23 August 1900
On 23 August 1900, a Press Association report sent from the Gold Coast (now Ghana) reported that ‘two punitive columns’ of British troops were ‘destroying the enemy’s villages as they advance’ and living off the ‘rich country near Lake Busumskwi (Bosumtwi) which affords (them) plenty of food.’2 They were engaged in a near year long conflict, which was to see the deliberate destruction of numerous towns and villages and the death of an unknown number of the local population.
The war was initially provoked by an order on 25 March from the 48 year old British governor, Sir Frederick Hodgson. He had insisted that the Golden Stool, a royal throne sacred to the Ashanti, should be surrendered for Queen Victoria, adding that prior to its dispatch to London he would sit on it. This was something not even the Ashanti kings had dared to request.
Up until that moment, Sir Frederick’s delegation at the Ashanti capital of Kumasi had been treated with great honour and deference, but after the deeply humiliating order, Ashanti leaders began to quietly plan to rid themselves of the British. When, a month later, incensed that he had still not received the stool, Hodgson dispatched troops to destroy the surrounding Ashanti villages, they soon found themselves outnumbered by highly mobile warriors who proved to be skilled marksmen. The soldiers withdrew hastily to Kumasi but they then faced a siege, which was only finally relieved on 15 July by a column of troops under General James Willcox.
Despite the lack of any credible British pretext for initiating the conflict, The Times lauded the heroism of the garrison at Kumasi which had kept ‘the Imperial flag flying in the face of savage and ruthless rebels,’ adding that ‘the honour of the British name has been upheld in West Africa and the native races will not fail to appreciate the consequences.’3 Those consequences were severe indeed. The London Standard explained that:
‘General Willcox is not a man to let the grass grow under his feet, and he immediately set about sending columns in all directions, North, East and West, devastating the country, burning towns, and destroying all the crops, and generally reading the Ashantis a lesson they have never before had the opportunity of learning.’4
- ‘The Ashanti Revolt: Punitive Expedition: Villages Burned,’ The Northern Whig, 24 August 1900, p. 5 and ‘Ashanti: Advance of Two Punitive Columns: Villages Destroyed,’ The Liverpool Mercury, 24 August 1900, p. 7.
- Ian Hernon, Britain’s Forgotten Wars: Colonial Campaigns of the 19th Century, The History Press, Stroud, 2008, p. 200.
- ‘The Ashanti War,’ The Standard, 14 November 1900, p. 9.
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