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Title: The Land of Fetish

Author: A. B. Ellis

Release date: August 5, 2021 [eBook #65997]

Language: English

Credits: deaurider, Martin Pettit and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)


Transcriber’s Note:

Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.

[Pg i]



[Pg iii]








[Pg iv]


[Pg v]


The Gambia—Bathurst—Jolloffs—Novel Advertisements—A
Neglected Highway—False Economy—History of the Gambia—Musical
Instruments—Burial Custom—Yahassu—St. James Island
British Combo—An interesting Conversation—Bakko—A small
Account—Sabbajee—Peculiar Governors—The Gambia
Militia—A new Field for Sportsmen
The Slave Coast—Whydah—The Dahoman Palaver of 1876—The
Dahoman Army—An Unpleasant Bedfellow—The Snake
House—Dahoman Fetishism—Various Gods—A Curious
Ceremony—Importunate Relatives—The Dahoman Priesthood
The Amazons—Trying Drill—System of Espionage—The
Annual Customs—Human Sacrifices—The Dahoman Repulse
at Abbeokuta—Natural Features of Dahomey—Agriculture—The
Whydah Bunting
Lagos—Small Change—A Ball—A Cheerful Companion—An
Anomalous Sight—History of the Settlement—The Naval Attack of 1851
Leeches—Ikorudu—A Blue-blood Negro—Badagry—Flying
Foxes—Fetishes—A Smuggler entrapped—Floating Islands—Porto
Novo—Thirsty Gods—Cruel Kindness
The Niger Delta—Gloomy Region—Cannibals—King Pepple—Bonny-town—Rival
Chiefs—Dignitaries of the Church—Missions—Curlews—A Night
Adventure—A Bonny Bonne Bouche
Old Calabar—Duke Town—Capital Punishments—Moistening
the Ancestral Clay—A surgeon’s Liabilities—Man-eaters—A Mongrel
Consul—Curious Judgments
British Sherbro—The Bargroo River Expedition—Professional
Poisoners—An African Bogey—A Secret Society—A Strange Story—A
Struggle with Sharks—Startling News from the Gold Coast
Sierra Leone—More Civility—Cobras—A Guilty Conscience—Naval
Types—Freetown Society—A Musical Critic—The Rural
Districts—A British Atrocity
Ashanti Politics since 1874—The Secession of Djuabin—Diplomatic
Mistakes—The Conquest of Djuabin—The Importation
of Rifles—The Attempt on Adansi—The Salt Scare—The Mission to
Gaman and Sefwhee—Dissensions in Coomassie—The War Party
Cape Coast—The Panic—The Golden Axe—Preparations for
Defence—Ansah—A Divided Command—A Second Message
from the King—Native Levies—Ordered to Anamaboe
A Teacher of the Gospel—Anamaboe—A Third Message from
the King—Affairs in Coomassie—Downfall of the War
Party—False Rumours—Arrival of the Governor—A Fourth
Message from the King—Further Complications
Arrival of Reinforcements—Sanitary Condition of Cape
Coast—Culpable Neglect—Meeting of Chiefs—The Messengers
from Sefwhee—Expedition to the Bush—Its Effect
upon the Ashantis
A Trip to Prahsu—Mansu—A Fiendish Réveille—Bush
Travelling—Prahsu—The King of Adansi—Masquerading
Costumes—The Camp—Strength of the Expedition
Regulating the Sun—Arrival of the Ashanti Embassy—The
Palaver—Ciceronian Eloquence—A Diplomatic Fiction—A
Beautiful Simile—Physiognomies—Unhealthiness of the Camp
Another Interview—Atassi—An Importunate Investigation—A
Shocking Accident—Yancoomassie Assin—Draggled
Plumes—An Unintentional Insult—A Scientific Experiment—The
Palaver at Elmina—Our future Policy—Recent Explorations
on the River Volta

Tower Hill Barracks,
 Sierra Leone
 November, 1882.

[Pg 1]



The Gambia—Bathurst—Jolloffs—Novel Advertisements—A Neglected Highway—False Economy—History of the Gambia—Musical Instruments—Burial Custom—Yahassu—St. James’ Island.

My first visit to the Gambia took place in March 1877, from Sierra Leone. After two days’ steaming from the latter place we passed Cape Bald, with the two queer little Bijjals Islands in front of it, and sighted Cape St. Mary at the entrance of the river. On the high ground, at the point, could be seen the long low white building of the deserted barracks, and the tops of mangrove trees could be faintly distinguished above the level of the sea in the distance to the right and left as we entered the estuary; while, making a long sweep of two or three miles, we reached the Fairway buoy, picked up a pilot, and steamed up the river.

Bathurst, St. Mary’s Island, does not appear to advantage from the anchorage. The island is low-lying and flat; in front is a row of staring white houses, with a few stunted silk-cotton trees and hearse-plume [Pg 2]like cocoa-nut palms mounting guard over them, and—and that is all. The prospect was not inviting, but, hoping that it might prove better than it looked, I hailed a boat, and was pulled to the shore. On the way several curious Shiriree canoes, fashioned like crocodiles, and full of men, passed down the river. The bows were filled with wooden idols, and in each canoe was a man beating a tom-tom, and howling some monotonous ditty in a minor key.

The island of St. Mary is a mere sandbank, barely raised above the level of the river, (in fact a considerable portion of it is below high-water mark,) and is separated from the mainland by a narrow mangrove swamp, dignified by the name of Oyster Creek, which is fordable at low water. The centre of the isle can boast of a little solidity, as a ridge of rock, covering about twenty square yards, there crops up through the sand, and is pointed out to strangers by the inhabitants with much pride, as a proof that their demesne has a stable foundation. The island has apparently been formed of the sand thrown up by the meeting of the inflowing tide with the current of the river. A bar, or sandbank, is now in course of formation to the south of the island from the same causes, and in a few centuries the British possessions in the Gambia will receive a considerable accession of territory in that direction.

[Pg 3]

The town of Bathurst is small and insignificant: there is a row of habitable buildings, principally stores, built of brick and stone, facing the river, and behind this lies the remainder of the town, which consists of native huts built of palm-leaves, old boards, and matting. There are no made roads, and every street is ankle-deep in sand. To one side of an open space in the centre of the town stand the old barracks, in which the West India troops were formerly quartered, and this, with Government House, which though small is perhaps the most comfortable in West Africa, are the only two buildings in Bathurst worth a second glance.

The natives of the country north of the Gambia are Jolloffs, an entirely distinct race of negroes, and, as far as my experience goes, the only really black people to be found in West Africa. The colour of the ordinary negro is a deep brown, but the skin of the Jolloffs is of a dead dull black. Their features differ from those of other races on the coast: the eyes are slightly oblique and almond-shaped, the nose long and inclined to be aquiline, and the lower part of the face less prognathous than is usual amongst Africans. There is a tradition amongst them that they were once white, and it may be a fact that in the dim past their ancestors were of Arab blood, and that their colour may be accounted for by a succession of[Pg 4] marriages with the aboriginal women of the country. Many of them are remarkably like Arabs in every other respect, and both sexes wear the Arab costume. The women dress their wool, which they suffer to grow long, into innumerable ringlets, each about a foot in length and of the thickness of a pencil, which hang down in a mass on their necks; some of them are rather handsome, and have regular features.

There is a colony of Jolloffs in Bathurst, but the majority of the people of that race that one sees in the town are traders from the interior, who bring down their ground-nuts to exchange for powder, muskets, and Kola nuts. In the one street of stores, of which I have spoken, long lithe Jolloffs may be seen coming out of the shops with trade muskets, the stocks of which are painted a brilliant red, and the barrels made of renovated pieces of old gas-pipe. Into these unquestionably deadly weapons they pour two or three handfuls of powder, and then fire them off in the road to test them. The test frequently leaves nothing remaining but a fragment of barrel and stock, and the practice is one that is rather startling to strangers who may happen to be passing by. The Kola nuts (Sterculia acuminata) are eaten by the natives habitually, as sailors chew tobacco. They are said to be particularly useful to travellers, as they prevent all sensations of hunger, thirst, or weariness. I ate two or three as[Pg 5] an experiment, but I did not find that I was any the less ready for my dinner at the usual hour. They are imported from the Timmanee country, near Sierra Leone, principally in the neighbourhood of the Great and Little Scarcies rivers, to which part, though distant three hundred miles from the Gambia, large canoes and boats resort solely for the purpose of obtaining them.

The English-speaking and Christianized negroes in Bathurst, most of whom are emigrants from Sierra Leone, are a vast improvement upon their compatriots in that negro paradise. They positively do a little work occasionally, and some few of them might even be called industrious. I could not discover the cause of the improvement. Perhaps it is owing to the good example of the Jolloffs, or to there not being such a redundancy of missionaries in the Gambia; but I think it is more probably due to the fact that the island is so small that there is no spare land on which they can squat and do nothing (even if there were any soil to produce anything), so that they are obliged to work or starve. They build cutters of from twenty-five to sixty tons’ burden, which are used by the French merchants for bringing produce down the river from their outlying factories, and for carrying cargo between Bathurst and Goree or Dacar.

In the one street of Bathurst there is a fairly good[Pg 6] market-shed for native vendors of fruit and green-stuff, and I was going to look round and see what there was to buy when I caught sight of a large slab of marble let in to the rubble wall of the gateway. It bore the following legend:—

“This market was erected by Colonel Luke S. O’Connor during his Governorship, A.D. ——.”

I said to myself, “Oh! indeed,” and passed on.

Thirty yards further down the road I saw a tablet attached to an old swish wall. I walked up to it and read:—

“This wall was repaired during the Administration of Colonel Luke S. O’Connor, Governor, A.D. ——.”

It did not appear to me that this was such a stupendous feat as to need commemoration, so I turned down a side-street and walked on. In a few minutes I met a pump standing in the middle of the road. I saw there was an inscription on this too, and tried to avoid it, but a fatal fascination drew me on, and I read:—

“This pump was erected for the benefit of the thirsty wayfarer during the Governorship of Colonel Luke S. O’Connor, A.D. ——.”

I began to get rather tired of this, and turned towards the country, where I thought there could not be any more advertisements of this kind. I passed a[Pg 7] dilapidated battery, which bore testimony in letters of stone to the worth of the departed monarch, Colonel Luke S. O’Connor the First, and approached the Colonial Hospital. From afar off I perceived a slab of darker stone let into the masonry of the wall, and I turned my head the other way. It was no use, I could not pass it, and I groaned in spirit as I read:—

“This building was enlarged during the Administration of Colonel S. Luke O’Connor, Governor, A.D. ——.”

I staggered away and wandered into a neglected grave-yard by the side of the path to Oyster Creek. I was in hopes that I might be able to sooth my mind by finding the grave of this departed potentate; but, alas! after a long search I only found a tomb which bore the following remarkable epitaph:

“Sacred to the memory of the bodies of three sailors, which were washed on shore on March ——, A.D. ——. This monument was erected during the Administration of Colonel Luke S. O’Connor, Governor.”

I left hastily. That man was not going to let his fame languish and die for want of a few monumental inscriptions.

The Gambia river is a magnificent highway to the interior of this portion of Africa. Its estuary[Pg 8] measures twenty-seven miles in breadth from Bald Cape to Punshavel, and though it is only two miles across from Bathurst to Barra Point, directly opposite, it widens out to a breadth of seven miles immediately above St. Mary’s Island. At Macarthy’s Island, one hundred and forty-seven miles up the stream, the river is four hundred yards broad; and vessels drawing ten feet of water can ascend even up to some seventy miles above Yahlahlenda. Here, as in our other West African possessions, we have been retrograding of late years. Only some twelve years ago, Macarthy’s Island was garrisoned by troops, European traders had factories there, and small steamers went up the river as far as the falls of Barraconda; while the British name was respected, and the British power dreaded, far and wide among the warlike tribes dwelling upon the river banks. Now the troops have been withdrawn from the Gambia, Macarthy’s Island is deserted, and the natives laugh at the idea of England being a powerful kingdom, since her might is only represented in Bathurst by a miserable force of one hundred policemen. In fact the colony is quite at the mercy of the native chiefs, and but for their internecine squabbles and jealousies would have already fallen a prey to them.

In 1869 the Third West India Regiment, then stationed in the Gambia, was, as a measure of[Pg 9] economy, disbanded by the Liberal Government then in power, the Minister for War stating that £20,000 a year would be saved by the transaction. The immediate result of this measure was, that when, in the same year, Bathurst was threatened by hostile tribes from the mainland, the Administrator had no garrison for the protection of the lives and property of British subjects, and was compelled to apply for assistance to the French at Goree. Two French men-of-war were at once sent, and the colony was saved. The effect of this incident was that the British Government, without consulting the inhabitants of the Gambia, or mooting the subject in Parliament, offered the colony to France; and, in spite of the protests of the people, who represented that they were Protestants and did not wish to be subject to a Roman Catholic power, the transfer would have been completed but for the outbreak of the Franco-German war. In 1874-5 the subject again cropped up, and, as a Conservative ministry was then in office, the French offered their settlements at Grand Bassam, Assinee, and Gaboon, in exchange for the Gambia. It is probable that this exchange, which would have been most advantageous for England, as through the acquisition of Assinee we should be able to control the importation of arms to Ashanti, would have been effected, had not the matter become entangled with the religious question. The Exeter Hall[Pg 10] party brought all their influence into play, and the French offer was declined.

A more serious result of the disbandment of the Third West India Regiment was the Ashanti war of 1873-4. When the Ashanti invading army crossed the Prah, the Administrator of the Gold Coast had only two hundred soldiers with which to defend a colony of more than two hundred miles in extent. Had the Third West India Regiment been then in existence, and been sent to the Gold Coast with the same promptitude that characterized the despatch of the Second West India Regiment in 1881, the war of 1873 would equally have been nipped in the bud. As it turned out, the interest of the money expended in that war would have more than sufficed to keep up the Third West India Regiment; so that no saving was effected after all.

Our possessions in the Gambia consist of St. Mary’s Island, a strip of land one mile in breadth on the river bank opposite, called “the ceded mile,” about three square miles of unoccupied bush and swamp higher up on the western bank of the river known as Albreda, Macarthy’s Island, and British Combo. Bathurst alone is inhabited by Europeans, nearly all of whom are French. The trade is entirely in French hands, the exports consisting principally of ground-nuts, hides, and beeswax, of which the[Pg 11] first are shipped to France and used in the manufacture of olive oil. From a commercial point of view we have nothing to lose by exchanging the Gambia; and should France again broach the subject, as the present Government is now, 1881, almost identical with that which offered the settlement unconditionally in 1869, it could now hardly refuse to part with it without stultifying its former action. At present we are playing the part of the fabled dog in the manger: we will not make use of the Gambia as a means of opening up the interior, nor expend any money on the colony; and, although it is of no value to us as it is, we will not give it up to another nation, to which it would prove exceedingly useful, and which is willing to make the necessary outlay for unclosing this long-closed artery.

Our connection with the Gambia dates from 1588, in which year Queen Elizabeth granted a patent to some Exeter merchants to trade there. Thirty years later a company was formed for the purpose of carrying on this trade, which almost entirely consisted of “trafficking in black ivory,” as slave-dealing was euphonically termed. After the abolition of the slave-trade this settlement, in common with the others in West Africa, declined, and the colony was almost abandoned, until in 1816 a new mercantile company was formed by British traders from Senegal. A[Pg 12] dependency of the Gambia is Bulama Island, which lies to the east at the mouth of the river Jeba, and where Captain Beaver established a settlement in 1791 at Dalrymple Bay. There used to be a small garrison kept up here under a subaltern officer, but after nine officers, in succession, had died at their post from the effects of the climate, the Government seemed to think the experiment had had a fair trial, and the troops were withdrawn. The Jeba river is unapproachable from the Gambia by land, as between the two lies the Casamanza river with its dense forests and swamps, and the inhabitants of that cheerful region are ferocious savages and cannibals. The Administrator of the Gambia exercises no jurisdiction of any description over the tribes dwelling in the vicinity of the British settlements.

The Jolloffs are a musical race. Besides being the happy possessors of the tom-tom, or native drum, the six-stringed native banjo, and the long reed-instrument which seems universal in West Africa, they are the inventors of various musical machines peculiar to themselves. The most curious of these is one formed of slabs of a dark, heavy, and close-grained wood, which when struck emits musical sounds, varying in depth of tone according to the size and thickness of the piece of wood, the larger pieces giving forth bass notes and the smaller treble.[Pg 13] These are arranged in regular order so as to form a complete gamut, and fastened above the halves of calabashes. It is in fact a native dulcimer, in which wood takes the place of glass. They have also a kind of kettledrum, in which the skin is stretched across half an enormous calabash, highly polished and sometimes elaborately carved. Another instrument is a species of zither, having ten strings, all of which are made of some vegetable fibre, though I have somewhere read that it is considered impossible to obtain strings suitable for stringed instruments from such a source. Some of their tunes are rather pleasing, though perhaps monotonous; but if, as some musicians assert, repetition may be considered a beauty, the Jolloffs may be well satisfied with their national music.

The Jolloffs have a curious burial custom. The body of the deceased is laid out in the inclosure, or yard, which surrounds every Jolloff house, where the ladies of the family prepare the kous-kous, and their lord and master prays at morning and evening; and, when it is about to be carried out for sepulture, the funeral party, instead of taking it through the gate, proceed to demolish the whole fence. They consider that it would be fatal to the deceased’s hopes of future bliss if his body passed through any gate before he crossed the bridge of Al Sirat and knocked at the[Pg 14] door of paradise. Expectoration seems to be the commonest form in which grief is exhibited by Jolloffs. Of course the men never show even this sign of weakness; but the women at funeral customs, or when they are grieved about anything, fill up the pauses of their dirge, or complaint, with vigorous discharges of saliva. Any fly within a radius of ten feet has but small chance of escape.

The Jolloff country extends from the Gambia to the French possessions on the Senegal river, and is divided into three independent kingdoms, viz. Senaar or Senegal, Saulaem, and Ballah. A late king of Senaar, Jumail by name, was a source of considerable anxiety to the French, and kept up a standing army of ten or twelve thousand cavalry, with which he made frequent raids on the settlements. The religion of these people is purely Mohammedan.

During one of my visits to the Gambia I crossed the river to look at the country of the “ceded mile,” opposite Bathurst. At the extremity of a promontory, where the visitor is usually landed, are the remains of a small fort, called Fort Bullen, which has fallen into disuse since the withdrawal of the troops; and from the summit of its walls one can enjoy the pleasing prospect of miles upon miles of dwarf mangrove, bounded on the horizon inland by a mass of tall cocoanut palms and silk-cotton trees. To the east of[Pg 15] the ceded mile lies the Mandingo state of Barra, and to the west the country of the Shirirees, who are idolaters.

The principal town in the British territory on this side of the river is Yahassu; and the ride to it from Fort Bullen after the mangrove strip is traversed is rather picturesque. The path throughout is shaded by stately silk-cotton, teak, caoutchouc, and cedar trees; while plantations of Indian corn and ground-nuts extend on either side. Yahassu stands in the centre of an immense plantation of bananas, and, like all Mandingo towns, is surrounded by a strong stockade, made of the trunks of trees of different lengths, and consequently somewhat irregular. The entrance is at a re-entering angle, and is defended by a small brass cannon, the sole piece of artillery appertaining to the town. The houses are all circular, and consist of a swish wall, about four feet in height, with a conical thatched roof, the rafters of which rest on an inner circular wall reaching to the apex, and forming an inner apartment. The door of this second chamber is in a point of the circumference of the inner circle diametrically opposite to the side and into the outer circle, so that ingress to it is only obtainable by traversing the first apartment, which is usually occupied by the slaves, dependents, and household utensils of the proprietor. Each house stands in a[Pg 16] rectangular yard; and the streets of the town, which are about six feet wide, are completely walled in by the plaited palm-leaf fences of these yards. In the centre of the town is a square, where stands a mosque, and a school in which the male children are taught to read the Koran, which is written on wooden tablets whitened with lime. In the neighbourhood of Yahassu, the last elephant seen in this part of Africa was slain some twenty years ago.

After visiting one of these towns, one cannot help being struck with the difference of manner between Christian and Mohammedan negroes. The latter are courteous and dignified, never try to elbow a white man out of the path, or shove against him, or pick a quarrel; and the salutation, “Dam white nigger,” is replaced by the oriental “Salaam Aleykoum,” “Peace be with you;” while the idleness, improvidence, drunkenness, and ignorance of the former is replaced by industry, frugality, temperance, and a certain amount of learning. Yet not satisfied with looking after the converts they have already gained or striving to obtain others from among the idolatrous pagans, missionaries actually endeavour to reduce Mohammedans to the debased condition of their Christian compatriots: fortunately they do not meet with much success. However moralists may endeavour to explain the cause, the fact remains that Christianity does not[Pg 17] produce such good results among negroes as do the tenets of Mohammed. Probably I shall bring down a storm of indignation on my head by saying that I consider the former is not a religion adapted to races barely emerging from barbarism. At all events this is what my experience of South and West Africa tells me.

About an hour’s row up the river from Bathurst is the island of St. James, which was the site of the first British settlement established in the Gambia. This isle, now so silent and deserted, was, towards the end of the seventeenth century, the scene of much bloodshed. During our numerous local wars with the French on this coast it was captured by them, and re-captured by us, no less than three times. On the last occasion a French naval force under the Count de Genes, in 1703, destroyed all the houses and devastated the entire settlement; and it was after this that the building of the town of Bathurst was commenced. Why the new colonists did not re-occupy James Island it is difficult to say, as it is fertile, well wooded, and fairly healthy, while St. Mary’s is barren, treeless, and pestilential. The ruins of the old fort, built in 1669, can still be distinguished from the river, covered with brushwood and shrouded in trees. The island is now entirely uninhabited, and its silence is never disturbed except by the advent of an occasional[Pg 18] fisherman from the neighbouring Mandingo town of Sikka.

It is from the Mandingo tribes, who inhabit the country bordering on the river, that the supply of ground-nuts is principally obtained, and in the swampy districts a good deal of rice is grown; they also trade in beeswax and small quantities of gold. They are an industrious and, generally speaking, harmless people, and a European, speaking Arabic, might traverse the entire country alone and unarmed. To eat kola-nut with, or present some kola-nuts to, a Mandingo or Jolloff, places a stranger on the same footing as the tasting of salt does with an Arab; and after such a ceremony one is entitled to protection and assistance. A kola-nut is a good kind of passport and viséd for any Mohammedan town.

[Pg 19]


British Combo—An interesting Conversation—Bakko—A small Account—Sabbajee—Peculiar Governors—The Gambia Militia—A new Field for Sportsmen.

Until I had visited British Combo I never could understand why it was that old officers always spoke of the withdrawal of troops from the Gambia with regret, and talked of that colony fondly as the best station in West Africa; but after I had seen it, though shorn of its former glories, it was quite comprehensible. Having borrowed from a friend one of those diminutive but thoroughbred Arab horses common to the country, I started from Bathurst one morning soon after daybreak on my expedition. Passing the disgraceful burial-ground, and leaving to the right Jolah town, which is inhabited by a race of outcasts supposed to have no moral or religious code of any kind, and to possess their women in common, I crossed a level tract of cultivated country, and halted for a few minutes in the grove of palms at Oyster Creek. This creek used to be the resort of the sporting members of the garrison, who would[Pg 20] supplement the somewhat scanty food supply of the colony with green pigeons, wild ducks, curlew, and snipe from this place; but now the report of a gun but rarely awakes its echoes.

On the other side of the creek I entered upon a swampy region, consisting of stretches of sand and small lagoons surrounded by dwarf mangroves; and after splashing through the last of these I found myself in front of a dense growth of grass, eight or nine feet high. I thought that if all the open country of which I had heard were like this I should not care much about it, and rode into the narrow path which lay before me. The grass closed overhead, and I could see nothing in front but a long green tunnel, with occasional flecks of gold on the sand where the sunlight broke through. The grass was heavy with dew; a continual shower-bath of drops fell on me from above, and the long wet stems brushed my legs on either side. I should have enjoyed it very much if I had been unprovided with clothes, but I had not anticipated this bath, and was consequently dressed.

After a couple of miles of this I emerged into an open plain, as thoroughly wet through as if I had been towed behind a boat for a quarter of an hour; but the view compensated for any little discomfort. The country was of a dead level, covered with waving grass of a most brilliant green, and dotted with clumps[Pg 21] of palm and monkey-bread trees; plantations of corn and ground-nuts appeared here and there; the deserted barracks of Cape St. Mary glistened white in the sun from a sand-ridge in the front; while to the left was the dense vegetation and rich colouring of a tropical forest. In the foreground were several of those peculiar trees which bear no leaves when in blossom, covered with their scarlet tulip-like flowers, while herds of cattle in the distance gave the scene almost a pastoral aspect. There may not seem very much in this to cause ecstasy, but nobody who has not sojourned for some months on the Gold Coast, surrounded by its interminable and depressing bush, can understand the delight with which a little open country may be greeted. The monkey-bread is not a handsome tree, and might be compared to a distorted semaphore or a corpulent sign-post. The trunks of these trees are sometimes immense, measuring from twenty to twenty-five feet in circumference, but they only throw out two or three stunted limbs, which can boast of but few twigs, and produce no leaves to speak of.

I had reined in my horse near a conical ant-heap to look at a flock of green parrots that were screaming round a crimson flowering shrub when I observed two gorgeously-appareled Mandingos approaching me. One wore a most elaborate turban, and his robe[Pg 22] and sandals were highly embroidered. He was apparently a chief, as the other, who was not much behind-hand in the matter of brilliancy, was carrying, in addition to his own spear, the curved sword and leather purse-bag of the former. Both, it is needless to say, wore strings of leather-covered grisgris, or amulets. I was anxious to air the little Arabic I knew, so as they drew nigh I said,

“Salaam Aleykoum.”

They replied as one man, “Haira bi, haira bi,” and then stopped, evidently waiting for more, while the spearman stirred up the sand with the shaft of his weapon.

I was non-plussed, and thought that they were taking an unfair advantage of me; but, as they both remained gazing upon me in an attitude of earnest expectancy, I let off at them again my solitary phrase, “Salaam Aleykoum.”

“Jam-diddi toh-chow haira-slocum-doodledum,” said the chief, or something that sounded like it.

“Quite so,” I replied.

“Kara noona chi dodgemaroo,” he continued, excitedly.

“C’est vrai,” I responded, breaking out into another language in my agony.

“Hanu sah daday,” he shouted, advancing towards me.

[Pg 23]

“Verbum sap,” I yelled, in despair.

“Ri-tiddi, to tolli, soh gamma,” they both shouted, and, bowing almost to the earth, extended their hands deferentially towards me.

I shook them with unction, and they both passed on, highly gratified with our interesting conversation, and pleased with the information that I had given them. Really the Mandingos are a most intelligent race, and how well these two understood what I had been telling them.

Riding on, I shortly arrived at a small village surrounded by a fence made of palm-sticks, and further fortified on the exterior by hedges of thorned acacia and prickly pear. This was the Mandingo town of Bakko, and here the individual in whose honour the stone advertisements of which I have spoken were erected was, during one of his numerous petty expeditions, defeated with considerable loss by the natives under Hadji Ismail, the black prophet. On that occasion a portion of the colonial force was cut off and annihilated, while the remainder fell back with considerable difficulty upon Bathurst, where, as the victorious Mandingos followed up their success, and received large accessions to their number from their warlike neighbours, the governor was obliged ingloriously to apply to the French to save him and the colony.

[Pg 24]

I dismounted here, and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of naked and grisgris-covered children, while three or four men lounging about suspended their yawning and regarded me with stoical indifference. I did not discharge my sentence at these, because I had learnt all the news from the two with whom I had already conversed; and, besides, I was rather fatigued with the previous conversation. After a few moments a negro, clothed in the remnants of European garments, and whom in consequence I inferred was not a Mohammedan, came up to me and said, “Good morning.” He asked me what was my name, address, and occupation, whether I was married or revelling in single bliss, if I had any rum with me, and why I had come to Bakko; and in return vouchsafed the information that he was a farmer. He said he would show me round the town if I liked, so I left my horse in charge of a Mandingo and went inside the fence.

The interior was a perfect labyrinth, and the houses similar to those in the town of Yahassu, on the Barra side of the river, but smaller and dirty. My guide pointed out to me several small edifices of palm-sticks and bamboo, like miniature houses, raised upon piles inside the village gate, and informed me that these were where the people kept their corn. The doors to these granaries were merely bolted, and a piece of[Pg 25] paper, inscribed with a verse from the Koran in Arabic characters, was fastened to each as a protection from thieves. My cicerone said,

“These are very foolish people, sar.”

“Are they? How?”

“They put dem writings on the bolts, and then think nobody can open the doors.”


“Yes; and them Mandingos won’t touch them when they’re leff so—they ’fraid to.”

“You’re not afraid, I suppose?”

“Me? No, I don’t care for grisgris. By’mby I show you my farm; when these foolish people sleep on dark night, I take as much corn as I want for planting time. They think it must be devil,” and he chuckled at the joke.

“What religion are you then?”

“Oh! I b’long to the Wesleyans.”

“Ah! I thought so.”

My co-religionist informed me that the deer usually devoured half his crops, and that leopards, and animals “that howled like drunken men at night,” by which graphic description he meant hyenas, were so numerous and bold in their raids on the poultry and dogs that the thorn hedges, which I had noticed surrounding the village, were erected for their special behoof. Beguiling the time with such artless [Pg 26]conversation, he led me round the village, and finally halted before a hut, which he asked me to enter, saying it was his. As I thought he had been unusually civil and obliging for an English-speaking negro, I did not like to refuse, though I do not care to invade the sanctity of such houses and inhale the odour thereof. I saw some six or seven women suckling babies and pounding kous-kous, whom I learned were the wives of my host, and sat down as far from them and as near to the door as possible; while their lord and master produced a dirty-white piece of paper and a lead pencil, and began writing away most laboriously.

After waiting a few minutes, and finding that my obliging friend was still hard at work, I got up and said I was going. He added a few finishing touches to his manuscript, came forward, and handed it to me. I read as follows:—

Thomas Henry, services to European stranger from steamer.

£  s.  d.
1.   To showing city of Bakko and houses 0 15   0
2.   To hunting information given as to deer 0   2   6
3.   Use of house for purpose of resting 0 10   6
4.   To loss of time in performing above services   0   1   0
£1   9   0

[Pg 27]

I said: “What does this mean? You don’t think I’m going to pay this, do you?”

All the civility dropped from my guide’s manner like a mask, and he said, jeeringly—

“I ’spose you call yourself a gen’leman.”

“I shall pay nothing of the sort,” I continued. “Do you think I’m a fool?”


I looked about for some implement of castigation, more weighty than my light riding-whip, and said—

“What d’you say?”

He moved off to a safe distance, and replied:

“If you not a fool, I like to know what you come to this town for nuffin for. You must be a fool, man.”

I saw there was nothing to be gained by following up this branch of the discussion, so I returned to the original subject, and said, decisively—

“I shall not pay you anything, for your impertinence.”

“’Spose you no pay, I keep the horse.”

The thought of what my friend’s face would be like if I returned to Bathurst without his steed, was quite enough, and I hurried out of the village to the spot where I had left the animal. He was nowhere to be seen.

[Pg 28]

I felt then that I was up a tree of considerable altitude. If I went back to Bathurst for police, the thief would decamp in my absence; and, even if he obligingly remained to be caught, the delay of the law is such that I should miss my passage by the steamer, which was to sail next day. When I thought of my stupidity in leaving my horse, I began to have an uncomfortable conviction that my guide’s estimate of my character was correct; and I thought I should have to submit to his extortion after all. While still deliberating on the probable results of a violent assault on this amiable negro, a happy idea occurred to me. I knew that in every Mohammedan town there was a head-man, or alcaid, who, in those that were independent, was magistrate, governor, and arbitrator in general, and answerable for the preservation of order to the Mandingo king; while in those nominally subject to the British, such as Bakko, he settled disputes between the natives, and regulated the charges made against strangers for food and lodging; so I said to my extortioner, who had followed me out of the village—

“I shall go to the head-man.”

My forlorn hope told; his countenance fell almost to zero; and without waiting to consider that I did not know the alcaid, or where to find him, and that if I did succeed in finding him I could not[Pg 29] make him understand my complaint, as I could not speak his language, he said, sulkily,

“Well, I don’t want to make trouble, you can pay half.”

“I shall do nothing of the sort.”

“Give me five shillings, and the palaver’s set.”

“Certainly not.”

“Master, dash me two shillings for the boy that hold the horse, and I go fetch him.”

I thought it would not do to push my advantage too far, so I agreed to these terms, and in a few minutes this scoundrel brought out, from the penetralia of some hovel in the village—my missing steed.

I climbed into the saddle, threw the money at the man’s head, and then, with my whip—but no, I won’t say what I did, or I shall have the “poor black brother society” of Exeter Hall down on me. It is sufficient to say that I rode off in a more happy frame of mind, though still annoyed to think that after the many years during which I had been acquainted with the negro I should have been such an idiot as to imagine that a Christianized and English-speaking low-class specimen of the species could be polite and obliging without having some ulterior scheme of insult or extortion in view.

On my return to Bathurst I learned that Bakko[Pg 30] enjoyed anything but an enviable reputation. It appeared that its inhabitants were outcast Mandingos, who had found it advisable to leave their native country, and who, while thoroughly grasping the full meaning of meum, had but hazy and unsatisfactory notions as to the interpretation of tuum, in consequence of which their society was rather avoided, and they were rarely seen in the haunts of civilisation, except on those few occasions on which the intelligent police might be observed escorting them towards a public building yclept the jail.

From Bakko I rode on over open country, adorned with herds of short-horned cattle and solitary pie-bald sheep with long tails, and where occasionally the wild ostrich may be seen, to Josswang, close to Cape St. Mary. There are a few houses here, which, in the palmy days of the colony, were the country residences of the Bathurst merchants, but which now are affected by the universal blight which has fallen upon the settlement and fast becoming ruinous. Ten miles from Cape St. Mary is the Mandingo town of Sabbajee, now belonging to British Combo, which was the scene of one of the glorious exploits of the great advertiser Colonel Luke S. O’Connor, who commanded a force which took the town, stockaded like all such, by assault. That individual’s mania for self-laudatory memorials was so great that on this occasion[Pg 31] he, as Governor, took away two large kettledrums which had been captured by a West India Regiment, and, after a short interval, returned them to the regiment, embellished with two silver plates, which set forth that he, during his administration of the government, had presented these drums to it for gallantry in the field; and then sent in a bill for the plates.

He is not the only peculiar governor with which the Gambia has been afflicted; one in particular I can remember who was notorious for his parsimony throughout West Africa. I had known this potentate when he revolved in a more humble sphere, and during one of my visits to Bathurst (I shall not say in what year) I allowed myself the honour of calling on him. At about 1 p.m. I presented myself at the door of Government House and knocked; not a soul was to be seen anywhere, and the place might have been deserted. I kept on knocking louder and louder for some minutes, and then as nobody answered and the door was wide open I walked in. I traversed one room, and, turning round the corner of a screen, discovered a person attired in very seedy garments employed in cutting mouthfuls off a slab of mahogany-coloured meat which lay in a plate on a chair. This was the governor, but I should never have recognised him in that position had it not been for the suit of clothes he was wearing and which I remembered[Pg 32] having seen on him some years before. He received me with great affability, asked me to sit down, and conversed about mutual acquaintances. He did not ask me to join him in his lunch, for which I was not sorry, but he did ask me to have a glass of wine. He said:

“Can I offer you a glass of pam wine?”

“I beg your pardon, I didn’t quite catch....”

“Will you take a glass of pam wine?”

I said, “I don’t quite know what you mean.”

“You don’t know pam wine? It is the sap of the pam tree; the natives bring it round to sell. It is very refreshing.”

He meant that horrible emetic known as palm wine, and I declined with thanks.

The subjects of this monarch said that he kept no servants, and made a police orderly do all the housework. I saw nobody at all. They added that he gave a small dinner once a quarter, and that everybody ate a good square meal before going to it, because they knew that they would not get enough to satisfy hunger at his table. All these West African Governors neglect their duty in the matter of entertaining, though they receive a special table allowance of £500 a year for that purpose. A circular from the Colonial Office pointing out that that money is intended for entertainment, and not for the defraying[Pg 33] of ordinary household expenses, would not be out of place.

The Gambia boasts of a local corps of militia. It is not often called out, principally because there is no particular uniform for it, no officers, except two unmilitary Colonial officials, and no arms, except old trade muskets, for the men. As the latter are mostly decrepid old pensioners and discharged men, all Africans, from the disbanded West India regiments, it is not a very formidable body. It is a curious fact that Africans cannot, as a rule, be taught to shoot straight: the practice of the Houssa Constabulary on the Gold Coast is deplorable, and it is well known that it is the bad shooting of the few Africans who still remain in the existing West Indian Regiments that pulls down the figure of merit in those corps. There is no such difficulty with West Indian negroes, for the average recruit from the West Indies is as good a shot as the British recruit, and this almost seems to show that a certain amount of cultivation and civilisation is necessary for making a marksman. In these days of long-range firing it is fortunate that recruiting in Africa has ceased.

Should any of my readers feel tempted to visit the Gambia, I believe that they would find a hitherto unopened field for sport at the upper waters of that river. Certain it is that elephants abound some[Pg 34] distance above the falls of Barraconda, the river is full of hippopotami and crocodiles; while leopards, hyænas, antelopes, and civet-cats are easily found, by any one who knows how and where to look, in the vicinity of Bathurst itself. Of the feathered tribes, quail, curlew, snipe, duck, and the usual varieties of cranes and parrots, are common; while the valuable marabout bird and the ostrich are frequently bagged by the badly-armed and worse-shooting Mandingos and Jolloffs.

[Pg 35]


The Slave Coast—Whydah—The Dahoman Palaver of 1876—The Dahoman Army—An Unpleasant Bedfellow—The Snake House—Dahoman Fetishism—Various Gods—A Curious Ceremony—Importunate Relatives—The Dahoman Priesthood.

Towards the end of the year 1879 I visited Whydah, the seaport of Dahomey, on the Slave Coast. Between Whydah and the boundary of the Gold Coast Colony, now advanced to Flohow, about two miles beyond the old smuggling port of Danoe, are the ancient slave stations of Porto Seguro, Bageida, Little Popo, and Grand Popo; and the lagoon system, which commences with the Quittah Lagoon to the east of the river Volta, extends along the whole of this coast as far as Lagos. These lagoons are however gradually silting up, and this movement is proceeding so rapidly that already canoes can only pass from Elmina Chica to Porto Seguro during the rainy season, the old bed of the lagoon being a vast arid plain during the summer.

Passing the clump of trees three miles east of Grand Popo known as Mount Pulloy, and which is[Pg 36] one of the principal landmarks of this lowlying coast, we anchor off the town of Whydah, eleven miles from Grand Popo. The landing here is very bad, the surf being worse than at any other port in West Africa, and sharks abound. In fact in the spring of 1879 the canoemen employed by the different trades at this place struck work, so many of their number having been devoured by these denizens of the deep.

The lagoon at Whydah is a quarter of a mile in breadth and from four to five feet deep; it is separated from the sea by a sand-ridge, 880 yards broad. On this sand-bank stand the stores and sheds of the different mercantile firms, French, English, and German; but the traders are not allowed by the Dahomans to live there, and after business hours they have to cross over to the town of Whydah, which lies a mile and a half inland on the northern shore of the lagoon.

The king of Dahomey is the only absolute monarch known in West Africa, the power of all the other negro potentates being limited by the influence and authority of the principal chiefs and captains, as that of the king of Ashanti is limited by the dukes of Ashanti, but he of Dahomey knows no other law than that of his own sweet will. Even the European traders who reside at Whydah are to a considerable extent subject to the native laws, or in other words[Pg 37] to the king’s pleasure, and none of them would be allowed to leave the country without permission.

The king has some knowledge of European methods of raising a revenue, and an ad valorem duty is imposed on imported goods, while each vessel on entering the port has to pay a certain quantity of goods, assessed according to the number of her masts, to the king. To the east and west of Whydah stake and wattle fences extend across the lagoon, closing all passage except through small openings, where are stationed his Majesty’s revenue officers, who stop and examine all canoes passing through, and frequently help themselves to anything that takes their fancy. Little Popo and Grand Popo are both claimed by the king of Dahomey, but are really independent. As the natives of these towns will not acknowledge him as suzerain he periodically makes raids upon villages lying on the northern side of the lagoon. The two towns themselves being situated on the sand-bank are safe from attack, as, since the Dahomans attacked Grand Popo by water and were defeated, it is a law that no Dahoman warrior shall enter a canoe.

