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Ghana History - British Gold Coast

Cape Coast Castle, so called, be it remarked on the lucus a non lucendo principle, there being no Cape to speak of, and the name is merely a corruption of the Portuguese Cabo Corso, or Cape Cruize, named so by some ancient mariner, in grateful remembrance of having reached the Ultima Thule of his voyage on that coast.

So long ago as 1672, the Royal African Company was formed, simply to trade with Cape Coast; for the Castle already existed, and the Portuguese who built it had been trading there off and on for nearly two centuries previously, until driven out of it by the Dutch. But to enable the English traders to carry on in turn that ousting process I have indicated, the British company erected forts at Dixcove Secondee, Commendah, Annamaboo, Winnebah and Accra. No wonder that such extensive works (and we now know them to be, for the period, very expensive undertakings) wound up the Company pecuniarily, and they were accordingly succeeded in 1750 by another African company, which was itself finally dissolved in 1821.

The Gold Coast (and the name smacks of rich dividends, whatever the reality may have been) was then formally annexed to Sierra Leone. In 1821, the British Government took control of the British trading forts on the Gold Coast But in 1827 Government had thoughts of giving the Gold Coast up altogether, in consequence of disasters during the campaign of 1823-24 and the after troubles, however in deference to the earnest entreaties of local traders and merchants in London, leave was granted to manage the Settlement by the Nominee of a Committee, although technically the Colony continued to be an annexation of the Metropolitan Government at Sierra Leone. Captain Maclean, husband of the celebrated Letitia Elizabeth Landon was the gentleman selected for the office, and he superintended the government for a number of years, subject only to certain fundamental rules laid down for his guidance by the Imperial Parliament.

The first Britons arrived in the early 19th century as traders in Ghana. Since the beginning of the 19th century the British had begun to exercise territorial rights in the towns where they held forts, and in 1817 the right of the British to control the natives living in the coast towns was recognized by Ashanti.

But with their close relationship with the coastal people especially the Fantes, the Ashantis became their enemies. In 1844, Fanti chiefs in the area signed an agreement with the British that became the legal steppingstone to colonial status for the coastal area. Other states, besides the British, had establishments on the Gold Coast, and in this anxious effort at attaining the commerce of the illimitable interior, so many as three European forts stood side by side at one time, at Accra. One, therefore, need not be surprised to find the Home Government pursuing the same course of absorption and acquisition, hitherto practised by the trading companies.

In 1824 the first step towards the extension of British authority beyond the coast region was taken by Governor Sir Charles McCarthy, who incited the Fanti to rise against their oppressors, the Ashanti. (The Fanti's country had been conquered by the Ashanti in 1807.) Sir Charles and the Fanti army were defeated, the governor losing his life, but in 1826 the English gained a victory over the Ashanti at Dodowah. At this period, however, the home government, disgusted with the Gold Coast by reason of the perpetual disturbances in the protectorate and the trouble it occasioned, determined to abandon the settlements, and sent instructions for the fort s to be destroyed and the Europeans brought home. The merchants, backed by Major Rickets, 2nd West India regiments, the administrator, protested, arid as a compromise the forts were handed over to a committee of merchants (Sept. 1828), who were given a subsidy of 4000 a year.

The merchants secured (1830) as their administrator Mr George Maclean a gentleman with military experience on the Gold Coast and not engaged in trade. To Maclean is due the consolidation of British interests in the interior. He concluded, 1831, a treaty with the Ashanti advantageous to the Fanti, while with very inadequate means he contrived to extend British influence over the whole region of the present colony. In the words of a Fanti trader Maclean understood the people, "he settled things quietly with them and the people also loved him." Complaints that Maclean encouraged slavery reached England, but these were completely disproved, the governor being highly commended on his administration by the House of Commons Committee. It was decided, nevertheless, that the Colonial Office should resume direct control of the forts, which was done in 1843, Maclean continuing to direct native affairs until his death in 1847.

