Ch 16: The Coastward March

On Wednesday, January 22nd, the column slowly wended its way from Kumassi through the swamps, and before evening the white troops were encamped safely at Dede Siwa, leaving Governor Maxwell and Captain Stewart in Kumassi with a large force of Houssas, and the West India contingent.
   The royal prisoners travelled in hammocks, the Queen Mother being carried in a long basket on the heads of two niggers, from whence she looked round muttering and chewing or smoking. The first day she was rather given to spit at any white men who approached, but under the tender care of Mr. Knollys, of the Colonial Service, who had charge of the prisoners, she calmed down and soon began to enjoy the novelty of the journey.
   The West Yorkshire regiment guarded the royal captives and the Ansahs, who marched down handcuffed to Prahsu, where they remained, awaiting their trial on the coast.
   The Special Service Corps held the rear; and sick at heart and worn out, the white troops plodded homeward: the Expedition had ended without their firing a shot. No doubt everyone ought to have been deeply gratified that there had been no bloodshed.
   Humanitarians sigh and exclaim "What a mercy." Well, it was a mercy, but terribly disheartening to the officers and men. They had braved the hardships and climatic dangers, and toiled steadily onward, warming to their work as the king remained defiant, and made a show of holding out to the bitter end; but it was only to find a craven braggart monarch, who hoped, by double dealing and temporising, to defeat the ends of justice, and when that failed, did not hesitate to cringe and crave for pardon.
   The troops had been buoyed up with the prospect of a stiff struggle at the end, and a chance of distinguishing themselves, and it seemed, by the abject surrender, that they had marched and endured for nothing. There is not the slightest doubt that if the Expedition had been left to the Houssas and native levies, the Ashantis would have resisted to the last; for it was only on the arrival of the Ansahs in Kumassi, with highly coloured reports of the rapid advance of thousands of white troops, that Prempeh decided not to fight unless it were forced on him, or he was molested. The prompt action of Governor Maxwell at the final palaver settled the matter - diplomacy had conquered brute force and cunning.
   The flag had hardly been unfurled outside the temporary Headquarters when it was sud denly hoisted to half-mast.


   The brief notice, wired up from the coast, came as a fearful shock to all members of the force when they arrived in camp. It seemed impossible to realise that the gallant Prince, who had been amongst us in the best of health and spirits, cheerfully enduring the hardships of the campaign only a few short days before, should have fallen a victim to the dreaded malaria. But it was too true. He had rallied on his arrival at the coast, and earnestly desired to remain till he heard the Expedition had reached its goal; but he submitted to the doctor's advice, and went on board Her Majesty's Ship "Blonde," which left Cape Coast on the afternoon of the 17th; at the same time Kumassi was being peacefully invested. The "Blonde" set out at once for Madeira, but on Sunday, the 19th, a change for the worse occurred, and His Royal Highness expired peacefully on Monday evening at twenty minutes to nine o'clock, off Sierra Leone.
   Prince Henry Maurice of Battenberg was the third son of Prince Alexander, and he was born on October 5th, 1858, being in his thirty-eighth year when he died. On July 23rd, 1885, he married Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, at Whippingham Church, in the Isle of Wight, and there are three sons and one daughter of the marriage, the eldest of whom was only nine years old on his father's sad decease. Mr. Gladstone, speaking in Parliament before the wedding, in 1885, said: "I believe everything connected with this young Prince is what the country would wish, and that his future life will be the same."
   Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg have lived in constant companionship with Our Queen, greatly comforting and aiding her in her solitude. In times of national rejoicing, they have been at her side; in days of sorrow and affliction, they have mourned with Her Majesty and shared her grief. The Prince had a handsome and gallant bearing, and had endeared himself to every member of the expeditionary force with whom he had come in contact.