In 1876 we had a difference with the king of Dahomey. In the early part of that year Messrs. F. and A. Swanzy’s agent at Whydah, an English gentleman, was maltreated by order of the caboceer of the town, and subsequently sent to Abomey, the[Pg 38] capital, as a prisoner. There he was treated with every indignity, compelled to dance before the king’s wives, and was daily dragged out, bareheaded, to be present at the execution of criminals or sacrifice of human victims, hints not being spared that he might shortly prepare himself for a similar fate. Eventually, after being mulcted of money and goods, he was suffered to escape.

As a compensation for this outrage on a British subject, Commodore Hewett, who commanded the West African squadron, demanded a fine of one thousand puncheons of palm-oil, and threatened to blockade the coast from Adaffia to Lagos if it were not forthcoming. The king refused to pay the fine, and the coast was blockaded from July 1st. Both the Dahomans and the British residents in West Africa anticipated that war would ensue. The king had impediments placed in the lagoon at Whydah and collected bodies of Amazons in the vicinity of that town. On our side the system of lagoons between Lagos and Dahomey was surveyed by naval officers, and it was found that small steamers could ascend to within thirty miles of Abomey. In September 1876 the Dahoman troops advanced towards Little Popo, and destroyed several villages in that neighbourhood; an attack on the British settlement at Quittah was also threatened.

[Pg 39]

The blockade continued till 1877, when a French firm at Whydah, rather than suffer their trade to remain at a standstill, paid, in the name of the king, a first instalment of two hundred puncheons of palm-oil. The whole of this was lost in the SS. Gambia, which was wrecked on the Athol Rock off Cape Palmas. This was the first and last instalment ever paid by, or for, the King of Dahomey; and in 1878 and 1879, when a second instalment was demanded, the King flatly refused to pay anything. The blockade, however, was not renewed.

Thus affairs remain at the present day. For an outrage on a British subject we demand compensation, a portion of the sum demanded is paid by a French house, and the matter is allowed to drop. This is almost a repetition of what occurred with regard to the Ashanti war indemnity. The Ashanti envoys who signed the conditions of peace paid to Sir Garnet Wolseley 2,000 ounces out of the 50,000 demanded, and promised to pay the rest by quarterly instalments. When the first became due an officer was sent to Coomassie with an escort of constabulary to receive it, and it was obtained without trouble; on the third occasion, when the same officer, Captain Baker, was sent, the King said the gold was not ready. Captain Baker replied that he would leave next day at noon whether the gold was forthcoming[Pg 40] or not. On the day following he paraded his men and marched out amid hootings and derisive laughter, but when he had reached the Ordah river runners overtook him with the gold dust. The Colonial Government, however, thought it would not be advisable to send for any more instalments, and no more have been paid. West African natives are now beginning to regard Great Britain as a power which is satisfied with threatening punishment, and one that would not go to any trouble to obtain actual redress, especially where the offending state was powerful.

It was indeed whispered in official circles on the Gold Coast that an expedition to Abomey would have been undertaken but for the opposition of the French Government. There is no doubt that the French are a little sore at the withdrawal of our offer to give them our possessions on the Gambia river, and this has been shown by their endeavouring to intimidate the people of Catanoo into hoisting the French flag, and, later, by their occupation of the island of Matacong near Sierra Leone; but as far as regards Whydah neither France nor any other European power has any claim to any portion of its soil.

The annexation of Whydah would not be a difficult matter, and that is the only real obstacle to our possessing a compact colony extending from Assinee to Lagos. We should find allies in the Egbas[Pg 41] of Abbeokuta, the people of Grand and Little Popo, and in the inhabitants of Whydah itself, who, in the last century, were an independent people, and who still bear no goodwill to their conquerors. The Amazons are the élite of the Dahoman army, and they have shown at Abbeokuta and elsewhere that they can fight with a ferocity that more resembles the blind rage of beasts of prey than human courage. Their number is variously estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000, and their warlike spirit is kept alive by a yearly war which commences every April. Numbers of the male prisoners made in these periodical wars are drafted into the Dahoman army, so that it may reasonably be supposed that a considerable portion of the male army corps is but luke-warm in its fealty. The whole Dahoman army is estimated at 60,000 soldiers, all of whom carry fire-arms, and a great number breach-loaders, the importation of which has of late years been carried on extensively at all parts of the West Coast.

In 1876 it was proposed that a flotilla should ascend the lagoons from Lagos to within thirty miles of Abomey and there disembark troops. As however all that we should require would be the possession of Whydah it seems objectless to proceed to Abomey, where we should have to attack the enemy in the midst of his resources, and where, if we did suffer a[Pg 42] reverse, it would be irretrievable and none could escape. A much less dangerous plan would be to land, unexpectedly, at Grand Popo (the Whydah surf making the disembarcation of troops there out of the question), a small force of from 800 to 1,000 men. These men, proceeding by lagoon, would be in Whydah in two hours: there are no Dahoman troops there, and there would be no resistance. As Abomey is sixty miles from Whydah, a day and a-half would elapse before intelligence of this occupation could reach the King, two days at least would be occupied in mustering the army and performing the fetish ceremonies necessary before commencing a war; and the army would be another day and a-half on the march downwards, so that five days would elapse between the entry of British troops into the town and the arrival of the enemy. It is not at all improbable that if Whydah were occupied in force the King, who is not by any means ignorant of the power of Great Britain, would make the best of a bad business and cede it to us with what grace he could. In any case by seizing his solitary port we should make him entirely dependent upon us for the African necessaries of life, viz., rum, tobacco, and gunpowder, and by cutting off his supplies could soon bring him to terms. Our territorial possessions in West Africa will surely increase, and as they do so and fresh tribes are[Pg 43] brought under our rule, some scheme of disarmament similar to that carried out in South Africa will have to be enforced. By occupying the Slave Coast we should be able to anticipate events by prohibiting the importation of arms now, and at the same time we should consolidate our West African possessions.

In Whydah are the remains of several so-called forts, some of which are still inhabited, though the majority have fallen into disuse. The principal are the English, French, and Portuguese forts, and consist of swish buildings surrounded by loop-holed walls. They were built early in the last century, when the King of Whydah, which was then an independent state, allotted portions of ground to each nationality for trading purposes. These old buildings, like all similar ones in West Africa, are garnished with dozens of obsolete and useless guns.

Three out of the five districts into which the town of Whydah is divided derive their names from these forts, being called English Town, French Town, and Portuguese Town. The two remaining districts are called Viceroy’s Town and Charchar Town. Each district is under the superintendence of a yavogau or caboceer, who is responsible for everything that occurs in his district.

While at Whydah I stayed at the French factory, and there I had a rather unpleasant adventure on[Pg 44] the night of my arrival. It was a very close night, and I was sleeping in a grass hammock slung from the joists of the roof, when I was awakened by something pressing heavily on my chest. I put out my hand and felt a clammy object. It was a snake. I sprang out of the hammock with more agility than I have ever exhibited before or since, and turned up the lamp that was burning on the table. I then discovered that my visitor was a python, from nine to ten feet in length, who was making himself quite at home, and curling himself up under the blanket in the hammock. I thought it was the most sociable snake I had ever met, and I like snakes to be friendly when they are in the same room with me, because then I can kill them the more easily; so I went and called one of my French friends to borrow a stick or cutlass with which to slay the intruder. When I told him what I purposed doing he appeared exceedingly alarmed, and asked me anxiously if I had yet injured the reptile in any way. I replied that I had not, but that I was going to. He seemed very much relieved, and said it was without doubt one of the fetish snakes from the snake-house, and must on no account be harmed, and that he would send and tell the priests, who would come and take it away in the morning. He told me that a short time back the master of a merchant-vessel had killed a python that had come[Pg 45] into his room at night, thinking he was only doing what was natural, and knowing nothing of the prejudices of the natives, and had in consequence got into a good deal of trouble, having been imprisoned for four or five days and made to pay a heavy fine.

Next morning I went to see the snake-house. It is a circular hut, with a conical roof made of palm-branches, and contained at that time from 200 to 250 snakes. They were all pythons, and of all sizes and ages; the joists and sticks supporting the roof were completely covered with them, and looking upwards one saw a vast writhing and undulating mass of serpents. Several in a state of torpor, digesting their last meal, were lying on the ground; and all seemed perfectly tame, as they permitted the officiating priest to pull them about with very little ceremony.

Ophiolotry takes precedence of all other forms of Dahoman religion, and its priests and followers are most numerous. The python is regarded as the emblem of bliss and prosperity, and to kill one of these sacred boas is, strictly speaking, a capital offence, though now the full penalty of the crime is seldom inflicted, and the sacrilegious culprit is allowed to escape after being mulcted of his worldly goods, and having “run-a-muck” through a crowd of snake-worshippers armed with sticks and fire-brands. Any child who chances[Pg 46] to touch, or to be touched by, one of these holy reptiles, must be kept for the space of one year at the fetish house under the charge of the priests, and at the expense of the parents, to learn the various rites of ophiolotry and the accompanying dancing and singing.

Fetishism in Dahomey is entirely different to fetishism on the Gold Coast, and more nearly approaches idolatry, as the unsubstantial shadows and apocryphal demons, which are worshipped and dreaded by the Fantis and Ashantis, are on the Slave Coast replaced by images and tangible objects. Before every house in Whydah one may perceive a cone of baked clay, sometimes large and sometimes small, the apex of which is discoloured with libations of palm-wine, palm-oil, &c. This is the fetish Azoon, who protects streets, houses, and buildings of every description.

By the side of each road leading from the town grotesque clay images, roughly fashioned into the human shape in a crouching position, may be perceived, protected from atmospheric influences by a rough shed. This is Legba, who is sometimes represented of the sterner and sometimes of the softer sex, and propitiatory offerings to this fetish are supposed to remove barrenness. Somewhat similar to Legba is Bo, who is the special guardian of soldiers.

[Pg 47]

The ocean is very generally worshipped, and has a chief fetish man of high rank dedicated to its use, besides a large train of ordinary fetish men. This high official at certain seasons descends to the beach, shouts forth a series of incantations, and requests the sea to calm itself, throwing at the same time offerings of corn, cowries, or palm-oil into it. Sometimes, too, the King of Dahomey sends an ambassador, arrayed in the proper insignia, with a gorgeous umbrella and a rich dress, to his good friend the ocean. This ambassador is taken far out to sea in a canoe, and is then thrown overboard and left to drown or to be devoured by sharks. The honour of this diplomatic post is not much coveted by Dahomans.

Perhaps the fetish most dreaded is So, the God of thunder and lightning, as what are considered to be the effects of his anger are frequently both seen and felt; So being supposed to strike with lightning those who disbelieve in his power or presume to scoff at him. It is unlawful for any person who has been killed by lightning to be buried, and it is commonly believed on the Slave Coast that the bodies of those who have met their death in this manner are cut up and eaten by the priests of So.

A minor fetish is Ho-ho, who protects twins, who in Dahomey are always named Ho-ho, as on the Gold Coast they are called Attah; and, in addition to those[Pg 48] I have already enumerated, and which are the most commonly worshipped, the Dahomans worship the sun, the moon, fire, the leopard, and the crocodile.

The Dahomans place around the house a country rope, i.e. one made of grass, festooned with dead leaves, which is a fetish to prevent the building taking fire. When a large fire occurs they frequently kill the owner of the habitation in which it first broke out, considering that it originated through some sacrilege or omission of fetish worship. They also place a ridiculous caricature of the human form, made of grass, old calabashes, or any rubbish, on the doorposts of their houses and on the gates of inclosures, to keep evil spirits from entering therein; and a fowl nailed to a post, with its head downwards, is considered a charm to prevent an unfavourable wind.

The reverence which is paid to unusually tall and fine trees forms a curious contrast to the foregoing barbarous beliefs. The silk-cotton tree (bombax) and the well-known poison-tree of West Africa are those most commonly selected. Libations in honour of these trees are poured into perforated calabashes placed round their roots.

One morning I saw a Dahoman, arrayed in spotless white raiment, seated on a mat in an open space opposite the factory, and surrounded by a small crowd of enraptured lookers-on. My thirst for [Pg 49]information is so insatiable that I never can see a crowd without wanting to ascertain what is the matter, so I put on my helmet and went out. I found the individual in white surrounded by small calabashes; one of which contained water, a second rum, a third kola-nuts, and a fourth a live fowl; and an old fetish lady sat opposite to him on the edge of the mat, swaying backwards and forwards, and singing some excruciating ditty in a low voice. Presently she dipped her fingers into the calabash full of water, and annointed the crown, forehead, chin, and neck of the patient with the fluid; then she sang another verse, and repeated the process with the rum. The man seemed decidedly refreshed after this, and I thought it was perhaps some native kind of shampooing. After a short interval the old woman selected a kola-nut, hurled it violently to the ground, examined all the broken pieces, and then, picking up one fragment that seemed to satisfy her, proceeded to chew it. When it was sufficiently masticated, she removed it from her mouth, and touched up the sufferer with it as before; then she decapitated the fowl, and, taking the bleeding head, went over the same ground, for the fourth time, with it. After that she, and as many of the bystanders as had a chance, fell violently upon the calabash of rum and drank it, and the meeting[Pg 50] broke up. I was confident in my own mind that the man who had been operated on was sick, and that what I had seen was a fetish cure; but one of my French friends told me that it was a ceremony of common occurrence, and that the man was worshipping his head in order to obtain good fortune. I had noticed that he had seemed relieved when it was all over, as if he had been glad to be able to get out of his clean raiment, but his head did not appear to be any better than it was before.

When a Dahoman falls ill he immediately fancies that the departed spirit of one of his ancestors or relatives wishes to see him and requires his presence below, and is undermining his health so that the interview may be hastened by his death. To avoid this unwelcome friendship he consults a fetish man, and begs him to use his influence with the unquiet spirit, so that he may be excused paying the unpleasant visit for the present; at the same time he deposits cowries in the hands of the priest by way of fee. The latter, if he thinks that the invalid is likely to recover, soon relieves his apprehensions by telling him that he has obtained him permission to postpone the interview indefinitely. If, on the other hand, the patient’s case be doubtful, the fetish man procrastinates till more decided symptoms set in; and[Pg 51] then, if the disease be likely to terminate fatally, he dolefully informs the sick man that he has used every means in his power to conciliate the unquiet spirit, but without effect. This, adding to the fears of the invalid, generally hastens the end.

A resident in Whydah told me that he once heard the following conversation between a sick man and a priest. The sick man said:—

“Who is it that wants to see me, and is troubling me now?”

“Oh! it is the ghost of your brother Gele. He is anxious to have some conversation.”

“Ah! it’s only him, is it? You’re sure there’s nobody else?”

“Oh! no—there’s nobody else.”

“Well just remind him, will you, how I used to thrash him when he was alive; and tell him if he doesn’t leave off bothering me now I’ll make him have a bad time of it when I go below.”

The future habitation of the Dahoman soul is supposed to be a gloomy region situated under the earth, and like the world, but deprived of most of its beauties and pleasures. A Dahoman, like the inhabitants of the Gold Coast, believes in no future state of rewards and punishments, and he is firmly persuaded that the social position which he holds in[Pg 52] life will be identically the same with that which he will hold in the regions of the dead. A chief in life will be a chief after death, and a slave will be a slave.

In Dahomey the fetish men are divided into distinct sects, according to the deity for which they officiate—the priests of the snake-house, for instance, having nothing to do with those of Legba, and so on. The rancour, however, which is exhibited between the various sects of Christianity is here wanting. When a Dahoman wishes to devote himself to the service of the gods he is not permitted to choose any deity he pleases. He has to work himself up into a state of frenzy, during which an old priest places round him images of the different deities, and the one with which he first comes in contact is the one which he is destined to serve. These neophytes usually preserve some kind of method in their madness, and take care to touch the representative of that form of worship to which they are most inclined, though sometimes accidents do happen and a wrong one is touched. The fetish men speak a language peculiar to themselves, and unknown to the common people, which they learn in the fetish schools, and call “the holy fetish word.” They have likewise many privileges, and can wear any dress they please; whereas[Pg 53] the laity are obliged to clothe themselves according to the positions which they hold in Dahoman society. When the fetish fit, or frenzy, overtakes a priest, he can do anything he pleases without being held accountable for it; ordinary people, therefore, do not care to make enemies of priests.

[Pg 54]


The Amazons—Trying Drill—System of Espionage—The Annual Customs—Human Sacrifices—The Dahoman Repulse at Abbeokuta—Natural Features of Dahomey—Agriculture—The Whydah Bunting.

I was wandering one day with one of my hosts, up the main road that leads from Whydah to Kana, the second town of the kingdom, when we heard the tinkle of a bell in front of us, momentarily drawing nearer. Several Dahomans who were passing at once put down their loads and rushed into the tall grass which bordered the road on either side, while my companion stepped off the path and turned his back to it. I said—

“What’s the matter?”

“The King’s wives are coming, and no man is allowed to look at them. You must do as I do.”

“All right!”

I said “All right,” but I had not the remotest intention of losing such a sight, so I stood behind him where he could not see what I was doing, and, as the galaxy of beauty approached, I covered my face with my hands and—looked through my fingers.

[Pg 55]

First came a young lady bearing in one hand a small bell, which she rang incessantly, and in the other a whip, with which to drive male loiterers into the bush. Her arms from the wrist to the elbow were covered with amulets of silver, the distinguishing mark of officers of Amazons, and she was further attired in a short tunic of blue and white. She looked at me in a hesitating manner, as if she could not make up her mind whether to use her whip on me or not, but, thinking that I looked innocent and harmless, she grinned affably and passed on. After her came fifteen or twenty more women, likewise attired in blue and white tunics, and all armed. They were Amazons. The leader, or captain, was not a bad-looking young woman, and carried a Winchester repeating-rifle slung across her back: the rest were like the average women of the country, that is to say, plain, and were armed some with Enfield rifles and some with muskets. All wore cartridge-belts and pouches, and carried long knives or machetes, with which it is said they mutilate the wounded in a horrible manner. Several of them were disfigured with the scars of long gashes on the cheeks and forehead, the usual West African sign of slavery; all of them looked wiry and muscular, and were covered with the cicatrices of old wounds. They soon passed by, and their bell was heard tinkling in the distance.

[Pg 56]

When my companion found out what I had done, he was very angry. He said that very serious consequences might have ensued, and that, as he was a resident and I only a visitor, all the trouble would have fallen on him. There was a good deal of truth in this, and I said I was very sorry, but I had some difficulty in making my peace.

The institution of the armed body of Amazons dates from 1728, when the then King of Dahomey, having had his forces greatly reduced by sickness and the casualties of war, hit upon the happy expedient of arming a number of women to recruit his forces.

These were trained as soldiers, and officers were selected from those among them who showed the greatest aptitude. With these novel troops the King obtained a signal victory over the people of Whydah.

The Amazons are sworn to strict celibacy, and the King alone has the privilege of choosing wives from their ranks. They are known in Dahomey by the names of “The King’s Wives” and “Our Mothers,” live in the King’s palace and there perform their fetish ceremonies with great mystery. At the gate of the habitation, or barracks, of these soldieresses, a curious fetish is hung, which is supposed to ensure the certain exposure of any Amazon who has broken her vow of continence; and the very fear of this fetish often causes the woman who has erred to confess her[Pg 57] fault, and doom both her lover and herself to a horrible death. The stature and physique of the women of Dahomey, as is the case in many other parts of Africa, are quite equal to that of the men, and as all the labour falls to their share, their muscular strength is perhaps more developed than that of the lords of creation.

The Amazon ranks are recruited by girls of from thirteen to fifteen years of age, who are trained in military exercises, but not allowed to bear arms till they have attained a more mature age; and women who have committed capital offences are frequently allowed to escape punishment by enlisting in this female body-guard. The training to which these recruits are subjected inures them to hardship and to physical pain. They are made to sleep out in inclement weather, to suffer blows without a murmur, to fast and bear all privations.

Their drill is peculiarly unpleasant: one variety, which is supposed to make them au fait at scaling walls, consists of a succession of rushes to, and clamberings to the top of, a tall hut covered with prickly pear, the thorns of which lacerate them terribly. Drill of this description was the cause of the numerous scars I had observed on the bodies of the Amazons. I wonder how many recruits we should obtain for the British army if, amongst other things, the recruit had to precipitate himself upon chevaux-de-frise, or clamber[Pg 58] over walls adorned with pieces of broken glass. In battle, the Amazons fire rapidly for a few minutes, then throw down their fire-arms, and, uttering terrific screams and shouts, charge on the foe with their knives. With these they do terrible execution, and even when shot down and trampled under foot will fight on to the last gasp, making blind stabs at the enemy above, and biting and tearing the feet and legs of those standing over them. It would be difficult to prophesy how British troops would meet these soldier-women at first, but experience would soon teach them that they need have no compunction in shooting them down.

The party of Amazons that I encountered had come down to Whydah to take some caboceer, who had incurred the king’s displeasure, up to Abomey. Everything that is done in Whydah is known to the king, for a most complete system of espionage there prevails; every man, from the yavogau, or chief caboceer, downwards, being watched by two or more spies, who are themselves under surveillance. To have authentic information of what goes on in the bosoms of the families of the caboceers, the king sends them occasionally one or more of his wives, who are no longer in the first blush of youth, as a present. This honour cannot be declined, and the chiefs have to admit to their families women whom they must treat with kindness, and whom they well know are[Pg 59] only sent to report upon their most secret conversations and actions. By this system the king has made every man in Whydah distrustful of every other, and, consequently, any conspiracy or revolt against his authority impossible. Even such minute things as the number of yards in each piece of print paid on a ship being entered at the port are reported to him, and the unfortunate caboceer who had been sent for was accused of having appropriated to his own use a small piece of cloth, the trade value of which was at the most three or four shillings, and for which he would now have to pay probably with his head.

The “Customs” of Dahomey are three in number, viz.: The carrying goods to market, the “Water Sprinkling,” and the Ahtoh. At the Water Sprinkling custom, which means, in the Dahoman sense of the word, blood sprinkling, the king sacrifices one or two slaves and pours their blood upon the graves of his ancestors. This is done as a mark of respect, and moreover is considered as necessary for the welfare of the deceased by Dahomans, as masses for the souls of the dead are by the Roman Catholic variety of Christians.

The great annual custom, which takes place towards the middle of the month of May, and lasts for six weeks, is the most interesting. To this custom all the subjects of the king are invited, and all[Pg 60] travellers or strangers in the kingdom are ordered to the capital. The first day is taken up by levées, a review of the Amazons, and the usual dancing, singing, and firing of guns; all of which takes place in the large square, or market-place, of Abomey. The victims to be sacrificed are confined in a wattle hut, called the victim-house, situated in this square; each prisoner being bound to the stool on which he sits, and further prevented from attempting to escape by long ropes fastened securely to his limbs and stretched tightly to the beams forming the shed. They are attired in long red caps adorned with festoons of ribbons, and wear white shirts ornamented at the neck and sleeves with scarlet, and with a large scarlet patch sewn on over the region of the heart.

The second day of the custom is called “Ekbah tong ekbeh,” or “Carrying goods to market,” and is really a display of all the more portable wealth of the king. The performance opens with the exhibition of the relics of the late king in a shed in the market-place; and all present pay devout obeisance to them, believing that the spirit of the departed despot is present, and that he would terribly resent any want of respect. After this various dances symbolical of battle, such as the charge, mélée, and the slaughter of prisoners, are performed by the Amazons, the king himself sometimes taking part in them. The march-past [Pg 61]of the king’s worldly goods then takes place, and continues till dark. The most extraordinary and incongruous exhibitions take place. A procession of slaves bearing state-swords, gold and silver ornaments, and articles of great intrinsic value, may be preceded or followed by a band bearing vessels of crockery of the commonest and most homely description. Articles of earthenware that are not usually exhibited in public are here paraded in large numbers, mixed up in the strangest confusion with silks, satins, umbrellas, Manchester prints, clocks, bottles, pipes, tea-pots, cups, saucers, knives, forks, European clothes, and all the miscellaneous rubbish which has been collecting for years in the curiosity shop known as the Royal Treasury. Articles of apparel of the seventeenth century are not uncommonly seen at this custom, and there are many objects of vertu which would delight the heart of a Wardour Street connoisseur, and which were, probably, originally presents to the king from the slave-traders of a century and a-half ago.

The third day of the custom is known as “Ek-gai nu Ahtoh,” or “The throwing of cowries from Ahtoh”; Ahtoh being an immense raised platform which is built in the market-place specially for this ceremony. The platform is hung with banners and flags and covered with cloth of every conceivable hue, while over it spread the large canopies of the state umbrellas,[Pg 62] made of strips of brilliant-hued silks and satins. To one side of this “Ahtoh” is an inclosure in which are the victims for sacrifice, bound hand and foot, and fastened into small canoes, or long baskets of stout wicker-work.

The king, accompanied by his wives and principal chiefs, occupies the summit of Ahtoh, and from time to time throws into the crowd handfuls of cowries and pieces of cloth, to be scrambled for. It is usually supposed that the Dahoman public is admitted to this scramble, but it is not so, and the whole ceremony is a fraud and a mere affectation of generosity. Soldiers alone are allowed to scramble, and the goods and cowries are their pay; for the Dahoman soldier, whether male or female, receives no regular stipend. They are fed and clothed at the king’s expense, and a moderate sum, the amount of which depends upon the success that has attended the royal arms during the past year, is set aside to be thrown from “Ahtoh.” The officers of the army generally contrive in this scramble to obtain all the cloth, leaving the rank and file to fight and struggle for the cowries; and in the wild confusion that ensues men are not unfrequently maimed or trodden to death.

After the goods that have been set aside for this purpose have all been thrown into the panting and perspiring crowd, the victims for sacrifice are brought[Pg 63] up on to Ahtoh, carried on men’s heads, and taken to the edge of the platform to be shown to the mob. They are greeted with wild yells and cries, the executioners thronging to the foot of the platform and brandishing their knives, while the crowd arm themselves with clubs and branches, calling on the king to feed them for they are hungry. After a short speech from the monarch the first victim is brought to the edge of the platform, and placed upright in his basket: the king then pushes the upper portion of the bound mass, the man falls over into the crowd in a second, and before the unfortunate wretch has time to recover from the shock of the fall the head is severed from the body; and the latter, after having been beaten into a shapeless mass by the shrieking and frenzied mob, is dragged by the heels to a pit at a little distance, and there left to be devoured by crows and buzzards.

The number of men sacrificed in public is about fourteen, of whom the first three or four only are thrown down by the king; but, in addition to the public sacrifices, a certain number of victims are allotted to the Amazons, and are put to death by them within the precincts of the palace, where no man may be present to inquire too inquisitively into their peculiar rites.

In Dahomey we have none of those wholesale[Pg 64] massacres in which hundreds of human beings are sacrificed, such as occur from time to time in Ashanti. In the latter country dozens of slaves are immolated at the death of even a very minor chief, but in Dahomey only one slave is allowed to be executed at the demise of the person next in authority to the king himself, and the number annually put to death in the whole kingdom is said not to exceed eighty.

The following is an instance of how horrors of this kind are exaggerated. A few years ago England was convulsed with horror at reading in the daily papers of hetacombs of slaves having been bled to death in a broad and shallow pit at Abomey, so that the king might enjoy the novelty of paddling about in a canoe in a sea of blood. What really occurred was that at the grand custom, which always takes place at the death of a king, the blood of the victims, about thirty in number, was collected into shallow pools about three feet square, and miniature canoes from six to nine inches long were set afloat in them.

The practice of human sacrifices is, however, gradually dying out in Dahomey; and, year by year, the number of persons sacrificed becomes smaller and smaller. The walls of the king’s palace, and those surrounding the residences of some of the principal chiefs, are generally crowned with human skulls, placed side by side throughout the entire length.[Pg 65] Not many years ago it was considered a sign of poverty or of great neglect if any of these ghastly ornaments, which had become destroyed from exposure to wind, sun, and rain, were not at once replaced by fresh skulls. Now, however, they are suffered to decay, and no one thinks it necessary to sacrifice a slave in order to keep the coping of the wall of his yard in good condition.

No doubt the diminution in the number of sacrifices is in a great measure due to the fact that there are no longer any small independent tribes on the borders of Dahomey on whom war could be made, and from whom a constant supply of victims could be obtained. This source was exhausted in the early part of the present century; and the only people against whom “slave hunts” can be organized are the Egbas, and these have usually terminated so unfortunately for the Dahomans that they seem lately to have lost all taste for the amusement. The persons now commonly sacrificed at the “Customs” are criminals, and their crimes would be punished capitally in even far more civilised kingdoms than that of Dahomey, though scarcely with the same surroundings and barbarity.

Abbeokuta, the capital of the Egbas, a town with a population of over fifty thousand, is the usual point of attack of the Dahomans. It is situated on the left bank of the Ogu river, and is inclosed with thick[Pg 66] mud walls some twenty-five feet high, loop-holed for musketry, strengthened with flanking bastions, and further protected by a broad and deep ditch.

The King of Dahomey suffered a rather severe repulse at his attack on this town in 1851. For some months he had been threatening to destroy Abbeokuta, being only restrained by the remonstrances of the British consul; and, though at last diplomacy was found to be of no avail, the Egbas had benefited by the respite which had been obtained for them, and had been enabled to prepare for a vigorous defence. The van of the Dahoman army, consisting of Amazons, arrived at the ford on the river Ogu on the morning of March 3rd, 1851. The Egbas, who had received ample intelligence concerning the movements of the Dahomans, had mustered in force to dispute the passage of the river, and the Amazons found themselves confronted by a body of some 12,000 or 15,000 men. Forming up in a dense column, they crossed the river with a rush, cutting the Egba line in two and scattering the enemy like chaff. Had they then followed up their first success it is probable that they would have succeeded in entering the town with the rabble of fugitives, but the male corps of the Dahoman army was some miles behind, having been out-marched by the Amazons, and the commander of the latter did not consider it advisable to enter a town[Pg 67] containing 50,000 enemies with a force of but 3,000 disciplined troops. The Amazons consequently extended beyond the ford and remained halted until the male corps was close at hand, when they advanced to the attack.

In the meantime every man, woman, and child in the town capable of holding a musket had crowded to the walls, which were, in the words of an eye-witness, “black with people, swarming like ants.” The Amazons advanced across the plain, which was utterly destitute of cover, in a species of column of companies; and, under a most furious discharge of musketry, deployed into line; then, after firing rapidly for a few moments, rushed madly on to the assault. Such a merciless shower of balls and slugs met them from the walls that, notwithstanding the most conspicuous gallantry and a wonderful contempt of death, they were repulsed with considerable loss, and, retiring beyond musket-shot, formed up in line facing the town. The Egbas did not venture to leave their fortifications in pursuit.

By this time the male Dahoman army corps had crossed the ford, and, advancing across the plain, extended to the right of the Amazons, so as partly to encircle the town, and, if possible, embarrass the defence. The whole force then advanced within musket-shot, and a furious discharge took place on[Pg 68] both sides. That portion of the plain which was occupied by the right of the Dahoman attack was still covered with dried and yellow grass reaching to the waist; the left being bare, through the grass having been burned some days before. An American missionary, who chanced to be in Abbeokuta, observing this, directed those Egbas near him to fire the grass; and, a strong wind blowing at the time towards the advancing Dahomans, in a few minutes a vast sheet of flame bore down upon them. To conceive the rapidity with which a fire will under favourable circumstances sweep across a plain of dried grass, it is necessary to have witnessed such a sight. The male Dahoman army corps, finding itself suddenly confronted by a roaring, crackling pyramid of flame, fairly turned and fled. They had come out to fight, not to be roasted, and they bolted for their lives. The king, as soon as he saw the course affairs were taking, hastily recrossed the river with some 200 followers, leaving orders for the Amazons to cover the retreat and hold the ford till nightfall.

The victorious Egbas sallied out in thousands, and threw themselves upon the devoted band of Amazons, who were extended in three lines, with the flanks drawn back. In this order they kept at bay the whole Egba force, the first line firing, retiring through the second and third line, and then forming up again[Pg 69] in rear to reload, and the whole thus retreating slowly upon the river. Arrived at the ford, they formed up in a compact mass; and, in spite of the repeated furious charges of the Egbas, held their ground until nightfall, when the enemy drew off and retired within their walls.

Early next morning the Amazons picked up such of their wounded as the Egbas had not murdered, and retired in excellent order across the river to the village of Johaga, about fifteen miles from Abbeokuta, the Egbas hovering round them during their retrograde movement, but taking care to keep at a safe distance. At Johaga a sharp skirmish took place, resulting in the repulse of the Egbas; and from that point the retreat of the Dahomans was not further molested.

The Dahoman force employed in this expedition consisted of some 3,000 Amazons and 5,000 male Dahomans. The Amazons lost very heavily, nearly 1,800 dead women-soldiers being counted by the missionaries of Abbeokuta at the ford and under the walls of the town. The men being little engaged did not suffer much. The Egbas engaged outside the town, both before and after the assault, were estimated at over 20,000, and quite 40,000 persons bore arms during the defence of the fortifications. Very few Dahoman prisoners were taken: the Amazons even when disarmed refused to surrender, fighting on, and[Pg 70] biting their foes, and were consequently hacked to pieces.

Since this repulse the king of Dahomey has been satisfied with making mere demonstrations of force in the neighbourhood of Abbeokuta, burning the outlying villages and destroying the plantations of plantains and yams, and the fields of corn, without venturing to make any serious attack upon the town itself. The Egbas had several wall-pieces and heavy guns engaged during the assault, and these had done so much execution, badly served as they were, that they at once, through the medium of the missionaries, had a fresh supply of ordnance sent out from England. The missionaries also, who were not at all desirous of seeing their comfortable mission-houses burned and their vocation destroyed, implored the Government to send discharged gunners from West India regiments to Abbeokuta; and there was soon a small body of trained artillerists in readiness for the next assault.

The natural features of Dahomey offer a remarkable contrast to those of the Gold Coast. In place of the succession of ridges covered with dense bush and forest, the monotony of which wearies the eye in the latter country, one finds an open park-like country, nearly flat, and with a sandy soil bearing clumps of trees, tall grass, and but very little bush. The banks of streams and the hollows of water-courses are of[Pg 71] course densely wooded, and fine timber-trees are common. The country is one specially adapted for agriculture, but only a very small portion of the soil is under cultivation, for the Dahomans, having for years indulged in the exciting and profitable amusement of “slave-hunting,” cannot, now that the slave-trade has been suppressed, fall at once into peaceable pursuits. Palm-oil and ground-nuts are however exported in considerable quantities from Whydah, and, as soon as legitimate commerce is found by the Dahomans to be as paying as the illegitimate bartering of human beings, cotton, sugar, tobacco, and cocoa will in all probability be grown in sufficient quantities for exportation.

Dahomey does not appear to be rich in minerals. In fact it is probable that the territory now known by that name was once a vast lagoon, similar to that of Quittah, only much more extensive, and that the kingdom now owes its existence to that slow process of upheaval of which I have already spoken as silting up the lagoons of the Slave Coast. This theory is partly borne out by an immense and shallow depression extending from the back of Whydah almost to Abomey, and reaching its greatest depth about fifty miles from the former town. At that point there is still a considerable swamp in the bed of the ancient lagoon, and indications of coal deposits have been[Pg 72] there discovered. Throughout the whole distance between Whydah and Abomey the shells of fresh-water molluscs, similar to those found at the present day in the existing lagoons, are found in large quantities a few inches below the surface of the ground.

To the north of Abomey a geological change takes place. Instead of the flat sandy expanse, the ground is broken up into valleys and undulating hills, gradually rising until they merge in the distant Dabadab Mountains, about forty miles from the capital. Here, as elsewhere in the hilly countries of West Africa, the soil consists of volcanic mud or laterite, interspersed with ironstone and granite.

I do not think I have anything more to say about Dahomey except that Whydah is the habitat of the Whydah bunting (Emberiza Paradisea), the male of which is in the habit of changing its plumage five times a year, so as to look like a different bird each time. It is sometimes called the widow bird, and for many years troubled the minds and vexed the spirits of naturalists.

[Pg 73]


Lagos—Small Change—A Ball—A Cheerful Companion—An Anomalous Sight—History of the Settlement—The Naval Attack of 1851.

In the spring of 1880 I found myself at Lagos, a town which has been called the Liverpool of West Africa, and which, next to Freetown, Sierra Leone, is the largest and best built in our possessions in that quarter of the globe. The first breach in the lagoon system occurs here, where the river Ogu, or Ogun, from Abbeokuta, discharges itself into the sea; and the bar, on which at high water there is 16 feet of water, is crossed by small steamers, which convey passengers, mails, and cargo to and from the mail-steamers lying outside. The island of Lagos is about four miles in length, and averages half a mile in breadth. The town is situated up the lagoon about three-quarters of a mile from the bar, and from the water presents quite a business-like appearance. Numerous wooden piers, alongside which are vessels discharging and receiving cargo, extend into the lagoon; steamers of light draught come and go, while on the shore the Marina, or parade, with its trees and white[Pg 74] houses, covers a frontage of some two miles. The native inhabitants of Lagos and the surrounding country, with the exception of the Porto Novans, who are pagans, are Mohammedans, belonging principally to the Yoruba tribe, which appears to be an offshoot of the Houssa race. They are a quiet, orderly, and industrious people, and form a pleasing contrast to the idle and insolent, so-called Christians, of Sierra Leone, and the lazy tribes of the Gold Coast.

As cowries form the small coinage of the country, and are in universal use, I thought I might as well obtain a few for small purchases; so, as soon as I was settled down, I gave my boy a couple of sovereigns and sent him out to get change. Half-an-hour afterwards, as I was smoking in the verandah, I saw him coming along the Marina followed by a procession of some twenty men and women, each of whom carried a small sack on his, or her, head. The whole crowd turned into the yard, and disappeared from my view. Presently I heard the trampling of feet and a rattling sound in my room, and, on going to see what was the matter, I found it full of natives, with an immense heap of cowries piled up in the centre of the floor. I thought that I should be ruined, and said to my boy,

“What’s all this? What do all these people want?”

He replied.

[Pg 75]

“They’ve brought the cowries, Master.”

“Well! I didn’t tell you to buy £1000 worth—I haven’t brought a bank in my pocket. Clear it all away except what I gave you the money for.”

He said there was only two pounds worth there.

I never felt so rich in my life: as Dr. Johnson would say, I revelled in wealth beyond the potentiality of dreams of avarice. A solitary cowry is not of much value: 20,000 of them are equivalent to twelve shillings and sixpence, so I had more than 60,000. I told the carriers to take a few in payment, filled my pockets with some more, and went out with a light heart to buy up the whole market; taking care, however, to lock up the place, as I thought that so much unguarded wealth might be a temptation to the evilly disposed. My boy suggested that I ought to count my change to see if it was correct; but I decided not to.

A few days after my arrival there was a ball given by a club which rejoices in the name of “The Flower of Lagos.” The members of this Club are all negroes, principally haughty aristocrats from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gold Coast, and I believe that they do not admit any of the Mohammedan canaille to membership.

I never was at such an amusing ball in my life, and, as I suppose such entertainments are given for[Pg 76] the purpose of amusement, it may be considered a most complete success. The gorgeous-coloured satin waistcoats, the rainbow cravats, and gigantic buttonhole bouquets of the men, were sufficiently trying to the eyes; but when one turned towards the softer, one cannot in this case say the fairer, sex, who, as usual before the ice was broken, sat all together at one end of the room, I had positively to turn away, and wished for a green shade or a pair of blue glass spectacles. Scarlet, blue, pink, purple, yellow, orange, green, white—every known brilliant colour was there, and I had to follow the example of the other Europeans who were present, and view this brilliant spectacle through the medium of an inverted tumbler. The band was that of the Gold Coast Constabulary, and perhaps the less one says of it the better, unless it is now “the thing” in music to introduce crushing discords and heart-rending shrieks that are not in the original score of the composition.

Before the dancing commenced one could walk about and breathe without any extraordinary discomfort, but after that the bouquet d’Afrique really became quite too, too. I have always held very much the same opinion about dancing as that expressed by the pacha in Salmagundi, and I should have liked then to have been seated afar off on some eminence with a good telescope. It was pitiful to[Pg 77] observe the struggles of the belles to appear cool (these poor creatures cannot, of course, like their European sisters, use powder, unless indeed, they used gunpowder or coal-dust), and how at last they gave it up as hopeless, and used their handkerchiefs energetically. A new Administrator had arrived at Lagos a few days previously, and he had to open the ball with the leading Lagos lady. Poor man, he did not seem at all at home, and was evidently unaccustomed to move in such high society. After the ceremony was over he kept going about like one dazed, rubbing his hands together, and bowing and asking what would be the next article. Some people said that the infliction had been too much for his brain, and that he was thinking of his earlier days, but I don’t know.

I noticed that the negro gentlemen were scrupulously polite and dignified, and talked, so to speak, on conversational stilts; the ladies tried hard to do the same, but the high pressure was too much for them. One sable beau went up to a charming creature in pink and yellow, and, bowing by a succession of jerks, said:—

“May I, Miss, enjoy the unparalleled gratification of your hand for the next polka?”

