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Anglo-Ashanti War of 1900

The last Anglo-Asante war occurred in 1899-1900, when the British twice tried to take possession of the asantehene's Golden Stool, symbol of Asante power and independence. In April 1900, the Asante reacted to these attempts by launching an armed rebellion and by laying siege to the Kumasi [Coomassie] fort, where the British governor and his party had sought refuge. The British eventually defeated the Asante, both capturing and exiling the rebellion's leader, Yaa Asantewaa, and fifteen of her closest advisers. The conclusion of the last Anglo-Asante war resulted in the formal annexation of the Asante empire as a British possession.

The Hausa soldiers behaved most gallantly, and the British lost 200 or 300 of them, and perhaps nearly 1,000 carriers. The slaughter among Britain's opponents, who it must be remembered were British subjects and had been so for twenty-five years, was immense, but no attempt had been made to calculate it.

In December, 1899, there came to Accra an idiot boy who said that he knew where the Golden Stool was, and that if a white officer and some Hausas were sent secretly with him he would take them to the spot. The Governor actually accepted the story of this mad boy and sent out an expedition to seek for the Golden Stool and the treasure concealed with it. In March, l900, the Governor went up to Coomassie, where he had a palaver with the Ashanti kings and chiefs at which he made a speech to them. These natives had tried all they could, as he ventured to think, to remain peaceful subjects of this country, but when Sir F. Hodgson demanded from them this large tribute and the Golden Stool, and told them that the over-lordship of Prempeh would never be restored, they made no answer and were extremely dissatisfied. It was from that palaver that the siege of Coomassie arose and this dreadful war broke out.

In 1900, after four years of peace, a serious rebellion broke out in Ashanti. The tribes involved were the Kumasis, Adansis, and Kokofus; the other tribes of the Ashanti confederation remained loyal. The rebels were, however, able to command a force reported to number 40,000. On 28th March the governor of the Gold Coast, Sir F. Hodgson, in a public palaver at Kumasi, announced that the Ashanti chiefs would have to pay the British Government 4000 ounces of gold yearly, and he reproached the chiefs with not having brought to him the Golden Stool—the emblem of sovereignty among the Ashantis—which the Kumasis had kept hidden since 1896.

Three days afterwards the Kumasi warriors attacked a party of Hausas sent with the chief object of discovering the Golden Stool. In the previous January a secret attempt to seize the Stool had failed. The Kumasis, who were longing to wipe out the dishonour of having let Prempeh be deported without fighting, next threatened the fort of Kumasi. Mr Ramseyer and the other Basel missionaries, and Sir F. and Lady Hodgson, took refuge in the fort, and reinforcements were urgently asked for. On 18th April 100 Gold Coast constabulary arrived. On the 29th the Kumasis attacked in force, but were repulsed. The same day a party of 250 Lagos constabulary reached Kumasi. #. had fought their way up, and came in with little ammunition. On 15th May Major Morris arrived from the British territory north of Ashanti, also with 250 men. The garrison now numbered 700.

The 29 Europeans in the fort included four women. Outside the fort were gathered 3000 native refugees. Famine and disease soon began to tell their tale. Sir F. Hodgson sent out a message on 4th June (it reached the relieving force on 12th June), saying that they could only hold out to 11th June.

The task of crushing out rebellion in Ashanti, suspended during the rainy season, was resumed and punitive expeditions traversed most of the country to the east and south of Kumasi. Communications were reopened with the north towards Kintampo. Owing to the excitement of South Africa and Chinese events this West African campaign has been thrown into the shade; yet the force which Sir J. Willcocks had under his command amounted to some 3,500 men—as large as that employed in the much talked of Wolseley expedition. On the earlier occasion however three white regiments were engaged and the West African force itself was kept studiously in the background. This year black troops exclusively have been employed– drawn from all provinces on the West Coast, with reinforcements from Somaliland and from British Central Africa—and the result has been certainly not less satisfactory, while the expenditure and the loss of life from disease have been greatly lessened.

However, it was not till 23rd June that the governor and all the Europeans save three, together with 600 Hausas of all ranks, sallied out of the fort. Avoiding the main road, held by the enemy in force, they attacked a weakly held stockade, and succeeded in cutting their way through, with a loss of two British officers mortally wounded, 39 Hausas killed, and double that number wounded or missing. The governor's party reached Cape Coast Castle safely on 10th July.

A force of 100 Hausas, with three white men (Captain Bishop, Mr Ralph, and Dr Hay), was left behind in Kumasi fort with rations to last three weeks. Meantime a relief expedition had been organized at the Gold Coast by Lieut.-Colonel Willcocks. This officer reached Cape Coast Castle from Nigeria on 26th May. The difficulties before him were appalling. Carriers could scarcely be obtained, there were no local food supplies, the rainy season was at its height, all the roads were deep mire, the bush was almost impenetrable, and the enemy were both brave and cunning, fighting behind concealed stockades. It was not until the 2nd of July that Colonel Willcocks was able to advance to Fumsu. On the next day he heard of the escape of the governor and of the straits of the garrison left at Kumasi. He determined to relieve the fort in time, and on the 9th of July reached Bekwai, the king of which place had remained loyal.

Making his final dispositions, the colonel spread a report that on the 13th he would attack Kokofu, east of Bekwai, and this drew off several thousands of the enemy from Kumasi. After feinting to attack Kokofu, Colonel Willcocks suddenly marched west. There was smart fighting on the 14th, and at 4.30 P.M. on the 15th, after a march since daybreak through roads “in indescribably bad condition,” the main rebel stockade was encountered. It was carried at the point of the bayonet by the Yoruba troops, who proved themselves fully equal to the Hausas. “The charge could not have been beaten in élan by any soldiers.”

Kumasi was entered the same evening, a bugler of the war-worn garrison of the fort sounding “the general salute” as the relieving column came in view. Most of the defenders were too weak to stand. Outside the fort nothing was to be seen but burnt-down houses and putrid bodies. The relieving force that marched into Kumasi consisted of 1000 fighting men (all West Africans), with 60 white men, two 75-millimetre guns, four seven-pounder guns, and six Maxims.

Kumasi relieved, there remained the task of crushing the rebellion. Colonel Willcocks's force was increased by Yaos from Central Africa and by sikhs to a total of 3368 natives, with 134 British officers, and 35 British non-commissioned officers. In addition there were Ashanti levies. On the 30th of September the Kumasis were completely beaten at Obassa. Thereafter many of the rebel chiefs surrendered, and the only two remaining in the field were captured on 28th December.

Thus 1901 opened with peace restored. The total number of casualties during the campaign (including those who died of disease) was 1007. Nine British officers were killed in action, 43 were wounded, and six died of disease. The commander, Lieut.-Colonel Willcocks, was promoted colonel, created a K.C.M.G., was mentioned in the King's speech at the opening of Parliament in 1901, and received the freedom of the City of London, with a sword of honour. Sir F. Hodgson was appointed Governor of Barbados, and Major Nathan took his place on the Gold Coast.

By an Order in Council, dated 26th September 1901, Ashanti was formally annexed to the British dominions.

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Page last modified: 30-04-2017 13:45:45 ZULU