   Born of a family of soldiers, Prince Henry was naturally anxious to identify himself with the military service of his adopted country, and availed himself of the opportunity when the Ashanti Expedition was decided upon. There he fell in the midst of faithful service, meeting a soldier's death, if not on the battlefield; and that reflection must afford a slight measure of consolation to our noble Queen, and the afflicted widow and her children. The Prince knew the risks and bravely accepted them, to sink exhausted in the service of his Sovereign and adopted country. Though he died sadly, he died well and nobly!
   There is little more of interest to add. The downward journey was more depressing than the advance, though everyone was anxiously looking forward to returning home again. The levies scoured the bush in advance of the prisoners in case there should be any attempt to assassinate the King, and several times disturbed waiting Ashantis, who were lurking in the trees to obtain a last glimpse of Prempeh, rather than lying in wait to kill him. Passing through Bekwai dominions the same watchful care was necessary, as many of the inhabitants there would gladly have killed him, but in hate rather than fetish fanaticism. A brutal but natural longing for revenge for past wrongs, rather than a re-echo from Seneca:
There can be slain No sacrifice to God
more acceptable than an unjust and wicked King.
   Leaving the main body, Prince Christian, Major Piggott, and others pushed ahead by forced marches to the coast. This coastward march was not devoid of interest, especially the journey from Essian Kwanta over the Adansis to Fumsu. This one march covered the distance of four ordinary daily marches. There were no hammocks available, being all taken up for the sick; my kit was ahead, so there was nothing for it but to push forward on foot. I set off early with a few natives, and found everything quiet, the villages still being deserted. Occasionally small groups of niggers, escaped slaves from Kumassi, peered cautiously through the trees. Leaving Bekwai country, the old Adansi kingdom was reached. The dread of Ashanti being removed, the Adansis will return to their own territory, and the ruined capital Fomena will again flourish, under the rule of the King: a fine old man who had offered every facility to the Expedition, and with whom a treaty had been drawn up a few weeks before the march started. Passing through Kwisa, where the little garrison were eagerly looking forward to the arrival of the troops, when they would strike camp and follow in rear of the returning column, the rugged sides of the Adansis were soon reached. On the top of the hill I halted and revelled in the glorious view, for the atmosphere was unusually clear, and the vast undulating sea of gloriously tinted foliage could be traced for miles. Then downward again, clambering with difficulty on the steep rugged track into Braffu Eadru.
   A few miles past the village, a rolling of drums and a weird, monotonous chant issued from the depths of the forest. My carriers were behind, having halted indefinitely for "chop," so I went a short distance through the bush to see what the row meant. In a small forest clearing, a fetish man was dancing and shouting, the centre of a great crowd of men, women and children, who kept up a continuous "eloge." Suspended on a pole in their midst, and carried by two men, was a corpse, which was being bumped and jolted in a very unceremonious fashion. I quietly watched the proceedings, undiscovered for some time, while the priest ever and anon approached the body and appeared to question it closely. Suddenly he stood transfixed, and muttered something, upon which a grey-haired patriarch was seized, in spite of his vigorous protestations, and rushed to the front. The priest started his incantations again with redoubled vigour, but a woman espied me watching, and the whole assembly were greatly disconcerted at the intrusion of a stranger, and a white man to boot.
   I stood a few moments longer, but the burial was evidently not to be proceeded with in my presence, so I discreetly withdrew, followed by some niggers, who furtively watched me well down the road before returning to the grave side. On subsequent inquiry I found the fetish priest was asking the corpse "who has killed thee?" The spirit of the deceased is then supposed to reveal to the holy man the name of the one who has worked the evil. The wily priest always has a pre-selected victim named in the silent revelation; one who is either rich or unpopular, and though the dead man has probably died of colic and stomach-ache, the culprit may be put to death for witchcraft, or heavily fined, whichever is deemed expedient.
   Passing Akusirem the sun set, and the rest of that day's journey had to be done in total darkness in the thick forest, though it was full moon, and there were occasional gleams through the trees. It was a dreary march, but Fumsu was at length reached, and crossing the river, I entered the village, thankful to have reached my destination after being on the road for over sixteen hours. The carriers all turned up shortly after, for though the African is slow, he is fairly sure, and you may generally rely on him to arrive at his destination, although he takes his own time to do so.