The giddy young thing replied:—

“Oh I yes, Mr. Smith—I’m orful fond of polking—Good Lard! what a fine coat you’ve got. I ’spect[Pg 78] that cloth cost quite two dollars a yard now, didn’t it?”

Later on, when the fumes of the gooseberry wine, brandy, and rum began to mount to the heads of the assembly, a good deal of the veneering came off the manners and morals, and violent embracings took place in the more retired spots. Then one or two personal encounters occurred between jealous swains, while others, under the influence of ardent spirits, came and tried to pick quarrels with the few Europeans who were present, so I went away just as the orgie was beginning.

Horses thrive very well at Lagos, and every merchant keeps his horse and trap; not that there is anywhere much to drive to, except the Marina, as all the streets through the native town consist of ankle-deep sand, and the eastern portion of the island, where there are no houses, is a mere sandbank. The horses are small, being all of Arab blood, and are brought down from the interior by Mohammedan traders; they cost from £15 to £30 a-piece. In the matter of horses and food Lagos has a great advantage over other towns in West Africa. On the Gold Coast, for instance, one has to live almost entirely on those particularly nauseating preserved meats, the tins of which may bear different labels and names, but which all taste alike; for the country produces[Pg 79] nothing but an emaciated fowl; but at Lagos one can revel in oysters, land-crabs, beef, mutton, and all the luxuries of the table. In the matter of salubrity, however, Lagos does not appear to advantage, and its epidemics periodically decimate the white population.

One morning, when I was walking along the Marina, I met a man who had been a fellow-passenger with me from England, and who had come out to Lagos to take home a coffin-ship that belonged to the Colonial Government, so that she might be broken up and sold for fire-wood. This individual had occupied the same cabin with me on the voyage out, and had kept me quite lively and exercised my mind a good deal during the trip. One night, when everybody on board, except the watch, was buried in sleep, I was awakened by hearing somebody cursing and swearing in a loud voice close at hand. I looked over the side of my bunk, and, by the faint light of a lamp that was burning in the saloon, I saw my cabin companion, stark naked, foaming at the mouth, and stropping one of my razors upon his fore-arm amid torrents of oaths. Presently he said:—

“I’ll have some d——d fellow’s blood to-night. I’ll have some blood.” And he rolled his frenzied eye round the cabin.

I did not make any remark. I did not want to[Pg 80] remind him that my blood was pretty handy, because I had no weapon with me in my bunk more formidable than a pillow; so I lay quiet. He kept on stropping the razor, cursing to himself, and repeating that what his soul craved for was gore, for about ten minutes, then he suddenly hurled his weapon across the cabin, and rushed out just as he was. I skipped out of my berth with some alacrity, picked up my razor and locked it up; after which I felt rather safer, as I knew he had none of his own. Then I put on some clothes and went to look after the maniac; but, after searching all over the ship without success, I consoled myself with the thought that he had probably jumped overboard, and went to bed again. Next morning, when I awoke, I found my friend clothed and in his right mind, and thought I must have been suffering from night-mare; so I said nothing to him about what had occurred.

Ten or twelve days after this I was awakened in the middle of the night by some one clutching at my throat. I sprang up with a yell and struck out, fortunately hitting my assailant somewhere, and, as the ship happened to be rolling heavily, he lost his equilibrium and tumbled over. He was up again in a moment, and came at me brandishing a water bottle.

He said:—

“Give me my ship’s papers.”

[Pg 81]

I seized my pillow, and replied:—

“I haven’t got your papers. Stew-a-a-rd.”

“Give me my papers, or I’ll do for you.”

“Don’t be a fool—I don’t know anything about your papers. STEWARD.”

He threw the bottle at me, fortunately, instead of hitting me with it; and tried to do the throttling business again. Then a very pretty little struggle commenced up and down the cabin, we being thrown from side to side with every lurch, while boxes, tumblers, boots, clothes, and all kinds of loose furniture, went flying around. At last some of the other passengers appeared to have a dim consciousness that something was occurring, and appeared rubbing their eyes; and when they grasped the situation we soon had our friend tied up, biting and scratching like a wild cat. I told the captain next day I would prefer to sleep in some other cabin.

For the rest of the voyage this man appeared quite sane, and when I met him, as I have said, on the Marina, he came up to me, shook hands, and conversed like any rational being. He had brought his vessel alongside a wharf, and was tilting her over to try and get at some of the worst leaks and stop them up. Some of the guys he had out were very much worn, and I said that if he did not take care he would capsize his ship. This innocent remark set[Pg 82] him off at once; he became purple in the face, foamed at the mouth, gesticulated violently, cursed at me, and was only prevented from proceeding to further extremities by my rapid exit. Next day his ship did capsize. He sailed from Lagos soon after, and I have been told that neither he nor his vessel have ever been heard of since. In any other part of the world but West Africa such a man as this would have been kept under restraint. His fits of mania were, I believe, the result of sun-stroke.

I was out driving round the town with a German friend one day when he pulled up at an inclosure, and said he would show me something that I would not see anywhere else on the coast. He took me in and showed me a merry-go-round, and I was sufficiently surprised to gratify him. What could have induced any one to bring such a thing out to West Africa? It was one of the old kind, worked by hand; an organ stood by, and I could almost imagine I smelt the sawdust and gingerbread, and heard the shouts and cries with which such machines were associated in my memory. I believe the speculation did not pay, the natives all wanted to ride for nothing, and the Europeans did not want to ride at all. The yard was full of Yoruba women, looking with wistful eyes at the wooden horses and triumphal cars, so we hired the whole coach of the proprietor for half-an-hour, [Pg 83]and told all the women to get up on it. It was a most anomalous sight to see all these Mohammedan women, with their shawled heads, floating cloths, and long slim limbs, going round and round to the tune of Champagne Charlie. They seemed to enjoy it very much, and their bright eyes sparkled with fun; they were so grateful that I believe they would have done anything for us, even kiss us, if we had wanted them to. Some of them were by no means bad looking, and the custom they have of touching up the eyes with kohl gives them a rather languishing appearance.

The British first became mixed up in the affairs of Lagos after the repulse of the Dahoman army from Abbeokuta, which I have narrated in a former chapter. After that event the King of Dahomey commenced intrigues with the kings of Porto Novo and of Lagos with a view to cutting off the Abbeokutans from all communication with the sea, he believing that they received assistance there, both in money and weapons, from the British. These two potentates fell the more readily into his plans because they were both interested in the maintenance of the slave-trade, while the Egbas were anxious for its suppression. The river Ogu is navigable for canoes to within a mile of Abbeokuta, and, as it discharges itself into the sea at Lagos, that town may be said to be the natural[Pg 84] port of Abbeokuta. Owing to differences however with Kosoko, the king of Lagos, a bloodthirsty despot who had dethroned his uncle Akitoye and murdered some two thousand of his friends and adherents in cold blood, the Egbas of Abbeokuta had been obliged to use Badagry, a small independent township some thirty-five miles to the west of Lagos, as their port; doing so at great inconvenience to themselves, as communication between Abbeokuta and Badagry could only be carried on by means of difficult roads, over which all goods and produce had to be carried upon the heads of men and women.

In June, 1851, Kosoko, in accordance with instructions received from the king of Dahomey, sent up a number of men to attack Badagry, at which town Akitoye the ex-king of Lagos was residing, and where there were also several British residents. The enemy were repulsed, and returned to Lagos, destroying on their way back an out-lying village of Badagry, named Susu. During the rest of the month of June, Kosoko’s people kept Badagry in a state of blockade, and occasionally landed marauding parties at night. During one of these night-alarms a Mr. Gee, an Englishman, was killed, and several Kroomen employed by the British traders were kidnapped. Things went on thus until July, early in which month a number of Lagos people came up to Badagry, under[Pg 85] the pretence of trading or visiting their friends, and were suffered to land. On going ashore they proceeded to the market, which was crowded, the day being market-day, and at once picking a quarrel with some of Akitoye’s followers they threw off the mask and a fight commenced. The town of Badagry was burned to the ground, and a great deal of British property was destroyed.

The senior naval officer on the station being informed of this outrage felt it his duty to endeavour to obtain redress from Kosoko, and terms were dictated to him. After much delay and duplicity on the part of the king, it became evident that he had no intention of yielding except to force, and it was finally determined to bombard his town.

The naval force, consisting of Her Majesty’s sloops “Philomel,” “Harlequin,” “Niger,” and “Waterwitch,” and the gun-vessels “Bloodhound” and “Volcano,” assembled off Lagos bar in November 1851; and at daybreak on the 25th of that month the ships’ boats, manned and armed, and towed by the “Bloodhound,” entered the river and proceeded towards Lagos. As the consul still had some hope of the king submitting to a display of force, the flags of truce were kept flying; and, although, on rounding the first point, the enemy opened a harassing fire of musketry along the right bank of the river, the fire[Pg 86] was not returned, and the boats kept steadily on, with the flags flying, until they arrived at about a mile from the town.

There the “Bloodhound” got aground in the mud, and the enemy’s fire increased, the shot falling fast and thick among the boats. The boom of heavy ordnance showed that Kosoko was much better prepared for defence than had been supposed; the flags of truce were hauled down, and the British, for the first time, opened fire.

The enemy were mustered in great force, and, being armed with good muskets, kept up an incessant fire from behind stockades and mud-walls upon the boats. They even endeavoured to send a body of men across the river in canoes so as to take the British in rear, but this movement was at once intercepted.

The fire from the boats producing but little effect, it was determined to land a party. The boats accordingly pulled in simultaneously for one spot, and about 160 men were landed, the remainder guarding the boats.

The natives made a most determined resistance and an exceedingly skilful use of the advantages of their position. The town, or at least that part of it where the seamen landed, consisted of narrow streets intersecting each other in every direction. The British were thus exposed to a flanking fire down[Pg 87] every street which debouched on the line of advance; and the natives, when driven from one post, ran by back-alleys to take up a new position further on. After advancing some three hundred yards, and finding the resistance by no means diminished, but, on the contrary, that the number of opponents increased at every turning, and having already suffered a loss of two officers killed and seven men wounded, it was determined that to continue the advance would be imprudent. All the neighbouring houses were therefore set on fire, and the force returned to the boats, and thence to the “Bloodhound.” The fire continued to burn with great fury for some hours, and two heavy explosions were heard; but there was no wind, and the houses destroyed formed but a very small portion of the whole town.

In consequence of this repulse the attack of Lagos in force was ordered, and it was determined to dethrone Kosoko and to replace Akitoye on the throne. A naval force was concentrated, consisting of the “Sampson,” “Penelope,” “Bloodhound,” and “Teazer,” the whole being under the command of Commodore H. W. Bruce. On December 24th, 1851, the boats crossed the bar, and the “Bloodhound” dropped up the river with the tide to reconnoitre. Three guns from the south end of the island opened on her but did no damage, for the fire, though exceedingly well directed, was faulty in elevation.

[Pg 88]

The plan of attack arranged was that the boats should pass the lines of defence as quickly as possible, go round the northern point of the island, and there make the bombardment, where Kosoko and the principal slave-dealers resided. The line of sea-defence extended from the southern point of the island to the northern, along the western front, a distance of nearly two miles. In parts, where the water was sufficiently deep for boats to land, stakes in double rows had been planted in six feet of water, and along the whole of the distance an embankment and ditch for the protection of infantry had been constructed; while at special points exceedingly strong stockades, made of stout cocoa-nut trees, were erected for guns.

On the 26th at daybreak the “Bloodhound” proceeded up the river with the boats of the “Sampson” in two divisions, the one in front the other following. The “Teazer” followed with the boats of the “Penelope” similarly arranged, and accompanied by the consul’s iron boat “Victoria,” fitted for rockets. The enemy immediately opened a heavy fire of guns and musketry, the whole line of the embankment being filled with men, of whom nothing was visible but the muzzles of their muskets. The fire was returned from the British guns, but produced little effect, as the shot could not do much injury to the green wood of the stockades.

[Pg 89]

In trying to get round the northern point of the island with her division of boats the “Bloodhound” grounded. As the tide was falling it was impossible to get her off; but her guns, opening fire, silenced a battery of the enemy which was abreast of her, though nothing could silence the furious fusilade of musketry. A slight breeze springing up at this time it was seen from the “Bloodhound” that the “Teazer” was also aground, nearly in the same position as the former vessel was at the attack of November 25th.

Abreast of the “Teazer” was a battery, which her solitary 32-pounder contrived for some time to keep in check; but it was not long before two other guns were brought to a stockade, and opened fire from a position which was quite unassailable from the “Teazer.” These guns were admirably served, and Captain Lyster of the “Penelope,” who was in command of the “Teazer” and her division of boats, seeing that the vessel would be inevitably destroyed before she could be got off at high tide if the enemy’s fire were not silenced, determined to land and carry the guns. The eight boats which had accompanied the “Teazer” were formed in line, and pulled in directly for the stockade, which appeared to be the best spot for landing. As the boats touched the shore a tremendous discharge was poured into them; but the men formed up on the beach, and entered the[Pg 90] stockade, from which the enemy retreated into the bush, which was close in rear. Lieutenant Corbett rushed ahead and spiked the guns.

The object of the landing being thus accomplished, the party retired to re-embark, when it was discovered that during the confusion which had naturally taken place, on landing under a severe fire, one of the boats had been taken by the enemy, a party of whom were seen at a little distance taking her towards the guns which had first opened fire on the “Teazer.” As it was necessary to re-take her, the men hurriedly ran to the other boats to go in pursuit. The crew of the captured boat, sixty in number, having nothing in which to embark, crowded round the other boats, which became overloaded, and some delay and confusion ensued in consequence. No sooner did the natives perceive this than they came down from the bush in swarms, pouring in a most destructive fire at a distance of a few yards. Two seamen who were unable to find room in the boats were seized and dragged up the beach, their heads being instantly lopped off under the very eyes of their comrades, and their bodies, horribly mutilated, thrown down again to the water’s edge.

The boats at last shoved off, and it was then seen that there was something wrong with the “Victoria,” which was close to the shore. On pulling back it was[Pg 91] discovered that the anchor had been let go without orders. It was impossible to slip the cable, as it was of chain and clinched to the bottom of the boat, and there seemed to be no alternative but to leave her in the hands of the natives, when suddenly Lieutenant Corbett, who had received a severe wound on shore which rendered his right arm almost useless, ran to the stern, and, under a heavy fire, cut the chain-cable with a cold chisel. While so doing he received five different gun-shot wounds.

The “Victoria” was now got off, but the British loss had been so heavy, amounting to one officer and thirteen men killed, and four officers and fifty-eight men wounded, that it was not considered advisable to make any attempt to recover the lost boat, and the boats returned to the “Teazer.” Scarcely had they reached her than some forty or fifty of the natives got into the captured boat, and started as if to attack the vessel. They paid dearly for their audacity; for a rocket fired from the “Teazer” entered her magazine and she at once blew up. At sunset the “Teazer” was got off with the rising tide, and anchored out of gun-shot for the night.

In the meantime the “Bloodhound” and the boats of her division had been warmly engaged. At 10 a.m. Lieutenant Saumarez had been despatched with five boats round the north-eastern point, to ascertain[Pg 92] the strength and position of the guns on that side of the island. A fire from four guns strongly stockaded was immediately opened; and was returned from the boats with such effect as to upset and turn out of its carriage one of these guns. The object of the movement having been obtained, the boats were recalled.

The fire from the embankment abreast of the “Bloodhound” still continued, and, about 2·30 p.m., it being observed that the enemy were trying to bring several guns into position there, Lieutenant Saumarez was sent with the boats of the “Sampson” to try and spike them. It was found impossible for them to make their way through the hail of missiles showered upon them, and they returned, with the loss of one officer killed and ten men severely wounded.

Next morning the “Teazer” got into the proper channel. A flanking fire was opened on the western part of the enemy’s defences, and rockets were thrown into the town. At about 11 a.m. a rocket was thrown into a battery below the house of Tappa, Kosoko’s principal chief and adviser. A tremendous explosion ensued, which was followed by an interval of dead silence, then house after house caught fire, and the town was shortly in a general blaze. The enemy’s fire at once slackened, and then stopped; and the Commodore, being unwilling to do further damage, ceased firing, and sent a summons to Kosoko to surrender.

[Pg 93]

Next day, Sunday, no reply had been received; and, during the whole of the day, canoes were observed crossing from the north-east of Lagos to the island of Echalli, laden with furniture and household goods. This was allowed to go on without molestation, and in the afternoon it was learned that Kosoko and his followers had abandoned the island.

A party was landed to spike guns and instal Akitoye as king, and it was then found that a creek and swamp, running about two hundred yards inland, had checked the flames and saved the eastern portion of the town. The defences were most ingeniously planned. The beach was strongly stockaded, with a ditch outside; and at every promontory was an enfilading piece of ordnance. Fifty-two guns were in all captured.

King Docemo succeeded Akitoye, and in 1861 Lagos was acquired by treaty with that king, who handed it over to the British in return for a pension of £1,000 a year. Badagry and Catanoo on the west, and Palma and Leckie on the east, form integral portions of the settlement; and, though we have no authority for so doing, jurisdiction is exercised over the intervening sea-board; and, to a certain extent, over the adjacent country, inhabited by tribes with whom we have made treaties.

The town of Catanoo was acquired in January,[Pg 94] 1880. It lies on the sea-board, immediately opposite the independent kingdom of Porto Novo, on the northern bank of the lagoon of the same name. The king of that state was formerly a source of tribulation to the revenue officers of Lagos; as, when Catanoo was independent, he could there land exciseable articles free of duty, which were afterwards smuggled with wonderful facility into British territory by lagoon. In addition to this, he and his subjects were continually interfering with and molesting the peaceable Mohammedan traders; so the inhabitants of Catanoo were persuaded to hoist the British flag, and now the Porto Novo potentate has to proceed as far west as Whydah to import his rum if he wishes to avoid paying customs dues.

[Pg 95]


Leeches—Ikorudu—A Blue-blood Negro—Badagry—Flying Foxes—Fetishes—A Smuggler entrapped—Floating Islands—Porto Novo—Thirsty Gods—Cruel Kindness.

While at Lagos I heard that there was one of those fortified Mohammedan towns, peculiar to the interior of Western Africa, some eighteen miles to the north-east of the island. I had never seen one of these towns, so I hired a boat and a guide, and started early one morning for this particular one, which was named Ikorudu. We paddled along the lagoon for some distance, until we had passed the mouth of the river Ogu, and then the canoe-men ran the canoe into the mud of a mangrove swamp, and the guide said I was to disembark. I remarked that I did not see any path, and that if I had known that I should have to wade about in liquid mud I would have brought some stilts, but he said the road was better after a little distance, so I got on the shoulders of one of the men and waded ashore.

We walked on along a track three or four inches deep with sticky mud, through an immense swamp. Far away into the gloomy shadows of the bush[Pg 96] stretched shallow pools of muddy water, in which the hideous mangrove stretched out its distorted limbs, while the mangrove fish leaped off the roots of the trees and skipped away across the surface of the water at our approach. Suddenly my foot slipped from under me, and I slid along for some distance, only to be brought up violently against a mangrove stump. I rubbed my knee, and anathematised the mud sotto voce. I had hardly moved two paces further when the ground seemed to be cut away from under my feet, and I fell into the arms of my guide. He said—

“You will have to be careful where you tread here.”

I replied:—“So it seems.”

“Yes, there are a lot of them about this morning.”

I asked him what he meant, and he answered by placing a foot on a brown object in the mud and skating along over it. I examined this object, and saw a flattened leech. The swamp was full of these things: thousands of them clustered round the roots of the mangroves, millions lay in the mud covered by the shallow water, and hundreds of them were taking a morning walk over the path. I saw a canoe-man detach one from his ankle and another from the calf of his log, so I took the hint and tucked my trousers into my boots. There were enough leeches here to phlebotomise the whole human race, and I thought[Pg 97] of returning to England at once, and starting a Company, to be called the Grand International Leech Supply, for furnishing every household with these domestic creatures. As it is I give the idea, gratis, to any one of a speculative turn of mind.

After walking two miles over and through leeches we reached Ikorudu. The town is surrounded by a high and thick swish wall, which is loopholed, and has flanking bastions at irregular intervals; ingress is only obtainable by passing through doorways into swish houses, the floors of the upper rooms of which are loopholed, so that fire can be brought to bear upon the approach below. At one entrance I saw a kind of machicoulis gallery; and considering that the Egbas, against whom these defences were constructed, have no artillery, the place seemed tolerably strong. A broad and deep ditch encircles the whole town.

In 1865 or 1866 an army of twelve thousand Egbas besieged this place, and threw up two entrenched camps in its neighbourhood. The Ikorudans applied to the Government of Lagos for assistance, and the Fifth West India regiment, with the Lagos Police, numbering in all less than five hundred bayonets, were sent to their relief. This handful of men gallantly stormed the entrenchments and completely routed the enemy with heavy loss.[Pg 98] To properly estimate this victory it must be remembered that the Fifth West India regiment was not in reality a West India regiment, properly trained and disciplined, but an African regiment, raised entirely from the Yomba and Houssa tribes in and about Lagos, and bearing a very close resemblance to the present Houssa Constabulary. This old habit of entitling African corps West India regiments has led to many unfortunate mistakes, from which the two bonâ fide West India regiments suffer sometimes even at the present day.

Shortly after this Ikorudu trip I took advantage of the sailing of a small steamer belonging to a mercantile firm at Lagos to proceed to Badagry, which lies to the west, up the Victoria lagoon. It is thirty-three miles from Lagos as the crow flies, but the tortuous nature of the only navigable channel makes the distance very much greater for bipeds not possessed of wings. At 6 a.m. our small craft cast off from the pier, and steamed away in the teeth of the fresh morning breeze, which rippled the surface of the lagoon and fanned our grateful faces. The channel which we followed was generally narrow, though here and there the shores receded and left wide reaches of shallow water, dotted with numerous small wooded islands. In such parts the view was very pretty; and the numerous canoes, bound for[Pg 99] Lagos with native produce, paddled or poled along by brown-skinned men in loose garbs of brilliant colours, added the requisite life and colour to the scene. Numbers of crocodiles were seen basking on the banks of the islets or the shores of the lagoon, frightening the white cranes and flamingoes as they waddled with a splash into the water on the approach of the steamer. Two would-be sportsmen on board fired several shots at these saurians with those cheap German rifles, which are manufactured by persons who seem to think that back-sights are merely an ornamental appendage. Naturally they wounded nothing more vulnerable than the water or bush.

While we were steaming along a mulatto gentleman came up and entered into conversation with me. He commenced by saying that he supposed I was a stranger, and, after cross-examining me as to my business in Lagos, expatiated upon the scenery, civilisation, and delights of that settlement. After a little he said—

“You may have heard of me; my name is Pilot.”

I replied, “Oh! indeed, you’re the pilot are you? What depth of water have we here?”

“No, no, my dear Sir. You are quite mistaken. I am above menial pursuits of that nature. My name is Pilate. P-i-l-a-t-e.”

“Ah! really. It is a pretty name.”

[Pg 100]

He smiled a sweetly-satisfied smile, and continued.

“Yes, pretty, but more than pretty—it is historical. You have, of course, heard of my ancestor?”

“N—no. I don’t remember just now.”

“What? Never heard of Pontius Pilate?”

“Pontius Pilate? Oh, yes—died of a skin disease, didn’t he?”

He approached me with a proud and stately stride, and, tapping his manly bosom with a forefinger, said, in a voice thick with emotion, or something stronger—

“That man was my ancestor. I am proud of it. But for him there would have been no sacrifice of the blood of the lamb, and no atonement. He was the greatest benefactor that mankind ever saw, and I—I am his descendant. I am proud of it.”

I said: “This is very interesting—I should like to see your pedigree.”

“Ah! I regret to say that the family records have been sadly neglected—but I have the skin disease of which you spoke. It is hereditary.”

I moved a little further off.

He continued: “Yes, I have the skin disease. It is a proof of what I tell you. Would you like to see it?”

“N—no thanks; I’m afraid I haven’t time just now.”

“It is a sad infliction, but I bear it. Yes, I bear[Pg 101] it because it is the Lord’s will. The only thing that gives me any relief is brandy—Have you any about you?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Rum, perhaps?”

“No, nothing of that kind.”

“Dear, dear—Pardon this spasm, it will be over in a minute. Perhaps the sailors have some. Will you lend me a shilling, and I will go and inquire?”

His spasms must have come on very badly after he left, for in about half-an-hour’s time I saw him ardently hugging a stanchion, and apparently trying to tie a true lover’s knot with his legs. I inquired who he was, and learned that he was a gentleman at large. I was much surprised; I should certainly have taken him to be a native missionary from his manner.

We arrived at Badagry about 10 a.m. The lagoon here is 600 yards wide and 24 feet deep, and the sand-ridge which separates it from the sea measures one-third of a mile in breadth. I should imagine that Badagry is not a healthy place of residence; it is low-lying and swampy, and sanitary considerations have evidently never been taken into account. In fact sanitary law is a dead letter on the whole of the West Coast of Africa, with the exception of Sierra Leone, and the most ordinary and necessary precautions are neglected, while the natives are allowed to indulge in[Pg 102] the filthiest habits unchecked. Imagine an English town with its drainage system cut off, and the inhabitants permitted to accumulate offal and refuse of every indescribable kind around their dwellings; then add a supply of dysenteric water, and a tropical sun to make all the rubbish-heaps fester and grow corrupt; throw in a climate that is unequalled for deadliness, and you will have a very fair idea of a British settlement on the Gold Coast. Dozens of lives are yearly sacrificed on that coast to the apathy of the Government, which will not compel the natives to adopt more cleanly habits of life.

The first thing that struck me on going ashore at Badagry was a stone, which descended with some force from a tall tree; and I was looking round for a safe object on which to vent my wrath, when one of the sportsmen from the steamer came and made profuse apologies for the accident. I asked him what he was throwing at, and he, being a German, replied:

“I drow at de grickeds.”

This seemed so incomprehensible that I was going to give up attempting the solution when he exclaimed:—

“No, no—Not grickeds—badts. I know he vas something that you plays in de game. Dey are dere,” and he pointed up to the tree.

I looked up and saw what at first sight appeared[Pg 103] like a cluster of rabbit-skins hung up to dry: they were flying foxes. I looked round, and found almost every tree similarly adorned. But for an occasional movement of the head, or the winking of an eye, one might have imagined they were dead, they remained so still. The sportsman was very eager to fire into the group, being only deterred from so doing by the fear of their being fetish, and while he was endeavouring to satisfy himself on this point I went away.

The inhabitants of Badagry are apparently a very religious people, for I do not remember ever to have seen so many fetishes of different sorts in so small a town. Scattered generally about the streets and courtyards are hundreds of small sheds, open in front, with thatched roofs and bamboo walls. Each of these contains a graceful figure, fashioned of clay into a semblance of the human form; and the faces of these gods are fearfully and wonderfully made. The eyes are represented by large cowries, the hair by feathers, and the gash which takes the place of the mouth is garnished with the teeth of dogs, sharks, goats, leopards, and men. A nose was too great a flight of genius for the native sculptors, and they had satisfied themselves by boring two little holes for nostrils and leaving the rest of the organ to be understood. I noticed one deity whose head was covered with the red tail-feathers [Pg 104]of parrots, and the captain of the steamer said that the people had put this up after having seen a red-haired trader who had once paid them a visit.

While wandering about I discovered a thick growth of trees and bushes inclosed with a bamboo fence; this was the great fetish-ground of Badagry, and I proceeded to pull down a piece of the fence, and look in. I saw inside the usual heap of rubbish, broken pots, broken knives, broken stools, and human skulls, and, in addition, spear-heads, arrows, and bamboo shields. I thought I would like to take a few of these things away as curios, and had begun pulling down more of the fence, so that I might pass through, when I was disturbed by hearing somebody shout:

“Heigh, you there! You bess stop that.”

I looked round and observed a negro, attired in European apparel, rapidly coming towards me. He seemed very much alarmed, and said:

“These people here are very partic’lar ’bout their fetish. If they was to see you now they would kill you p’raps.”

I said—“Bosh: this town belongs to the English.”

“I tell you for true, Sir. Myself I’m Christian like you: I follow the Lord; I don’t care for fetish. But these people here are very bad people, very partic’lar. If they see you, you will catch plenty trouble.”

[Pg 105]

I suffered myself to be persuaded and went away to have lunch with the Commandant. During the meal I said what a pity it was I could not get some of those arrows and spear-heads out of the inclosure. He seemed surprised and asked:

“What is there to prevent you?”

“Why, the natives would make a row.”

“They? Why they wouldn’t care if you carted the whole lot out.”

I thought I had been hearing rather contradictory evidence, so I told him about my interview with the Christian negro who had hindered me from committing sacrilege. He listened with great attention, and finally asked:

“Was this man tall?”


“Was he fat?”


“Was he very ugly?”


“Had he got a strawberry ...? No, I don’t mean that. Had he lost some of his front teeth?”


Then the Commandant heaved a sigh of relief, and sent for a sergeant of police. When that myrmidon arrived he told him that he thought that Mr. W—— was caught at last; and directed him[Pg 106] to take three or four men, and go and see if he could find anything in the fetish ground. While we were waiting to see the upshot of this search the Commandant informed me that my Christian friend, Mr. W——, was a notorious smuggler, who was famed for the facility with which he robbed Her Majesty’s Customs.

In about a quarter of an hour a procession, bearing some forty or fifty demijohns of rum, marched into the yard; and the sergeant informed us that he had left a man in charge of as much more. All this spirit had been smuggled from Porto Novo, and then hidden in the fetish-ground, where no native wandering in the outer darkness of unbelief would dare to venture; but which my Christian friend, who like all such negroes had repudiated the fetish moral, or immoral, code without adopting any other in its place, had no scruple about making use of. No wonder he was anxious that I should not outrage the religious prejudices of the Badagrans. I met him afterwards, and he called me names, and was good enough to say that my idle curiosity had caused him to lose more money than I had ever possessed or could dream of possessing. Such are the usual conversational pleasantries of negro traders.

From Badagry I went on to Porto Novo, which lies seventeen miles further to the west, or fifty[Pg 107] miles in all from Lagos. A curious feature of the lagoon between Badagry and Porto Novo is the large number of floating grass islands which one passes. Some of them have sufficient stability to admit of persons walking about on them, and, were they but cultivated, would be not unlike the chinampas of the Aztecs on the lake of Mexico. They impede the navigation a good deal, as no steamer could force its way through them, and détours have to be made to avoid them, which frequently result in the repose of a sand-bank being rudely disturbed by the stem of an erring vessel. When disembarking from the steamer at Porto Novo I landed on one of these islands, about two acres in extent, and walked across it, sending the boat round to the opposite side. It seemed quite firm underfoot, except at the edges, and was covered with soil four or five inches deep, bearing a luxuriant crop of grass. It was kept afloat by an underlying mass of matted rushes, canes, and succulent grass, from three to four feet thick, but how the earth got on the top of this I do not know. This island was larger and more substantial than most, but all break up very rapidly in the mimic storms which occasionally vex the placid waters of the lagoon.

The town of Porto Novo is built on the eastern portion of the Porto Novan lagoon, which is here two miles and a-half in breadth; and some high ground,[Pg 108] not elsewhere to be found for scores of miles along the Slave Coast, lies a little to the north of it, and forms a pleasing change in the dull level of the surrounding country. The town itself is as dirty and irregular as most native ones, and there is nothing to be seen worth mentioning but the palace of the king, who is, on a smaller scale, an irresponsible and bloodthirsty despot like his friend and ally the King of Dahomey. The royal residence is surrounded by a swish wall, loopholed for musketry and protected by a ditch: it includes, too, buildings for the accommodation of the four or five hundred wives, slaves, dependents, and retainers of his majesty. It is entered by means of a gateway through a house built of sun-dried bricks, with windows on the upper story only, looking outwards; a massive and iron-studded door, with three or four loopholes cut in it, seems to show that the king scarcely considers himself safe from attack even at home.

Opposite to the palace-gate stands a row of fetish-sheds containing specimens of the sculptor’s high art similar to those at Badagry; but here the natives are more attentive to the wants of their deities, and, though they do not give them anything to eat, because food costs money, or rather cowries, they are careful to place before each a brass pan full of water, which is popularly believed to be a more wholesome[Pg 109] beverage for gods than rum, and costs nothing more than the trouble of drawing it. Standing in the full glare of the sun, these pans naturally become empty in the course of time through evaporation, which fact the natives explain by saying that the fetishes drink it, and it is to them ocular proof of the existence and material being of their deities.

Next to the fetish huts is the shed for human sacrifices, to which West African pastime the King of Porto Novo is as partial as the comparatively limited number of his subjects will allow. It reeks with blotches of black and clotted blood, covered with thousands of hungry flies, and is furnished with headsman’s blocks made of a hard and dark wood. A communicative Porto Novan, who was a shopman in one of the French factories in the town, and had been showing me all these sights, pointed to these blocks, and said in French:

“We are always spoken of by you English at Lagos as a cruel people, but these are a proof to the contrary.”

I said, “I should have arrived at an exactly opposite opinion.”

“Ah! then you have not observed closely, Monsieur. Do you not see that each block is hollowed out, so that the man to be beheaded may rest his chin and breast on it in comfort?”

[Pg 110]

“Yes, I see that.”

“Well that proves that we are considerate and kind.”

“You are pleased to be facetious.”

“Far from it, Monsieur, I am serious. I have to repeat that it proves that we are considerate and kind.”

“Does it?”

“Yes. How do you English sacrifice?”

“We don’t sacrifice at all,” I replied.

“Pardon, Monsieur, you hang. And how do you hang? With the absence of gentleness the most great. You bind hand and foot; you do not study the comfort of the man to be put to death.”

“No, not much.”

“Ah! you acknowledge it. Yes, yes; only when you have provided chairs for your people to be sacrificed will you have arrived to our high perception of kindness.”

[Pg 111]


The Niger Delta—Gloomy Region—Cannibals—King Pepple—Bonny-town—Rival Chiefs—Dignitaries of the Church—Missions—Curlews—A Night Adventure—A Bonny Bonne Bouche.

From Lagos I went on to the Oil Rivers, as the numerous outlets in the Niger delta are termed. The Nun mouth is now the recognised entrance of the Niger; its ten western openings are Benin, Escardos, Forcardos, Ramos, Dodo, Pennington, and Middleton rivers, Blind Creek, and Winstanley and Sengana outfalls, and its nine eastern are Brass River or Rio Bento, San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, Sombreiro, San Bartolomeo, New Calabar, Bonny, Antonio, and Opobo rivers. The New Calabar and the Bonny or Obané Rivers discharge into one estuary; and some authorities consider that the latter is not an outfall of the Niger at all.

The trade in these rivers is almost entirely in British hands, and regular trading stations are found at Bonny, New Calabar, Brass, Opobo, and Benin. The natives are independent of British rule, but from time to time treaties have been made for the [Pg 112]regulation of trade, and for the protection of traders. In each river or outfall the traders form a Court of Arbitration, which settles all trade disputes arising between themselves and the natives; and cases of moment are submitted to the consul of the Bights of Benin and Biafra, who resides in the island of Fernando Po. The principal exports are palm-oil, kernels, camwood, and ivory, and it is from the immense quantities of the first commodity annually shipped to England, and there used in the manufacture of tin, butter, soap, and pomade, that the title of Oil Rivers is derived.

It would be difficult to imagine a more depressing and gloomy region than that of the delta of the Niger. On all sides, as far as the eye can reach, one sees nothing but swamp after swamp of countless mangroves, intersected in every direction by foul creeks of reeking and muddy water; while, when the tide is out, vast expanses of black, slimy mud, on which hideous crocodiles bask, are exposed to the sun. It is indeed a horrible and loathsome tract, and it is a matter for wonder that Europeans can be found willing to pass the best years of their lives in such a place. Yet such is the case, and though a large percentage of the white residents annually succumb to the pestilential climate, and all suffer more or less from its effects, the survivors jog along uncomplainingly, and some[Pg 113] even seem in a measure to enjoy their existence—one can hardly call it life.

Wherever any dry land is found on the banks of these rivers, there are established native towns; and opposite these are moored the hulks in which the traders live. Some of these hulks have been fine vessels in their day, and all are very comfortably fitted up and roofed over: the finest is that of the African Steamship Company, the “Adriatic,” which formerly belonged to the White Star Company, and is now moored in Bonny river. Morning after morning the Europeans doomed to a wretched existence in these floating prisons wake up with a feeling of weariness and depression, and look out daily on the same muddy river with its banks of reeking ooze and interminable mangrove swamps. At night time the miasma creeps up from every creek and gradually enfolds all objects in a damp white shroud; while the croaking of the bull-frogs, the cry of a night-bird, and the lapping of the restless tide against the sides of the hulk, are the only sounds that break the oppressive silence. If ever a man were justified in seeking consolation from the flowing bowl it would be in these rivers, which used to be the habitat of the Palm Oil Ruffian, a creature that would not have been tolerated even in Alsatia; but the genus is now rapidly dying out, and soon bids fair to be classed[Pg 114] with the Plesiosaurus and other extinct reptiles. Death seems ever at hand, and here he does not appear, as in some parts of West Africa, clothed with sunlight and the beauties of tropical vegetation, but accompanied by all the imperfections of a sewer-like and miasmatic swamp.

The natives of the Niger delta are, with the exception of the Boobies of Fernando Po, the most degraded and barbarous people found on the West Coast of Africa. They are nearly all cannibals, and devour the prisoners whom they capture in their internecine wars. The horrible climate influences even the aborigines, nearly every second man or woman one sees being covered with sores, or suffering from yaws, elephantiasis, or some equally loathsome disease; and their religious belief and fetish customs are tinged with the gloom which seems to settle over the whole delta.

Very little is known of this part of Africa beyond the actual coast line and the Niger river, up which steamers ascend for some hundreds of miles. Between Benin and the Nun mouth the numerous western outlets have not even been surveyed, and we find on the Admiralty Charts “natives hostile and cannibals.” In that portion of the delta the inhabitants will hold no friendly intercourse with white men. Even in those rivers in which the trading hulks are[Pg 115] moored, Europeans are prevented by the chiefs from ascending the streams; and in the different treaties there is generally a stipulation that the traders shall not attempt to go beyond a certain distance. The reason of this is that the tribes that reside near the mouths of the rivers act as middle-men to the native oil-traders higher up, and they are afraid that if we penetrate beyond a short distance we shall be able to purchase the produce at first hand, and that they will thus lose their percentage or commission.

The chief town in the delta of the Niger is that of Bonny, of which George Pepple is the nominal king; he has, however, no power or influence of any kind, and the real king is old Oko Jumbo, a veteran chief, who has a large trading establishment by the riverside and is very rich and prosperous.

George Pepple is like the average of Christianized negroes in West Africa. A few years ago he was expelled from his kingdom by his subjects, on account of the trouble he was bringing on the community by his habit of obtaining goods from the traders and then repudiating the debt, and went to England to spend the money with which his peculiar method of doing business had provided him. In England he was baptized by the Bishop of London, and made much of by undiscriminating persons. One of his wives had accompanied him, and in London she[Pg 116] acquired a liking for cordial Old Tom, under the influence of which she neglected to treat her liege lord with that deference which he considered his due. Under these circumstances George Pepple determined to execute her, and applied to the Lord Mayor for permission, merely as a matter of form and to show that he knew what was due to the prejudices of foreigners. He was much astonished and annoyed when he learned that such an execution would be deemed a murder, and that the law of England presumed to interfere in purely domestic episodes of this nature. Shortly after this Pepple returned to Bonny; but before leaving England he induced several credulous Englishmen to accompany him, promising them high and lucrative positions about his court and person, such as Master of the Horse, Chief Equerry, Groom in Waiting, and so on. After having made elaborate preparations and being put to the expense of the journey to Bonny, one can imagine the feelings of these men on finding that the palace consisted of a mud hut and the kingdom of a few acres of swamp, even in which limited monarchy his authority was nil. In 1876 Pepple returned to England to try his old plan of obtaining goods on credit, and was again treated as a great African potentate, being entertained by the Lord Mayor, and his daily doings being duly chronicled by the press.[Pg 117] He has lately been released from the durance vile in which his subjects had been keeping him on account of some misdemeanour, but is still under a cloud, as his peculiarities are so well known, and he is treated with but scant ceremony by the natives and traders of Bonny river. As an instance of how little African royalty is in consonance with European, I may mention that Pepple’s eldest son was, until very recently, post-master at Accra with a salary of some 50l. a year.

Bonny-town is the worst and dirtiest to be found on the West Coast of Africa; the houses are small “wattle and daub” structures, and there are no streets even of the poor description that are found in towns on the Gold Coast. The huts are scattered about in indescribable confusion amongst pools of mud, heaps of refuse, and cess-pits; and one cannot walk more than a few hundred yards in any given direction without finding a bar to further progress in the shape of a muddy creek. The Bonny traders do not often honour the town with their presence, nor is there any inducement for them to do so. The Ju-ju house is the only “sight” in Bonny. It is a mud hut in a ruinous condition, in which, piled up in wattle racks, are innumerable human skulls, the remains of persons who have been sacrificed to the Ju-ju, or fetish. A glimpse of these, and of a number[Pg 118] of rudely-carved wooden idols, can be obtained by peeping through an aperture in the broken-down wall of the house; and even this must be done by stealth, as the natives do not care to have white men prying into the mysteries of their religion; and, being quite an independent people, they could inflict any fine or punishment they might think proper on an inquisitive stranger.

