The destruction of Kokofu and the murder of its fleeing inhabitants.
[ 22 July 1900 ]
On 25 March, Sir Frederick Hodgson, the British governor of the Gold Coast, decided that he needed to clearly demonstrate British intolerance of any political or even cultural independence, by insisting that the Ashanti people surrender the Golden Stool, the traditional throne of Ashanti kings which was believed to house the spirit of the nation, so that he could sit on it. When the stool was not surrendered, Hodgson sent troops to burn villages in the surrounding countryside, provoking an uprising and soon found himself besieged in the Ashanti capital of Kumasi until he was finally relieved by a column of troops under General Willcox on Sunday 15 July 1900 [ see 23 August 1900 ].
A week later, the British embarked on the traditional punitive counter measures and selected the Ashanti town of Kokufu which was still in rebel control, located about 14 miles south south east of Kumasi, as the first target. Early on the morning of Sunday 22 July, General Wilcox ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Morland to attack the town and if possible to seize and destroy it. Morland set out immediately with 800 troops, mostly recruits from the the West African Frontier Force and the West African Regiment led by British officers. After some brief fighting close to a defensive stockade, his men charged into the town, taking the terrified inhabitants almost completely by surprise. Captain Harold Biss, writing his memoir, The Relief of Kumasi, cheerfully recalled their fate.
‘Another turn, and there was Kokufu. From almost every home, running for their lives, went nude Ashantis. The sight only maddened our men the more; in a moment their strength revived, and they were after them again with renewed vigour… [one Ashanti] turned a complete somersault, shot through the back as he ran…[while another] was overtaken by a fleet-footed soldier, who sent his bayonet through his body; and thus blind excitement carried in the race of carnage. Already some thirty corpses lay along the pathway of this fierce onslaught, and more were to be found.’1
Had the thirty corpses been British inhabitants of a small colonial settlement, it’s difficult to imagine the Captain using the term ‘onslaught’ in preference to ‘massacre.’ Nor did the slaughter end with the taking of the town, as those who fled were pursued some distance into the surrounding forest, though some of the population managed to escape thanks to the soldiers’ hunger for loot. Captain Biss noted that ‘the track out of the town was strewn with household goods of every kind in disordered profusion; brass studded chairs of chiefs, robes of others, pillows, bedding, cooking pots, a medley of barbaric property.’2
Meanwhile, the soldiers who remained in the town were ‘patrolling down the various roads by which the terror-stricken inhabitants had fled, collecting further trophies.’ This was eventually terminated when Colonel Morland, after giving his men sufficient time to ransack as much as they could carry, ordered a call to fall-in, and instructed the reassembled men to begin to burn down every house in a systematic manner, so that no part of the town should be left standing.3 This work of destroying any shelter that was of any value to the local people was carried out methodically despite the British having not suffered a single casualty in the initial assault.4 The Times greeted the news of the massacre and destruction with predictable enthusiasm, expressing its hope that the annihilation of Kokofu would ‘prove a severe blow to the Ashanti rebels and greatly help in clearing the southern road.’5
- Captain Harold C. J. Bliss, The Relief of Kumasi, Methuen and Co, London, 1901, p. 223.
- Ibid., p. 224.
- Ibid., pp. 224-225.
- A telegram from Colonel Wilcox to the Colonial Office cited in ‘Capture of Kokofu,’ the Yorkshire Post, 27 July 1900, p 5.
- No title, The Times, 27 July 1900, p. 9.
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