   Close to the hovel in which I slept there was a curious fetish consisting of a large carved gourd, containing a few crocodile teeth, and a raised crown-work over the whole, made of long strips of hippopotamus hide. I appropriated a couple of these strips as curios and placed them with my goods. At the next camp there was no trace of them; the hide would be of no value, intrinsic or otherwise, to the natives, and no doubt my carriers, with more conscience than I, had quietly replaced the strips on the sacred spot. I did not press the loss, but accepted the reproof. It was hardly fair that the sanctity of the spot should be disturbed, and the owner of the consecrated ground would have been much upset, had he found it marred. More than likely, to his pagan mind, it would have caused serious forebodings; for, probably, it had been raised to the fetish of some departed relation, and demanded respect in consequence. I am afraid we civilised beings are not always considerate in dealing with the belief of these heathen, and hardly realise what importance they attach to their god-worship.
   Cannibalism is gradually dying out in Africa, but there are still tribes who keep up the abominable practice of eating their own dead. A few miles from Fumsu, the path was remarkably wide and clear, and in full light of the moon, and close to the road, I noticed a hole and the body of a Negro at the bottom with a cloth over his face. A native, when ill and alone, will crawl into any nook, cover up his face and await death till he recovers or really does die. I debated a moment, wondering if this were a corpse partially buried, or a sick man, but as I looked, fancying I could see him breathing, I jumped down and pulled off the cloth. He was not only dead, but the flesh of both cheeks had been cleanly cut away and the mutilated face was plainly visible, though already a mass of flies and larvae. It was a fearful sight, rendered more ghastly by the pale moonlight and silent forest; sickened and horrified, I clambered from the grave and resumed my journey.
   With the carriers who came into Fumsu later, was an intelligent Houssa, and on my asking if he noticed the grave by the road, he at once replied in the affirmative, adding that three men were filling it when he passed. I told him of the mutilation and he at once said "O yes, sah, dat man then, sah, hab him face cut for chop, sah! Bush man make plenty chop long pig when he find man go die, sah!" Naturally, I was incredulous, but the Houssa's verdict may have been correct that the Negro had died, and being a stranger, the men who were burying him, had adjourned their task for a gruesome and disgusting feast. Certainly, if the deceased had belonged to any tribe in the vicinity, he would have been buried in state, with a crowd in attendance. It has since been suggested that slaves of some distant dead-eating tribe had escaped from Kumassi, and one of their number dying, his companions had simply acted up to their old principles. At any rate, the natives in that district are not usually given to eating their own dead.
   The cultured enlightened Negro from the coast was in evidence next day. Passing a small hamlet apparently deserted, I was hailed. "Hi - you white man, what you do here?" and from a shanty emerged a nigger in an old suit of white duck; evidently a discharged or deserted servant of some white officer.
   "You speak English, do you?" I remarked. "Corse I does! I'se Accra man, I is!" "What are you doing here, then?" "Well it’s like dis, de son of the chief of dis ere place he berry sick and I nuss him wid medecin I make. Dese people big fools dey is, my medecin ain't no little bit use, but den dey keep me here and de chief he gib me darter for wife cos I cure son." "Why, you have got a wife in Accra, haven't you?" "In Accra, wall dat ain't here. I guess I want a wife while I'se in dis place, don't I? When I goes 'ome, get Accra wife again."
   I went in to see his patient and found a young Negro evidently suffering from fever and dysentery. I mixed him a little chlorodyne I had, gave him a dose, and telling the Accra nigger to give him the remainder, I left.
   "Hi!" shouted the gentleman from Accra. "You stop and see my sick man an stop in his 'ouse. I charge you five shillin for dat." I was deaf and walked on. "Wat! You call self a gentman? You white rascal! You tief! You rob me you white liar! Heah, Massa! Dash me one shillin for luck an close palaver?" Oh yes! He got his dash that time - half a dozen strokes judiciously applied!