The few acres on which Bonny-town is built, a sandy strip at Rough Corner at the eastern entrance of the river, and about two acres on Peterside, opposite Bonny-town, is all the dry land to be found within miles; all else is interminable mangrove swamp, intersected with creeks, to which the sharks from the river-bar come to breed. Should a man fall overboard in Bonny river he is never seen again after the first plunge, and it is supposed that there is a powerful under-current which tows the body under, though others ascribe its disappearance to the ubiquitous sharks.

A visitor to Bonny cannot fail to notice the number of old cannon and carronades lying about uncared-for in the town. These are simply neglected because they are out of date, for the natives of the Niger delta, though so behindhand in civilisation, keep up their armament to the style of the day. There is a battery of four Armstrong guns at Peterside, where[Pg 119] the river is one mile and a-half wide, and there are several of these guns in Bonny-town. When making war upon another tribe, the natives dismount these guns and lash them upon a sort of deck built in the bows of one of their large canoes, which can carry from thirty to forty persons. The gun then is of course immovable, so in action the canoe is manœuvred till the piece points in the right direction, when it is discharged. As they aim point-blank whether the object aimed at be distant a mile or only a few yards, they do not do much execution, except by accident. Besides these Armstrongs there are thousands of breech-loading rifles, Sniders, Martini-Henrys, and Winchester repeaters, in the hands of the natives, almost every man possessing one. These are all imported by British merchants, and are manufactured so cheaply in Birmingham that a trader in the oil rivers can afford to sell a Snider rifle for 2l. and then make a slight profit. Directly these natives obtain such rifles they want to go and try their effect on something, and as they are useless for purposes of sport, except against large game, which is not found in the delta, they go and rake up some old quarrel with an insignificant tribe, and try the efficacy of their weapons upon its members. To this cause may be attributed most of their wars.

Oko Jumbo and Ja-Ja are the rival chiefs of the[Pg 120] eastern outfalls of the Niger; they are both natives of Bonny. Some years back a Government of four regents, of which Oko Jumbo and Ja-Ja were members, was established in Bonny. The two rival chiefs each wished to monopolise the power, quarrels ensued, and finally Ja-Ja seceded and set up a kingdom for himself. Since then each has been endeavouring to outvie the other in the completeness of his war material. No sooner did Ja-Ja hear that his rival at Bonny had Armstrong guns, than he also sent to England for some. Recently a Gatling gun arrived for him, and the Bonny natives are now devoured with rage and envy because they have not one. Oko Jumbo has under his command some 7,000 or 8,000 men, all armed with breech-loading rifles and well supplied with ammunition; and Ja-Ja can put about the same number, similarly armed, into the field. The wars between these chieftains are notorious; one has but lately come to an end, in which several of Ja-Ja’s wives were captured and eaten by the enemy, and judging from the past we may expect another war soon. The bodies of the slain, and some of the prisoners taken, are always eaten by the combatants, and the remainder of the prisoners are sold into slavery. I asked Oko Jumbo why they did not eat all the captives, since they seemed to like that kind of food, and he replied that a good dinner was all very[Pg 121] well in its way, but that it only satisfied one for a day at the most, whereas the rum, tobacco, and cloth purchased with the money obtained for the slaves would be a source of gratification for some weeks. The traders always endeavour to settle disputes between the natives, as during a war the river is closed, no produce is brought down, and their trade is almost at a standstill; they do not, however, seem inclined effectually to put an end to all these petty wars by combining together to refuse to supply the natives with arms and gunpowder.

Bonny-town rejoices in a bishop and an archdeacon of the Church of England, both pure negroes. Notwithstanding the presence of these high dignitaries of the Church, however, Christianity does not flourish in Bonny. The only members of the Mission are the semi-Christianised and semi-civilised negroes from Sierra Leone and Lagos, who by themselves form a small colony. The men of this community are carpenters, coopers, &c., who are employed by the traders; and the women—well, the less that is said about them the better. Among the natives of Bonny itself the missionaries make no converts; some will attend the services for a few weeks, from curiosity or from the hope of obtaining something, and then return to their old habits. The zeal of the missionary is wasted, for the fetish priests, who possess enormous[Pg 122] influence, exercise all their power to prevent any of their followers joining the Mission. This is probably the only reason of the failure, because Christianity amongst negroes only consists in the outward observance of the Sunday ceremonies, and proselytes would have to give up none of their present pleasing practices. Morality is a word which conveys no meaning whatever to the ordinary negro mind. Fetishism is everywhere rampant; before almost every house may be seen a wooden or clay idol, to which offerings of food and drink are daily made, and human sacrifices are not by any means rare. A very common sacrifice to Ju-ju is that of a young girl, who is at low water fastened to a stake firmly imbedded in the river mud, and then left to perish in the rising tide, or to be devoured by sharks or crocodiles.

All English Missions on the West Coast of Africa, of whatever denomination, are an utter failure. Their custom is to get children to attend their schools, and then administer doses of religion to them, with the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Now, in the first place, the advantage of these acquirements does not very much strike the average negro parent, and, in the second place, the schools turn out annually scores of youths who are only fitted, educationally, to become shopmen and subordinate clerks and bookkeepers. There being only a limited demand for such[Pg 123] persons, it follows that the majority of the Mission ex-pupils can obtain no employment of that kind; they consider themselves, on account of what they call their superior education, above work, and so, having nothing else to do, they devote their minds and acquirements to the swindling of their more ignorant fellow-countrymen; and some of them, establishing themselves as clerks and advisers to the bush chiefs, do incalculable mischief.

The German Missions follow a much better plan. To each Mission is attached a European carpenter, blacksmith, cooper, tailor, or shoemaker, as a sort of lay-brother, and the pupils are taught these trades. The immense advantage of having his children taught a trade gratuitously is patent to the most careless negro parent, and he sends his children to the school accordingly; while in after-life they have the means of earning an honest livelihood, and becoming useful members of the community. Accra now supplies almost the whole of the Gold Coast and the Niger delta with artisans, because a German Mission has been established at Christiansborg for years, where the system of inculcating the great fact that honest and useful labour is much more praiseworthy than idle psalm-singing has been steadfastly pursued. I should advise those quasi-philanthrophists, who prefer squandering their money on the utopian negro to relieving[Pg 124] the necessities of the poor of their own country, to withdraw their support from the English societies and transfer it to the Basle and Bremen Missions.

The only recreation which Bonny affords is curlew-shooting, which I enjoyed several times with my host of the “Adriatic.” Towards sun-set, when the curlew began to fly down towards their feeding-ground at Breaker Island at the mouth of the river, we used to take a boat up one of the numerous creeks, run her on to the mud at one side, and proceed to make a screen of mangrove branches. From behind this leafy cover we bagged many a bird on its flight down the creek. The number of guanas found in these channels is enormous; when keeping perfectly quiet under our cover we could see dozens upon dozens of them, some four or five feet in length, crawling about on the opposite bank, or leaping out of the water in pursuit of fish. This reptile is sacred, or fetish, at Bonny, as is the python in Dahomey and the crocodile at Accra.

It is advisable on such shooting excursions to be accompanied by somebody who knows the river. On my return to Bonny later on, after visiting Old Calabar, the doctor of the steamer and I nearly came to grief through going by ourselves. We left the ship shortly before sunset, and steered towards a long and narrow mud-bank down the river, where we had[Pg 125] noticed that thousands of birds went to feed at nightfall. We reached the bank just as the light was beginning to fail; the cries of innumerable waterfowl rose from the mud, and we congratulated ourselves on being about to make a good bag. To our great annoyance we found, after following the sinuosities of the bank for some time, that we could not get within range from the boat; but, as we did not intend to be disappointed in that way, we got out and waded through the slime, dragging the boat a short way with us, till we reached what we considered a safe spot to leave it on. It was now nearly dark, but we could see the white plumage of hundreds of pelicans and other waterfowl a short distance off, so we both fired. An indescribable clamour of screams and cries followed the reports, as myriads of birds rose from the mud and wheeled and circled overhead. We reloaded, picked up our birds, and waited. Gradually the cries became fewer and fewer, and at last the whole flock settled down upon the furthest end of the bank. We were not satisfied with what we had got (what sportsman ever is?), so we gained the crest of the bank, where the footing was firmer, and proceeded to walk towards our prey, about three-quarters of a mile distant. We there repeated the former process with equal success, and turned to retrace our steps to our boat.

[Pg 126]

When we had accomplished about half the distance a horrible shiver, or tremor, seemed to stir the whole surface of the mud, and we both sank to our knees in slime. I never felt such fear before: I did not need any one to tell me what that ghastly tremor prognosticated; I knew we were on a quick-sand, or rather quick-mud, and that the tide must be coming in, and the prospect of being sucked down and smothered in reeking ooze was not a pleasant one. We drew our legs from the quivering mass, and tried to run in the direction in which we had left our boat. Worse and worse: we sank deeper and deeper at every step, the darkness, too, grew ever denser; we feared that our boat had been carried away by the rising tide, and we knew not which way to turn to extricate ourselves—assistance, we well knew, there was none. As the mud appeared a little firmer to our left we moved on to it, and waited in silence, panting and breathless from our late exertions. The birds, who had been the cause of our getting into this fix, came wheeling round overhead, and their cries echoed weirdly in the deathly stillness of the night. I said to the doctor—

“Let us fire off our guns together—somebody may hear us—It’s our only chance.”

“I don’t think it’s any use.”

“Well, let us try anyhow.”

[Pg 127]

We fired three or four times, but heard nothing except the lap lap of the tide as it gradually drew nearer to us, and the screams of the frightened birds. Presently a ripple of water came along and washed our ancles, for our feet were buried, and almost simultaneously the doctor sank to the armpits. I thought it was all over then, but I loaded mechanically and fired once more. The report had scarcely died away before my companion shouted excitedly:—

“I saw something white behind you, by the flash of your gun—perhaps it’s hard sand.”

I helped him up on to the firmer mud where I was standing, and we tried to make our way towards what he had seen. After about two paces we both sank to our waists, and, in trying to get out, floundered on to our faces; but when our heads were thus raised but little above the level of the slime we could see, dimly through the darkness, a white crest about twenty yards off. It was a ridge of sand. How we got through the intervening distance I do not know; but, partly swimming, partly crawling and floundering along, we at last felt the dry sand under our hands, and, drawing ourselves up to the top of the little bank, fell down utterly done up.

We neither of us said anything for some time, and then we began complaining about the loss of our guns and hats, and wishing for something with which to[Pg 128] take the taste of the mud out of our mouths. We could not see each other, it was too dark, but we must have looked pretty objects, clothed from head to foot in a coating of black mud which smelt—unpleasantly. Soon we began to shiver with cold, and there was no room for exercise; the minutes dragged on their flight as if they were leaden, and we thought the night would never come to an end. At last, after about two hours, we heard a faint halloo in the distance. We shouted in reply until we were quite hoarse and our throats sore; then the cry was repeated, and we knew we were all right. Soon we heard the creaking of rowlocks, and a boat glided up to us. We were not sorry to see it.

In 1879 a Member of Parliament, an extremely rara avis on the West Coast of Africa, visited Bonny in his yacht, and the traders still narrate the following harrowing tale about him. They say that one morning, being on shore, he strolled into old Oko Jumbo’s house about 11 a.m., and found that veteran warrior at breakfast. He was asked to partake of the meal, and, being anxious to try the native cookery, acquiesced. A black clay dish full of some oleaginous stew was set before him, which he eyed askance, and finally tasted with doubt. A little fiery perhaps, owing to the native liking for red peppers, but otherwise not bad: so he plunged his spoon in and fell to[Pg 129] like a man. After a few mouthfuls he unearthed from the bottom of the dish a curious-looking object. A cold shudder convulsed his frame, and he looked closely. He could distinguish what seemed like five fingers and the palm of a hand, and, seized with a violent nervous contraction of the diaphragm, he leaped from the table and leaned out of a window. After a little he looked back into the room with brimming eyes, a haggard brow, and a mind full of the tales of the cannibal propensities of the natives of Bonny. He approached the old chief with tottering limbs, and one hand pressed upon the abdominal region, and inquired:—

“What’s in that dish?”

“Me no sabe—no eat him dish yet.”

“You old scoundrel, it’s ’long pig’:” and again he rushed with exceeding swiftness to look at the prospect out of the window.

When he had recovered, he took his hat and stick sorrowfully, and staggered down the steps. Just as he was stepping into the boat, one of Oko Jumbo’s slaves came running up with the identical black dish that had been the cause of all this woe. The enraged legislator brandished his stick and said:—

“What do you want? What do you mean by bringing that here?”

“Master said he thought you wanted it.”

[Pg 130]

“No, I don’t—take it out of my sight.”

Just as the boy was going he thought he might as well add a little to his stock of information, and added:—

“I suppose that’s one of Ja Ja’s babies, eh?”

“Which, Master?”

“Why that in the stew, you fool.”

A serene smile broke out over the interesting countenance of the youth as he replied:—

“Piccin? This no piccin chop. No war palaver live now. Him Guana.”

[Pg 131]


Old Calabar—Duke Town—Capital Punishments—Moistening the Ancestral Clay—A Surgeon’s Liabilities—Man-eaters—A Mongrel Consul—Curious Judgments.

From Bonny I went on to the Old Calabar river, called by the natives Kalaba and Oróne, which, though always included with the outfalls of the Niger under the general title of Oil Rivers, is an entirely distinct stream. After twenty hours’ steaming from Bonny we entered the estuary of the river, and, crossing the bar, ascended the stream, which, in comparison with the wide reach of Bonny river, seemed small and contracted, though it is of fair size, and very deep. About ten miles from the bar we passed Parrot Island, an isle in the centre of the river, covered with a dense growth of mangrove trees, and entered upon a narrower channel to the right of the island. The banks were thickly wooded, and it was a strange sight to see a large steamer pursuing its way in the midst of a dense forest, and within a stone’s throw of the bank. The far-spreading branches brushed the yards of the ship, and the alligators, disturbed by the stroke of the propeller, lazily crawled out of the black[Pg 132] mud in which they had been wallowing. As at this part of the stream the navigable channel follows very closely the eastern bank, it is no uncommon occurrence for sailing-ships ascending and descending to get their rigging fouled with the overhanging branches.

Thirty miles from the entrance of the river we anchored off Duke-town, where lie the hulks of the traders: the stream here is half-a-mile in breadth, and there is sufficient draught of water for vessels of 2,000 tons.

Duke-town is more pleasantly situated, better built, and larger, than Bonny-town, and the natives are of a less barbarous type. The town stands on a hill which slopes gently towards the river, and behind it the ground rises into a kind of plateau, a good deal of which is under cultivation, and where there is a thriving American Mission station. For the European traders, however, who live in hulks and very rarely go ashore, Old Calabar is perhaps a more unpleasant place of residence than Bonny. Opposite and below Duke-town are the same mangrove swamps, at low water the same reeking mud, at night the same malarial fog; while the water of the river is of a more filthy description than that of Bonny (to bathe in it is said to cause a loathsome skin disease); the stream is only one-third of the width of the former, and Duke-town, being so far inland, is deprived of[Pg 133] the sea-breeze, which at Bonny helps one to drag out a miserable existence; the heat, therefore, is most oppressive.

The name of Duke-town is derived from a native family of high rank which has adopted the European patronymic of Duke, and two principal members of which, Prince Duke and Henshaw Duke, are among the leading chiefs of the place. As the possession of Armstrong guns and munitions of war is considered a sign of wealth and authority in Bonny, so here a man’s status is fixed by the style of house he inhabits. This hobby is carried to such a length that the chiefs have wooden houses sent out to them from England and Germany, and keep European carpenters in their pay to erect them and keep them in repair. Some of these houses bristle with turrets, porticoes, verandahs, and bow-windows, and the chief whose residence has the largest number of these appendages is the one who makes the greatest show of wealth and influence.

Although in this respect the natives of Old Calabar seem more amenable to civilising influences than those of Bonny, there is not equal superiority displayed in their customs, except in the absence of the practice of cannibalism. Their treatment of criminals, for instance, is marked by great cruelty. When a native is detected in the commission of any serious offence, such as murder or theft, he is gagged, laid[Pg 134] across an upturned canoe, his back broken by blows from heavy clubs, and his body thrown into the river. Sometimes they vary their modus operandi, and, after gagging the culprit, they truss him like a fowl, and fastening him to stakes driven into the mud at low water leave him to be drowned or devoured by alligators.

A curious local custom is that called “Feeding the Dead.” When they bury their dead, the relatives, before the earth is filled into the grave, place a tube, formed of bamboo, or pithy wood with the pith extracted, and sufficiently long to protrude from the earth heaped up over the body, into the mouth of the deceased; and down this they pour, from time to time, palm wine, water, palm oil, &c. They appear to imagine that dead men do not require solid food at all, and, as they only pour the liquids down two or three times a month, are not very thirsty souls. They believe that after death the deceased suffers from the same bodily ailments as he did in life, and sometimes very filial natives will go to the doctor of a steamer, and simulate the complaint from which the paternal or maternal ancestor suffered, in order that they may obtain the requisite medicine to pour down the grave. One day a lad, son of a late chief, came to the resident doctor of the river and said:—

“Doctor, my foot sick. Gimme some med’cine.”

[Pg 135]

“What’s the matter with it?” inquired the doctor.

“Him swell up—fit to burst—can’t walk no more.”

The Galen of the river examined the foot, and, finding it perfectly sound and healthy, and not swollen in the least, assumed an enraged aspect, and demanded fiercely—

“What d’you mean by telling me these lies?”

“Please, master, not my foot sick, my fader foot sick.”

“Then tell him to come here himself.”

“He can’t come—they put him ground already.”

“D’you mean he’s dead?”

“Yes, master—him dead now ’bout three month.”

“Then what d’you mean by coming here? Get out of this.”

“Master, I want the med’cine for sick foot same as I tell you. I want to give him my fader, he no get med’cine since he put in ground. I know him foot plenty sick now.”

“Well, I’ll give you some if you pay for it.”

“I no get money, master.”

“Then you won’t get any medicine.”

The filial affection of these people is not such that they will expend coin of the realm in the purchase of medicine or drink for their dead parents. They do not give them rum for instance. The ancestral clay[Pg 136] only gets moistened with palm wine or water, while the more exhilarating beverage goes down their own throats. Perhaps they think that ghosts have weak heads and cannot stand mundane spirits.

The natives of Old Calabar extend the liabilities of a surgeon to an extent that would be most appalling to practitioners of surgery if it were generally adopted in Europe. A doctor on this river was once called to a case in which a boy had had his leg crushed and fearfully lacerated by an alligator, and, to save the boy’s life, amputated the leg above the knee. It was a very complicated case, as there were other injuries besides; but after much trouble and hard work his efforts were crowned with success, and the patient was declared out of danger. Not many days after he had ceased visiting the wounded boy he descried, while sitting on the deck of the hulk in which he resided, a canoe being paddled towards him; which, as it drew nearer, he could see contained the parents, brothers, and sisters of his late patient and the patient himself. He thought they were coming to express their gratitude and thankfulness to him for saving the life of their beloved relative, and with the pleased self-consciousness of having performed a virtuous action prepared to receive them. When the family had climbed up the ladder on to the deck they solemnly and sadly, and in dead silence, supporting[Pg 137] the crippled boy in their midst, approached the doctor; and then, depositing their burden at his feet, retired hurriedly to the ladder as if to go away again. The astonished benefactor, wondering what this could mean, called them back and asked for an explanation of their behaviour. Then broke forth a torrent of woe; they lifted up their voices in lamentation, and said that he had cut off the leg of their poor son and brother; he had crippled him for life, so that now he could not work or be of any use to them; he had taken all the joy out of their beloved relative’s life, and maimed him so that he had become a bye-word and a jest, and that consequently he must support him. They added thoughtfully that if he liked to pay a daily sum for the boy’s subsistence they would take care of him and not make any charge for lodging. The doctor was at first overwhelmed by this unexpected assault, but soon recovering himself, he, in an injured tone, taxed them with ingratitude, pointed out to them that he had only taken off the leg to save the boy’s life, and that if he had not done so the child would have died, and have been lost to them altogether. Upon this the family with renewed tribulation declared that it would have been better if the boy had died, as then they would only have incurred the comparatively trifling expense of the funeral custom; whereas now they would have to keep him all his life if his mutilator[Pg 138] did not do his duty and support him; and all this time the boy himself lay silent on the deck, looking at his saviour with mournful and reproachful eyes, that seemed to say “look at the condition to which you have reduced me.” The argument was carried on until at last, finding that the family was not amenable to reason, the doctor had the whole of them turned out of the ship. After that he thought that the matter was settled and that he would hear no more of it, but these poor injured people were not going to let him off so easily. A few days later, when he went ashore, they met him in the street, laid the cripple at his feet, and again filled the air with cries of woe and abuse of the doctor. He tried to escape them, but when he moved on they followed wailing with their maimed boy; if he walked fast, so did they; when he stopped they stopped too, and formed a lamenting circle round him; when he went into a house they congregated on the doorstep and made conversation impossible with their complaints; and at last he had to fly for refuge to his hulk. Every time he went on shore this was repeated; until at last he had to give up going out, and was confined to the ship altogether. When the importunate parents discovered this they came out in a canoe, and day after day paddled round the vessel, yelling out their grievances in discordant and dismal tones. It was too much for the[Pg 139] unfortunate doctor, his life became a misery to him, and at last he flung up his lucrative practice, exchanged with another doctor, and went off to one of the Niger outfalls. Surgical operations are not now in high favour with doctors on the Old Calabar river.

I have said that the original cause of all this trouble was an alligator who had been seized with an uncontrollable desire to dine off the leg of a boy, and man-eaters of this description are not by any means uncommon in this part of the world. Women washing clothes, men fishing, and children dabbling about by the edge of the water, are frequently seized and dragged into the river by alligators. Sometimes these monsters will even attack men on shore, and, a few days before my arrival, a watchman, who was on duty over a corrugated iron store on the river bank, was seized in the night, some thirty yards from the brink of the water, by an alligator, and dragged into the stream. The cries of the man alarmed the neighbourhood, but those who hastened to his assistance found nothing to show what had become of him but pools of blood and the trail of the alligator in the mud. A short distance above Duke-town are the remains of two or three old hulks, lying rotting in the mud, which are a favourite resort of these alligators; and any one dropping down with the tide in a boat can see scores of these disgusting creatures, from[Pg 140] fifteen to twenty feet long, basking on them. They are very wary, because they are so often shot at, and at the slightest creak of an oar in a rowlock all will stand up to their full height, moving their heads up and down in exactly the same manner as do lizards when alarmed; and directly they catch sight of a boat they plunge into the water.

I went up the river one day to get a shot at these, or any others I might see, but it was under circumstances that made success as probable as it would be if one went out alligator-shooting accompanied by a brass band in full blast. I went with a youth, who, from having been a clerk to one of the traders in the river, had, by the death of Consul Hopkins, a man universally admired and respected in West Africa, been suddenly thrust into the position of Acting Consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra. I never saw a better illustration of the old saying about being clothed in a little brief authority. In the eyes of this hybrid official the paraphernalia of office were of paramount importance, and, as he had no consular uniform of his own, he had donned, despite the unsuitableness in point of size, the garments of the late consul. The new man was very tall, whereas his predecessor had been short; the consequence of which difference was that there was a woeful hiatus between the termination of the short jacket with brass buttons[Pg 141] and the band of the continuations, which gap exposed to view a vast region of not very clean shirt. The gold-laced cap of office was too small, and on the head of the gallant youth presented very much the same appearance as would a thimble upon the top of an orange. He wore it in and out of season; and I shall never forget the consternation and horror which was depicted on his countenance, when, through yawning in a moment of forgetfulness, it slipped from its perch and fell into the river; nor how he strove to console himself, and make the best of his loss, by rushing to the purser of the homeward-bound steamer, and asking him to bring out three new ones for him next trip. It was in the boat of this magnificent official that I went up the river. It was a gorgeous gig, with an awning astern and brass fittings; he would abate none of his glory, and took his six oarsmen, in consequence of which the splashing of the oars and the creaking of the rowlocks awoke the echoes of the forest, and frightened every bird, beast, and reptile within half-a-mile. Of course we saw nothing, and did not fire a shot.

While I was at Old Calabar this “Jack in Office” had an opportunity of displaying his judicial authority and legal acumen. Two Kroomen on board the mail steamer were charged by the Captain with having broken open a bale out of the cargo, and appropriated[Pg 142] the contents. The accused protested their innocence, and the only evidence against them was that of another Krooman, who said that he had found the covering of the missing bale, which was easily known by its marks, in a part of the hold near which he had seen the two prisoners, but to which any one in the ship had access. This was quite enough for the Acting Consul: he sentenced the men to three dozen lashes each, which he waited to see administered, and then he handed them over, though they were natives of Sierra Leone and consequently British subjects, to an independent native chief to be kept in slavery. This was tantamount to giving an official approval to the practice of slavery; and had it occurred in any other part of the world more would have been heard of it, but no one troubles himself about such things in West Africa.

[Pg 143]


Sierra Leone—More Civility—Cobras—A Guilty Conscience—Naval Types—Freetown Society—A Musical Critic—The Rural Districts—A British Atrocity.

On January 1st, 1881, I returned once more to Sierra Leone. I found the place and people very much improved, which improvement was, I believe, entirely due to the action of the late Governor, Sir Samuel Rowe, who had consequently acquired the cordial hatred of all the Sierra Leone lower classes. Future Governors need not however lose heart; there is still something left for them to do, and, if they are only sufficiently energetic, they will have no difficulty in gaining that unpopularity with the natives which is, in West Africa, more honourable than popularity.

Civility to Europeans is still one of the weak points of the Sierra Leonians. Two or three days after my arrival some enterprising burglar ransacked my quarters during my absence, and removed everything which he considered worth taking. Suspicion fell upon the occupants of a certain house in the town, and a search-warrant was issued. As it was necessary that the stolen articles should be at once identified,[Pg 144] if found, I had to accompany the police who went to examine this den; but, as the aroma of such dwellings is not usually pleasant, I allowed them to go into the house, and went and sat down on a rock by the roadside under the shade of a tree.

While so sitting, a Sierra Leone gentleman, whom I had seen for some distance coming along the road towards me, drew nigh, and lifted up his voice and spake, saying:—

“Hullo, you white nigger—what you do here, eh?”

I pretended to be deeply abstracted in the examination of the soil at my feet, and made no answer; while he continued, working himself into a passion as he proceeded—

“Heigh, you white nigger. You too proud to talk, eh? Dam brute.”

A small crowd began to collect and make facetious remarks at my expense, so I said to my annoyer:—

“If you don’t go away I’ll call the police.”

“Heigh! hear dat. You call de police, white nigger? Me call de police, and give you in charge for ’ssault. All dese gen’lmen here saw you ’ssault me—dam brute.”

At this moment, fortunately, for I was beginning to feel a little displeased at this language, the sergeant of the police came out of the house, and I called him. Quite a change at once came o’er the spirit of the[Pg 145] scene; my antagonist, crestfallen, executed a skilful flank movement up a bye-street, covering his retreat by a continuous and heavy fire of abuse, while his supports scattered and sought the nearest cover.

I could not have had this man locked up for what he had done, but the law is a beautiful and far-reaching, if somewhat complex, machine, and of course I could have a legal remedy. It only required the few following little preliminaries. Firstly, I should have had to ascertain the name of the individual; secondly, discover his place of residence; thirdly, attend and take out a summons against him; fourthly, pay for it; fifthly, have it served on the defendant; and sixthly, have a day appointed for the hearing of the case. Then, after having satisfied, if possible, these first requirements, it would be necessary for me to go down to the town in the heat of the day, and remain in a crowded and suffocating court for perhaps hours, subjected to the insidious insinuations and brow-beatings of a negro lawyer, who would very likely after all turn the tables on me by producing fifteen or twenty witnesses, all thoroughly well schooled in what they had to say, who would swear that I had perpetrated a vindictive and brutal assault upon a poor black brother who had merely asked me what o’clock it was. Even if I did succeed in obtaining a conviction, the defendant would only be[Pg 146] bound over to keep the peace; and he would incite his relatives and friends to give me plenty of entertainment during my residence in the country.

This of course is only one side of the question, and, I am bound to say on the other side, that the servants of the two steamship companies, which run vessels from Liverpool to West Africa, are a great deal too free in the violent application of their boots to the persons of negroes who may go on board the steamers; so perhaps the latter retaliate on those Europeans who live in the place as a kind of compensation.

An otherwise friendly critic thought it strange that this should be the state of things at Sierra Leone. It is strange; but then things are not on the West Coast of Africa as they are elsewhere. In what other colony, for instance, could one find a Colonial official, holding a high position and drawing a large salary, who advanced money to all applicants on the security of jewelry and such small portable articles of value, or in what part of the British Empire an officer, head of a Colonial department, who uses his influence to persuade his negro subordinates to insure their lives in a company for which he is agent, thereby pocketing a commission of twenty-five or thirty per cent. on each policy?

I do not think I have hitherto made any mention[Pg 147] of the black cobras-di-capello which are the pest of the barracks at Tower Hill. These playful companions seem to have a particular predilection for the sunny banks and rocks of that hill, and, during my two months’ residence there in 1874, four were killed within five or ten yards of the officers’ mess; but they appear to have become much more familiar of late years, and, a few days after my arrival, one was seen, and another killed, in a bedroom on the second story. As a bite from one of these snakes causes certain death within three hours, one would wish to have less dangerous domestic creatures at large. There must be hundreds of them in the vicinity of the barracks, as I have seen eight or nine myself at different times; and while walking up the hill one evening in the dusk barely escaped treading on one, being only just warned in time by a shrill hiss. These cobras usually go about in couples, and during the breeding season they will, though totally unmolested, make direct for any person who may happen to approach them.

Apropos of snakes,—a naval officer had rather an amusing adventure with one at Tower Hill. He had come ashore, from a gunboat lying in the harbour, to dine at mess; and, as is usually the case, had suddenly discovered, after the third or fourth rubber, about 11 p.m., that he could not get off to his ship that[Pg 148] night, and must trespass upon somebody’s kindness for a bed. He was assisted to a room, and the lights were being put out in the mess when we heard a series of wild shouts up stairs, and then a noise as of some heavy body thumping and banging down the steps. We ran out into the passage, and discovered the naval man lying curled up, half undressed, at the bottom of the stair-case; so we lifted him up and asked what was the matter. He appeared very much frightened, and gasped out:—

“Oh, Lord! I’ve got them at last.”

“Got what?” we inquired.

“Oh, Lord: I’ve got them at last—Oh, send for a doctor will you. I’ll never touch another drop of that cursed ship’s rum, if I get over this.”

“But what have you got?” we reiterated.

“Got? I’ve got the jumps—that’s what I’ve got.”

“Nonsense! go to bed! you’re all right.”

“I tell you I’m not. I could have sworn I saw a snake in my bed just now, and that’s one of the first signs.”

He was so eager to see a doctor that we took him to one, and then went up to examine his room. True enough there was a snake, coiled up in the blanket on his bed. It was a python, which had escaped from a cage in which several were confined in an adjoining[Pg 149] room. Two of us seized it by the head and two by the tail to take it back to its prison. As we were carrying it along it drew itself up and our four heads collided together with a crash; then it straightened itself out, and we shot off violently towards the four corners of the room; it required the united efforts of six men to remove that snake to his own domicile. This adventure shows what a guilty conscience will effect; and it was the more amusing because the naval hero had, not with the best taste, been loudly proclaiming that he was almost a teetotaller, that all military officers were drunkards, and that nobody ever died in West Africa except from the effect of ardent spirits. He went away rather early next morning without waiting to say “good-bye” to anybody.

I wonder what has become of the jovial, open-handed, and open-hearted naval officers that one reads about in works of fiction, and who continually interlard their conversation with nautical expressions; one never meets any of this description now-a-days, in fact quite the contrary; and I am half inclined to believe that they never were more than creatures of the imagination, but if ever they did exist the species is now extinct. The life that naval officers lead shut up in a floating tank on the West Coast of Africa is horrible; sometimes they do not set foot on shore for[Pg 150] months together, but lie day after day, rolling fearfully, off a few mud huts and a grove of cocoanut palms. They have hardly any work to do, and, as but few of them have any resources of amusement or occupation, they as a natural consequence quarrel amongst themselves; and in almost every gunboat one finds the five or six officers divided into two or three cliques, each of which will have nothing to say to either of the others, except on official matters. This sort of thing is rather unpleasant for any stranger who may happen to be on board. First of all one will come up and enter into conversation with you, during which he is sure to say:—

“Do you know that man over there?”

“No, I don’t,” you reply.

“Ah! his name is Blank. He is the most awful ass I ever met—I shouldn’t have anything to say to him if I were you.”

Then he goes away, and he is barely out of sight before another saunters up and begins talking. Presently he will say:—

“Do you know Smith well?”

“No, who’s Smith?” you inquire.

“Oh, that was Smith that was talking to you just now. He’s the most inveterate liar I ever met—you must never believe anything he tells you.”

Then after he has gone away Blank will come[Pg 151] forward, and after a few preliminary sentences casually inform you that both Smith and your second acquaintance are confirmed drunkards. No sooner has Blank moved off than the confidential naval officer, who calls you “old man” and speaks in low and thick tones, will draw nigh and tell you what the failings of every officer on board may be; finally leaving you under the impression that every one but himself is thoroughly incapable, untrustworthy, and of intemperate habits, and that were it not for him the ship would go to the dogs.

I was once on board a man-of-war for a few days in which this unsociability was carried to such a degree that at the gun-room mess every officer, at breakfast and tea, used to produce, from the depths of his bunk, a pot of jam, or a tin of potted meat, and devour it all by himself without offering it or saying a word to his comrades.

Then there is the naval officer, who, before you have fairly set foot on board, rushes at you and informs you that you have omitted saluting the quarter-deck; and who always loses his temper when you tell him that you do not know where it is, and are looking for it; and the self-asserting man who is perpetually telling you what his relative rank is. I remember an individual of this latter class, who when a guest at a military detachment mess, the[Pg 152] senior dining member of which was a captain, kept remarking.—

“You know I’m senior to all you fellows. As I’m a lieutenant of eight years’ service I rank with a major.”

He might have ranked with a major-general for all any one cared, but after he had said this at intervals some nine or ten times it began to become monotonous; so somebody said, as if to the punkah:—

“I’ve often heard that remark made before, but I never yet heard a major in the army boast that he ranked with a lieutenant in the navy.”

Society at Sierra Leone is in a very bad way; in fact from an English point of view one may say that there is no society at all. The only Europeans in the place are the officers of the garrison, the Colonial officials, and a few shop-keepers, who, although they will sell anything from three-pence worth of rum upwards, rejoice here in the title of merchants. Ladies there are none, except on the few occasions on which an officer’s wife may be found residing at Tower Hill, so what little society there is consists of men alone, and is composed of the most heterogeneous elements. Most of the so-called merchants appear to have sprung from the lower strata of English life, many of them have black wives, and a large majority of the Colonial officers are coloured;[Pg 153] the Governors never seem to make the slightest attempt to collect around themselves the more cultivated members of the Colony, and everybody does that which seems good in his own eyes. The élite of the coloured population sometimes get up balls, similar to the one I witnessed at Lagos, and which like it usually terminate in an orgie, and to these Europeans are occasionally invited; but it is only those who have no sense of the ludicrous, or who have their facial muscles well under control, that can afford to go. The retailing of scandal seems to be the principal occupation of the town society, and if one were to place implicit credence in the tales and gossip which abound one would inevitably arrive at the conclusion that there was not an honourable man or a virtuous woman in the place.

In by-gone years the officers of the garrison used to inaugurate races, and a tract of ground near Kissi, on which stands a diminutive grand-stand, is still called the race-course; but now the sole amusement of the colony is the performance of the band of the regiment therein stationed, on the green patch of ground known as the Battery. This performance takes place once a week, but the majority of the people are too lazy and apathetic to go to hear it, and, with the exception of a few Colonial officers and some forty or fifty ragged children, the musicians discourse[Pg 154] to empty air. There was one Colonial officer who was a regular attendant on band days, and whose principal aim in life seemed to be to pose as an authority on music before the uninitiated. As he knew nothing whatever of the science, and had successfully picked up the phrases used in music without in the least understanding their meaning, he frequently entangled himself in the most irretrievable confusion, and was a source of much amusement.

One day the band was playing Gounod’s Serenade, and during the performance the critic walked round and round as usual, beating time in the air with his walking-stick, and assailing every inoffensive bystander with a hailstorm of scientific jargon. When the piece was finished he nodded approval and said:—

“Ah! pretty thing—pretty thing. Fine scale of minor fifths. Let me see; what is it called?”

“That? Oh! it’s one of Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes,’” said somebody.

“Yes, yes. Of course it is. Whistler’s ‘Nocturne.’ How stupid of me to forget the name.”

It is said that this connoisseur once remarked that the Marquois scale was most difficult for a beginner on the flute; but that, when once learned, it was so beautiful as to well repay all trouble.

The peninsula of Sierra Leone is, exclusive of Freetown, divided into various rural districts, known[Pg 155] as the First Eastern, Second Eastern, Western, and Mountain districts. In addition to these the outlying territories of British Sherbro, the Isles de Los, and Ki-Konkeh at the mouth of the Scarcies river, form integral portions of the Colony. The Mountain district is very picturesque and affords some fine views, especially in the neighbourhood of Regent, where the Sugar Loaf, a densely-wooded peak about 3000 feet in height, towers over the little village. At Leicester Park, 1990 feet high, the Government have lately purchased a building called the Hospice, which had been constructed by the Roman Catholic Mission, 1495 feet above the sea, and it is used as a kind of sanitarium. Living up in these mountains takes one into an entirely different atmosphere to that of the town, and it is decidedly more healthy, except during the rainy season, when sometimes for days together the mountains are shrouded in clouds, and a drenching mist drives in at every opened door and window. These mountains all abound in deer and other game, but the cover is so dense that they are rarely seen; and to endeavour to beat up a ravine or valley is an expensive operation, as fifty or sixty beaters are required, all of whom want to be paid unreasonably highly for their services.

The Eastern district may be described as the frontier district of the peninsula, it being bounded by[Pg 156] the Waterloo creek and Ribbi river, which separate it from Timmanee country. The Timmanees periodically commit outrages on British subjects, and small wars ensue. These wars are, however, almost invariably bloodless; as the natives, on the approach of a disciplined force, at once evacuate their towns and take refuge in the forest. The towns are then destroyed and the troops and police return to Freetown, to wait until the natives have repaired the damage done, and begin their pillaging and murdering afresh.

In 1880 the Timmanees, who had been quiet for some time, began making disturbances; and the inhabitants of the village of Waterloo could not leave their homes without being murdered, or, at all events, fired upon. A handful of men was accordingly sent out from the garrison of Freetown, a few Timmanee villages burned, and order restored. During this small campaign a surgeon who accompanied the force committed a most unheard-of outrage. The bodies of a number of friendly natives, who had been killed by the Timmanees, had been placed in a pit, but not covered with earth, in order that the officers who were sent to restore order might actually see what the Timmanees had done. Upon this pit, about a week after the corpses had been placed in it, the surgeon chanced to light. To the astonishment and disgust of[Pg 157] those who were with him he immediately sprang into it, and, drawing his sword, proceeded to hack off three or four heads from the bodies. Some of the relatives of the murdered men came running up, and their indignation and horror at this mutilation can be better imagined than described. Notwithstanding all they could say the surgeon continued his work until he had obtained sufficient specimens. He then clambered out, put the heads in a calabash, and walked off: remarking in a jocular manner that he had fleshed his maiden sword. On arriving at his boat he appeared surprised and annoyed that any one should blame him for what he had done, and when the officer in charge of the boat refused to take his ghastly cargo on board his indignation knew no bounds. Should a Turk impale a Bulgarian, or a Montenegrin cut the ears off a dead Turk, the whole of England is convulsed with horror, and the entire diplomatic machinery of the country set at work to discover and punish the offender; but in West Africa, when a British officer wantonly mutilates the dead, nothing is said about the matter. Can it be a subject for surprise that the natives of this part of the world should be barbarous, when such examples as this are set them by those whom they consider their superiors?

[Pg 158]


British Sherbro—The Bargroo River Expedition—Professional Poisoners—An African Bogey—A Secret Society—A Strange Story—A Struggle with Sharks—Startling News from the Gold Coast.