In 1850, Lord Grey, then Colonial Secretary, bought out the good-will and interest of the Danes in the five forts they possessed on the coast, the price (10,000) being paid not so much on account of the intrinsic value of the forts and guns handed over, as for the trade they represented. In 1868 the British made an exchange of some forts to windward, that is, west of Cape Coast Castle, giving up Dixcove, Appolonia, Commendah, and Secondee to the Dutch, in return for the undisputed and sole ownership of Accra.

In 1870, Sir A. Kennedy was Governor of West Africa, and he it was who opened the negotiations for the purchase of the Dutch forts, subsequently concluded by Mr. Pope Hennessy, when, on the 6th April, 1872, the Dutch Governor, Ferguson, handed over to the representative of England the gold and ivory baton of Admiral de Ruyter, which for two hundred and thirty-five years had been the Dutch symbol of sovereignty over their possessions on the coast, and by this convention the British were enabled to assert magniloquently that, with the exception of Liberia, "the British flag floated uninterruptedly from Gambia to the Bight of Benin." After all, a glance at a large map of Africa would find that the boast was a rather far-fetched one.

From 1826 to 1900, the British fought a series of campaigns against the Ashantis, whose kingdom was located inland. In 1902, they succeeded in establishing firm control over the Ashanti region and making the northern territories a protectorate.

Though the precious dust to which the Gold Coast owed its name was no longer obtained in any considerable quantities by the rude methods of collection employed by the natives, there was abundant proof that the whole region is more or less auriferous, and it seemed possible that European energy and skill might make it again a real gold coast. In some parts of the country in the neighborhood of the Volta, for example the surface of the ground was broken by innumerable small pits dug by the native miners.

British Togoland, the fourth territorial element eventually to form the nation, was part of a former German colony administered by the United Kingdom from Accra as a League of Nations mandate after 1922. In December 1946, British Togoland became a UN Trust Territory, and in 1957, following a 1956 plebiscite, the United Nations agreed that the territory would become part of Ghana when the Gold Coast achieved independence.

The four territorial divisions were administered separately until 1946, when the British Government ruled them as a single unit. In 1951, a constitution was promulgated that called for a greatly enlarged legislature composed principally of members elected by popular vote directly or indirectly. An executive council was responsible for formulating policy, with most African members drawn from the legislature and including three ex officio members appointed by the governor.

During the colonial period, the Gold Coast began to develop economically. Roads, railroads, and a harbor at Takoradi were constructed. In 1878 a Ghanaian brought cacao pods into the country, introducing what eventually became the country's major cash crop. Large-scale commercial gold mining began, and Western-style education was introduced, culminating in the founding of the University College of the Gold Coast in 1948. The education system trained a class of Ghanaians that found employment in the colonial administration. In the twentieth century, this same class increasingly sought economic, political, and social improvements as well as self-government, and, eventually, independence for Ghanaians.

A new constitution, approved on April 29, 1954, established a cabinet comprised of African ministers drawn from an all-African legislature chosen by direct election. In the elections that followed, the Convention People's Party (CPP), led by Kwame Nkrumah, won the majority of seats in the new Legislative Assembly. In May 1956, Prime Minister Nkrumah's Gold Coast government issued a white paper containing proposals for Gold Coast independence.

The British Government stated it would agree to a firm date for independence if a reasonable majority for such a step were obtained in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly after a general election. This election, held in 1956, returned the CPP to power with 71 of the 104 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Ghana became an independent state on March 6, 1957, when the United Kingdom relinquished its control over the Colony of the Gold Coast and Ashanti, the Northern Territories Protectorate, and British Togoland.

In subsequent reorganizations, the country was divided into 10 regions, which currently are subdivided into 138 districts. The original Gold Coast Colony now comprised the Western, Central, Eastern, and Greater Accra Regions, with a small portion at the mouth of the Volta River assigned to the Volta Region; the Ashanti area was divided into the Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo Regions; the Northern Territories into the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions; and British Togoland essentially is the same area as the Volta Region.

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Page last modified: 16-03-2017 19:02:50 ZULU