   Once in the Protectorate proper we were accorded a warm reception, for the villages had just heard of Prempeh's capture, and as we passed through, the women danced and shouted, clapping their hands in transports of joy at the Ashanti king's overthrow, and various offerings of palm wine, fou-fou and plantains were always ready.
   At Prahsu there were many sick, waiting their transport to the coast. Daily hammock trains plied between station and station clearing the hospital at the depot there, but as one patient was moved, another victim took his place. As soon as possible they were taken down in stages to the coast, and placed on the "Coromandel," out of the malarious zone. In the comfortable cots of the Hospital Ship, kept cool by punkahs, the sick quarters were indeed comfortable after the necessarily rough treatment in the bush. A man remarked that it seemed like heaven to lay his fever-worn frame in a comfortable berth, and to have decent food and treatment after the hardships on land. Much praise must be given to the brave Nursing Sisters who were unremitting in their care of the sick on the "Coromandel." There was a risk even when anchored right away from the deadly coast, and another tribute must go forth to the noble Red Cross sisters.
   Steps were being taken at the time to place the little cemetery on the banks of the Prah, in tolerable order. Poor Major Ferguson's body lay quite close to Captain Huyshe; and Major Piggott and Prince Christian spent some hours giving directions for the melancholy grave to be marked and fenced in, so that, at least, the sanctity of the spot might be respected, and a token made that the remains of a brave English officer rested there. At Prahsu also, the garrison were eagerly looking forward to the day their work would be done, and the homeward march begun.
   On the road we passed an intelligent-looking Negro accompanied by a large train of attendants. It was King Asibi, Prempeh's rival for the stool, on his way from Accra, where he had been living in exile, to Kumassi; for now he could travel in safety to his native country. Prince Christian was suffering from touches of Indian fever, Captain Williams was going down country very ill indeed, and Major Piggott was far from well, so all haste was made on the way.
   On January 30th the first sight of the ocean was obtained, and spirits rose accordingly. On top of the hills a delightful breeze was blowing off the sea, the carriers stepped out gaily along the road, breaking into a merry song, and as we entered the dirty, smelly town of Cape Coast, it was a welcome sight, for it was the end of the dreary march, and anchored in the roads were the ships ready to take us home. Man is supposed to become attached to the place he lives in for any length of time; but not on the West Coast of Africa, for there every day adds to the loathing of the surroundings, and the longing to leave them. Nostalgia, on the Gold Coast, is a universal and terrible complaint.
   On February 1st, Sir Francis Scott and his Staff arrived at the Castle, all well but thoroughly worn out. Indeed every member of the force looked terribly jaded and ill, many being only just able to keep about at all. Major Piggott received the temporary appointment as Resident in Kumassi; and though he was very unwell, he returned a few days later with a force of Houssas to relieve the West India troops, who were already suffering very much from the climate, though they should be well seasoned from their previous training. Major Piggott was certainly the man to take over the reins in Ashanti. He has ever shown that fearlessness and force of character that were specially requisite for dealing with a half-subdued country, and demanding respect from the savage inhabitants.
   Lieutenant O'Donnell, who had been dispatched with Captain Cramer and Lieutenant Armitage through the Koranza Country to advance on Kumassi from the North, with a large force of Houssas, arrived safely in the capital. He had made a treaty on the way, with the King of Juabin, an important ally of Kumassi. These plucky officers had arrived safely in the capital to find it peacefully occupied, but this fact must not detract any value from the service they rendered by this most trying and dangerous march. The officers and men of the Constabulary on the West Coast, have a continuous round of duties both arduous and exciting.