To the south of the peninsula of Sierra Leone lies the tract of low-lying country called British Sherbro, which was acquired by treaty with the natives in 1862, though Sherbro Island has been British for a much longer period. It is intersected by numerous rivers such as the Valtucker, Tittibul, Bargroo, Jong, Mongray, and Boom Kittam, which with their numberless tributaries form a complete network over the country.

The King of Sherbro was formerly one of the largest and most notorious slave-dealers in this part of the world; and, on three different occasions, the British naval squadron destroyed his town and slave barracoons. Even to the present day, though domestic slavery is nominally abolished, the inland traffic in slaves still flourishes in this region.

The Sherbros, like the Timmanees, are utter savages, and it is to these people that the world is largely indebted for the practices of Obeah and [Pg 159]professional poisoning. They, however, show more aptitude for manufactures than the Timmanees, and weave a cloth of a beautiful texture and curious pattern, from indigenous cotton dyed with vegetable dyes. Some travellers have professed to discover some affinity between this tribe and the Kaffirs of South Africa, but upon what they based their assumption I have never been able to discover. There is no similarity in language, and but very slight resemblance in customs; in fact no greater than might be expected between the customs of the races inhabiting the same continent, and both equally plunged in barbarism. Their architecture, if hut-building may be so termed, is entirely different; and they sometimes use the bow and arrow, while it is the absence of that implement of war that has always specially distinguished the Kaffirs from the negro tribes living to the north, and the Hottentots and Bushmen to the south.

The Sherbros are a turbulent and restless people, and disturbances in British Sherbro are of almost yearly occurrence. Beginning from 1848, when Captain Monypenny, R.N. destroyed a stockaded fort in Sherbro river, hardly a year has passed without an expedition of some kind having been undertaken. The year 1875 was unusually prolific. In October of that year some Mongray people plundered Mamaiah, a village on the frontier, and[Pg 160] kidnapped several British subjects. A gunboat, with some troops and police, was accordingly sent up the Mongray river, and scarcely had this expedition returned to Freetown when news of another difficulty on the Bargroo river arrived. A party of Mendis crossed the border about the middle of November and plundered and destroyed thirteen villages in British territory, carrying off most of the inhabitants as slaves. On receipt of this intelligence Mr. Darnell Davis, the Civil Commandant of Sherbro, left Bonthe, the headquarters of the local Government, accompanied by nineteen armed policemen, and proceeded to Conconany, the scene of the outrages, to endeavour to restore tranquillity. Hearing there that some of the captives were at Paytaycoomar, a village about ten miles inland from Conconany, he landed to proceed there, in company with a friendly chief and about a hundred of his followers. On his way to Paytaycoomar Mr. Davis and his party were attacked by a body of men lying in ambush, and himself and several others wounded; but he nevertheless proceeded and arrived before the village, which he found to be defended by three strong stockades. The Mendis opened fire from their “war-fences,” and the friendly chief and his followers at once took to flight, carrying away with them the axes with which the Commandant had intended cutting his way into the place. Nothing[Pg 161] daunted, however, by this desertion, he broke through the first and second gates of the stockades, ten policemen, who were old soldiers, alone following him. Between the second and third stockades they were met with a heavy fire that killed four policemen almost at once, and wounded the Commandant very severely; and the latter, seeing that it would be mere folly to persevere longer, retired with the remnant of his men to Conconany; being again attacked by an ambuscade on his way there, and wounded a third time with several of his men.

In consequence of this a force consisting of a detachment of the First West India Regiment and a body of armed police left Freetown for Sherbro with Lieutenant-Governor Rowe; a number of stockaded towns were shelled and burned, the leaders of the invading Mendis captured, and order restored. The defences of some of these towns were, considering the difficult nature of the country, formidable. Ordinarily they were surrounded by triple stockades, 20 feet high, and formed of posts about 10 inches in diameter. A space some 20 feet broad intervened between each stockade, nor were the entrances of these opposite each other. The town of Tyama-Woro was further fortified by two encircling mud-walls, 15 feet high and 12 feet thick at the base, inside which were two broad and deep ditches. In some of the towns[Pg 162] machicoulis galleries had been constructed over the gates, and the entrance further protected by semicircular flanking bastions.

Expeditions such as these appear small affairs when compared with our South African wars, but they are at least as worthy of recognition as the numerous “Hill Tribe” wars of India, for which the troops employed are invariably granted a medal. In West Africa the difficulties attending such expeditions are very much greater than in India, and there can be no comparison between the hardships experienced by both officers and men. The country consists of dense forest, through which the only roads are narrow paths, wide enough only for the passage of men in single file, obstructed by fallen trees, swamps, and unbridged streams, and where continual precautions have to be taken against surprises and ambuscades. Everything has to be carried on the heads of terror-stricken carriers, who bolt at the least alarm, and render the difficulties of the transport service almost insurmountable. Supplies are precarious, and of bad quality; while, in addition to all this, the climate is the worst in the world, and the constitution of a European does not for years recover from the injury caused to it by the exposure incidental to such expeditions. Some wars, such as the Quiah war of 1861, are serious affairs; and it is difficult to understand upon what[Pg 163] principle of justice rewards should be granted for such services in one part of the world and not in another. It would be a very simple matter to establish a West African medal similar to the Indian one, the clasp to which would show for what particular service it had been granted.

The professional poisoners of Sherbro, Rossu, and Timmanee, are notorious: the practice of getting rid of any objectionable individual by secret poisoning is only too prevalent throughout the whole of West Africa, but usually it is carried out through the agency of fetish men, whereas in this portion of the continent it is elevated to the dignity of a profession on its own account. These poisoners, or necromancers, since they pretend to compound spells by means of which they attain their ends, are acquainted with various deadly vegetable poisons entirely unknown to the European pharmacopœia, and many persons yearly fall victims to them, whose deaths, as the medical men are unable to recognise any of the symptoms attributable to known poisons, are ascribed to other causes. They are also equally well acquainted with the antidotes for their deadly drugs; and, when an individual has reason to suspect that he has had poison administered to him, his sole chance of recovery is to call in one of these practitioners, if possible the one who has been paid to make away[Pg 164] with him, and offer him a bribe for a counter-charm, as these people like to call it. When any vindictive savage has a grudge against a European, or against any one else, all he has to do to obtain revenge is to go to one of these poisoners, and, stating his wishes, pay a small sum of money, and the victim is then doomed to certain death, sometimes sudden and sometimes lingering, unless, in the latter case, he succeeds in discovering what is going on and outbids his secret enemy. Old residents in Sierra Leone and the Gambia know of several cases on record in which member after member of a family has wasted away and died of an unknown and inexplicable disease, and where the survivors have only been saved from a like doom by calling in one of these diabolical wretches. If native accounts may be believed, these poisoners are as well versed in their destructive study as were their kindred spirits in the age of Catherine de Medici; and, besides drugs which are deadly when placed in food or drink and taken into the stomach, know and use others which scattered about a room poison the atmosphere, or, sprinkled upon wearing apparel, cause death by absorption through the skin, and perfumes, to inhale which is fatal. The manner of compounding and preparing these poisons is preserved with great secrecy and mystery, and transmitted from father to son in certain families of hereditary poisoners; but the[Pg 165] natives popularly believe that there is a kind of college, situated in an impenetrable forest somewhere near the Jeba river, at which would-be professors of this art enter themselves as students, where they learn their nefarious calling, and finally emerge with a degree as full-blown murderers. In Sierra Leone proper, this practice, euphoniously called witchcraft, or laying spells or charms, is forbidden by law, and is not now very common.

Another custom peculiar to the three above mentioned tribes is that of Egugu, which, however, is neither secret nor vindictive, and the Egugu man himself might not inaptly be described as the personification of the English “bogey” with which nurses terrify children. This arch-impostor is supposed to have revealed to him, by unknown powers, the name or appearance of every wife in the country who has been guilty of infidelity; and he makes periodical visits to each town and village for the purpose of exposing and punishing these frail fair ones, he and his following being entertained and feasted on these occasions at the expense of the inhabitants. When the Egugu man is approaching a village his retainers go ahead and announce his presence by the beating of drums, accompanied by wild howls and cries; and consternation at once falls upon the entire feminine portion of the community, for, as they are nearly all[Pg 166] equally guilty, the only difference being that some have already been detected by their husbands while others have not, they all equally dread the threatening punishment and public exposure. On such occasions, those fair creatures, who have hitherto been so fortunate as to bear an unblemished reputation, generally find that they have pressing business which requires their immediate presence in the bush, and some thus contrive to escape the ordeal, though usually each husband takes care that all his wives shall be present; while those whose guilt has been already declared by the Egugu man, and who have consequently already experienced the worst, alone prepare themselves for the ceremony with a certain amount of indifference.

The Egugu man enters the town, or village, wrapped in a piece of country cloth, which entirely covers the face and head, and which covering he never removes except when alone with his immediate associates; while curious persons of either sex are restrained from pulling it aside, or endeavouring to obtain a glimpse of his face, by the belief that to look upon his countenance is certain death. He then traverses the village and enters every house in succession; while the female occupants, anxious to propitiate their judge, lay before him the most recherché dishes of savage African cookery, viz., the palm oil stew, the cassava cakes and the “stink-fish,” while to[Pg 167] wash down this regal banquet jars of palm wine and bottles of rum are provided. The Egugu man is cunning enough to know that the innocent, if any, will seem most unconcerned, and he consequently regards with suspicion those women who appear most anxious to please him, and usually picks out those who have treated him most hospitably, and with the greatest respect, for exposure and punishment. He is commonly very successful in his choice: it would be difficult in any case to pick out a guiltless woman, and, even in the remote chance of his doing so, the woman’s protestations would not be believed; while those who have forgotten the fidelity due to their liege lords, imagining that everything is known and about to be proclaimed, confess at once, so that they can give their own version of the story. The Egugu man then administers a few stripes to the culprits himself, and leaves them to the tender mercies of their spouses and the jeers and sarcasms of those more fortunate females who have gone through the ordeal in safety.

Should the village be pleasantly situated, and the people unusually hospitable, this flimsy juggler will remain in it for several days, examining the women in detail; and, when he has eaten up all the good things, or when he thinks he has nearly exhausted his welcome, for he is too wary to spoil his pleasant[Pg 168] profession by overdoing it, he moves off to another village and commences anew. As he is sometimes accompanied by as many as one hundred followers, or disciples, all of whom are fed and housed at the expense of the village, this absurd custom must be rather a tax upon the natives; but no village is visited more than once a year. It has always been a wonder to me that every negro in these countries does not set up as an Egugu man, or, at all events, become a follower of one, since it would be impossible to conceive a mode of life more pleasing to the negro mind. He goes about from village to village, fêted and honoured, living on the fat of the land, with no work to do, plenty to drink, the luxury of beating women and the satisfaction of being regarded with awe and wonder, all this too for nothing but the trouble of a little humbug; and it is certain that there would be an immediate rush of the male population for similar appointments were it not that they are sufficiently credulous to believe that there is really some sorcery or supernatural power at the bottom of the business.

Among the Sherbros there exists a secret society, which consists of various families, bound together by mysterious ceremonies for offensive and defensive purposes, and other reasons which are unknown. If my memory serves me rightly, this society is called the Society of Bonn, and the families composing it[Pg 169] meet at stated periods to celebrate their union with infamous rites; and annually, at one such meeting, a virgin is put to death, the victim being supplied by each family in rotation. Each member of the society is bound by diabolical oaths to preserve the secrets of their rites, and to slay any other member whom he may suspect of revealing them; thus all that is known about the fraternity has been gleaned from the reports of natives who do not belong to it, and who cannot know much about it; though some do assert that they have been hidden eye-witnesses of the annual human sacrifice. That such a society does exist, and that its members do put a young girl to death every year, is, however, well authenticated; and a French trader residing in the Sherbro on one occasion almost surprised them in the actual commission of the murder. I will give his story in his own words: he said—

“M. A—— my principal, sent me from Sherbro island to some chiefs on the mainland who were large customers of ours. I had six or seven Krooboys with me, and was away a little more than a week. On the last day, when I was coming towards the coast, I was delayed by one of my boys getting into some little trouble at a village, and, about nightfall, found myself at eleven or twelve miles from the sea. There was a good path through the forest, so I determined to go on and get back to the factory that night—I[Pg 170] was in a hurry to return to a good bed and something fit to eat.

“You have walked perhaps in the forest at night mon ami, and you know the feeling of awe which the darkness, the silence, and the sombre trees, with their long arms reaching towards you, awakes within one. The night was dark, dark as a pit; not a sound was to be heard but the rustling of our feet on the dead leaves, and the grey trunks of the trees stood up all round in the forest like spectres. I was very tired—I had been walking nearly all day, and we did not get along very quickly; so that about nine o’clock we were still in the forest, and neither the Krooboys nor myself were sure that we were in the right path—we had passed several forks, and had taken the road that seemed to lead towards the sea, but you know how these paths twist and wind about.

“Suddenly, in the midst of the dead silence, a chorus of howls and screams, the most horrible, the most blood-curdling, rose up in the depths of the forest, and died away in a long, low, melancholy wail. I was startled—not frightened—for I am not more superstitious than most men; but the cries had been so sudden, and were so strange, that we all stopped still. All was as silent as the tomb, and we were so quiet that I could hear the breathing of the Krooboys. While we were standing with our ears[Pg 171] straining to hear, the sound came again louder and louder—it seemed to be some little distance away in the direction in which we were going. I told the boys to go on, and I followed them. Six, seven, and eight times this long cry—the most despairing—, it made my blood run cold, was repeated; and then we heard the noise of the beating of drums. We knew then that it was only some natives observing a custom, and that there must be a village near; so we walked on. Soon the drums stopped, and the night was again as still as the grave.

“Suddenly, without any warning, we turned an acute corner in the path; and I saw before me some few houses, and a crowd of people standing together round something, in a clearing of the forest—they had with them two or three little lamps. At the same moment that I turned the corner and saw this, I heard a shriek, the most horrible—the shriek of a woman in the agony which is mortal. My hair raised itself on my head—my Krooboys stopped and muttered to themselves. I ask of them the cause, and they tell me of some secret brotherhood of the people, who sacrifice each year a woman. I draw my revolver: I cry to them—‘En avant—En avant;’ and we all run fast to the crowd. Then, pst, pst, out go all the lights; I hear the rustling of many feet; all again is black darkness.

[Pg 172]

“We reach the square of the village: there is nothing—nobody to be seen. Nobody? Ah! Mon Dieu, somebody. I nearly fall over some object which strikes my feet. I look down to see what it may be, and I see a corpse. Yes, a corpse of a young girl, une pucelle; still warm. I look for the cause of death, and I find, horrible to speak of, on the left breast a dreadful wound, a cavity—the flesh tom away. Mon ami, the heart of that poor girl had been torn out. Ah! so young, such beautiful limbs—It is the work of the accursed fraternity.”

“Well,” said I, when he had arrived at this point, “what did you do?”

“Do? What could I do? Nothing at all. There was not one person left in the village—I searched each house: all empty. Could I go and hunt in the dark forest for the murderers? No—I went on my way and arrived at my factory.”

“I suppose you told the Commandant of Sherbro about this?” I inquired.

“Yes, I told him; but he said he could do nothing, and it was not advisable to make trouble. It is many years ago now, and Chief Manin had just signed a treaty with your Government. They did not wish to have any more palaver.”

When I arrived at Sierra Leone in January 1881 everybody was talking about an extraordinary instance[Pg 173] of tenacity of life which had come to light three or four days previously. It appeared that a European madman, who, for safe keeping, had been confined in the Colonial Hospital, escaped from custody one afternoon; and, being pursued, jumped, about nightfall, into the sea from the harbour works. Some boats put out after him, but as nothing was to be seen of him it was concluded that he was drowned. About 9 p.m. on the same day, the occupants of a boat returning from Cape Sierra Leone heard, as they were passing King Tom Point, somebody groaning on the beach; they put ashore, and found the escaped maniac lying on the rocks in a horrible condition. During his swim from the harbour works to the spot in which he was found, a distance of some half-a-mile, he had been pursued and attacked by the sharks which swarm in the harbour, had lost an arm, and been dreadfully lacerated about the shoulders and thighs. From his own account they seemed to have kept up a running fight with him; and how he contrived to reach the shore, and, in his mutilated condition, draw himself up out of reach of his pursuers, was as great a mystery as was his subsequent recovery from his injuries.

About 4·30 p.m. on January 28th, just before parade, we were surprised by the unusual spectacle of two steamers coming round the cape together;[Pg 174] there was a general rush for telescopes, and we saw that one of them was the outward-bound steamer “Cameroon,” which had only left the harbour about half-an-hour previously, and the other the mail from the Coast. This latter had the signal “Government Despatches” flying; it was evident that something was wrong down on the Gold Coast, and that it was of sufficient importance for the “Cameroon” to turn back. Imagination was at once busy as to what was up: some said it was the long-expected mutiny of the Houssa constabulary, others a revolt of the Accra people on account of the imprisonment of their king, Tacki, by Mr. Ussher, the late Governor, and a third party that the Awoonahs had risen; but while we were still deliberating, and before the steamers had dropped anchor in the harbour, the “fall in” sounded and we had to go on parade.

About five, while the parade was still going on, a Colonial messenger darted on to the parade ground, seized the commanding officer, and thrust a voluminous despatch into his hand. The latter cast a hurried eye over it, and instantly moved off with hasty strides towards a hammock that was waiting for him outside; calling out to his second in command that the parade was to be dismissed, but that no officers or men were to leave barracks. We knew then that something serious was the matter, and went and sat down by the[Pg 175] fountain in front of the mess to wait for the news. At about 6 p.m., when our patience was nearly exhausted, an official appeared, panting and blowing up the hill. He came towards us, and said, in gasps:

“Gentlemen—The fact is this, gentlemen. It’s simply this, gentlemen. Bloody wars, gentlemen—Bloody wars.”

This was highly satisfactory, but did not enter much into detail, so we applied for more information. We then learned that King Mensah of Ashanti had sent the golden axe to the Lieutenant-Governor of the Gold Coast colony at Cape Coast, to demand the surrender of a fugitive; and, on the 24th, when the surrender was refused, had, through his ambassadors, declared war against the British. We heard further that the homeward-bound steamer was going direct to Madeira to telegraph the news to England, and that troops were to go down by the S.S. “Cameroon” next day. The Government of the Gold Coast had asked for three hundred and fifty men, but, as the entire garrison of Sierra Leone only consisted of four companies, that is a little over four hundred men, the authorities had decided that it would not be wise, on account of the Timmanees, to denude the Colony of troops to so great an extent, and about two hundred were to be despatched with stores and ammunition. Of course everybody wanted to be among the two[Pg 176] hundred: the news had spread among the men, and a tremendous cheering broke out all over the barracks; they were delighted with the prospect of a brush with the Ashantis, and the band volunteered en masse. By 7 p.m. it was decided which companies were to go, and I found mine was one of the lucky ones: as we were to embark at 3 p.m. next day there was plenty of work to be done, while to make matters worse there was a dinner to be given that very night, and the guests would have to be looked after and entertained.

That night the excitement rose to boiling point: we who had been selected to go were objects of envy to all the less fortunate people who had to remain behind, and who went about with long and melancholy faces bewailing their ill-fortune and cursing their luck. The guests quoted Byron, talked of “sounds of revelry by night,” and drew comparisons, entirely in our favour, between the ball at Brussels on the eve of Waterloo and our dinner on the eve of departure for the new Ashanti war. They shook hands with us time after time, their voices thick with emotion; some almost shed tears as they suddenly awoke to the fact of their great affection for us, and thought that they might never see us again; while others, more sanguine, prophesied all kinds of impossible honours as our share of the coming campaign. It was out of the question[Pg 177] to got away from these warm-hearted partisans, and it must have been nearly daybreak before we got to bed.

At 2 p.m. next day, after such a morning of work as I am in no hurry to experience again, the two companies paraded, and we marched down the hill to the harbour, headed by the band. I never saw Freetown in such a state of excitement; every road was crammed with men, women, and children, shouting, cheering, laughing, and crying, and the crush was so great that there was scarcely room for the column to march; but at last all were safely got on board, and at 5 p.m. the “Cameroon” steamed off direct for Cape Coast. We had on board forty-five tons of stores, two 4-2/5-inch howitzers, and almost all the ammunition of the Colony, the whole of which had been put on board in half-a-day.

[Pg 178]


Ashanti Politics since 1874—The Secession of Djuabin—Diplomatic Mistakes—The Conquest of Djuabin—The Importation of Rifles—The Attempt on Adansi—The Salt Scare—The Mission to Gaman and Sefwhee—Dissensions in Coomassie—The War Party.

While the “Cameroon” is on the way to Cape Coast Castle a short résumé of Ashanti politics from the close of the war of 1874 may, perhaps, be considered not out of place.

After the burning of Coomassie a bloodless revolution took place. King Quoffi Calcalli, or, as the natives pronounce it, Karri-Karri, was deposed, and his brother Osai Mensah reigned in his stead. The dethroned monarch should, in accordance with Ashanti etiquette, have committed suicide on being degraded from his position; he did not do so, however, and was permitted to go into retirement in the country, with a few followers.

About the same time, Asafu Agai, King of Djuabin, the chief feudatory of the Ashanti kingdom, seceded, taking with him the chiefs of Assuri, Affidguassi, and Insula, and formed the independent kingdom of Djuabin.

[Pg 179]

It was foreseen that the Ashantis, a proud and haughty race, would not submit tamely to the establishment of a rival power on their very border, especially when that rival had so recently been subject to them; and, towards the end of 1874, when matters began to assume a threatening aspect between the Ashantis and the Djuabins, Captain C. C. Lees was despatched to Coomassie by the Government of the Gold Coast Colony to preserve peace. Their recent defeat by the British was so fresh in their memory that the Ashantis were amenable to reason, and Captain Lees succeeded in persuading both Osai Mensah and Asafu Agai to swear to refrain from hostilities.

From that moment the Colonial Government withdrew from all active interference in the affairs of the tribes living beyond the boundaries of the Colony; and, although for the next four or five years the Ashantis left no stone unturned to regain their former position and undo the work done by Sir Garnet Wolseley, the Colonial Government merely looked on as passive spectators and allowed them to do it.

The policy of the Government of the Gold Coast appears to have been at this time one of strict non-intervention, but whether dictated by the Colonial Office or not, I cannot say. In any case it was[Pg 180] diametrically opposed to the policy which had inaugurated the Ashanti war, and was most detrimental to British interests and influence. Having committed ourselves to the war of 1873-4, it was impossible to withdraw and say we would not interfere further. The chief military power of that portion of Africa had received a severe blow; the Ashanti kingdom had almost fallen to pieces; and, as the authors of the shock, we were responsible for the consequences. What would these consequences be? Either Ashanti would be split up into a number of insignificant independent chieftainships or regain its ascendancy, or Djuabin would assume the place lately held by Ashanti. It was evident that one of these three things would happen if we decided to take no part in occurrences beyond our frontier.

But which was the consummation that the wire-pullers at the Colonial Office desired? Surely not the first; for the breaking-up of Ashanti into two or three tribes, who would be independent of each other, would lead to constant petty wars, the closing of the roads, and the paralysation of commerce. Surely not the second; for, if Ashanti regained her ascendancy, the lives and treasure expended in the war of 1873-4 would be as so much waste. Surely not the third; for, if Djuabin became the dominant military power, what guarantee had we that she would not be equally,[Pg 181] perhaps more, aggressive than Ashanti had been; and with what could we keep her in check?

Our policy at this time should clearly have been to play off Djuabin against Ashanti, to use the one to keep the other in check, just as might be required; if necessary, to support the one or the other by force of arms, so that the balance of power, which had happily taken place, should not be disturbed. Nothing could have been easier than to do this. If Ashanti should make war upon the Colony we could employ Djuabin to threaten Coomassie; and if the latter should menace our possessions we could let loose the Ashantis upon the Djuabin capital. As for preserving peace between the two rivals, our position on the sea-board within easy striking distance of each was admirable, and the two nations were so nearly equal in power and resources that an intimation from the Colonial Government to either of them which might seem disposed to provoke hostilities, that any act of aggression would be considered a declaration of war against England, would effectually have prevented any outbreak. This grand opportunity was unfortunately neglected, and the consequences have still to be suffered.

After Captain Lees’s mission to Coomassie and Djuabin the subtle Ashantis remained quiet until about July 1875, satisfying themselves with storing up supplies of salt, powder, and lead, and re-organizing[Pg 182] their army, to the chief command of which Awooah, the brother of the late general, Amanquatia, succeeded. King Mensah also placed on record how keenly he felt the injustice of the British in not calling upon the king of Djuabin to pay a fair proportion of the war indemnity which had been inflicted on the entire kingdom by Sir Garnet Wolseley, the whole of which Ashanti, though reduced to half her former area, had now to pay.

In July, King Mensah addressed a letter to the European merchants of Cape Coast Castle, complaining of the action of the king of Djuabin, that he was kidnapping Ashantis living on the Djuabin frontier, and closing the roads to trade. This letter was duly forwarded to the Government, but only elicited from the Governor the reply “that he would act with reference to the affairs of the interior as seemed to him advisable.”

There can be no doubt but that the head of the king of Djuabin was turned by his sudden accession to power; he sent insulting messages to Mensah, invited the tribes within the protectorate to come and share the spoils of Coomassie with him; and by the middle of August 1875 the excitement on each side had become so intense that no mere negotiation or mediation could have averted war, whatever it might have effected if it had been employed at an earlier period.

[Pg 183]

Matters were further complicated by the mission to Coomassie of a Monsieur Bonnat, who was desirous of opening trade with Salagha, a large and populous Mohammedan town, said to be eight days’ journey to the north-east of Coomassie. M. Bonnat visited the Ashanti capital in company with Prince Ansah, the uncle of the king, and appears to have mixed himself up a great deal with native politics. From Coomassie he went to Djuabin, where he very naturally was regarded with suspicion, on account of the circumstances under which he had visited Coomassie. M. Bonnat was accompanied by a number of Ashantis as carriers and servants, and some sixty of these were murdered by the Djuabins. In extenuation of this outrage King Asafu Agai afterwards said the murder was ordered by the Keratchi fetish, which is the great fetish of Djuabin and of several other tribes of the interior.

War was now inevitable, but Osai Mensah was so afraid that Great Britain would interpose that he still delayed. Towards the end of September a fresh casus belli occurred. The inhabitants of five villages on the borders of Djuabin notified to King Mensah their desire to secede from the kingdom of Djuabin and to be incorporated with that of Ashanti. Mensah accordingly sent some of his officers to these villages, where they were attacked by the Djuabins. In the[Pg 184] skirmish which ensued the Djuabins were forced to retire, and the inhabitants of the five villages migrated into Ashanti.

When the news of this affair reached Cape Coast Castle the Government at last awoke to the fact that something ought to be done. They accordingly despatched an army surgeon, who was temporarily in their employ, with instructions, first, to proceed to Eastern Akim, and warn the king of that territory, who had been tampered with by the Djuabins, that he was not to take part in the probable hostilities; and, secondly, to proceed from Akim to Djuabin and Coomassie, and forbid the war, reminding the two kings of the oaths they had sworn to Captain Lees.

This officer left Accra on October 23rd, 1875, but his mission had been kept so little secret that his intended departure had been known for some time; and, a week before he left Accra, both Djuabin and Ashanti messengers had started from Cape Coast Castle to carry the intelligence to their respective masters, and to inform them that if they wanted to fight they must do so at once, “for the white man was coming to palaver.”

The Colonial envoy reached Kibbie in Eastern Akim on October 29th, and next day Djuabin messengers reached him with the intelligence that the Ashantis had invaded their country in two divisions,[Pg 185] one of which was encamped within a few miles of the capital. On October 31st the town of Djuabin was attacked by the Ashantis, the conflict raged during the next two days, and on November 3rd the Djuabins were put to flight in every direction.

The envoy at once proceeded to Djuabin, which town he found in the hands of the Ashantis. Foreseeing that the prestige of this victory would do much to restore Ashanti to her former position, and cancel the beneficial results of the war of 1873-4, he wrote to the Governor at Cape Coast Castle recommending that Djuabin should be occupied by a British force. This proposal was not entertained. Indeed, it would have been injudicious in the extreme, with the handful of troops at the disposal of the Government, to endeavour to snatch the fruits of victory from a warlike people in their hour of triumph. Action of this kind should have been taken earlier, but the opportunity had been allowed to pass, and it was now too late.

The Djuabins, being short of munitions of war, could make but little headway against their opponents. The importation of arms and gunpowder was then prohibited on the Gold Coast, which embargo, while it did not affect the Ashantis, who could obtain what they required through the French port of Assinee, entirely prevented the Djuabins from replenishing their stock. A large supply of powder was, however,[Pg 186] successfully smuggled up the Volta river by Djuabin agents and sent into Eastern Akim. A force of Constabulary was stationed there at the time, partly to disarm the fugitive Djuabins and prevent the Ashantis pursuing them into the protectorate, and partly to prevent the Akims aiding the Djuabins. The officer in command of this force somehow got wind of the smuggled powder. To an ordinary mind it would have appeared that, as the Djuabins were, in a measure, fighting our battles, this would have been a good opportunity for a display of that official blindness which is so frequently conspicuous at other times. The Constabulary officer thought otherwise; the powder was intercepted on the Djuabin frontier; and the Djuabins, being unable to continue the struggle, flocked by thousands into the protectorate. The Ashantis knew better than to follow the fugitives into our territory, and satisfied themselves with establishing their authority in Djuabin more firmly than ever. Some months later the Government discovered that Asafu Agai was meditating an attempt for the recovery of his throne; he was arrested with a promptness that is seldom displayed on the Gold Coast, and transported to Lagos.

The results of the victorious campaign were soon discernible in the altered tone of Osai Mensah. The surgeon who had proceeded to Djuabin went thence[Pg 187] to Coomassie, where he was treated with but scant courtesy and could effect nothing. Next by his behaviour, and the threatening attitude of his people to the officer sent to Coomassie for the instalment of the war indemnity then due, he, as I have related in Chapter III., so intimidated the Colonial Government that the question of the payment of that indemnity was allowed to drop, and has never since been revived. Thus in less than two years from the burning of Coomassie the Ashanti diplomacy had met with such success that Mensah had recovered the whole of the Djuabin territory, repudiated the payment of the war indemnity, re-established the prestige and power of the Ashanti name, and outwitted the Colonial Government upon every point.

In 1876 and 1877 the Ashantis occupied themselves with the internal administration of their newly-acquired territory, and in the purchase of breech-loading rifles, which they obtained principally through Assinee, though a considerable number were smuggled, viâ Danoe, the Quittah lagoon, and the Volta river, into Djuabin.

In 1878 the Colonial Government at last grasped the fact that the interdiction on the importation of arms and gunpowder only crippled the revenue of the Colony and the power of the protected tribes, without materially affecting those for whom it was specially[Pg 188] designed, and consequently withdrew it. No sooner was the prohibition at an end than the Ashantis, with an absence of disguise that was either the height of impudence or the most consummate diplomacy, imported Snider rifles at Cape Coast itself. On one occasion, towards the end of December 1878, a batch of some three hundred arrived, consigned to Prince Ansah at Cape Coast, and were duly received by Ashanti carriers who had been waiting for them. As they were being transported to Prahou, the Fantis of Dunquah, who seemed to be of opinion that it was not politic to allow the Ashantis to possess such weapons, intercepted the convoy and brought back the rifles to the District-Commissioner at Cape Coast. To their surprise they were only reprimanded for their pains, and the Ashantis, protected by an escort, were conducted with their purchases in safety to Prahou.

Being now the happy possessors of a considerable number of breech-loaders, the Ashantis conceived the plan of forming a corps of Houssas, who would instruct the Ashanti army in the use of the new weapon. To induce trained men of this race to desert from the Gold Coast Constabulary, Mensah offered pay at double the rate paid by the Colonial Government, free rations, and some local privileges. The percentage of desertions from the Constabulary, always alarmingly high, at once increased: and these[Pg 189] deserters assumed the new rôle of musketry instructors to the Ashanti army. As they knew almost nothing themselves, they could not impart much information to their pupils. A German, who had been wandering about the interior for some time, made himself useful in the formation of this corps d’élite, and brought down Houssas from Salagha for the King.

There was nothing new in this endeavour to induce Houssas in British pay to betray their trust. About September 1875, when M. Bonnat visited Djuabin, he found some of the men of the Gold Coast Constabulary armed, and dressed in the uniform of the force, in the service of the King of that territory, and Asafu Agai had endeavoured by means of them to prevent M. Bonnat returning to Coomassie. The causes that led to the numerous desertions were not difficult to find. The Houssa Constabulary was and is a purely mercenary body, ready to sell their services to the highest bidder. In the days when Capt., now Sir John, Glover, R.N., organised the nucleus of this force at Lagos, a man enlisted for life service; he looked upon the Government henceforward as a paternal power, which he would serve as long as his health and strength admitted, and which, when he became old, would grant him an annuity or gratuity on retirement. They were satisfied with this state of things and were loyal to the backbone. In[Pg 190] 1876, when the Houssa Constabulary was being reorganized, by a most short-sighted policy the term of enlistment was limited to three years. Now short service, however excellent it may be with Europeans and in countries where it is desirable to form rapidly a large reserve, is undoubtedly a mistake with semi-civilized or barbarous peoples. The Houssas now saw themselves liable to be cast adrift after three years’ service; their engagement was no longer a life engagement, there was no gratuity or annuity to be earned by long and faithful service; and so, if a man had an opportunity of bettering his condition, there was nothing to be lost by his at once taking advantage of it. At the termination of his three years he would be discharged without any pension; why then should he not desert and accept the higher rate of pay offered by King Mensah? If the latter did not require his services longer than the Colonial Government would have done, he would still be a gainer; and the probability was that he would be retained for life. Being bound by no consideration for their oath of fealty, they argued in this way, and deserted.

In the spring of 1879, the Ashantis, having perfected their military arrangements, began to look about for some further accession of territory. At this time, a Mr. Huydekuper, one of those semi-educated and unscrupulous negroes with which the English[Pg 191] system of Mission Schools has afflicted the Gold Coast Colony, was at Coomassie. He had been, I believe, a clerk in a Government office, and was in high favour with, and a confidential adviser of, King Mensah. This man, using his knowledge of official forms, drew up fictitious despatches, and, accompanied by Mr. Nielson (the German who had rendered himself useful in the formation of the Ashanti corps of Houssas), and a retinue of court-criers and officials from the Ashanti court, proceeded to Gaman, a kingdom which lies to the north-west of Ashanti, on a diplomatic mission. This mission was arranged under the superintendence of Prince Ansah, and its object was nothing less than to inform the king of Gaman, in the name of the Governor of the Gold Coast Colony, “that the Queen of England had given the whole country from Kerinkando, near Assinee, to Dahomey, to the king of Ashanti, and that the king of Gaman was to swear to be subject to the king of Ashanti.” Before reaching Buntuku, the capital of Gaman, Mr. Nielson died of fever, and the mainspring of the mission, so to speak, was lost. Nevertheless Mr. Huydekuper proceeded and delivered his message, producing his manufactured despatches in support of his statement. He stated that the Queen of England had given Ashanti dominion over all inland tribes, and that he was ordered to administer to the king of Gaman an oath of allegiance to King Mensah.

[Pg 192]

This intelligence, coming, as the Gamans at first believed, from a fully-accredited ambassador of the Government, created the greatest consternation among that section of the tribe which was hostile to the Ashantis. The news spread like wild-fire to the Safwhees, a tribe inhabiting the country to the west of Ashanti and to the south of Gaman, and from them to the Denkeras. But for the death of Mr. Nielson it is impossible to say what authority the Ashantis would not have succeeded in gaining over these tribes.

While this little comedy was being enacted in the north, the Ashantis endeavoured to coerce the people of Adansi, which kingdom was formerly the smallest feudatory state of Ashanti, into returning to their old allegiance. A portion of the Adansis were anxious to do this, but the king, not being by any means desirous of resigning his late-won independence, sent messengers to the Colonial Government at Accra. Fortunately for the maintenance of British authority on the Gold Coast, Capt. C. C. Lees, the officer who had succeeded in averting hostilities between Ashanti and Djuabin in 1874, was administering the Government of the Colony. Being the exponent of the true and only effective policy in West Africa, he took up the threads of diplomacy where they had been dropped by the non-intervening Governor in 1875, and despatched the acting Colonial Secretary to Adansi with full powers. The mission was entirely successful, and the Ashantis[Pg 193] returned to Coomassie baffled for once. So wedded, however, were the Colonial Office to their policy of non-intervention, that, although this was the first success after several years of diplomatic failures, they found fault with the Acting-Governor for what he had done. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach in his despatch said—“the action which you took was of a character which might possibly have placed the Local Government, and ultimately the Imperial Government, in some embarrassment, should the Ashantis decline to comply with the demands made upon them [1] ... Adansi is not within the protectorate, and the question of requiring the observance of the third article of the Treaty of Fommanagh [2] is one of external policy, on which the Government of the Gold Coast should refrain, unless in case of urgent necessity, from definite action until Her Majesty’s Government had decided whether the action proposed was proper and opportune, having regard to the general interests of the empire. I have to request that in future you will bear this caution in mind, and that you will take no further steps in the matter now under consideration without the previous sanction of Her Majesty’s Government.” Fortunately, before the receipt of this[Pg 194] letter, Capt. Lees had taken further energetic action, which, had it been delayed until permission had been obtained from England, would have been too late.

Immediately after this success on the part of the Government, Ashantis appeared simultaneously at all the ports on the Gold Coast, and purchased salt in immense quantities. Those who were best qualified to judge of native questions considered that this was one of the worst signs of the times. No salt is produced in the interior of this portion of Africa, and in some parts of the inland plateaus it is worth almost its weight in gold; being a necessary of life it must be had, and large quantities are exported to the Gold Coast from Europe. Ordinarily, in peaceable times, the Ashantis buy it as they require it, individually; when, therefore, there seemed to be a sudden national movement for the purchase of that commodity, it appeared as if the Ashantis feared that the supply was about to be cut off, and were storing it up against that contingency. As the supply could only be cut off by the Colonial sea-board being closed against them, this action on their part seemed to show that they premeditated coming into collision with the coast tribes, that is, ultimately with the British; and when their late purchases of arms and manœuvre in the north were called to mind this became still more probable. In 1881 it transpired that an invasion[Pg 195] of Adansi was under consideration at this time, and was only postponed on account of the Colonial mission to Gaman.

While all this was going on, in April 1879 a mixed embassy of Gamans and Sefwhees arrived at Cape Coast. These envoys had been sent by the kings of their respective states to ascertain what truth lay in the statements which had been made by Mr. Huydekuper. As soon as they learned that that individual was an impostor, the Gaman ambassadors stated that their king had made him a prisoner; while the representatives of both tribes asserted that their countrymen were unanimous in desiring to maintain their independence, and that both peoples alike bore a deadly hatred to everything appertaining to Ashanti. They asked that an officer might return to Gaman with them, as otherwise they might not be believed in what they had to say about Mr. Huydekuper; and the Government, following up its more recent and more enlightened policy, acquiesced.

Mr. John Smith was the officer selected by the Colonial Government to proceed to Gaman. Of that country nothing was then known beyond the fact that it had been engaged in several wars with Ashanti in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Sir John Dalrymple Hay, indeed, in his “Ashanti[Pg 196] and the Gold Coast,” speaks (pp. 28 and 29) of “the plains of Massa,” “the Gaman cavalry,” and “the Mahometan soldiery of Gaman”; and that people was popularly believed to be an offshoot of the Houssa tribes and to possess Houssa characteristics. It was reserved for Mr. Smith to explode all these theories, and to make it known that the Gaman territory was covered with forest, like that of Ashanti, and that the people were fetish-worshippers, differing in no important particulars from the tribes in their neighbourhood.

Mr. Smith left Cape Coast on May 15th, 1879, and reached Jooquah, the seat of Quasi Kaye, king of Denkera, on the 16th. He left Jooquah on the 18th, with the king’s son, an ocrah, and a sword-bearer, and arrived at Becquai, the first Sefwhee town of importance, on June 6th. He remained at Becquai two days, and reached Yorso, the capital of Sefwhee, on June 10th. Here the Governor’s message, to the effect that Mr. Huydekuper’s statements were false, was delivered, after Mr. Smith had been detained twelve days waiting for the chiefs to assemble. In the course of conversation the king told him that the events of 1874 had decided him and his chiefs to give up their friendship with the Ashantis and to ally themselves with the British; but that when Mr. Huydekuper’s message to King Ajiman of Gaman became[Pg 197] current his two principal chiefs had wished to return to their former friendly relations with Ashanti. The king wished to take an oath of allegiance to the British Government, but this was declined.

On June 21st Mr. Smith left Yorso, and, travelling through incessant rain and by flooded and almost impassable bush-paths, reached the village of Appemanim, about twelve miles from Buntuku, the capital of Gaman, on July 21st. Here a messenger from Buntuku met him, desiring him to wait until the king had prepared for his reception. On the 24th, having received no further information, he started for the capital, and met on the road a messenger from the king requesting him to remain a few days longer at Appemanin, as the king was not quite ready. He took no notice of this message, and, continuing on his way, reached Buntuku the same day.

