A Soldier of the Native Levy

Chapter V: Soldiering
"With A Native Levy in Ashanti"


On landing at Cape Coast Castle, having with me as my assistant Captain Graham, D.S.O., 5th Lancers, I set to work to organise a contingent of 800 native warriors from eight different in the neighbourhood, each tribe forming a Company with a King in command.


The job for my force was to go ahead of the main body which was composed of white and West Indian troops, to Scout in the bush some days ahead, and to ascertain the moves and whereabouts of the enemy. Also we had to act as pioneers in cutting a path and making a roadway through the jungle for the troops to follow; and this proved no light job.

Every seven miles or so we made rest camps for the troops, that is to say we cleared a large space in the bush and put up wooden sheds, thatched with leaves, with long bamboo shelves for the men to lie down on. We also built storehouses where their supplies could be dumped; and round the whole we erected stockades for defending the place if necessary.

We had our little mutinies now and then the bridge-builders for instance refusing to march one day because they had not had enough salt in their ration–and then one had to send another company to arrest their King and make them see reason somehow.

The first people to mutiny were my own bodyguard of men imported from Sierra Leone. I had gone out of camp for a stroll with my rifle along the path by which we had come up, and on the way back I met my eight stalwarts trotting off towards the coast.

They stopped in horror at the unexpected meeting and as they were in single file on the path I made the muzzle of my repeater to look towards them and told them to turn about and march back on their tracks, otherwise the repeater would begin to "talk."

When we got back to camp I called Ali, my Hausa orderly, and put them in arrest under his charge.

A Hausa is a very different from the average coast man, and enjoys considerable prestige amongst the others just as a Zulu does among other Kaffirs in South Africa.

I watched with interest from my tent his further procedure with the prisoners.

He cut down a small tree so that it lay about a foot above the ground, and he made the whole lot of eight men sit on the ground and put their legs under the tree with their feet projecting on the far side; then each man had to lean over and touch his toes with his fingers; the Hausa then came along and tied every thumb to every great toe.

This was his idea of a stocks and there he left them for the night. The prisoners, however, devised a method of obtaining release—or thought they did. One of them started to yowl in a miserable way at the top of his voice, and as soon as his breath ran out the yowl was taken up by the next, and so it went on in succession. This they hoped would disturb me to such an extent that I should order their release.

But before I could suggest a remedy the Hausa himself had devised one. He cut a thin whippy cane and went to the singer and smote him across the back, and then stood by the next man ready to smite the moment he began is song.

The singing stopped like magic and was not resumed.

The moral effect of this little episode on the rest of my force was excellent.


My officer went down with fever and was replaced by another and he in his turn by another until I had had no less than five replacements, but I was lucky enough to escape the disease myself. I had so much to do that I really hadn’t time to go sick.

At one time I had "Ginger" Gordon, 15th Hussars, serving with me, and I put him in charge of part of my column to make a parallel road some three or four miles from me, working to get round the flank of the enemy who were reported massing at Kumassi.

In this wilderness, and being ahead of the supply train of the army. We did not keep a luxurious table. It was a great luxury then when one day my Scouts managed to acquire a small goat.

Thinking to share this luxury with Gordon I sent a portion of it to him by a native runner, with a label attached on which was written: "Major Gordon," and the date on which the goat was killed.

The usual procedure would be for him to initial the label and send it back to show that he had received the gift safely. The messenger, however, failed to find me on his return, as I had already moved on from my former position; but finding some of the advance guard of the main body he handed over the label to the officer in charge, who, reading, "Major Gordon, killed 14th April," with some illegible initials below, evidently authenticating the news, sent word to Headquarters that Major Gordon had been killed

Presently I began to receive urgent messages asking where the battle had been and why I had sent no report, and it took some little time to clear up the misunderstanding caused by that small piece of label.

The expedition succeeded in its mission of taking Kumassi and capturing King Prempeh. This was effected without bloodshed, mainly thanks to rapid movement and outmaneuvering the enemy. Human sacrifice was put an end to, and from being "The Place of Blood," Kumassi is now a modernised, busy town.

The Great Execution Bowl which I brought away from the sacred Bantama can now be seen in the Royal United Service Museum, Whitehall.

The Ashanti Execution Bowl


The last march was partly done in the night, so that I was able to pay off and dismiss my army at daybreak on arrival at Cape Coast Castle.