   At the Castle the carriers were constantly returning in gangs, and being paid off; the rum shanties did a roaring trade. The work of paying off these natives was neither a small nor easy task, but one which was carried out with the utmost celerity. There was one officer, however, far too hasty when paying off these natives. They had worked hard, and worked well, and his treatment of them at the close was brutal and unworthy of an officer and a gentleman. Niggers are trying, and enough to spoil any person's temper, but there is reason and limit to all things, which this gentleman quite set aside. With this solitary exception at the close of the campaign, all the officers, from Sir Francis Scott downwards, had been most careful in their treatment of the natives serving with the expedition. There had been little flogging, and that only in flagrant cases; and in consequence of the respect generated by the white officers, there had been no desertion, and no disaffection among the thousands of men of various tribes employed as bearers, and in other capacities.
   On February 4th, the West Yorkshire Regiment arrived at the coast with Prempeh and the other captives. The King and Queen Mother had never left Kumassi before, and Prempeh especially seemed awed by the first sight of the mighty Ocean. The prisoners were at once put in surf boats and taken on board the "Racoon," which weighed anchor for Elmina Castle, where the King will be kept in captivity.
   For some days thousands of natives had anxiously waited in eager expectancy, for a glimpse of that tyrant, whom they had dreaded so long. Men, women and children flocked in from all adjacent coast towns and bush villages, and lay at night in long silent rows on the sea front or along the sides of the houses. As each day passed, their excitement seemed rather to increase than their ardour to be damped by the weariness and discomforts to be endured. Then their patience was rewarded. The strains of a band could be heard in the distance, the regular roll of the approaching drums was unmistakable - it was the white troops at last.
   Like a muffled roar did the cry travel from one end of the town to the other. "Prempeh is coming! He comes! He comes!" Thousands of people rushed in the direction of the Castle, and in a few seconds every inch of standing room was occupied by a black seething mass of expectant faces.
   The regular tramp of marching feet drew nearer; there was the clash of arms as the entrance guard turned out and presented arms, a murmur of a thousand voices speaking in hushed tones, succeeded by one fearful yell of triumph and hate as the litters with the prisoners came in sight. Again and again was the yell repeated, drowning the loud tones of the band, which were re-echoing beneath the vaulted entrance to the Castle as the troops filed through into the courtyard. Small wonder that Prempeh was livid with fear, and trembling in every limb as he heard the furious cries, and saw the denunciatory gesticulations of the angry multitude that spread around him on every side. With fixed bayonets, his guard was formed strongly on either side, and had the wild passion of those frenzied people, kept back by the gleam of steel, been allowed full play, they would have wreaked a fearful vengeance on the unhappy occupants of the prisoners' litters.
   Once in the compound of the Castle there was little delay. The postern opening to the shore was flung back; the West Yorkshire Regiment sallied forth and lined down to the water's edge. Right along the seashore, over the sand hills, up among the wretched Fanti mud hovels, clustering round on the sacred surf-beaten mass of rock forming the foundations of the Castle, there was the same sea of faces, and again did the frenzied cries and yells resound on all sides, as the prisoners issued forth, and passed down to the waiting surf boats.
   Up on the Castle battlements all the European residents were crowded together; Officers, Government officials and traders. As those Ashantis stood trembling, cowed and disheartened, looking one moment at the yelling crowd, then at the ever rolling expanse of the vast Atlantic, a sight few of them had ever seen before, a thrill of pity must have gone through all the hearts of those white people there. But with those who had seen that king in his capital, the pity was only momentary. As a flash, all the horrors which lay at the door of those rulers, came to one's mind. That fearful "Golgotha," the slaves, and the terrible rites of human sacrifice: there was little room for pity; rather for thankfulness that the corrupt rule had come to an end at last; that Kumassi, henceforth, would not be a place to associate with deeds of cruelty and blood; and that in time, the thousands of Ashanti subjects would gain confidence, emerging from the cloud of a bloody fetish worship, to be taught a measure of self-respect by the presence of the English flag now floating over their head.
