever promises they might find necessary, so long as they could induce them to go away again. The whole regime was disorganized by the rapid inroad of the expedition; and the panic of the country reached its climax at the arrest and deportation of Prempeh and his chiefs.
From the foregoing it will have been deduced that the success and bloodless victory of the expedition was due to the rapidity and the completeness of the movements of the force, and that this rapidity was in its turn the result of a thoroughly planned and well-equipped organization. But then arises the question, Cui bono? What is the good of this victory when you have won it ? What return is there for the half million that will have been spent upon it?
Inter alia, one may at once point out that it has, at any rate, put an end to the practice of human sacrifice, which up till within three months ago had gone on with all the unchecked force that it had ever enjoyed. Fetish superstition has an immense hold on the untutored children of the bush, and tradition and custom decreed that human sacrifice was the best form of propitiation of the fetish demons. Moreover, the men of the country have no kind of diversion or employment beyond very poor hunting and an occasional raid on a neighbouring tribe. Blood-lust, like many another vicious habit, rapidly takes root and grows on a man who is without other occupation. A bloody spectacle was naturally to the Ashantis a most attractive form of amusement, especially as at the same time it satisfied their superstition.
The popularity of human sacrifice was none the less great because it gave a direct impetus to the slave trade. As a rule, the victims of fetish sacrifice were slaves, and the supply had to be kept up to the demand. How great that demand was we may, perhaps, never know, but that it was little short of enormous may be guessed partly from the deposit of skulls and bones about the fetish groves, and partly from the fact that two streets in Kumassi consisted of the houses occupied by the official executioners. The suppression of this abuse has been one result of the expedition, and the disintegration of the Ashanti kingdom into its minor kingdoms will insure its non-revival. This alliance of lawless chiefs into a common band, under the direction of the Kumassi king, has hitherto acted like a dam to a reservoir. Within five days’ march of Kumassi, to the northward, the poisonous bush country comes to an end, and on beyond there lies the open country, rich and populous, which stretches thence to Timbuctoo. The natural outlet for this country’s trade is by the Kumassi road to Cape Coast Castle and the sea. This is the reservoir which the Ashanti dam has kept closed up so long. In breaking down the Ashanti gang we have broken up the dam, and the stream which will now begin to flow should, in the near future, well repay the expenses of the machine with which it has been cut. An encouraging example lies to hand in the colony at Lagos, where, as a direct result of the Jebu campaign, the trade has in a single year leaped up to double what it was before.
The British prestige has, moreover, now extended its effect into the back country among tribes who were hitherto wavering with their future allegiance in the balance, and it may be inferred that they will not delay to come under our protectorate. This in its turn will mean the extension of our boundaries till they touch the Niger, and will thereby save the Gold Coast Colony from being shut out from up-country trade, as had been threatened, by the junction of the two French forces in Dahomey and in Timbuctoo. Indeed, the colonial party of our friends across the Channel are just beginning to suspect that, using Prempeh as a nail to hang our cloak upon, we have quietly beaten them in the race for the Gold Coast Hinterland — that instead of Dahomey joining hands with the French Soudan, the Gold Coast will ere long have marched its boundary on to that of the Royal Niger Protectorate. In gaining this enlarged territory, we may very probably also gain the assistance of a ready-made force with which to hold it, namely, the army, horse and foot, of Samory.Thus, in the course of a few weeks, an enormous change has been wrought in the history of this part of Africa, and the vista of a great future has been suddenly opened to the Gold Coast Colony. And yet this great result has been gained by the use of a mere handful of men, and it is only when one realizes the magnitude of the result that one sees with something akin to awe how much might have been lost by a little mismanagement or by a single false move.