Then, in order to cadge a good breakfast, I went on board the hospital ship Coromondel. They gave me a hearty welcome and as I sat in a deck-chair waiting for breakfast, with all my responsibilities off my shoulders, I quietly fell asleep. I did not wake up till the following day to find myself in bed in a comfortable cabin.

I was eventually given my passage home on that ship, not as a patient, but as a guest of the chaplain, an old schoolfellow. I was witness of an amusing incident to close the campaign.

On arrival at the London Docks, a big ship entered the dock just ahead of us and as she did so a band on the wharf struck up "See the Conquering Hero comes," and a large posse of generals and staff officers from the War Office formed up on a red carpet to receive her as she moored at the quay.

As our ship was then warped in to the opposite side of the dock the band suddenly ceased playing and the bandsmen, together with generals and staff, were observed scuttling round the dock, hastily leaving the first ship to come round and welcome-us. There had been a slight mistake.

The first ship proved to be the transport bringing from South Africa as prisoners the officers and men implicated in the Jameson Raid, for trial and punishment at home. " Conquering heroes " and red carpets didn’t exactly fit the case!

"To set up the British idea and British administration over all this new area (Ashanti) is bound to yield handsome returns in commerce and finance…. It is no mean advantage to our traders to discover in Ashanti a new market which, if properly organised, should take within 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 place of the degrading, demoralising and pauperising regime hitherto dominant, we shall be bringing to perhaps four to five millions of natives all the advantages of peaceful industry and commerce and the high principle of order and justice and goodwill for all men—which are after all the guiding principles taught by our firm national religion."

Policy and Wealth in Ashanti, 1896, by Sir George Baden-Powell

My brother’s prophecy has proved its truth to-day. Ashanti is now a very flourishing colony of the Empire, and Kumassi a modernised city with its railway, electric light, cinemas and cars.


I have been fortunate enough to serve with both Long Service and Short Service soldiers.

I was not far off weeping when I saw a party of time-expired men off by train, leaving my Regiment on completing their twelve and some their twenty-one years of Army service; such splendid fellows in the pink of soldierly condition, smart, clean, efficient, and full of esprit de corps, proud of themselves and of their Regiment.

I can recall most of them now, by name and feature, though that day lies fifty years back.

They were very different from the soldier of to-day, a different type, trained in a different way.

The short service soldier of to-day is educated to be an intelligent unit in the team, his discipline comes largely from within so that he is more sober and well conducted, and a more intelligent individual fighter than his predecessor.

The old soldier was drilled into a standard pattern by a long course of discipline to be a cog in the wheel of the machine, faithful as a dog to his officer and as dependent on him as a dog on his master.

But even in that standardised machine one found individual characters.

In my squadron there was among others a grand old character, Farrier Gauld, a Scotsman who had joined us from the 92nd Highlanders. He was a hefty, dour old fellow, who kept a good deal to himself and spent his spare time in peaceably knitting socks.

But if on rare occasions he was roused he had a fist like a sledge hammer. One of these occasions happened when our Regiment had been suddenly moved to a new station to replace one which had been removed owing to friction with its neighbours there.

On the evening of our taking over our new Headquarters Gauld was roused. He was taking a quiet stroll, looking round the new cantonment, when he was set upon by three of the remaining Regiment. But he knocked them all out and brought in one as a trophy.

It was then found that his assailants did not know of the change of Regiments that had taken place and mistook him, as a cavalry man, for one of their former enemies.

The fame of his prowess spread at once and earned for our Regiment the fullest admiration of our neighbours—and an appalling amount of beer for Gauld.

The ribbon to the left of this page displays the colors of the ribbon of the Ashanti Star medal of the British Army. This medal recognized service in the Ashanti War and was awarded to Baden-Powell for his service there as a young officer with the Native Levy.

link-prempeh.jpg (2132 bytes) Baden-Powell’s description of the Ashanti War of 1896 is written from the persepective of a British serving officer of the Victorian period at the peak of British power and influence.  A more modern historical view is found in the notes to the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theater production of Asantehene (King) Agyeman Prempeh I.
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V:Soldiering
"Early Days in India"
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V: Soldiering
"Zululand, 1896"
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Contents and Introduction
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