   Mr. Knollys entered one of the captive-laden surf boats, and then with vigorous strokes, the boatmen reached the gun-boat, the prisoners were transferred and taken off to their exile; loved and regretted by very few, if by any. They will be well treated, and have fairly comfortable quarters, with good food. Their one craving will be for spirits, of which they are allowed little. Prempeh, especially, will miss his periodical debauches, in which he drowned dull care, for no doubt, as with Cleomenes of old:
Consuming cares lay heavy on his mind:
In his black thoughts, revenge and slaughter roll,
and scenes of blood rise dreadful in his soul.
   All day long in the streets of Cape Coast hundreds of the women danced and sang their songs of triumph. Their lords and masters were hourly returning in bodies and being paid off; and in the native quarter at least, everyone gave himself over to a somewhat riotous jollification. The spirit shanties, of course, did a roaring trade; but if drunkenness existed on all sides, it led only to scenes of uproarious joy; they were far too happy at being home again and all their troubles over, for any quarrelling amongst themselves. The white men also met with almost disquieting receptions if they ventured in the "Quartier Fanti." Every other Negro wished to shake hands, the women clapped their hands and shouted words of welcome, and the youngsters crowded round with their shrill little "Good hevenin, sah!" With the men who had been right to the front, the levies and others, a note of "bonne camaraderie" was at once struck up; but one very side there was a distinct and noticeable difference in the attitude of the people toward Europeans.
   When I first landed there was a respect shown to white men, but it was prompted by fear. Now it was entirely altered. The natives paid everyone the same respect; but there was in it both a difference and a distinction. The appearance of those regiments of white soldiers, the campaign in the interior, and capture of the King, had filled them with gratitude and wonder, and everyone was treated with a marked and deferential attention. Thus the Expedition will not be without its effect among our own friendly tribes and subjects on the coast.
   The troops had suffered terribly on the coastward march and the subtle enemy, the fever, had thrown Death more victims, besides laying its grip on very many more. The Field Hospital was crammed, and a few more days delay in that fatal country, or bad management of the sick transport service, must have produced a calamitous result. There was no hitch, though, and the sick were speedily transferred to the "Coromandel," where the pure sea-air did much for them. Still litters poured into the base from the front, and as fast as the Hospital on Connor's Hill was cleared, fresh sick trains arrived, and the beds were again filled with the limp forms, and yellow drawn faces of suffering men, most of whom had landed just a few weeks previously, perfectly fit, and in a glow of health and vigour.
   The West Yorkshire Regiment, when their captives had been safely transferred, at once embarked on the "Manilla." It was painful to see the thoroughly worn out condition of this fine regiment, a majority of which looked more fit for a hospital ward than anything else; but the thought of Old England, after their long sojourn abroad, buoyed them up, and they pluckily did their work till the end, though numbers were forced to give in each day. The Special Service Corps marched into the Castle, travel stained and weary, and were to have embarked on board the "Coromandel." When they got down to Cape Coast, however, there was little room for any but the most sick on the Hospital ship, and half of them had to be transferred to the "Manilla'' before she sailed on the 6th.
   The Mail and Coastal Steamers were then requisitioned by telegraph, from ports down the coast, and were used to carry drafts of officers and men, instead of coasting for cargo. At length quarters were found for all and, on February 8th, the remaining sick from the hospital were carried to surf boats and swung on board the "Coromandel," making a total of nearly 250 sick officers and men.

The Disembarkation

   Following a final parade and salute for His Excellency Governor Maxwell, the Headquarters was embarked, and quietly the Expeditionary Force left for Old England, having brought to a close the most peaceful, but also the most successful and best managed campaign that has ever graced the annals of English History.
   The lands of Ashanti had stood as the great barrier to the development of our African territories and the expedition had been a brilliant success in fully accomplishing its object. Governor Maxwell is a gentleman of immense tact and understanding and under his watchful guidance a new era of prosperity will assuredly now dawn for the Gold Coast Colony.
George Clarke Musgrave

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