King Ajiman promised to summon his chiefs and hold a meeting within two days, but, what with one excuse and another, eight days elapsed before any meeting was convened, and then it was held so late in the afternoon that, before the chiefs had gone through the preliminary hand-shaking ceremonies, the rain came down in torrents and dispersed them. While thus delayed, however, Mr. Smith acquired the following information:—

1. That Mr. Huydekuper had left Buntuku [Pg 198]immediately after the Gaman messengers had started for Cape Coast, and was not, nor had been at any time, a prisoner.

2. That the messengers sent to Cape Coast did not represent the entire Gaman nation, as they had stated, but merely King Ajiman, Princess Akosuah Ayansuah, the chief of Saiquah and chief Quabina Fofea of Tackiman; and that the majority of the chiefs had declined to send messengers, as they did not wish to break with Ashanti.

3. That the Gaman chiefs were dissatisfied with King Ajiman, and wished to depose him and elect his half-brother Prince Korkobo to the stool.

4. That Prince Korkobo, who was strongly in favour of an Ashanti alliance, was then at Banna, in Ashanti, with Mr. Huydekuper; and had but recently plundered and burned some villages belonging to King Ajiman.

Mr. Smith found in Buntuku an Ashanti captain, Opoku by name, who, having come to demand the surrender of chief Quabina Fofea of Tackiman, was living on the most friendly terms with the chiefs of the Korkobo faction, and domineering over King Ajiman himself. From this it will be seen how little reliance can be placed upon the statements of West African ambassadors.

King Ajiman informed Mr. Smith that the chiefs[Pg 199] would assemble on August 7th, but, on proceeding to the place of meeting on the appointed day, the latter found only the king himself there with the chiefs of Tackiman and Saiquah, and one other. The king said the other chiefs would appear shortly, and Mr. Smith waited. After waiting two hours he was told that one chief was drunk and could not come, that another had a sore leg which incapacitated him from attending, and that a third was making fetish. He left the place of meeting, telling the king that if he were again trifled with he would at once return to the coast.

Finally, on August 8th, a palaver was held and the Governor’s message delivered to the assembled chiefs. No enthusiasm of any kind was displayed. The king promised to hand over Mr. Huydekuper to Mr. Smith in thirteen days, and, in answer to a question from that gentleman, said publicly that he had full confidence in the fidelity of his chiefs.

Two days after this meeting King Ajiman paid Mr. Smith a private visit, during which he said that he had told a falsehood when he had affirmed that he had confidence in the fidelity of his chiefs, and endeavoured to excuse it by saying that he dared not put them to shame at a public meeting. He added that all his chiefs, with the exception of one, were[Pg 200] against him, and begged Mr. Smith to hold another meeting and compel them to take an oath of allegiance to him.

On August 15th the meeting was held. The chiefs said that they had many grievances against their king; among others, that he had received several chiefs into the Gaman alliance without consulting them, and that he had received from such chiefs “alliance money” without apportioning a share to them, as was customary. On being asked to take an oath of allegiance to Ajiman, they replied that they would consider about it, and let Mr. Smith know as soon as possible.

On August 21st the chiefs re-assembled. As this was the day on which the king had promised to hand over Mr. Huydekuper Mr. Smith asked for him. The king replied that that individual was not in the town, but that he would send again for him. Mr. Smith then told him that he need not try to keep up the deception any longer, since he had known, from the day of his arrival in Buntuku, that Mr. Huydekuper had never been a prisoner, and that it was not now in the king’s power to make him one. The chiefs declared that they could not come to any decision about the oath of allegiance, because one of their number was absent.

On the 23rd another palaver was held at which[Pg 201] the chiefs openly declared that King Ajiman was their enemy, and refused to take any oath of allegiance to him. Mr. Smith returned to his house, and in a few minutes the king followed him. He declared that he would not remain in Buntuku after Mr. Smith had left, and begged to be allowed to accompany him to the coast for protection; however, after some trouble, Mr. Smith succeeded in persuading him to remain and assert his position.

On August 24th Mr. Smith left Buntuku for Dadiasu, a village some twenty miles from the capital, and was accompanied to that place by the king, one chief, one captain, and the chiefs of Saiquah and Tackiman—in fact all the king’s adherents. On the 31st, messengers reached Mr. Smith at Awhetiaso, forty-five miles from Buntuku, imploring him, in the name of the king, to return, as Prince Korkobo had entered Buntuku the day after he had left, and was now trying to oust the king from the throne, or rather from the stool. Mr. Smith declined to interfere and proceeded on his journey to the coast.

This mission, though entirely unsuccessful in its aim, clearly established the fact that, in the event of hostilities with Ashanti, the Government could not rely upon any assistance from the Gamans. The Sefwhees, it is true, were more of one mind in the matter, yet it seemed almost certain, considering[Pg 202] their close connection with, and proximity to, Gaman, that the inaction of the one would paralyse all movement on the part of the other.

In the latter part of the year 1879 and in 1880 Ashanti was convulsed by internal dissensions. King Mensah was, and is, an unpopular monarch. He is much more tyrannical and bloodthirsty than was his predecessor, and, in defiance of the terms of the treaty of 1874, the number of human sacrifices has largely increased during his reign. The sorest point of all, however, with his subjects was that he despoiled them of their gold on the shallowest pretexts, and imposed exorbitant fines for the most trivial offences. People began to talk of the good old times when Quoffi Calcalli was king, and that wily ex-monarch, who had outlived the contempt with which he had at first been regarded for outraging Ashanti prejudices by continuing to live when disgraced, commenced to intrigue with the people of Kokofuah, the most thickly populated district in Ashanti, and the one which supplies the largest contingent for the army. In the meantime Mensah was not idle. He turned his Houssa corps into a body-guard, and ensured its fidelity by gifts and promises of future favour; he gathered round him his ocrahs and retainers, and with this force, armed principally with breech-loading rifles, he easily managed to stifle disaffection and maintain his position.

[Pg 203]

There was yet another cause of dissension in Coomassie. Not a few of the chiefs, at the head of whom was Opokoo, chief of Becquai, and Awooah, chief of Bantami and general of the Ashanti army, were anxious to declare war against Adansi. They had re-conquered Djuabin, their chief feudatory, and had nothing to fear on that side. On their western or north-western border too there was now nothing to fear, for although King Ajiman of Gaman had contrived to regain a portion of his kingdom, and had fought several undecisive skirmishes with the Korkobo faction, still the latter was quite powerful enough to neutralise any hostile movement on the part of the former against Ashanti. Further, these chiefs knew that they could drive the handful of Adansis across the Prah without any trouble, and they considered that to do this would wipe out the disgrace of the defeats of 1874.

In fact the only thing which at this time prevented the actual invasion of Adansi was the belief held by King Mensah and his chiefs that any act of aggression against Adansi would be equivalent to war with Great Britain; and they were led to this belief by the action taken by Capt. Lees in the spring of 1879, and with which the then Secretary of State for the Colonies had found fault. Notwithstanding this belief, the war party in Coomassie were desirous of invading Adansi, and were quite willing to take[Pg 204] the risk of another war with England. Opposed to the war party were the king, the queen-mother, and the court party. Mensah remembered that he owed his present position to the downfall of Quoffi Calcalli, who had lost the throne in his conflict with the British; and, being advised by Prince Ansah at Cape Coast, he knew perfectly well that should hostilities break out between Ashanti and Great Britain his own ruin would be the result.

Although Mensah was not prepared to face the Colonial Government in the field, yet he was as desirous as any of his chiefs to recover Adansi, which would do so much to re-establish Ashanti in her former position of supremacy, and so he pursued the traditional policy of the country. The new Governor of the Gold Coast Colony, Mr. Ussher, sent presents to the king on taking up his appointment, and the latter seized the opportunity to send messengers down to Accra, nominally to thank Governor. Ussher for his presents, but secretly to ascertain the views and position of the Government with regard to Adansi. These messengers were duly received and dismissed by the Governor and returned to Cape Coast, where they remained, collecting information and watching events on the coast, explaining their delay in returning to their own country by a number of frivolous excuses.

[Pg 205]

It appears that about this time Mensah also sent a second mission to Gaman, for in October or November, 1880, Gaman messengers came to the Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. Griffith, who had administered the Government since the death of Mr. Ussher, at Accra, saying that the King of Ashanti had sent a message to the Ajiman section of the Gamans to the effect that he, Mensah, had paid a sum of money to the Queen of England in order that the Gaman country should be placed under his rule, and that, the Queen having consented to it, the Gamans were now his people.

While all this was going on, the war party in Coomassie had fast been gaining the upper hand. The bellicose chiefs spoke of Quoffi Calcalli as a man who, whatever might have been his other shortcomings, was, at all events, not afraid of the white men, and recommenced their intrigues with that individual. Matters became so serious that, in December 1880, Mr. Buhl, the Secretary of the Basle Mission Society, reported to the Lieutenant-Governor that there were rumours in Ashanti that the country was going to war; and, in the same month, Chief Taboo of Adansi informed the District Commissioner at Cape Coast that Chief Opokoo of Becquai had publicly sworn before the king at Coomassie that he would force Adansi to become again subject to Ashanti. Confusion began to reign in Coomassie, and the struggle for[Pg 206] supremacy between the court and the war party was fast approaching a crisis, when the events which led to the sending of the golden axe to Cape Coast in January 1881 occurred.


[1] Demands that they should return to their own country.

[2] The Treaty of Fommanagh was the one signed by Sir Garnet Wolseley after the burning of Coomassie. The third article provided for the independence of Adansi.

[Pg 207]


Cape Coast—The Panic—The Golden Axe—Preparations for Defence—Ansah—A divided Command—A second message from the King—Native Levies—Ordered to Anamaboe.

At 2 p.m. on February 2nd the “Cameroon” dropped anchor off Cape Coast Castle, and the whole reinforcement was landed in safety through the surf by 4 p.m.

The panic reigning on this portion of the Gold Coast would have been amusing had it not been so disgraceful. Seven thousand men had been asked for from England, though the last war had been brought to a successful termination with two West India regiments and two European battalions, for practically the 23rd Regiment took no part in the operations. The walls of Elmina Castle, a fortress impregnable at any time by savages, had been heightened with sand-bags, as though regular siege approaches were anticipated; and a few days before our arrival the advisability of abandoning that post, together with Fort St. Jago, and withdrawing the garrison of Houssa Constabulary to Cape Coast, had been seriously entertained. One hundred and fifteen Houssas were at Prahsu and forty at Mansu, but no attempt was to[Pg 208] be made to arrest the advance of the enemy by occupying either of these places in force and raising field-works; and on February 3rd it was decided that the whole available force of the Colony should be employed in the defence of the forts of Anamaboe, Cape Coast, Elmina, and Axim. In other words, the Ashantis were to be allowed to ravage the whole country from the Prah to the sea, and the natives were to receive no protection whatever; while the garrisons were to be shut up in inglorious safety within stone walls. A high Colonial official said to me:—

“Oh! we’re so glad you fellows have come. There has been no safe place to go to at all, and hardly a man-of-war about to get on board of.”

People seemed to imagine that the Ashanti army had been supplied by some enterprising contractor with seven-leagued boots, and could move in one spring from the northern border of Adansi to the sea-board without our receiving any warning, or information concerning their progress, from the inhabitants of the country. The Lieutenant-Governor, with his principal officers, had taken refuge in the Castle, and, although the ambassadors with the axe had only left Cape Coast Castle on their return journey to Coomassie on January 26th, a scare had taken place on the night of February 1st, when everybody must have been aware that the messengers had not had time to reach their[Pg 209] capital. Some intelligent negro alarmed the town in the dead of night by declaring that he had seen the advancing Ashantis on the Prah road, about three miles from the Castle. Upon this, the garrison was got under arms, a patrol sent out, and all the lights in the Castle extinguished. The object of this last strategic movement is difficult of discovery, unless it was done in the hope that the Ashantis might not see the Castle in the dark, and so pass on and go elsewhere.

Europeans professed to feel unsafe even in the forts, when they must have known from past events, such as the defence of Anamaboe Fort by a garrison of some thirty-nine men against an entire Ashanti army, that the Ashantis could never venture seriously to attack them. In fact the Ashanti is only dangerous in the bush, and when once he comes into the open, or ventures to attack fortified posts, he is of but little importance. Had an invasion really been taking place, thousands of people from the bush villages would have been flocking into Cape Coast for refuge; but that town remained in its usual stagnant condition, and the natives declared that no advance of the enemy was imminent.

What had really been said and done by the ambassadors was, moreover, not very clear. It appeared that on January 18th a refugee from [Pg 210]Coomassie, who had arrived at Cape Coast a day or two previously, had presented himself at Elmina Castle to claim protection. He stated that he was an Ashanti prince, named Awoosoo, and that, having incurred King Mensah’s displeasure, he had sought safety in flight. On January 19th a messenger from the king, with the golden axe and accompanied by three court-criers, demanded an audience of the Lieutenant-Governor. This messenger was a son of the late Ashanti chief, Amanquah Roomah, and he brought with him to the audience Enguie and Busumburu, the two Ashanti messengers who had been sent to thank Governor Ussher for his presents, and who had since been living in Cape Coast collecting information. The former of these two had signed the Treaty of Fommanah with Sir Garnet Wolseley, and the latter was an Ashanti captain.

After the usual compliments the messenger stated that the king had sent him to tell the Governor that a man named Awoosoo, a son of a prince of Ashanti, whoso ancestors were from Gaman, had been persuaded by an Assin trader, named Amankrah, to run away from Coomassie to the Protectorate; and the king had sent him to ask the Governor to send back Awoosoo. Further the envoy demanded that Amankrah should be given up, because, although he[Pg 211] had been regarded by the king as a friend, and had been for many years a resident in Coomassie, it had been reported to the king that he had lately gone to Gaman and obtained money from the king of that country upon a promise that he would use his best endeavours to persuade Awoosoo to go to Gaman.

To this the Lieutenant-Governor replied that as Awoosoo had not committed any crime, and was now under British protection, it was not in his power to give him up to the king. Enguie then asked if the Lieutenant-Governor would prevent Awoosoo from going to Gaman; and was told in reply that he was free to go from British protection or remain under it, as he pleased, no one having any right to control his movements.

So far all who were present at the audience were agreed as to what had occurred, but as to what followed there was a serious difference of opinion. Some said that Enguie then stated that the Assins were people who always caused palavers between Ashanti and the Protectorate, and that the king said if the Lieutenant-Governor would not give up Awoosoo he would invade Assin. Those who held to this version further stated that Busumburu at once got up and confirmed this statement, and that the Lieutenant-Governor thereupon called Enguie’s attention to the[Pg 212] treaty of Fommanah, and pointed out to him that an invasion of Assin meant war with England.

Other officers who were present at the audience positively declared that nothing of the sort had occurred, and that Enguie had at the audience made no threat of invasion; but that, as it had been reported that he had said to the interpreter, informally, and in the course of conversation at the interpreter’s house, that if Awoosoo were not given up the king would take Assin, the treaty of 1874 was shown to him. For my part I am inclined to believe that this latter account is the correct one; but it is a question which can never be satisfactorily settled, as the evidence is so conflicting.

With regard to the golden axe, people spoke of it as being a declaration of war, and said that it had been sent down in 1873, which was not a fact. In reality the golden axe alone is neither a declaration of war nor a menace. It simply means that the embassy which bears it is no ordinary one, and that the matter on which the envoys have come is one in which, as the senders think, great interests are at stake. In this case, however, the axe was accompanied by an additional emblem which did threaten hostilities. This was a fac-simile in gold of a portion of the earthen-nest of a mason-wasp, which escaped the notice of all Colonial officials, with but one exception, or was[Pg 213] considered by them unworthy of notice. This emblem denoted that if the affair on which the golden axe was sent were not settled to the satisfaction of the Ashantis they would use their stings, or, in other words, endeavour to attain their ends by force. So little was this symbol understood in Colonial circles that no explanation of its presence or meaning was ever at any time demanded from the Ashantis, not even when, later, they were protesting that they had never threatened or wished for war.

With reference to the report that Amankrah had induced Awoosoo to escape from Coomassie, it seems evident that there was no truth in it. The former stated that he met Awoosoo at Quissah near Fommanah, and that he, Awoosoo, begged to be conducted to the Governor. Awoosoo corroborated this, and neither of them could have any motive for concealing the truth, if the flight had been arranged in Coomassie.

The story that Amankrah had received a sum of money from King Ajiman of Gaman on a promise to do his best to induce Awoosoo to go to Gaman was a plausible one. Awoosoo was the real heir of the Gaman throne, and, if he appeared as a claimant for it, the rival factions of Ajiman and Korkobo would bury their differences, and the Gamanites would become a united people. Naturally, under these[Pg 214] circumstances, the Ashantis were very anxious to prevent him from going to Gaman. Awoosoo’s grandmother was a princess of Gaman, and it was through her that he derived his right to the throne, the female branches taking precedence of the male in conferring birthright both in Gaman and Ashanti. She married in Coomassie, and bore a daughter who married Prince Osai Cudjo of Ashanti. Awoosoo was the offspring of this union, and was thus a prince of Ashanti in right of his father and a prince of Gaman in right of his mother; but, in consequence of the native rule of precedence, he was considered to be a Gaman, and was always spoken of as a native of that country.

After the departure of the messengers with the golden axe the Colonial Government was suddenly seized with a violent craving for information concerning the tribes of the interior, their relations with Ashanti, and the position, in a military sense, of Ashanti itself. This was, of course, a most praiseworthy desire, but all such information ought to have been collected years before; and the eleventh hour, when all the officials were more or less in a state of panic, was hardly the time at which reliable data could be obtained or a temperate judgment formed. The merest hearsay reports were listened with avidity, and jotted down as most valuable evidence. Inquiries were made of Quabina Annuoah, the linguist[Pg 215] of King Chiboo of Yancoomassie-Fanti, who, according to his own statement, had not been to Coomassie for sixteen years, as to the condition of the Snider rifles which were in the possession of the Ashantis, and which they had only obtained during the last three or four years. Quabina promptly replied that Mensah had about three hundred Sniders, with not many cartridges; that sometimes the rifles were not cleaned for a week or two, and were now nearly all useless. To show how utterly unreliable this was I may add that a few weeks later a man named Amoo Quacoo, a blacksmith and a native of Accra, was brought to me, and in the course of conversation stated that he had lately returned from Coomassie, where he had been employed by the king in looking after three hundred Snider rifles stored in the king’s house. He said that the rifles were all in good condition, that the Ashantis took great care of them, cleaning and oiling them daily; and that there were about four boxes of ammunition to each rifle. Awoosoo had also seen these three hundred rifles, and the Government at once jumped to the conclusion that these were all the Ashantis possessed, until the illusion was rudely dispelled by two Germans, Messrs. Buck and Huppenbauer, who saw the king in Coomassie on February 5th, and counted one thousand men armed with Sniders.

[Pg 216]

The statements of Awoosoo and Quabina Annuoah, to the effect that there were now no good captains or generals in Ashanti, were gravely written down; when the Government must, or at all events ought to have been, aware that both Awooah, chief of Bantama, the conqueror of Djuabin, and Opokoo, chief of Becquai, who had opposed such a vigorous resistance to Sir Garnet Wolseley in 1874, were still in the land of the living. The latter made his statement still more ridiculous by saying that they could not get any men of his size (about 5 feet 7 inches). These two men were also questioned as to the number of men King Mensah could put into the field. The former is stated in the official documents to have said 20,000 and the latter 30,000. I should like to know how these figures were arrived at, for in the Tche language there are no words which can specifically express any such numbers.

On January 30th Prince Ansah returned from Axim, where he had been on some secret errand, probably superintending the transmission of the three tons of powder, which were smuggled at Apollonia, to Coomassie; on the next day, and on February 3rd, he had interviews with the Lieutenant-Governor. He protested that the Ashantis had no intention of making war, and that the Government was making a great mistake. He further added that the golden axe did[Pg 217] not denote hostile action, and that both Enguie and Busumburu denied altogether having said that if Awoosoo were not given up the king would invade Assin. He seemed much impressed at the rapidity with which the reinforcement had arrived from Sierra Leone. The Lieutenant-Governor, adopting a high tone, told Ansah that he would demand 5,000 ounces of gold as compensation for the expense to which the Colony had been put, and said that if the king refused to pay it he would seize some of his territory. As Ansah was not an accredited ambassador, but merely an agent, the Lieutenant-Governor committed himself to nothing by this statement; and probably the former knew quite well that the Imperial Government would never allow us to take the initiative in any hostile measures.

The advent of the two companies from Sierra Leone had raised the total strength of regular troops on the Gold Coast to 400 men. Houssas had also been brought up to Accra, so that there were 295 men of the Gold Coast Constabulary available, and thus stationed:—At Elmina, 140; at Prahsu, 115; and at Mansu, 40. H.M.S. “Flirt” had arrived at Elmina, and fifty of her men were held in readiness to land. These sensible additions to the local defences had somewhat quieted apprehensions, but there was still a good deal of excitement. The officials of the colony[Pg 218] had plucked up courage, and some positively bristled with warlike ardour; the ordinary duties and peaceful habits of life were discarded, the proverbial phrase “Cedant arma togæ” was cast to the dogs, and high legal functionaries busied themselves in the proposed raising of a local volunteer corps of native clerks and shopmen.

Earthworks were commenced at Java Hill and in the Government Garden at Elmina, where, in June 1873, a handful of the Second West India regiment had repulsed the main Ashanti attack with great slaughter. This work, when completed, was to be garrisoned by the seamen and marines from the men-of-war now lying off Elmina; but the senior naval officer refused to land his men unless he was allowed to take charge of the military operations. As there is a paragraph in the Queen’s Regulations expressly stating that naval officers shall not command troops on shore, this rather created a difficulty, which, however, the Lieutenant-Governor met by placing, much to the disgust of the military, the Houssa Constabulary under the orders of the naval officer. The seamen and marines, to the number of some fifty, were then landed, and remained in Elmina Castle for three days, at great peril to their health, as they were not provided with helmets.

During his short reign the senior naval officer withdrew all the Houssas from Prahsu and Mansu, on[Pg 219] the grounds that if they were left there they would be defeated and cut off. He did not seem to be aware that it was the duty of outposts to delay the advance of an enemy without compromising their own retreat, and to fall back slowly, sending full information to the main body. When the Houssas were withdrawn several thousand rounds of Snider ammunition were left at Prahsu, which the Ashantis could have taken had they so pleased; and had the enemy advanced we should have had to depend upon the ignorant and panic-stricken natives for intelligence, and should have had no reliable information as to the number, line of march, and armament of the foe. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a more inexpedient step than this withdrawal of our frontier post, for, in addition to weakening our military position, it naturally disheartened the protected tribes, and encouraged the Ashantis.

Before, however, this division in the command was made, the Ashanti messengers, both men of low origin, which in itself, considering the serious state of affairs, was a slight to the Government, arrived at Cape Coast, and had an audience with the Lieutenant-Governor on February 8th. These messengers were Quabina Ewah, a court-crier, and Quabina Oyentaki, a sword-bearer. They were accompanied by Enguie and Busumburu.

[Pg 220]

These envoys had left Coomassie before the ambassadors with the golden axe had returned, having in fact met them one day’s journey from the capital, and brought the following message:—

“The king has heard that Houssas and officers are at Prahsu, building a bridge. As all that is past is gone and done with, he wishes to know what this means, and why the Governor is going to fight?”

The messengers complained that the Adansis had illtreated them on their way through Adansi territory, and that they had seen them seize two Ashanti traders from the Kokofuah district, and plunder them of their goods and gunpowder. They further stated that the messengers with the golden axe had told them that at an Adansi village, named Ansah, a trader who had joined the retinue had been ill-treated and robbed of his gun. They applied to the Lieutenant-Governor for redress, and were evidently fully under the impression that Adansi was either included in the British protectorate or that we were bound by treaty to protect them from the Ashantis, and were consequently under the obligation of seeing that no Ashantis were maltreated by them.

In fact the Adansis appear to have laboured under the delusion that we were bound to support them, and so behaved in this manner. A renegade is always more bitter than a foe who has not changed sides, and[Pg 221] the Adansis, having ratted from the Ashanti kingdom when they conceived it to be falling to pieces, were now displaying their animosity by the—in this part of the world—unheard-of insult of molesting a person in the retinue of an ambassador. As they are numerically an insignificant tribe, they would not have dared to do this had they not believed that Great Britain was bound to save them from the vengeance of Ashanti; and, now that King Mensah fully understands that they are not a protected people, and provided that our non-intervention policy is still persevered in, their day of reckoning is not far distant.

One of the messengers, Quabina Eunah, having remarked that the Adansis were clearing the roads, the Lieutenant-Governor said that they were bound to do so by the treaty of Fommanah, and expressed a hope that the king of Ashanti was also fulfilling his treaty obligations by keeping the main road to his capital clear of bush, which expression elicited nothing from the messengers but a laugh. Now whether he was annoyed at this, or whether it was simply through ignorance of native customs (he being quite new to the country and people), the Lieutenant-Governor at once questioned the authenticity of the message, and asked the messengers how he was to know that they came from the king. They pointed to the gold plates on their breasts as being their[Pg 222] insignia of office, and the Lieutenant-Governor then said that the king ought to have sent him something which he had seen before, and could therefore recognise. Upon this Enguie sarcastically observed that hitherto the Governor had seen nothing from the king but the golden axe, and as they had left Coomassie before that state weapon had been returned to the capital it was impossible that they could have brought it down; adding, “even if his Excellency would like to see it again, which I doubt.” Everybody felt that the Lieutenant-Governor had not got the best of this little exchange of words, which had arisen through his groundless suspicion.

The ignorance of the country and mode of thought of the natives displayed by the Lieutenant-Governor’s advisers militated very much against the taking of vigorous measures. A combination of native tribes against Ashanti was talked of, and men who ought to have known better did not hesitate to include the Gamans in this confederation. The truth was, that the fact that a Gaman embassy had visited the coast in 1879, and had stated that the whole nation was actuated by a bitter hostility to Ashanti, was remembered; while all the information gained by Mr. Smith in his mission to Buntuku, which tended to show that no such feeling of ill-will existed, was forgotten. No doubt that gentleman’s report had long since been lost[Pg 223] sight of in one of the pigeon-holes in the Private Secretary’s office. Native report concerning Gaman asserted that King Ajiman had contrived to retain possession of the throne, but that Prince Korkobo was, in all but name, the actual ruler, and had been nominated Ajiman’s successor.

The only tribes in the British protectorate who could be relied upon to furnish a certain quota of men are those of Denkera, Assin, Western Akim, and Fanti. Wassaw, Ahanta, and Eastern Akim would not move in 1873, and do not seem to have any feeling of enmity to Ashanti; while to utilize the men of King Blay of Apollonia away from their own country would only be to tempt the disaffected natives surrounding his territory to take up arms.

That the tribes in the neighbourhood of Axim and Apollonia were disaffected was evident from the reports of the District Commissioner there, Mr. Firminger, a young officer who had taken the trouble to study what is too frequently neglected by the Colonial officers on the Gold Coast, namely, the political relations of the tribes with which he was brought in contact. He reported that the Awooins were on the most intimate terms with the Ashantis, and that their disregard for English law was owing to advice from Coomassie. The king of Bayin was also on friendly terms with King Mensah, and in January[Pg 224] 1881 had sent one of his cane-bearers to Coomassie to reside there, and had received in return an Ashanti agent to reside at Bayin. Mr. Firminger says:—“Should any trouble occur with Ashanti I am assured that the people from Bayin to the frontier would join them.”[3]

Under the general name of Fanti are included the petty kingdoms of Cape Coast, Elmina, Effutu, Abrali, Dunquah, Dominassi, Anamaboe, Mankessim, Ajimacong, and Mumford; and, generally speaking, the men of these sub-divisions are worthless as soldiers, while Elmina and Effutu are more than half friendly to the Ashantis. The number of men which each chief could put into the field is enormously exaggerated; thus the Anamaboe contingent is estimated at from 2,500 to 3,000, whereas it would be[Pg 225] exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to raise more than 500 men from that district. By using strong measures 4,000 men might be got together from the Fanti tribes collectively, but they would all rather carry than fight, and it would be better so to employ them.

On February 8th I received orders to proceed next day to Anamaboe with 100 men and two 4-2/5-inch howitzers, and occupy the fort there, which had hurriedly been put into a state of preparation, after having been without a garrison for some fifty years. With some difficulty I obtained permission to march to my destination instead of going by sea, as fears were entertained as to the liability of my being cut off; but I pointed out that as no enemy had yet crossed the Prah, and as that frontier was seventy-four miles distant, there could be no danger in a march which would only occupy a few hours. At that time war was considered inevitable: the axe, accompanied by the wasp’s nest, was a clear declaration of war; and Ansah’s declarations, and the second message from the king, viewed by the light of similar protestations in 1873, were not considered of much account.

Under such circumstances, to garrison Anamaboe with 100 men was, from a military point of view, a grievous mistake. In the first place it reduced the already sufficiently small force at Cape Coast; in the[Pg 226] second place the Ashantis had never been near Anamaboe since 1807, and were not likely to go there in 1881, since they had considered it too insignificant in 1814, 1824, 1863, and 1873; and in the third place, should the presence there of troops attract them, the force, being so small, could only act on the defensive. Held with a force sufficiently large to permit of offensive measures being adopted, Anamaboe would be an excellent position, as it is some miles nearer to Dunquah, and consequently to the Prah, than Cape Coast, and the flank of an army threatening the latter town might most effectually be harassed from it.


[3] This opinion, which is based upon unmistakeable facts, shows how precarious would be the position of the various Goldmining Companies now endeavouring to induce the British public to take shares in their enterprises. I have been asked by persons connected with these Companies to state that in the event of complications with Ashanti the Tarquah district would be quite free from molestation. I regret that I am unable to do so; but I believe that immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities the mining camps would be pillaged, the “plant” destroyed, and the persons employed only able to save their lives by instant flight. Of course, if the Colonial Government adopt measures for the protection of these Companies, that is another matter; but the main road from Assinee to Coomassie passes through Awooin, and the Ashantis would not allow their main artery for the supply of munitions of war to be cut off without opposition.

[Pg 227]


A Teacher of the Gospel—Anamaboe—A third Message from the King—Affairs in Coomassie—Downfall of the War Party—False Rumours—Arrival of the Governor—A fourth Message from the King—Further Complications.

At 5 a.m. on February 9th the company paraded, and we marched off to Anamaboe, a distance of some twelve miles. We followed the Prah road as far as Inquabim market, that is for about four and a half miles, and then branched off to the right by a narrow and irregular bush-path over the Iron Hills: the track was too narrow for two men to walk abreast, and the procession consequently was strung out to some length. The few natives we met, astonished at the unusual spectacle of soldiers in this part of the country, and fancying we were going to seize them as carriers, as was done in 1874, bolted into the bush directly they caught sight of us, dropping their pots of water or loads of plantains in their flight.

After three hours’ marching over vile roads and steep hills we halted for an hour for breakfast at a small village in the bush about nine miles from Cape Coast; the men piled arms and bivouacked under some[Pg 228] umbrella-trees in the centre of the village, while we, the officers, went towards a fairly good sort of house that stood close by; The owner and occupier of this mansion was a local preacher belonging to some missionary society, and he at once said, like any other native would have said, that we might make use of his house during our stay; but added, unlike any other native, provided we paid him: we made no difficulty about this, and proceeded to breakfast. While we were discussing that meal the preacher came in accompanied by two young girls, about twelve or thirteen years of age, attired in gorgeous native cloths, with their wool distorted into the latest Fanti fashion, and bedecked with brilliant handkerchiefs. We asked our host if he required anything, and he said “No,” he had only come to do a little business with us; we then inquired what that business might be, and, after a little beating about the bush, he informed us that, as Anamaboe was rather a dull place for Europeans, he thought we might like to buy these two girls, and, if so, we could have them for 4l. a piece. We asked him what authority he had for disposing of them in this unceremonious fashion, and he replied that they were his servants; but, on being pressed for further information, he confessed that they had been given to him by their parents in payment of some debt—in fact they were slaves. Much to his[Pg 229] disappointment we felt ourselves obliged to decline his generous offer, which refusal he attributed entirely to the price, and lowered his terms first to 3l. 10s. and then to 3l., equally without success; while it was easy to see that the dusky damsels considered our rejection of the proposal as a proof of our exceedingly bad taste, and were as much disappointed and chagrined as their master.

A little abashed at the manner in which we had treated his offer, the preacher sent away the two young ladies to the back of his premises, and, beginning to have a faint idea that he had somehow not risen in our estimation, he endeavoured to retrieve his lost ground by falling back upon his more legitimate occupation, and asked that we should delay our departure in order that he might preach a sermon to the men. The hypocrisy of this proposition, coming as it did immediately after the other, was more than we could stand, and, expressing our thoughts in unequivocal terms, we paid him what we owed, went out, and got the men together ready to march off. The village pastor, however, was not going to be done out of an opportunity of showing forth before his unsophisticated flock, and, while we were preparing to start, delivered an exhortation in which “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” “soldiers of the Lord,” “smite with the edge of the sword,” and similar [Pg 230]expressions, were jumbled together in a meaningless jargon; while when we moved off he strode alongside for some distance, open-mouthed, shouting in a discordant voice that highly-appropriate hymn called “Hold the Fort,” the work of those itinerant vendors of religion, Messrs. Moody and Sankey.

Whenever I meet such creatures as this local preacher I am moved to anger and restrain myself only with difficulty. Little children in England stint themselves in the luxury of sweets by giving of their scarce pence to aid the “poor missionaries,” and people who can ill afford to be charitable contribute their mite to further the promulgation of Christianity among heathen negroes; while scoundrels like this preacher batten upon the subscriptions thus raised, live in the best house in the village, acquire authority and wealth, and lead a happy life of idleness and vice. The persons who draw up those highly-coloured Mission Reports for the benefit of the gullible British public have a great deal to answer for.

We reached Anamaboe about 10 a.m., and found the fort prepared for our reception as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Of late years it had been occupied by two or three Fanti policemen with their numerous wives and dependents, and consequently was not as clean as it might have been;[Pg 231] while no attempt had been made to make good the damage resulting from years of neglect. As a military position, the defects which were the cause of the surrender of the fort to the Ashantis in 1806 had not been remedied; the loopholes in the curtain were so made that fire could only be brought to bear on a point some forty yards from the walls, and persons beyond or within that distance could not be touched, while the embrasures yawned to such an extent that it would cost many lives to work guns so exposed to the fire of an enemy. Added to this, the native swish-houses extended on one side to within twenty yards of the walls; and on another side stood an immense house, built of stone, which actually overlooked the bastions and commanded the whole fort. As neither food nor water fit to drink were to be obtained here, these necessaries of life had to be forwarded daily from Cape Coast in surf-boats: sometimes the water, through some oversight, failed to appear, and we had to use the dysenteric liquid from the neighbouring pools, or go without; the former alternative was usually chosen, and, in spite of every precaution, such as boiling and filtering, a very large percentage of the men were constantly on the sick-list. As for the officers, three in number, we were always more or less ill. The town was in a condition of indescribable filth, and at times the stench[Pg 232] which arose was so suffocating that, in spite of the intense heat, we were obliged to keep the doors and windows of our rooms closed. The streets, the yards, the bush—in fact the whole surface of the earth within a radius of half-a-mile from the fort—was covered with the collected refuse of half-a-century, which, under the combined influence of sun and rain, gave forth a curious variety of pestilential odours. Altogether, Anamaboe was an exceedingly salubrious and, under the circumstances, useful post.

On February 17th a third embassy arrived at Cape Coast from Coomassie, consisting of a linguist, a sword-bearer, three court-criers, and an old fetish priestess, the latter of whom threatened to utterly destroy both the English and the Fantis if they did not at once abandon any intention they might have of making war upon Ashanti. On the 18th these ambassadors, with the exception of the old lady, had an interview with the Lieutenant-Governor at Elmina, Enguie and Busumburu being again in attendance. After the preliminary formalities, Bendi, the linguist, said:—

“The king of Ashanti sends his compliments to his friend the Governor, and bids me to speak to the Governor’s interpreter, and to tell him to say to the Governor that some time ago an Assin trader, named Amankrah, came to Coomassie to trade, and[Pg 233] stole away the king’s son Awoosoo down to the coast. When Prince Awoosoo ran away from Coomassie the king’s messengers came to ask the Governor to give him up. But by the law of England, if a man runs to the English Government for protection, he cannot be given up. The king of Ashanti says—‘When my son ran away I applied to the Governor to see if he could give him up to me. I have no palaver with the Assins, but Enguie, out of his own head, said to the Governor—‘If you do not give him up, some palaver will come.’ Your Excellency must know that that was not the king’s message.’

“The Governor said—‘Give me the paper.’ He said to Enguie—‘Are you Enguie? Are you the man who signed the treaty that Assin, Gaman, and Denkera, should be under the English, and now do you come to me to break the treaty?’ Enguie said—‘I do not break the treaty.’ After this we wished to leave Elmina in order to go to Cape Coast, but next morning a messenger came and told our messengers that they must not go, for the Governor had still something to say. Then our messengers waited and the Governor said he must make a book,[4] because Enguie had broken the treaty. Our [Pg 234]messengers replied—‘No one can read at Coomassie, but we will take your letter to the king.’

“Then the letter was carried to the king, and the king said—‘Enguie did not break the treaty. The words he spoke were his own words. He was sent to the Governor to be kept on the coast. He is the Governor’s servant, and it must not be said that he broke the treaty.’ For this reason the king has sent us, his linguist and sword-bearer, to let the Governor know that this is the case. We mean to say that Enguie himself said these words, and not the king. He is the servant of the Governor as well as of the king, and it was his own speech, and not the king’s message.

“Again we say to the Governor, the king of Adansi made a report that the king of Ashanti is going to march upon the Adansis and fight with them. But, in consequence of the treaty between England and Ashanti, the Ashantis would not come down to fight with anybody. They would not bring a single gun across the Prah to fight. As to the people under the English Government, the king will never come to fight any one of them. The king says so. If the Governor has heard that the Ashantis are ready to attack any part of the protectorate, the report is not true. The king wishes to be a friend to this Governor, as Quacoe Duah was to[Pg 235] Governor Maclean. If any one says that the king of Ashanti intends to attack the protectorate it is false, and not true. He has sent us to say that it is not true. He wishes to be friendly with the Governor.

“As to the gold axe, it means nothing. It is not used as a symbol; you can ask any of the chiefs about here. Amankrah Accoomah, the axe-bearer, used to bring the axe, but it is no symbol. The king says—‘You can tell the Governor that the axe is nothing.’ If any one comes and reports to the Governor this and that of the king, let the Governor send a messenger to the king, and the king will clear himself.

“We have finished. For this reason have we come, we wish to be friends with the Governor. As to what Enguie has said, Enguie is the Governor’s servant, and the Governor can forgive Enguie and let that pass.”

After this some conversation ensued, in the course of which both Enguie and Busumburu, amid considerable confusion, denied that the former had ever said that the king would attack Assin. The Lieutenant-Governor thereupon called the Government interpreter, Davis, and in answer to questions the latter said that Enguie had told him, at his house, that if Awoosoo were not given up the Ashantis would attack Assin. It is worthy of notice that Davis[Pg 236] said nothing of any such threat having been formally made during the audience with the Lieutenant-Governor; indeed, for some inscrutable reason, the regular interpreter had not been employed upon that occasion, and the duty of interpretation had been left to a young clerk employed in the Colonial Office, a fact which renders the theory of a formal threat having been made exceedingly doubtful.

This was all that occurred of moment, and as the Governor, Sir Samuel Rowe, was expected to arrive soon, the Lieutenant-Governor decided to leave things as they were, and merely returned a message to the effect that he was glad to hear of King Mensah’s peaceable intentions, and that so long as these were manifest he would be his friend. Yet, having heard that Sir Samuel Rowe would arrive in a few days, he thought it better to leave the matter in his hands, as the Governor coming direct from the Queen would know her mind on the subject.

Having seen what was taking place in the protectorate it may be now interesting to know what the Ashantis had been doing in their capital, and to ascertain the causes which led to the threatening attitude, and to the subsequent peaceful and apologetic messages.

As I have endeavoured to show in Chapter XI., affairs were in rather a critical condition in Coomassie[Pg 237] owing to the struggle for supremacy between the war and court parties, and the escape of Awoosoo, happening at this crisis, placed the winning card in the hands of the former. As I have already said, it was necessary in the interests of Prince Korkobo of Gaman, the good friend and ally of Ashanti, that Awoosoo should be detained in Coomassie, and the unexpected escape of a person of such importance in Ashanti politics created the greatest consternation, which feeling, when it became known that the fugitive had claimed British protection, was soon mingled with a longing for revenge. Numerous influential chiefs, who had hitherto either belonged to the court party or had equally held aloof from both sections, now joined the war party, which carried everything before it, and at the “palaver” which was held Mensah could do nothing but acquiesce in their proposals: in fact any attempt on his part to stem the popular current would only have resulted in his downfall.

From time immemorial in Ashanti it had been the custom when any important personage sought asylum with the British Government to send an embassy to demand the surrender of the refugee, with instructions, in the event of a refusal, to threaten prompt hostilities. At the meeting of turbulent “caboceers” it was determined to follow this haughty precedent, and the king[Pg 238] was compelled to submit. To use the words of an eye-witness—“The king said to the messengers who were to start for Cape Coast—‘All black men are subject to me and I will have my revenge for all this.’ He then took the golden axe and the golden hoe, saying: ‘If this man should escape up a tree, here is an axe with which to cut it down. Should he burrow into the ground, here is a hoe with which to dig him up. Go, and bring him back.’”

This reference to the axe and hoe meant that the ambassadors were to hew or make their way through all obstacles; and that, if necessary, force would be used for the accomplishment of the mission on which they were sent.

So far, but no further, was Mensah influenced by the powerful war party. A number of the chiefs wished to declare war at once, without waiting for any reply from the Government of the Gold Coast to their demand; and Awooah, the Ashanti general, actually swore the king’s oath, to break which is death, that he would drive the Adansis over the Prah. He left Coomassie for Bantama, his town, to call out the men of his district; but Mensah succeeded in persuading all the other chiefs, except Opokoo of Becquai, to postpone actual hostilities until the expected refusal of the Government, had been received, and Awooah, finding only one chief ready to second[Pg 239] him, gave up his project. As he was too influential a person to be put to death, for in Ashanti as elsewhere the law seems to be made rather for the poor than for the rich, he was punished for breaking the king’s oath by the infliction of a heavy fine.

After the departure of the embassy with the axe, most of the opposition “caboceers” retired to their own towns to await the issue, and Mensah took advantage of this to gather round him all his adherents and strengthen his position. Before, however, the ambassadors returned to the capital with the reply of the Lieutenant-Governor, messengers arrived there with the news that Houssas and officers were at Prahsu building a bridge. This report, which originated in the despatch of a few Houssas to Prahsu to watch events, while it confirmed the worst apprehensions of the court party, seemed to the war party to evince a disposition on the part of the Colonial Government to meet them half-way, which they considered exceedingly suspicious. In all their former wars with the British they had taken the initiative, and over-run the country between the Prah and the sea with their victorious armies. Even in the disastrous war of 1873-4 they had, for more than six months, held entire possession of the western half of the colony, with the exception of two or three towns on the sea-board, which were protected by the forts and gunboats.[Pg 240] They wished for war it is true, but they wished to enter upon it when and where they pleased, and were not at all prepared to have it carried into their own country. That they expected this to be done is evident from the message sent by the king on February 6th to Mr. Newenham, the constabulary officer stationed at Prahsu, to the effect that he hoped to receive timely notice before the British forces marched on Coomassie. They remembered the advance of European troops which followed the building of a bridge over the Prah on a former occasion, therefore when told that a bridge was now being built, they jumped to the conclusion that the Government must have some considerable force at hand. The more hot-headed members of the war party wished to invade Adansi at once, so as to dispute the passage of the Prah, but some of the more recent adherents of this group changed sides once more, thus strengthening Mensah’s hands; and the result of the next “palaver” was the despatch of the peaceful and apologetic second message, which was delivered at Cape Coast Castle on February 8th.

The day after this second embassy had left Coomassie, the ambassadors with the golden axe returned with the letter from the Lieutenant-Governor, refusing to comply with the demand which had been made for the surrender of Awoosoo, and two days[Pg 241] later an important “palaver” was held. The two parties were now fairly matched, and the discussion lasted for several days, each section endeavouring, by eloquence, taunts, threats, and promises, to win over wavering opponents to its own side. While victory was still trembling in the balance news arrived at Coomassie that the Government was arming the Fantis and the Assins, and was about to invade Ashanti with these auxiliaries. This rumour was entirely without foundation, but its effect in Coomassie was prodigious. Neither the war nor the court party could hear patiently that their old enemies, whom they had conquered time after time, and whom they considered to be slaves and women, were about to carry war into their territory; a terrible orgie broke out, the death-drum was beaten, slaves were sacrificed, all the Assins and Fantis in Coomassie were “put in log,” and night closed upon a wild scene of madness and intoxication.

Had not this report been immediately contradicted war would have been inevitable; but next morning it was declared to be unfounded by a messenger from Prince Ansah who opportunely arrived, and who also brought the news of the sudden arrival of troops at Cape Coast from Sierra Leone. The strength of the reinforcement was greatly exaggerated, and it was said that thousands of Europeans were en route from[Pg 242] England and daily expected. The war party then began to think that, considering the divided state of the nation, they had been a little too hasty in their declaration of hostilities, and that it would be better to temporise. The queen-mother, who possessed enormous influence, threatened to commit suicide “on the heads”[5] of the principal chiefs of the war party if they persevered in their intentions, and this threat sealed the fate of their party. Most of the bellicose chiefs returned to their own towns to sulk in dignified silence, and Mensah had things entirely his own way. To show how pacific were his intentions he said, at a palaver which was held at this time, “It is said that white men are coming across the Prah. We have done nothing, we have no quarrel with them. Let us sit still; and, if they wish to fight, let them fire the first shot.” A party of Ashantis whom he had sent to take possession of a gold-mine situated in Adansi territory, and the ownership of which was the subject of a dispute, were also recalled, in order that there might be no pretext for saying that he was interfering in the affairs of tribes who were [Pg 243]independent The day after the above statement of his intentions Mensah sent his third message to the Lieutenant-Governor, explicitly stating that he had no hostile design. This message was, as we have seen, delivered on February 18th; thus, twenty-five days after the declaration of war, it was known to the government of the Gold Coast that Mensah desired peace, and that there was no prospect of an embroilment; but by that time the first alarming telegram had already reached England.

After the decision of the Lieutenant-Governor to do nothing till the arrival of his superior, the Colony was disturbed by several groundless alarms. One of these was to the effect that the king was calling out his army, and had posted a strong force at Ordahsu; while, according to another, which was current on March 2nd, the Ashantis had crossed the Prah in force, and had reached Dunquah. The author of these false reports was never discovered, though suspicion fell upon a trader, who, having a large supply of goods on hand, wished to keep others from importing. This man was also suspected of sending that telegram from St. Vincent which surprised England with the intelligence that the Ashanti army was within three days’ march of Cape Coast.

But, although there was little or nothing to be feared from the tribes beyond the boundary of the[Pg 244] Colony, there was a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the protected tribes. The chiefs of Accra, on being called together to state what quota of men they would be prepared to furnish in case of war, flatly refused to raise any men for the defence of the protectorate until their king, Tacki, was released from imprisonment at Elmina. This refusal was committed to writing and the document signed by forty-eight of the most influential chiefs of the district. I have already referred to the critical state of affairs in the western extremity of the Colony, and to the east the Awoonahs began to make preparations; so energetically, too, that the chiefs of Addah, who had promised to raise some 4,000 men, now said that they could not leave their own country, as, were they to do so, the Awoonahs would pillage their towns and carry off the women and children.

These facts were rude shocks to the Government. Theoretical Governors had fondly nursed the belief, until it had grown into an article of faith, that the years of peace which had succeeded the events of 1874 had induced the various tribes in the protectorate,—distinct though these were by language, traditions, and customs,—to bury their several grievances and become a homogeneous people, and now it was only too evident that the mere rumour of possible hostilities with Ashanti had alone been sufficient to[Pg 245] bring again into prominence all their inter-tribal enmities, and make each nation suspicious and jealous of its neighbours. The world can now judge how far any proposed combination of the protected tribes against Ashanti would be likely to be successful.

On March 4th the Governor of the Gold Coast Colony, Sir Samuel Rowe, arrived at Elmina, accompanied by some half-dozen of the Sierra Leone armed police, a number of Kroomen, who had been engaged as carriers, and several officers temporarily in Colonial employ. By the 12th the Chief Justice had arrived from Accra, and the Governor was sworn in.

After this ceremony had been performed everybody expected him to say or do something to re-open communications with the king, to whose peaceful message of February 18th no answer had yet been returned; but, instead, nothing was talked of but meetings of friendly chiefs and the raising of native levies. A demonstration to the Prah was mooted, which, had it been undertaken, would have been quite useless, for the now independent kingdom of Adansi intervenes between that river and Ashanti; while the dreadful mortality of the war of 1863 should have taught that no body of men ought to be encamped at Prahsu, if any other equally suitable locality could be found. As the king had said he desired peace, there did not seem any necessity for a[Pg 246] demonstration at all; though, if one were undertaken, the Adansi hills, being at once comparatively healthy and on the southern frontier of Ashanti, would be the proper point at which to make it.

The old rumours of preparations in Ashanti were revived. It was reported that a messenger from the king of Adansi had brought intelligence that the army was being called out, and a letter from a German agent at Addah, one of the last places for obtaining authentic information from Coomassie, was gravely quoted in support of the theory that, in spite of all peaceable protestations, Mensah still meant war. Many people began seriously to think that the Governor intended to force on a war, while others, who were more behind the scenes, surmised that Sir Samuel Rowe was merely raising the Ashanti bugbear in order that he might obtain more credit for laying it.

It was evident that the Home Government thought we were fighting for dear life, for on March 13th the hired transport “Ararat,” with sick and wounded from Natal, put in to Cape Coast, en route for England, to pick up our wounded. Happily we had not prepared any, and the ship went away as it had come.

Earlier than this, however, namely on March 6th, the Governor had an interview with Enguie and Busumburu, who had remained at Cape Coast since the beginning of the complication. He addressed them[Pg 247] to the effect that the British Government did not wish to conquer Ashanti, but rather that the Fantis and Ashantis should live in peace together, and was as ambiguous and encouraging as he could well be. The Ashantis replied that they had brought their message to Prince Ansah, and they wished to give it to the Governor through him.

Accordingly, on March 8th, Prince Ansah came to Elmina, and the ambassadors through him proposed that a portion of the embassy might be allowed to return to Coomassie, to carry a special message to the king. The Governor replied that he considered this request should be made by the ambassadors in person. This was done on the 11th, when the ambassadors stated that they were very anxious to send a message to the king, and requested permission to send three of their number to Coomassie. The Governor said that he had no objection as long as it was clearly understood that the message which they carried was a private one from themselves, and not from him, and that they made that matter perfectly clear to the king. Next day the messengers left for Coomassie, their departure and the final settlement of the Ashanti difficulty having by the above diplomatic subterfuges been delayed for six days.

In the meantime, King Mensah at Coomassie could not at all understand what was taking place. He had[Pg 248] sent to Cape Coast to say he had no intention of making war, and, instead of any reply being vouchsafed, he had been told that he must wait for an answer until the arrival of the Governor. That event had been duly communicated to him by his agent at Cape Coast, but still no message came, and his pacific declaration was treated with contemptuous silence. To say that he was not pleased at this would but feebly express his feelings on the subject. Never before had a message from an Ashanti king been received in such a contumelious manner; the majority of the chiefs were of opinion that it was a premeditated insult, and some went so far as to urge him to soothe his wounded dignity by an appeal to arms. In fact had the Government been desirous of war they could hardly have adopted a line of policy more likely to have produced that result. Mensah, however, was sincerely desirous of peace, and he despatched fresh messengers to Cape Coast, who, as an appeal to the Government was thought to be useless, were instructed to solicit the good offices of the traders, both European and native, to place matters on a friendly footing between the colony and Ashanti.

These messengers left Coomassie before the news of the Governor’s arrival had reached there, and arrived at Cape Coast on March 10th. They were four in number, and were named Osai Bruni, Yow[Pg 249] Ewoah, Quarmin Insia, and Dantando. Their arrival, and the object of their mission, concerning which they made no secret, were at once communicated to the Governor by the District-Commissioner, but they were allowed to remain in the town unnoticed until the 13th, when they of their own accord went over to Elmina. There they asked permission to submit to the Governor the message that they intended to deliver to the merchants. After further unnecessary delays they were allowed to do so on March 16th, and were then informed that the Government had no objection to their delivering such a message, but they must clearly understand that this permission could not in any way affect any action which the Government might afterwards think proper to take.

On March the 18th a meeting of traders was held at Cape Coast, and the following was the message delivered—“The king sent us to come to Prince Ansah and say ‘Let our family differences be at an end.’ He sent us to Prince Ansah for him to take us to the merchants of Cape Coast Castle for them to help the king, and say to the Governor that if he, the king, had done anything wrong in the matter of the message with the axe, that he, the king, asked that the Governor should pardon his mistake.” They further declared that Mensah was willing to do anything to maintain peace, and asked that a[Pg 250] European officer might be sent to Coomassie to see for himself that no preparations, either overt or secret, for war were going on.

After this meeting of the mercantile classes the Ashanti messengers again had an interview with the Governor, who told them that he had nothing to do with the message they brought, that what the merchants might have said was their own business, and that the words of the Queen could only be sent to the king through the Governor. He then added that they were to remember that the difficulty between the king and the British Government had not yet been settled or cleared up in any way, and dismissed them with the customary formalities.

The messengers started on the return journey on March 20th, and no understanding between the Government and the king had been arrived at. In fact matters had become further complicated, for the manner in which these friendly overtures had been received could not be regarded in any other light than as a rebuff, and the Governor’s concluding words could only be construed as a thinly-veiled threat. European residents in the Colony now began to regard the state of affairs as really serious, and for the first time held the opinion of the departing envoys, that the Governor, for some reason of his own, was bent upon forcing on a war.


[4] i.e. write a letter.

[5] To commit suicide “on the head” of a person means that the intending suicide invokes the name of that person before putting an end to his own life. The person whose name is thus invoked occupies, according to local custom, exactly the same position as if he had killed the suicide with his own hand, and is liable to be mulcted in damages and subjected to all the extortions of a family “palaver.”

[Pg 251]


Arrival of Reinforcements—Sanitary condition of Cape Coast—Culpable neglect—Meeting of Chiefs—The Messengers from Sefwhee—Expedition to the Bush—Its effect upon the Ashantis.

Upon the same day as that upon which the Ashanti messengers had their interview with the traders of Cape Coast the hired-transport “Humber” arrived with the Second West India regiment from the West Indies; so that, in addition to the intelligence that their mission had been a failure, the envoys were enabled to communicate to King Mensah the unpleasant news of the arrival of fresh troops, which fact, of course, could only tend to confirm him in the opinion he had formed, that an invasion of Ashanti territory was intended. With the Second West India regiment came Colonel W. C. Justice, who assumed command of the troops in West Africa, and the advent of this reinforcement raised the total force available for active service to about 1,200 men, consisting of some 950 disciplined West India soldiers and 250 men of the semi-disciplined Houssa Constabulary.

As there was no room for the new arrivals from the West Indies, either in the Castle or in the huts at[Pg 252] Connor’s Hill, they were quartered, partly under canvas on the drill-ground to the west of the town and partly in hired buildings in the town itself. In 1873 no troops were put on shore until their services were actually required, and, when so landed, great care was taken to provide them with camping-grounds, or huts, far removed from the neighbourhood of native towns; and it is much to be regretted that it was not possible to adopt similar precautions on this occasion, for the amount of sickness which ensued amongst the officers and men of the Second West India regiment quartered in the town was appalling.

The town of Cape Coast is one of the most filthy and unhealthy known to the civilized world. In 1872 we find Governor Hennessy thus writing of it—“It was my disagreeable duty to tell the late Administrator that I found the town of Cape Coast ... to be the most filthy and apparently neglected place that I had ever seen under anything like a civilized Government.” That description answers perfectly even at the present day. After the Ashanti war of 1873-4 some attempts at improvement were commenced during the administration of Governor Strahan; but on the removal of the seat of government to Accra these were discontinued, and the condition of the town is now as bad as ever. With a population of some nine or ten thousand native inhabitants, addicted to the[Pg 253] most repulsive habits, Cape Coast does not possess any system of drainage, or even the most primitive requirements of sanitation. Festering heaps of pollution, and stagnant pools of foul water, lie among and around the houses; while every by-street, passage, and open space, is used by the natives as a place in which to deposit their offal and refuse. The town can indeed boast of one surface-drain, built of masonry and about a foot in breadth, which was originally intended to carry away the water of a contaminated brook, and drain some plague-breeding pools in the lower part of the town; but the genius of a colonial engineer who constructed this colossal work in 1875 so planned it that it stands some two feet above the level of the surrounding earth like a wall; and as water in this part of the world has not yet acquired the art of climbing up a vertical height it runs anywhere but where it was intended to. Besides, after rain, this insignificant rivulet becomes a stream three or four feet deep and several yards broad. The fringe of bush all round the town is defiled to such an extent as to be almost impassable, while to the east of the castle, and only 450 yards distant from it, is a rock on which has been deposited the accumulated corruption of years, and which, by local regulation, is still put to the same use. With such surroundings it can be imagined that it avails but little to keep the Castle,[Pg 254] and buildings in actual occupation by Europeans, in a proper sanitary condition.

In addition to all the foregoing increments to the natural healthiness of the climate, droves of swine and goats wander about the town at will, and at night share the interiors of the houses with the natives and their fowls; and although an ordinance has been passed to put a stop to this, and could easily be put in force, it is not so enforced, upon the extraordinary ground that it would not be pleasing to the natives. Either we govern the Gold Coast or we do not: if the latter let us at once acknowledge the fact; but if the former, it is the first duty of a Government to put a stop to practices prejudicial to the common weal, irrespective of any consideration as to the result of their action in gain or loss of popularity.

The following is an instance of how we manage matters in this part of the world. In January 1879, while I was at Accra, an ordinance was put into my hands, entitled the Towns, Police, and Health Ordinance, one clause of which provided for the seizure and destruction of all pigs and goats found at large, and for the punishment of their owners. I was told it would come into force on February 1st of the same year, and was desired to take all necessary measures. Accordingly I sent for the principal chiefs and told them that from February 1st any such[Pg 255] animals found in the streets would be impounded and the owners fined; and that, consequently, they must build styes or make enclosures, or adopt some plan for keeping them confined. They did not like it, of course, for your Gold Coast barbarian is the most conservative creature in the world and would rather do almost anything than change old habits; but they saw it had to be done, and on February 1st not a pig or goat was to be seen at large. This happy state of things continued till February 3rd, when a high Colonial official came in from Christiansborg, and, in the course of conversation, said that this ordinance, commonly known as the Pig Ordinance, was not to be put in force. I asked why not; and was told that the Government thought it would not do, that the people would not like it, and there might be a disturbance. I replied that it had actually been in force for three days, and that there had been no difficulty at all; but it was of no use, and I had to send for the chiefs and tell them that they could let their animals run loose again, and of course the nuisance became as great as ever.

Thus at Cape Coast, as at Accra, a ridiculous fear of offending native prejudices and losing popularity has prevented the Government from enforcing sanitary regulations. The consequences of such a state of things would be deplorable in a temperate and healthy[Pg 256] climate; what then must they be in a climate which is notoriously the worst in the world? An instance of how this climate, when sanitary arrangements are not made, affects Europeans, may be found in the case of the 104 Marines who were sent to the Gold Coast in 1873. Soon after their arrival 63 per cent. were on the sick-list, and on July 31st the whole detachment had to be sent home, having lost 18 out of their number, or at the rate of 17·30 per cent. per six months. It is the opinion of medical men, well qualified to judge, that nearly half the deaths on the Gold Coast are caused by the shameful neglect of even the most elementary sanitary principles, and if this be the fact, when one remembers the hundreds of valuable lives that have there been sacrificed, it must be acknowledged that successive Governors, who have permitted this state of things to continue, have much to answer for. Colonial officials endeavour to explain away this strange apathy on the part of administrators by saying that the Colonial Office is so tired of hearing the very name of the Gold Coast that that Governor is most praiseworthy in its eyes who allows things to jog along quietly without bother; and that, as the attempt to enforce sanitary measures would cause trouble and expense, no one cares to make it. If this be the true interpretation of the enigma then indeed the Colony is in a bad case, as it is not[Pg 257] sufficiently inviting to induce Governors who may, through the possession of private means or influential position, be independent of the office, to go out, and so the present condition of affairs will continue. For my part, however, I am inclined to attribute this policy of laissez faire partly to the craving for popularity so often exhibited by Governors, and partly to the fact that many of them have risen to that position from subordinate posts on the Gold Coast, and that their residence there, and years of use, have dulled the sense of strangeness and disgust which a newcomer at once experiences.

On March 20th I was relieved from my command at Anamaboe, returning to Cape Coast to take up some new duties, and next day I went over to Elmina, where a meeting of the Executive Council was to be held, and where Colonel Justice was to take the oaths and his seat as officer commanding the troops.

From what occurred at that meeting it was evident that the Governor was fully alive to the evil consequences that might ensue from his combined policy of “masterly inaction” and ambiguous warnings, and that he was also determined to continue in the same path. After the events that had occurred had been recapitulated, a conversation took place amongst the members of the Council, in the course of which the Lieutenant-Governor exactly described the[Pg 258] position by saying that the Ashantis had sent a formal message and were awaiting a reply, but that the Governor had thought it right to wait a little before giving his answers. He then added that, in his opinion, the Governor was acting wisely. This expression of opinion was, perhaps, what was to be expected from a subordinate under the circumstances; but if it was his bonâ fide opinion it is difficult to understand by what process of reasoning he arrived at it. The longer the Governor delayed sending his reply the longer the Colony would remain in an alarmed and unsettled state, and the longer trade would remain at a standstill. Besides this there was the danger of all communication between the king and the Government ceasing, and of the Ashantis being driven into war through fear of our aggression. These dangers were understood and pressed by the members of the Council; Captain Hope asking if it would not now be better to send a message up and conclude the matter; and Colonel Justice inquiring if European officers might not be sent up to negociate. The Chief Justice was of opinion that the Ashantis were thoroughly frightened, and wished to do all in their power to avert war; that they seemed to believe that we intended to take Coomassie, and that great care would have to be taken to prevent them declaring war with a view to prevent an invasion. All[Pg 259] these sound reasonings and suggestions were, however, over-ruled by the Governor, and the Council adjourned sine die, leaving the conduct of negociations entirely in his hands.

Everybody well knew by this time that there was no prospect of a war unless we took the initiative, and the well-known peace proclivities of the political party then in office at home put that out of the question. Universal astonishment, therefore, was felt when it was known that on March 23rd the Governor had interviewed representatives from different tribes and chiefs in the protectorate, and had asked what contingent of fighting-men or carriers each could furnish. Apollonia, Axim, Akim, Assin, Anamaboe, and Elmina, were represented, and the delegates unanimously replied that all their men were fighting-men, and that some consultation would be necessary before they could say how many carriers they could furnish.

Two days after this meeting it was generally known that the Governor intended visiting Accroful and Mansu, and an officer started for the latter town with 145 Kroomen to prepare huts. Daily, after March 25th, quantities of stores and materials were forwarded to Mansu, viâ Effutu, a route which was chosen because it avoided the town of Cape Coast, though it was longer than the ordinary one through[Pg 260] that place; and it was evident that a small expedition of some kind was being prepared, concerning which the military were, for some unintelligible reason, to be kept in the dark. In fact, when at this time Colonel Justice informed the Governor that he proposed going, without an escort and accompanied by only two officers, as far as Mansu to examine the road, the latter wrote that the Ashantis knew everything that was going on, that they fully understood the difference between civilians and military, and that, in his opinion, such a visit as that proposed would at once put the settlement of the difficulty beyond the possibility of any other than a settlement to be brought about by a resort to military force; yet all the time men and stores were being sent up country, under the conduct of military officers, thinly disguised as civilians, because they were temporarily in Colonial employ.

As, if the matter were finally to be settled peaceably, a palaver would have to be held with the Ashantis either at Elmina, Cape Coast, or Accra, it seemed an extraordinary proceeding for the Governor, under existing circumstances, to go up country at all. As the Ashantis knew everything that was going on they would know all about the concentration of supplies, carriers, and Houssas at Mansu; and, naturally inferring from this, and from the fact that[Pg 261] no answer had been returned to two peaceable messages, that the Government intended to go to war and endeavour to crush them, they would sink all their political differences in the face of a great national calamity, and become once more a united people. Some said that the Governor was going to meet the envoys, whom rumour said were coming down, but such speakers forgot that that would be a most derogatory proceeding on the part of an individual representing Her Majesty: others even asserted that he intended, despite the well-known pacific tendencies of the Home Government, to bring on a war for some purpose of his own. Those, however, who had had the benefit of a former experience of the Governor, knew that he was possessed of an uncontrollable mania for playing at soldiers and commanding small expeditionary forces composed of policemen and carriers, and that this was the real reason of the proposed movement. So inopportune was the time he now selected for this pastime that only by the merest chance, as we shall see later, did he escape from rendering a peaceable solution of the Ashanti difficulty impossible.

On March 27th forty Sefwhee messengers, with two state-swords, who had arrived at Cape Coast on the previous day, had an interview with the Governor at Elmina. It was said they asked for powder, lead, and muskets, as they feared an immediate attack[Pg 262] of the Ashantis; and two of them afterwards informed us that a large Ashanti force had appeared on their frontier near the point where the Ashanti territory abuts on both that of Gaman and Sefwhee.

On April 4th the Governor left Elmina for Mansu, taking with him two of the Elmina chiefs, Prince Ansah, and the Ashanti envoys, Enguie and Busumburu, who had remained at Cape Coast ever since the commencement of the palaver. On the 8th news reached Cape Coast privately that an Ashanti embassy, the principal member of which was Prince Buaki, husband of the queen-mother, had left Coomassie to sue for peace; but the messenger who brought this intelligence added, that, on account of news received from the coast, the embassy had suddenly stopped before reaching the northern frontier of Adansi. This report, coming so soon after that of the Sefwhees, seemed to foreshadow a new departure on the part of the king, and many people began to think that we should have a war after all.

What was really occurring in Coomassie may now be told. We have seen that Mensah, despairing of receiving any consideration at the hands of, or an answer from, the Government, had despatched messengers to solicit the intervention of the traders; that these had not succeeded in effecting anything, but had witnessed the arrival of the Second West India[Pg 263] regiment from the West Indies. When these men returned to Coomassie with their intelligence, Mensah was thrown into a condition of extreme perplexity: both his peaceable message to the Government and his appeal to the traders had been alike ineffectual, and, notwithstanding his repeated pacific overtures, he heard of nothing but the landing of troops and preparations for war. With Ansah, Enguie, and Busumburu at Cape Coast, he was kept fully informed concerning everything that was occurring, and messengers passed backwards and forwards between the sea-board and Coomassie almost daily. The news of the meeting of his ancient foes at Elmina on March 23rd, and the purpose for which this meeting was convened, was at once conveyed to him; next he heard of the departure of Houssas and carriers with stores for Mansu, of the preparations going on at that place, and of the depôt being formed there; and there seemed a consecutiveness in all that had happened since the arrival of the Governor, beginning with the contemptuous silence with which his message was treated, which could only point to the one conclusion that the British had fully made up their minds to invade Ashanti and overthrow the kingdom. An important palaver was accordingly held at Coomassie, at which every chief of note in the nation was present; and the result was that every difference of opinion[Pg 264] amongst themselves was at once put aside, and it was unanimously agreed to defend every foot of Ashanti soil from invasion. Mensah was desirous of making one more effort in the cause of peace, and after some discussion it was decided, not without much opposition, to send an embassy, consisting of deputies from every district of Ashanti, with Prince Buaki at their head, to endeavour to arrange matters with the Colonial Government; while, in accordance with the decision at which they had arrived not to tamely submit to invasion, from 12 to 15,000 men of the Bantama district were called out and sent to Amoaful to watch the approaches to the capital, and arrangements were made for the immediate calling-out of the whole army in case of emergency. Thus we see that the first mobilisation took place long after the downfall of the war-party, that it was intended solely for defence, and was caused by the very natural construction which the king and his chiefs placed upon the events occurring in the Colony.

Prince Buaki and the deputies left Coomassie on April 3rd, and had arrived at the village of Akankuassi when a messenger overtook them with instructions from the king to stop. What was the cause of this sudden change in the original plan decided upon by the entire nation in council? News had been brought to Coomassie that the men and[Pg 265] stores, which had been collected at Mansu by the Colonial Government, were beginning to be moved on to Prahsu. The king, conceiving that the Government was fully determined on war, thought that the next move would be from Prahsu to the Adansi territory, perhaps to the Adansi hills; and, concluding that it would be useless to make any further overtures for peace, he stopped the embassy, so as to spare his dignity as much as possible, and prepared to exhaust all the resources of the kingdom in a struggle which he foresaw would be for very existence.

So far this was the result of the Governor’s bush expedition, and it was a result which had been very generally expected. Captain Hope in a letter to the Admiralty, dated Elmina, April 3rd, said:—“The expedition of the Governor is, in the opinion of some people, calculated to arouse their suspicion of us, as, although of course strictly within our territory, it is on the road to Coomassie, and might be looked on as an advanced guard.... Active precautionary measures have by no means ceased, in fact a general feeling of uneasiness is springing up, probably due to the protracted negociations going on.” The Home Government too were not quite easy in their minds as to what the consequences of their agent’s action might be, for in a despatch from Lord Kimberley, dated April 29th, we find these words:—“The remarks of[Pg 266] the Chief Justice, that he had heard at Accra that the Ashantis seemed to believe that the white men intended to take Coomassie, and that great care should be taken to prevent them from being driven into war through fear of our aggression, appear to me to deserve careful attention. It would be lamentable if a collision were to arise from any misunderstanding of this kind, and I have no doubt that you will take every means to remove from the mind of the Ashanti king any apprehension which he may entertain of an aggressive movement on our part.”

At the time of writing that despatch Lord Kimberley little knew how very nearly his worst fears had been realised, and that the Governor, instead of taking every means to remove apprehension from the mind of the king, had done everything calculated to increase it.

[Pg 267]


A Trip to Prahsu—Mansu—A Fiendish Réveille—Bush Travelling—Prahsu—The King of Adansi—Masquerading Costumes—The Camp—Strength of the Expedition.

On April 11th Colonel Justice, Lieutenant D. M. Allen (Acting Engineer), a Commissariat officer, and myself, started from Cape Coast about 5 a.m. in hammocks for Mansu, where we had heard the Governor was. Shortly after noon we reached Accroful, 13¾ miles from Cape Coast, where the road from Effutu joins the main road; and there we found Captain Lonsdale, the late Commandant of the Lonsdale’s Horse of the Zulu war, holding a palaver with the king of Abrah, from Abracampa. His object was to obtain five hundred carriers to transport a frame-house from Elmina to Mansu for the accommodation of the Governor, and we inferred from this that the latter intended making a lengthened sojourn in the bush. We halted for an hour at the house of the local mission preacher, which was, as usual, the best in the village, and then pushed on to Dunquah, where we stayed for the night.

Next morning we were off again at daybreak, and, after a three hours’ halt at Inkrau during the hottest[Pg 268] part of the day, reached Mansu, 35½ miles from Cape Coast, at 4·30 p.m. On our arrival we found that the Governor with all his following had gone on to Prahsu, to which place it was decided we should follow, and the village would have been entirely deserted but for an officer of the constabulary, who had arrived the day before from Elmina viâ Effutu, with some 70 Houssas, and who was waiting to rest his men. The native inhabitants had all been ejected from their dwellings, which, after a little preliminary cleaning, had been appropriated by the officers who formed the Governor’s retinue; traces of whose stay were still existing in the piles of beer and brandy bottles, and in the ridiculous and inappropriate names, such as “Rose Villa,” which were daubed on the swish-walls of the houses. In the centre of the town was a large shed, built of bamboo and palm-leaves, and open at the sides: this was called the Palaver House, and had been erected in the anticipation of the Governor here meeting the Ashanti envoys; but, as they had not arrived, it seemed that no palaver would be held here after all, and the rows of bamboo seats for the retinue, with a bamboo throne for His Excellency, flanked by more lowly seats for his immediate satellites, were doomed to waste their sweetness unused. We had the honour of occupying the gubernatorial residence, which was an ordinary swish-hut, to[Pg 269] one side of which an appendage like a gigantic birdcage had been added, which, while it kept the vulgar herd at a respectful distance, permitted of their gazing through the bars at royalty within, in much the same manner as the British public would gaze at a new and strange beast in the gardens of the Zoological Society at Regent’s Park.

Next morning, shortly after 4 a.m., we were wakened from a sound sleep by the roll of drums and the shrieking of half-a-dozen fifes: it was the Houssa “band” playing an untimely réveille. They were supposed to be playing that old point of war which begins “Old Father Paul came from the Holy Land,” but their acquaintance with it was limited to the first two bars, which they repeated over and over again. As the sound first penetrated our half-awakened senses we tried to keep it out and go to sleep again; then, finding that that was useless, we waited in expectancy for them to go on with the rest of the tune, and after the first two bars had been played over and over again for about ten minutes we were in a very fair state of nervous excitement. Soon the effect of this began to grow irritating; we commenced saying “Tum tumti tumti, tumti tumti tum,” to ourselves time after time; then we tried to shake that off and count; but we counted the thing ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty times, and still the infernal tum tumti tum[Pg 270] went on in the same endless monotony, while we dressed by fits and starts in the dark, hoping and praying that the Houssas would either go on to the next bar or leave off altogether. The torture rapidly grew worse and worse: it seemed to rake up all our nerves, and every repetition went through us like a galvanic shock, while we could not go and implore the Constabulary officer to put a stop to it because we knew that it was as balm and consolation to his wounded military spirit. We tried to give our minds to other subjects, but it was out of the question, and conversation was impossible; our eyes became wild, our brows haggard, and we were rapidly approaching a state of frenzy, when, after half-an-hour’s torture, we fled from the demoniacal sounds. We passed the Houssas, marching up and down outside our habitation, blowing away vigorously with their cheeks distended to their utmost capacity, with our fingers in our ears, and rushed off into the damp forest path. What a universal sigh of relief we gave when we were out of hearing, but the diabolic rhythm went on in our minds long after that, and by 10 a.m. one of our number was down with fever. If any one should think that our nerves were unduly sensitive, let him get somebody to play on the piano, for half-an-hour without a single pause,


[Pg 271]

and then see how he feels at the end of the performance.

We crossed the Oki river by a felled silk-cotton tree, and stopped at Sutah, or, as the natives call it, Fittah, in the middle of the day for breakfast; after which epicurean meal Colonel Justice and the Commissariat officer went on, while I waited for the invalid, who, as he knew how to treat himself, would be able to go on as soon as the sun lost its force. About 4·30 p.m. he was pretty well and we started off; the sunlight faded imperceptibly into moonlight, and with no casualties worse than occasionally staking ourselves on the stumps of trees left standing from three to four feet high in the middle of the path, we reached Yancoomassie Assin about 9 p.m.

Through our delay at Sutah I made a discovery as to which portion of the twenty-four hours is the most suitable for travelling in the bush. As travelling during the heat of the day renders one liable to “touches” of the sun and heat apoplexy, most Europeans in West Africa who have to go anywhere start at an unearthly hour in the morning, before it is light, and then go on until ten or eleven o’clock, when they breakfast. In my opinion this is a mistake. All night long a heavy dew has been falling, and as you walk, or are carried along, showers of dew-drops fall upon you from the overhanging trees, sufficiently heavy to[Pg 272] make you wet and give you a chill; then, as the sun begins to gain power, all kinds of exhalations and noisome vapours rise from the rank and wet vegetation, and various overpowering stenches salute the olfactory nerves, while for the last two hours of your journey you are baked in your hammock. Now none of these things are conducive to health in such a climate as that of West Africa, and they might all be avoided by travelling, say from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., when the sun has been drying the forest all day and drawing up the miasma, while no dew to speak of has begun to fall. Should there be no moon, a native torch, made of dry palm-stems, can be manufactured anywhere in a few minutes; and the only objection I have ever heard urged against choosing this time for journeying is that it is not pleasant to enter a village, and have to choose a hut to sleep in and prepare the evening meal, so late; but this is easily reduced to a minimum by sending on your boys an hour ahead of you to prepare for your arrival. It is not as if there was anything to be seen during a trip to the bush, for few people, who have not experienced it, can understand the loathing with which one regards the endless monotony of the forest, through the dense rank vegetation of which one moves on day after day, as if between two lofty walls of foliage, without seeing a single glade or break in the sameness. Of course I refer here to the feeling[Pg 273] of those accustomed to the country, for to a newcomer there is a certain amount of novelty, and consequently interest, in such scenes.

The number of villages which have sprung up along the Prah road since the close of the last war is surprising, and evinces a feeling of security on the part of the natives of which their minds would have been sadly disabused had the Ashantis followed up their hostile declaration by vigorous action. All these might, from a negro point of view, be described as thriving, as a few acres of ground round each had been cultivated, and some of them could boast of considerable plantations of plantains; but of course very little more is grown than is actually required for the inhabitants themselves. Passing through a village one is again immediately swallowed up in the mantle of the forest for an hour or so, until another group of huts relieves the eye like an oasis in a vast vegetable desert. Water abounds, and the fertility of the soil is marvellous; inhabited by any other race of man this country would surpass the whole world in agricultural wealth, but, as it is, it is lost to mankind, and there is every probability of its remaining so, as it is hopeless to endeavour to induce a negro to work. If some energetic Governor would only introduce sanitary reform and Chinese labour, the Gold Coast would soon become very different to what it now is; but[Pg 274] the motto of all previous administrators, except perhaps Governor Maclean, seems to have been “Apres moi le déluge.”

We left Yancoomassie Assin about five in the morning of the 14th, and, breakfasting at Barraco at noon, approached Prahsu about 4 p.m. As we drew near we could hear the “boom boom” of trade muskets keeping a straggling fusillade ahead of us, and the hammock-men began to grow nervous, while our servants commenced complaining because we had not allowed them to bring rifles with them. We had not the remotest idea of what was taking place, but as no reports of rifles were heard in reply we concluded it was nothing of hostile import, although a Houssa sergeant whom we met informed us that it was Ashantis who were firing.

Passing through a gap in the fence which inclosed the camp we found the men of the Houssa Constabulary drawn up in two lines, facing each other, as if waiting as a guard of honour for somebody; though as there were very few men, only about ninety in all, an interval of five or six yards had been left between every two men, so that they might take up more ground and make a more imposing show. We thought at first that it was a polite attention on the part of the Governor, and that these men were drawn up to receive the officer commanding the troops, but[Pg 275] we soon found out our mistake; they were paraded for the reception of that omnipotent African potentate the king of Adansi, who was now crossing the river, and the reports of whose retainers’ muskets we had been hearing.

About an hour after our arrival the king and his followers crossed the river in safety, and, entering the camp, proceeded between the two so-called lines of Houssas towards a bamboo and palm-leaf palaver-shed which had been erected in the centre of the camp. Altogether there were one hundred and fifty of them, consisting of the king, chiefs, and dependents, fifty of the latter carrying muskets, and the rest the usual barbaric state utensils, viz., swords, umbrellas, pipes, stools, fans, fly-whisks, and chairs covered with brass nails. There was not so much native goldsmiths’ work exhibited as is usual on such occasions, and the silk of the tent-like state umbrella was very dirty and much torn, which seemed to denote that his majesty’s exchequer was not in a flourishing condition.

I thought I might as well hear what would be said, so I walked towards the shed, where I found the Governor’s retinue sitting placidly upon rum-kegs, which were standing on end, placed in rows behind a Madeira chair intended to support His Excellency’s frame. The Adansi rabble faced this at a little[Pg 276] distance, while to the left were Enguie, Busumburu, and the Elmina chiefs, who had come up from the coast to swell the official following. I shook hands with a few friends, appropriated a rum-keg, and sat down too. Presently a whisper ran through the retinue, and all stood up with blanched faces and uncovered heads, and gazed with an aspect of the most profound respect towards a little dwelling of sticks to which our backs had been turned. I looked round to see what was the cause of all this apprehension, and perceived the Governor coming slowly towards us, supported by his favourite disciples.

These, two in number, and the Governor himself, were attired in eccentric costumes, which formed a curious contrast to the ordinary garments of civilisation worn by the rest of the Europeans present; and they somehow reminded me, first, of the three tutelary deities of pantomime, Messrs. clown, harlequin, and pantaloon, and then, on further reflection, of the three Graces. His Excellency wore a blue Norfolk jacket, garnished with a medal and star, and immense scarlet trousers, tucked into long yellow boots, reaching nearly to the knee, and furnished with large brass spurs, which are, in West Africa, so exceedingly useful for goading the stubborn hammocks to increased speed. Wound round his helmet was a fragment of a gaudy Cashmere shawl, and one obsequious attendant[Pg 277] held an umbrella over the august head, while another flourished a horse-tail to drive away the impertinent radical flies. On the right hand, but at a respectful distance from his chief, marched the principal satellite, attired in an eccentric costume of grey, adorned with much braid, which reminded me forcibly of those grotesque uniforms in which, in the early days of the volunteer movement, martial men-milliners astonished the public and gave full scope to their genius. On the left hand stalked the secondary satellite, clothed in an antique scarlet patrol-jacket, upon which gold lace had been scattered with a wild and lavish hand; while the tight blue trousers, also embellished with gold lace, came to a tasteful and appropriate termination in the recesses of long Wellington boots.

I looked at the two Ashanti envoys, Enguie and Busumburu, who, having resided at Cape Coast for some weeks, would know that Europeans did not usually attire themselves in such gorgeous apparel, to see what they thought of this masquerade. The courteous Busumburu in vain tried to conceal a smile under a well-dissembled cough, while the sneer which disfigured the countenance of the truculent Enguie made it appear more repellent than ever. As for the Elminas, they smiled at each other but said nothing, for such vagaries as this had caused the Governor to be known at Elmina by the appellation of the Bush[Pg 278] Chief; but with the Adansis the magnificent display seemed to go down pretty well, though of course they would be set right, after the palaver, by those who knew all about such things.

Waving his majestic hand condescendingly to the crowd of cringing and awe-stricken courtiers, His Excellency took his seat, and, in case any malign spirit of evil should direct a waning sunbeam at the gubernatorial head through the thick roof of palm-leaves, the umbrella was still kept in requisition, while the fly-whisk was plied more energetically than ever. To my great disappointment, after all this preparation and excitement, there was no palaver at all; the usual salutations, hand-shakings, and compliments, were gone through, and then the Governor told the Adansi king that as it was getting rather late he would hear next day what he had to say.

The camp at Prahsu occupied exactly the same site as did the old one of 1873; there was a rough fence, or rather hedge, like what is known in some colonies as a stump hedge, bounding three sides of it, while the fourth was bordered by the river. The inclosed space, about 300 yards by 120 yards, was covered with a number of wretched huts made of bamboo and palm-leaves, the flimsy roofs of which afforded no protection either from rain or sun, while the walls afforded about as much concealment and[Pg 279] privacy to the inmates as does a birdcage to its tenant. The larger sheds were for the accommodation of the European officers, though better shelter was to be found in the poorest village on the road, and scores of little “lean-to” habitations, made of brushwood and palm, were dotted about for the use of the labourers, Kroomen, Crepes, and Fantis, some eight hundred of whom were in camp. The Acting-Engineer and I fortunately obtained possession of a bell-tent (which had evidently been pitched by an amateur), and so had a better protection overhead than that afforded by the gridiron-like roofs of the huts; some Houssas knocked up a bed of palm-sticks in a few minutes, and we made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit.

Strange to say, although the Colonial officer still pretended that hostilities were possible, if not probable, no measures had been taken for defending the camp in the event of an attack; there was not even a shelter-trench along the river bank, and, as for the stump-hedge on the other sides, that formed no obstacle, and could be passed through at any point that one chose. The further bank of the river had not been occupied by us, yet no attempt had been made to clear the bush immediately opposite the camp; and, as dense forest grew down to the edge of the water, an enemy could easily line the bank [Pg 280]unseen, and, the river being only 189 feet broad, bring such a fire to bear upon the camp as would make it perfectly untenable. It was easy to see that the expedition was under the management of an amateur in military matters, and it was an exceedingly fortunate thing for all composing it that the Ashantis were so peaceably inclined.

In the evening I sought for relics of the last expedition. There were not many left. The bridge had totally disappeared, and a dilapidated pontoon, with the inclosed grave of Captain Huyshe, were the only vestiges of our former occupation of this site.

The total force of the expedition in the camp, I learned, was 899, consisting of 13 European officers, 107 Houssas, 59 clerks and servants, 9 Sierra Leone police, 173 native chiefs and followers, and the remainder carriers. Taken as a whole it formed an imposing display, and was quite sufficient to confirm the Ashantis in their impression that it was the advanced guard of some large expeditionary force.

[Pg 281]


Regulating the Sun—Arrival of the Ashanti Embassy—The Palaver—Ciceronian Eloquence—A Diplomatic Fiction—A beautiful simile—Physiognomies—Unhealthiness of the Camp.

Next morning I was awakened by a loud detonation, the echoes of which had scarcely died away when I heard a voice shout “His Excellency has arisen.” This important declaration was at once followed by the réveille, played by four separate bugles in different parts of the camp; and, as I knew that there were not four corps in the encampment over night, I thought troops must have unexpectedly arrived, and so went hurriedly out of my tent to ascertain. I found that we had received no sudden accession to our strength: one bugler was blowing on behalf of the Houssa Constabulary, another for the half-dozen Sierra Leone policemen whom the Governor had brought with him, a third for the three or four Fanti police who were at Prahsu, and a fourth for the Kroo labourers. As the area of the camp was rather circumscribed of course one bugle would have been quite sufficient, but then how much glowing military ardour would have been lost for want of use.

[Pg 282]

I next proceeded to find out the cause of the explosion and the shouting which I had heard. I learned that every morning, directly His Excellency stepped out of bed, a small cohorn mortar, which stood in front of his residence, was fired, an attendant exclaimed for the benefit of the uninitiated, “His Excellency has arisen,” the hour was made five o’clock, and everybody set their watches right. Thus, in addition to his many multifarious duties, the Governor daily undertook the arduous and god-like task of regulating the sun.

At noon the Governor, followed by the Adansi chiefs, went out into the bush, from which they returned about half-past three, and at four the promised palaver took place in the palaver-shed. It consisted merely of the exchange of a few complimentary sentences, and was in fact a dummy palaver, held for the benefit of the public, as His Excellency had had two hours of conversation with the Adansi king in the bush, and had transacted all the real business there.

At about seven o’clock on the morning of the 16th Ashanti messengers arrived on the further bank of the Prah, and, shortly after noon, the Ashanti embassy, consisting of Prince Buaki-tchin-tchin, and delegates from some of the principal districts of the Ashanti kingdom, crossed the river amid great beating of drums and blowing of elephant-tusk horns. Shortly[Pg 283] before five the Ashantis, some two hundred and sixty in number, came in procession through the camp, where the Houssas were drawn up for their reception, in the same way as on the occasion of the entry of the king of Adansi, only, as those that we had met at Mansu had since come up, there were now more of them; while to swell the martial pageant all the six hundred labourers were drawn up in line near the palaver-shed with their various implements, those who had old cutlasses for cutting bush being placed in the front, and those with spades and pick-axes more in the rear. Each Ashanti chief or deputy walked under his umbrella, or was carried in his chair on the heads of his slaves, and was followed by his own retainers parading their different insignia; and the whole body proceeded to the palaver-shed and sat down.

At five the Governor made his appearance, attired in the same singular manner as before, and walked to his seat through a lane of obsequious and bowing officials, supported by his two satellites of grotesque appearance. One of the retinue said to me in a stage whisper:—

“His Excellency is a remarkably fine speaker. Listen carefully now, for you will hear some wonderful oratory.”

I said—“Oh! really.”

“Yes—the political leaders at home might well[Pg 284] learn a thing or two from him. He especially prides himself upon his manner of addressing natives, who, as of course you know, are themselves excellent orators, and avoid tautology and all such errors.”

I accordingly took out my note-book and put down every word that fell from the august lips. The following is what I wrote: it did not seem to impress the natives much, but then no doubt it was like casting pearls before swine; the retinue listened to each word with rapt attention, and subdued and respectful murmurs of applause greeted each fresh exhibition of rhetorical eloquence, which they considered worthy of a combined Cicero and Demosthenes.

Prince Buaki rose and said:—

“I give my compliments to His Excellency.”

Rowe. “I am glad to see you here. It is always a pleasure for the Government of the Gold Coast to receive an envoy from the king of Ashanti. You do not meet me at home, but out here in the bush; but as you meet me here on your journey you are welcome. I hope your journey has been fairly comfortable.”

Buaki. “Yes, it was comfortable.”

Rowe. “I hope you have not had rain on the way.”

Buaki. “No.”

Rowe. “I am glad to hear that, for rain makes[Pg 285] the roads bad in this country. I don’t think we can hope to have fine weather long. What do you think?”

Buaki. “I think so too.”

Rowe. “I hope it will not come on for a few days more; it is not nice to have rain. I hope you found your people well that were left behind.”[6]

Buaki. “Yes, they are well.”

Rowe. “They have come here from Cape Coast. They travel in the bush more comfortably than I do.”

Buaki. “Just so.”

Rowe. “We may look for rain in about three months I suppose. How many months? Two, or three?”

Buaki. “Yes.”

Rowe. “During that time any one who has a house stops in it.”

Buaki. “Yes.”

Rowe. “I don’t like to be caught by rain in the bush. I don’t mind being here in the bush when it is fine. I’m afraid I can’t do much here to make you comfortable.”

Buaki. “I quite understand that.”

Rowe. “Still I am glad to see you, and, as far as I can, I will do my best for you.”

(A pause, and Buaki asks permission to speak.)

Buaki. “Your Excellency’s friend, the king of[Pg 286] Ashanti, sent me to see you. While on the road I and my followers were taken sick, so that I had to delay coming down till we were well. I met the sword-bearer, Yow Mensah, at Yan Compene, who told me that you were waiting for me, and I sent him back to say I was coming. I am sorry I did not meet you at home, but I was ill by the way. I wish to know what time you will appoint for the business on which I have come.”

Rowe. “With regard to that I must see how long it will be necessary to remain here, and then I shall have an opportunity of seeing about the matter we have to talk over.”

Buaki. “Very good.”

Rowe. “It is always a pleasure, and has been as I know for many years, to the English Government of the Gold Coast to receive messengers from the king of Ashanti when they are sent. What I am now going to say has no bearing on the point, but, as you have come to me as a special messenger from your king, and as I have already said that I am glad to meet you with a message from your king, I am going to say to you what I said to the former ambassadors, before your arrival. That is: the message I bring with me from the Queen of England is a message of peace, that I am to govern her people, and whilst I am to govern them I am to defend them, and take[Pg 287] care of them, and have authority over them. I am also to live on friendly terms with her people.” (To this the interpreter added:—“The Queen is ready for peace or war, whichever you like.”)

Buaki. “I have come down to stop all those small leaks in the roof which have been giving trouble of late. If I cannot do this, we must have a new roof.” (The interpreter rendered this—“I also have come for peace.”)

Rowe. “I will think over the business I have to do in this part, and then I will arrange when and where I can assemble the officers of the Government who are fitting to be present when this matter is discussed. As I said before, the rain is coming. I hope you did not suffer from the rain.”

Buaki. “I did not.”

Rowe. “I hope all your people are well.”

Buaki. “They are all well. I thank you for the care you have taken of my people.”

Rowe. “I am glad they gave me a good name to you. I hope you found the road fairly comfortable?”

Buaki. “I was very comfortable on the road. I am sorry that my sickness prevented my meeting you at home.”

Rowe. “I hope you will be well soon, and I hope you are not in a hurry to go home. You may feel a little tired after your journey and may want rest.”

[Pg 288]

The palaver then terminated.

The sickness of which Buaki spoke was only a diplomatic fiction, and in speaking of the sword-bearer, Yow Mensah, he unwittingly let a cat out of the bag which the Governor would have much preferred keeping in confinement. As we have seen, the embassy left Coomassie on April 6th, but only arrived at Prahsu on the 16th. Now Buaki well knew that no one would believe that eleven days were required to traverse the seventy-three miles of actual distance from the capital to the river, and not wishing, in the interests of his mission, to inform the Governor of what had really taken place, and let him know how nearly he had made war inevitable, he started the story of having been ill to account for the delay, which, as I have already shown, was caused by Mensah’s order. The Governor had somehow gained an inkling of what was really happening in Ashanti, and, to use the words of a high Colonial official of much experience, seeing that it was no time for further buffoonery, and that peace and war were trembling in the balance, he gave up his supposed dignified attitude of reserve, and, taking the initiative himself, sent Yow Mensah to the envoys to say he was waiting for them.[7] Of course they then came on at once, just as[Pg 289] another embassy would have come in response, if at any time after the Governor’s arrival in the Colony a similar message had been sent. Since the Governor had after all to re-open communications himself, it is a pity that he did not do so earlier, instead of keeping the whole Colony in suspense; and if he had not been so fortunate as to hear of what was taking place, and so had not sent the sword-bearer on, it is impossible to say where the mischief would have ended. This narrow escape from hostilities only shows how exceedingly dangerous it is to indulge in any ambiguous action where barbarous races are concerned.

At the termination of the palaver, Buaki and his followers rose and walked round the shed, shaking hands in turn with every European present. As Buaki repeated this ceremony with the Governor, the latter said, through the medium of the interpreter:—

“You see I am not a mud-fish.”

One of the retinue immediately nudged me and said:—

“There! Did you hear that?”

I replied “Yes.”

“Ah! it’s a beautiful simile, now, isn’t it?”

I said “I don’t quite see how.”

“What? You don’t see it?”


“That’s strange. You’ve been acquainted with[Pg 290] the Coast a long time, too. Well, the mud-fish is a stupid kind of fish, that, instead of trying to escape, buries itself in the mud, and allows itself to be easily caught by the hand. The Governor used the expression to mean that he wasn’t a fool.”

About ten minutes afterwards one of the innumerable secretaries remarked to me:—

“Did you catch that wonderful simile of His Excellency’s about the mud-fish?”

“Oh! yes,” I replied.

“You know what it means, of course?”

“Yes; the mud-fish is a stupid kind of fish that, instead of trying to escape, buries itself in the mud and allows itself to be easily caught by the hand. The Governor used the illustration to mean that he wasn’t a fool.”

“Oh dear no. You’re quite wrong. I’ll tell you what it is. The mud-fish is a cunning kind of fish which, when pursued, stirs up the mud all round, to make the water thick, so that it can’t be seen. The Governor said that he wasn’t a mud-fish, meaning that he had no necessity for hiding his whereabouts.”

This man had hardly moved away before another came up to me, and said:—

“What did you think of His Excellency’s simile of the mud-fish?”

“Oh! I didn’t think much of it.”

[Pg 291]

“What!! You didn’t think much of that marvellous simile? Why not?”

“Because nobody seems to know what it means.”

“Well, I know, and I will tell you what it means—it is most ingenious. The mud-fish is a fish covered with venomous spines, which cause nasty wounds if you happen to touch them. The Governor said he was not a mud-fish, to re-assure Buaki, and let him know that he was not going to hurt him.”

In the evening a high Colonial official said to me:—

“A pretty simile that of the Governor’s about the mud-fish, wasn’t it?”

“Yes; but its meaning doesn’t seem very clear.”

“Doesn’t seem very clear? Why, my dear fellow, it is patent to the meanest intellect. The mud-fish is a worthless kind of fish that nobody would take the trouble to catch: the Governor used the comparison to mean that he was somebody of importance.”

I have not made up my mind which of these interpretations to adopt; the reader can take any one he likes, but it seems to me that there is a good deal of haze about the subject.

The Ashantis, like the Adansis who had arrived on the 14th, were accommodated with exceedingly airy sheds in the camp, and this accession to our numbers brought up the sum-total of occupants to something over a thousand. The envoys had brought with them[Pg 292] two or three small, but apparently heavy, boxes, and these were supposed to contain gold dust, which the king had sent as an earnest of his desire for peace. Prince Buaki was a fine-looking man over six feet in height; I had known beforehand that he must be a handsome man, since the ladies of the blood-royal in Ashanti are only allowed to form connections with strikingly presentable men, so that, as the female branches take precedence of the male in furnishing heirs to the throne, the comeliness of their kings may be, as far as possible, assured; but I was not prepared to see such an unusually good specimen of the negro race. I was much struck too with the wonderful difference between the physiognomies of the chiefs and those of their followers and slaves, a difference which is barely perceptible among the tribes who have long been subject to us, such as the Fanti; but which, among the independent inland races, the most careless observer cannot help noticing. The chiefs have almost invariably a look of intelligence, and are generally of a fine physique; but the retainers and slaves possess features and characteristics of a very low type indeed. This of course is chiefly due to the principle of selection, as, for generations past, the chiefs, who are able to pick and choose, have selected the best-looking women for their wives, while the vulgar herd have had to take what they can get.[Pg 293] On the sea-board this has been done also, but there the formation of an intermediate trading-class of natives, between the chiefs and the lower orders, has blended by imperceptible gradations the distinguishing characteristics of the two extremes. It is worthy of notice that the women whom the chiefs choose are those who, according to European ideas, possess the largest share of good looks; which goes far to prove that we have a common ideal of beauty, and that, in spite of the popular belief, negroes do not regard mountainous cheek bones, flattened noses, uptilted nostrils, and blubber lips, as the true types of loveliness.

The following Ashantis of note were in the suite of Prince Buaki. Yow Badoo, personal attendant of the king, Yeboa, representative of the royal family of Ashanti, two sons of the late King Quaco Duah, and the brother and son of Prince Buaki. The chiefs of Becquai, Mampon, Kokofuah, and Insuta, each sent a representative, as did Awooah, chief of Bantama, the Ashanti general; the remainder of the embassy consisted of the usual personal attendants, with a sword-bearer and four courtiers. The districts of Archwa, Assomyah, Denyasi, Inquantansi, and Inquaransah, were unrepresented: the last-named is one of the most important in the Ashanti kingdom, and, next to Kokofuah, furnishes the largest [Pg 294]contingent for the army. A representative from the Amoaful district arrived in the camp next day.

As the kingdom of Ashanti is divided into ten large districts, it is clear that the embassy represented only half the nation, which in fact was to be expected, and as at least three of the districts represented, namely, Becquai, Bantama, and Amoaful, had originally been amongst the foremost of those forming the war-party, and had only been persuaded to remain passive through the king’s personal influence, the prevailing state of feeling in Ashanti could be very fairly guaged. Indeed, looking at the vast preponderance of the “war” over the “court” party it is a matter for surprise that Mensah should have been able to bring the difficulty to an amicable settlement, and this difficulty was by no means lessened by the fact that Prince Buaki himself was strongly in favour of hostilities. That the king’s task was further made more onerous by the extraordinary action of the Colonial Government I have already shown.

The day after the meeting between Sir Samuel Rowe and the Ashanti envoys it was made known that in a few days the camp would be broken up, and that all its occupants,—officers, labourers, carriers, police, Adansis, and Ashantis,—would proceed to Elmina, where a final palaver was to be held to settle the Ashanti question. As the Governor now said[Pg 295] that he had all along intended settling the matter on the sea-board, either at Acra, Cape Coast, or Elmina, his bush expedition only seemed the more extraordinary; as, apart from the political evil consequences that resulted from it, and the great expense to which the Colony had been put to no purpose, by being compelled to provide for an army of labourers and hammock-men, and to defray the extra cost of bush-life, he had, as it seemed, without any reasonable cause, imperilled the healths, if not the lives, of a number of European officers, by encamping them, without proper shelter or comforts, on the banks of the miasmatic Prah.

Fortunately the rains had not set in as early as usual, but Prahsu was quite sufficiently unhealthy for all ordinary purposes: after dark, a cold, wet, white mist shrouded every object, and to venture outside one’s tent at night was to become saturated with moisture and chilled to the bone. Had the rains set in the consequences would have been most disastrous, as, if the river had overflown its banks ever so slightly, the camp would have been inundated, while the wretched habitations that had been provided would not have kept out a smart shower, much less a heavy tropical downpour. Sometimes the mist was so dense that, standing on one bank, one could not see across the river, and the muddy flood rolled on under its[Pg 296] mantle of vapour, as under a shroud through the rifts of which the moonbeams faintly struggled in a deathly silence, broken only now and then by the weird cries of the tree-sloth, which, to a fanciful mind, might sound like the wailing of a spirit of one of the many scores of Europeans whose lives have been sacrificed to the spectral stream. The approach to the camp, on the side where the main road came in, was in an indescribable condition of filth, which might easily have been prevented had proper precautions been only taken at first; and on the other sides, where the forest had been cleared, the rank vegetation had been allowed to lie where it fell, putrefying and poisoning the air.

Had there been much mortality at Prahsu a storm of indignation would have burst out in England at a camp having again been established there in spite of the warnings of history; but, because no deaths occurred actually on the spot, the breaking of the West African golden rule was not the less-advised; this rule forbids, except in cases of urgent necessity, the removal of Europeans from the health-giving sea-breezes and from such poor comforts as the wretched Colony affords.


[6] Meaning Enguie and Busumburu.

[7] This man had arrived from Coomassie on March 30th and informed the Governor that Prince Buaki was to come down.

[Pg 297]


Another Interview—Atassi—An Importunate Investigation—A Shocking Accident—Yancoomassie Assin—Draggled Plumes—An Unintentional Insult—A Scientific Experiment—The Palaver at Elmina—Our future Policy—Recent Explorations on the River Volta.

On the morning of the 17th of April the Governor had a chair and a table taken out into the forest and had a private interview with Prince Buaki. At this private interview, after a few preliminary compliments, Buaki said that the whole of the difficulty had arisen from the ignorance of the Lieutenant-Governor, and that had Governor Ussher been living there would have been no trouble of any kind. He asserted that Enguie was not instructed to make any threat, such as the threatened invasion of Assin, that in making it he had made a mistake, but that the Lieutenant-Governor had also made a mistake in not sending to Coomassie to know the meaning of the message he had received, before writing to England that the king of Ashanti meant war.

Buaki added—“As for the axe, I am old enough to know the meaning of every symbol in my country, and I know that on no occasion has the golden axe[Pg 298] been used by the Ashantis as the sign of a declaration of war. We have in Ashanti two symbols, both of which are used when we declare war. One of these is a sword. When that sword is sent to another people by the king of Ashanti, that is a declaration of war by Ashanti. The other is a certain cap. If a messenger were charged to declare war in the event of his ‘palaver’ being unsuccessful he would be entrusted with that cap by the king, and if he did declare war he would put on that cap, and that would be a proof that the declaration came from the king. The true meaning of the axe is this. It is a fetish. When the axe has been sent on any mission, that mission has always been successful, and we believe that it has some mysterious power which causes any request, that is supported by its presence, to be granted. The Lieutenant-Governor did not know the meaning of the axe, or the ways of our country; neither do the Fantis, yet the Lieutenant-Governor accepted the word of the Fantis before that of our people.”

In conclusion he said he had come to make submission in the name of the king.[8]

About a mile up stream from Prahsu is the village[Pg 299] of Atassi, where there is another ford by which one of the divisions of the Ashanti army crossed in the invasion of 1873. Atassi itself consists of a group of some twelve huts, and there is a road, which would, for the country, be very good were it not slightly swampy in parts, leading to Assampah Neyeh, the first village on the road to the coast. The banks of the river are at Atassi of equal height, and for this reason, and because there are several large silk-cotton trees on either bank on which hawsers might be stretched to work subsidiary raft-bridges, it seems a more suitable spot for moving a force across the river than Prahsu; it is besides nearer.

I was amused one day at hearing an individual of that ubiquitous genus which goes about asking questions at the most unseasonable times, set down by a native. An Ashanti youth had been drowned while the embassy was crossing the river, and the father of the lad was sitting by the riverside mourning for his dead son, when this individual went up to him, and began, through the medium of his Fanti servant, cross-examining him, with a view to ascertaining what ideas the natives have of a future state of existence. He poked the chief in the ribs with his walking-stick and said, airily:

“So your son was drowned this morning, eh?”

The Ashanti disdained to answer in words, and[Pg 300] gave him a look which would have pierced the epidermis of a rhinoceros, but which failed to make any impression on this man. He continued:

“Let me know your ideas of a future state. Do you believe that there is a new life for the soul after death?”

Still no answer, only an angry glitter began to appear in the chief’s eyes.

“Now, do you expect to meet that boy of yours in Hades, eh?”

A muttered curse from the Ashanti.

“Look here, don’t get sulky now. Tell me what your religious belief is.”

No answer.

“Oh! very well. Don’t say anything if you don’t want to. I expect your son is having a nice time of it now. Pretty hot down where he is now, eh?”

Then the chief rose, and, majestically throwing his cloth around him, said to the Fanti:

“Why do the English allow idiots like this to be at large?” and went away to try and find some place where he could brood over his loss in peace.

One morning the whole camp was convulsed with horror by an accident, which, had it been followed by serious consequences, would have been too awful to contemplate. One of the retinue was playing in his hut with a new toy, to wit a loaded revolver, when he[Pg 301] accidentally discharged it. Some malignant demon at once directed the bullet towards the exact spot where would have been the august head of His Excellency, had he been at breakfast; but fortunately he was not there, and the missile sped harmlessly on through a tent, scattering the four or five Fanti clerks who were writing inside. Everybody turned out in alarm and shuddered to think of what would have been the fate of the expedition and the Colony if the gigantic intellect which directed all these stupendous operations had suddenly ceased to be. For future security a guard was at once placed over the Governor’s hut, His Excellency held a levée to assure his well-wishers that he was unharmed, and a deputation of native Colonial officials waited upon him to read an address congratulating him upon his narrow escape, and pointing out, from the fate of the late Czar and the recent accident, that crowned heads, alike in Europe and Africa, were in these days menaced by insidious perils. I do not know what was done to the culprit, but the Queen’s Advocate said that an action for high treason would not lie, and so I believe he was only found guilty of culpable negligence.

Early on the morning of April 19th we thankfully bade adieu to Prahsu and started for the coast. The Ashantis and the Adansis were to leave on the same day, and the Governor, who was down with fever,[Pg 302] and his retinue, in a few days’ time. Halting for a couple of hours at Inyaso, we reached Yancoomassie Assin about half-past one, where, as the Commissariat officer had an attack of fever, we stopped. Half-an-hour after our arrival a heavy tornado, accompanied by thunder and lightning, passed over the village, the violent gusts of wind tearing the thatch off the houses, limbs off trees, and levelling whole groves of bamboo, while the rain fell in continuous sheets. While the storm was still raging the Adansis came in, being met by the chief of the place with the usual drumming, dancing, shouting, and horn-blowing, while some of his ultra-loyal followers brandished union-jack pocket-handkerchiefs fastened to sticks. As the rain ceased the Ashantis appeared on the scene, and the Assin chief seated himself in his state-chair, supported by his retainers with the state-swords, while each Ashanti chief, or delegate, with his followers, filed before him shaking hands and then passing on. When this was over a tremendous drumming commenced, and the Assin potentate performed a grotesque pas seul in the centre of a circle of gaping admirers; being followed, when he had finished, by the king of Adansi, who threw in some complicated steps, to cut out his predecessor, which positively made the unsophisticated Assins gasp for breath. This mighty monarch at last sank back exhausted into a chair, and some of the[Pg 303] Ashantis came out and skipped round; Buaki, however, seemed to be above this sort of thing, and, instead of cutting insane capers, contented himself with walking round the circle and waving his hand affably to the lookers-on.

I left this gay and festive scene, and was going back to the house which we had appropriated for our use, when I saw one of the masquerading costumes, which had at Prahsu made its wearer the cynosure of all eyes, hanging up wet and draggled on a tree. Alas! alas! what a wreck was there! The rain had soaked the garments through and through, and little puddles of brilliant dyes were forming on the ground underneath, while the glory of the lace and braid was destroyed for ever. I found the unhappy owner trying to dry himself in an adjoining house; he had come down in charge of the Ashanti embassy and had been caught in the tornado in the forest; everything he possessed had been saturated with water, and he had had two narrow escapes of being crushed by immense dead silk-cotton trees which had fallen across the road. I felt sorry to see him in such a pitiable condition, but somehow I could not help mentally comparing him, in his then garb, with a magnificent peacock that had lost its tail.

When the natives had finished their demonstration outside, Buaki came with two or three of his [Pg 304]supporters to pay us a visit in our hut. He drank our sole remaining bottle of beer with much gusto, although it was his first experience of malt liquor; and we were getting along very nicely when a slight contretemps occurred which entirely destroyed the harmony of the meeting, and shows how necessary it is that everyone who has anything to do with natives should have some knowledge of their prejudices and modes of thought. Prince Ansah was interpreting, and Buaki had just affably said, in compliment to us, that he was very fond of soldiers, when some one asked:—

“Do you shoot much in Ashanti?”

This was duly interpreted, and Buaki drew himself up and said:—

“How? What do you mean?”

“Do you go out into the bush much to shoot birds and deer?”

This being explained to him, he said to Ansah:—

“Does this white man think that I am a common fellow to have to work for my living?” and got up and went out in great dudgeon.

It is needless to say that the Ashantis have no idea of sport.

We left Yancoomassi Assin early next morning and reached Mansu about 5 p.m. There we found Lieutenant Swinburne, R.M.A., one of the Governor’s retinue, who, while the others had been looking after[Pg 305] squads of Kroomen, had come across country from Accra by unknown paths on foot, a feat never before performed by a European. As the maps of the tract that he had crossed had been compiled from imagination and native reports, he was able to rectify many startling errors.

We were off again early next morning, reaching Dunquah about 4·30 p.m. The sun had been exceedingly powerful, and as the forest terminates a short distance out of Mansu, giving place to the shadowless bush, we had had our heads well roasted, for it is impossible to wear a helmet in a hammock, and the awning, formed of a single piece of thin calico, affords no real protection. The water at Dunquah, which is obtained from shallow wells, is notoriously bad even for the Gold Coast, being of the colour of weak coffee, and filtering has no visible effect on it. On our upward journey we had experienced some of the ill effects resulting from drinking this beverage; but now we had with us a scientific surgeon who assured us that he knew how to purify it, and, while dinner was being prepared, he set to work at an earthen-pot full of muddy water. When we sat down to our meal we were agreeably surprised to find our tumblers full of clear water, and it was such an unusual luxury that we each seized a glass and raised it to our lips. The result was startling: the [Pg 306]Commissariat officer jumped up, ejecting the fluid from his mouth and exclaimed:—

“Good heavens—I’m poisoned.”

I had a most horrible taste in my mouth, and tried to say, “What’s the matter?” but found I could only make a sound like “mum—mum—mum”; while the others demanded an immediate explanation and an antidote from the man of science.

He said it was nothing: it was only something he had put in the water to purify it: it was quite harmless.

That was all very well, but it had made us all feel ill, and what he had used was such a violent astringent that I could not partake of any of the dinner except the soup, and that I had to take through a straw. The surgeon appeared very proud of his achievement, though it seemed to me that it was not of much use to purify water for drinking purposes if it was made undrinkable in the process. I have no liking for such theoretical scientists.

We reached Cape Coast next day at noon, where we found that during our short absence seven officers had been invalided to England, all but one of whom had been living in the hired houses in the town.

On April 28th there was a formal meeting at Elmina between the Ashanti embassy, the Adansis, and some of the chiefs of the protectorate, among the latter being the King of Abrah, King Blay of [Pg 307]Apollonia, and the local chiefs of Elmina; and on the 29th the final palaver between the Government and the Ashantis was held at the same place for the settlement of the Ashanti question. Every European who could be pressed into service was summoned to swell the Governor’s following; even a number of officers being asked for from Cape Coast, in full dress, to make a more gorgeous display.

After the usual preliminaries, Buaki rose and said:—

“I have brought a message from the king of Ashanti. News has come to the king that the Queen of England thinks he is going to make war against the Government of the Gold Coast. Whoever told the Governor this is quite wrong. He has no cause of quarrel with the Government of the Gold Coast, and, if he has no quarrel, why should he make war? The king wishes to remain at peace with the English, whom he has found to be his good friends; and he has sent me therefore with this message. As he found that through somebody’s foolishness, or mistake, the Government of the Gold Coast had thought that he wanted to make war, which was quite wrong, and as he knew that they must have spent much money, he sent down a sum, not to pay for the expenses which they had incurred, but as a proof of his friendship with his good friends the English. The king says he desires peace only and never meant war, and that if he had[Pg 308] meant war he should have given the Government of the Gold Coast notice, as he hopes the Government of the Gold Coast would do to him. I bring a thousand bendas[9] for the Government.”

(Prince Ansah here began talking to Buaki.)

Rowe (to the Interpreter). “What is Ansah saying to Buaki?”

Ansah. “Buaki has left out part of the message, and a most important part.”

Rowe. “Does not Buaki come direct from the king with a message to me?”

Ansah. “Yes.”

Rowe. “How then do you know his message better than he does himself? I think your interruption is very unseemly.”

Ansah. “Buaki told me his message when he first arrived at Prahsu. He has now omitted something he then told me.”

Buaki. “It is true what Prince Ansah says. I have, through my old age, forgotten a part of my message. It is about the golden axe. The axe belongs to the fetish: it is a sign of the fetish. In the time of Governor Maclean there was a dispute concerning a man: the axe was sent, and the end was peace. Under Colonel Torrane a difference arose and the axe was again sent. The matter was settled[Pg 309] amicably. To two other Governors the axe was sent, and the end was peace. In the present case the axe was sent as belonging to the fetish, to obtain our desires peaceably. It is in fact a sign of an extraordinary embassy. There are those who have said the axe means war: so the king has heard. It was not so. It is not so. Take no heed of this; the king of Ashanti only wishes for peace.”

The representative of Awooah, chief of Bantama and general of the Ashanti army, said:—

“My master is the greatest captain of the king’s army. If we had been going to war would not my master have known before others? But he knew no such thing. Let it be known to the Government of the Gold Coast that the king of Ashanti has many enemies near home, and it is they who have endeavoured to embroil him with the English, so that they might seize their opportunities. Why should we fight with the English? They are our good friends. I, my master, and my king, only wish for peace.”

The representative of the Kokofuah district then rose and said:—

“Why should we quarrel with our good friends the English? If we want salt, we get it from Europe; if we want cloth, we get it from Europe; and if we want powder to fire at a custom, where do we get it from? Why, from Europe. I and my master only[Pg 310] wish for peace. Why should we fight the Government of the Gold Coast, so far off, when we have many enemies close at hand ever ready to fight?”

The representatives of the dukes of Ashanti, and of various chiefs and districts, all then spoke in succession to the same effect.

Rowe. “I have listened carefully to what you have to say. Even a little thing between the Government and the Ashantis, though in itself small, soon becomes serious. This is a most serious matter, and I shall have to think over it, and will appoint a day on which I shall give my answer.”

Buaki. “I assure Your Excellency that what I say is true.”

Rowe. “Had I not thought so I would not have listened so carefully.” (To the Interpreter). “Ask him if he has the gold with him.”

Buaki. “No, but while I am here the gold will come.”

On May 3rd a review of the troops and Constabulary was held for the benefit of the Ashantis, after which the Governor informed Buaki, that, if he would hand over the two thousand ounces of gold-dust, the whole question would be referred to the Home Government for settlement. About twelve hundred ounces were accordingly paid on May 23rd and the remainder on June 8th, Buaki, at his own request,[Pg 311] remaining at Elmina as a hostage for the payment; and the whole sum is now in the hands of the Government. On July 16th Awoosoo, the Gaman refugee, committed suicide by leaping from the walls of Elmina Castle, for which act the Ashantis are no doubt much obliged to him; and, had they known that he was going to make away with himself so conveniently, they probably would not have troubled to send the embassy with the golden axe to demand his surrender.

The Ashanti question of 1881 is now at an end, but war with Ashanti has, however, only been postponed, and is, sooner or later, inevitable, unless we make a new departure in our Gold Coast policy, and, instead of regarding the Ashantis with suspicion as probable foes, enter into close and friendly relations with them. By establishing a British resident at Coomassie we should place matters on quite a different footing; and if we were to appoint a port to which the Ashantis might resort for trade, without having to employ the despised Fantis as middlemen, there would be no further friction. One of the members of the Buaki embassy said to me, on this subject:—

“Give us a town on the coast, say Moree.[10] Let it be ours; let us have a road of our own to it. If you say it is to be half-a-mile broad we will make it so.[Pg 312] Then we can come there to trade without having anything to say to those women, the Assins and Fantis, who are really our slaves, and only saved from destruction by you English. Do this, and there will be no more trouble.”

Of course the Ashantis are really desirous of avoiding the payment of customs dues on imported goods, partly on account of the duties themselves, but principally because they consider that, being an independent people, they ought to have a port of their own. This non-payment does not seem to present any insuperable obstacles; goods thus landed duty-free would have to traverse the protectorate by a prescribed route, and a Colonial officer stationed at the point at which they would cross the frontier could examine the permits and see that everything was intact, thus smuggling would be made almost impossible. Were we to make this concession, a European resident would willingly be received in Coomassie, and the presence of such an officer would be the most effectual check upon human sacrifices that could be devised. It is difficult to see by what principle of equity we arrogate to ourselves the right of levying upon goods, intended for the use of an independent nation living beyond our borders, the same duty as is levied upon goods which are to be offered for sale in the Colony. It is just as if France[Pg 313] should impose her tariff upon goods consigned to Switzerland, and merely passing through French territory.

By adopting such a policy I am convinced a lasting peace with Ashanti would be assured; and it certainly appears easier to found a peace upon the good-will and interest of the Ashantis themselves than to endeavour to keep them in check by forming a precarious combination of inferior native tribes, each one of which is jealous of the others, and the most powerful of whom, probably the Gamans, would, in the event of Ashanti being totally crushed, assume the position now held by that nation in West Africa, and necessitate the formation of a new combination against them. Should we, as is most probable, pursue our present policy, the end is not difficult to see. Continued friction and a species of armed neutrality cannot be kept up with a haughty and warlike race of savages with impunity; the Ashantis will continue arming themselves with improved weapons, and on the death of King Mensah, should he not first be dethroned, a monarch less peaceably disposed will ascend the throne, some pretext of quarrel will soon be found, and another Ashanti war will take place. Of course the Ashantis will be crushed, though not without much expenditure of blood and money, but what shall we do then? Shall we annex their [Pg 314]territory or again retire? If the former, we shall find ourselves face to face with the warlike Mohammedan tribes of the inland plateau; and if the latter, the present state of affairs will continue, if not with Ashanti as the dominant power, with some other tribe that has stepped into its place.

In the much-to-be-deplored event of future hostilities with Ashanti, recent explorations made by Mr. McLaren, of the firm of Messrs. Alex. Miller Brothers, seem to show that the Volta river is the proper base of operations. That gentleman, in October 1879, crossed the rapids on the Volta, between Medica and Aquamoo, in the steam-launch “Agnes,” which was the first European-built craft that had ever reached the latter town. Prior to this the rapids had been considered impassable, but it is now known that in ordinary seasons they can be passed by steamers of sufficient power, drawing six feet of water, from the beginning of September to the middle or end of November.

The Volta itself has been found to be navigable to the falls of Klatchie, from 300 to 350 miles from Addah; but it is by its principal confluent, the Afram, that Coomassie should be approached. The Afram discharges into the Volta at the town of Ourahei on the western bank of the latter, about 130 miles from the sea, and to this town, prior to the invasion of[Pg 315] Crepe by the Ashanti general Adu Buffo in 1869, great numbers of Ashantis used to resort for purposes of trade, Ourahei itself being only six days’ journey from Coomassie through an open grassy country. The Afram is both wide and deep, though a good deal obstructed by snags and fallen timber, and flows through Kwâow, at a distance of six hours’ journey to the north of Abeliffi, which place is only four days’ easy journey from Coomassie. Further than Kwâow the Afram has not yet been explored, but natives report that it has its source in a lake. If this be the case the lake must be either the Busum Echuy near Djuabin, or lake Burro to the west of the desert of Ghofan, far to the north-east of Coomassie. Its general direction from Kwâow is north-west. Even should the Afram be navigable no further than Kwâow troops could there be disembarked, where there would be only four days’ marching, as against ten or twelve from Cape Coast to Coomassie, and that too through open country in which the Ashanti never appears to advantage as a soldier.

In the present year, 1882, signs have not been wanting to show that the Ashantis are still pursuing their astute and unscrupulous policy with that unwearying tenacity of purpose which has ever distinguished them. A war with the Gaman party which supported King Ajiman was one of the first important[Pg 316] events of the year, and now at the time of writing it is reported from Cape Coast that the Adansis are flocking in large numbers across the Prah, complaining that, in their own country, neither their lives nor property are safe from Ashanti aggression. In fact, the Ashantis, having learned for the first time during the scare in 1881 that we were not bound by any treaty obligations to defend Adansi, are now beginning to feel their way, with a view to recovering their dominion over that territory: this done, the last vestige of the treaty of Fommanah will have disappeared. They will undoubtedly compass their ends before long unless checked by us in some way; which, as the doctrine of non-intervention still prevails, is not probable. The prestige the Ashantis will gain will be great, British influence beyond our borders must proportionately decline, and we shall find ourselves in exactly the same position as we were in 1873; with this difference, that the Ashantis will be better armed, and, having learnt wisdom from past reverses, will know better how to cope with us should we again attempt to advance on their capital.


[8] It is worthy of note that Buaki was very careful not to allude in any way to the wasp’s nest that had accompanied the axe, and which was the more important symbol of the two.

[9] A benda is two ounces.

[10] A village about five miles to the east of Cape Coast.