Today in 1824: the Ashantis defeat British forces in the Gold Coast

The Anglo-Ashanti Wars were a series of five 19th-century conflicts that took place between 1824 and 1900, between the Ashanti Empire—in the Akan interior of the Gold Coast—and the British Empire and its allies. The wars were mainly due to Ashanti attempts to establish a stronghold over the coastal areas of present-day Ghana. Coastal peoples such as the Fante and the Ga came to rely on British protection against Ashanti incursions.

By the 1820s, the British had decided to support one of the other tribes, the Fante, enemies of the Ashanti. Inland, the Ashanti kings who ruled from the Golden Stool—said to have come from their great god guardian of the Ashanti soul, “Nyame”—would not allow themselves to be governed by the British. Economic and social friction played their part in the causes for the outbreak of violence.

The immediate cause of the war happened when a group of Ashanti kidnapped and murdered an African sergeant of the Royal African Corps. A small British group was led into a trap. The Ashanti tried to negotiate but the British governor, Sir Charles MacCarthy, rejected Ashanti claims to Fante areas of the coast and resisted overtures by the Ashanti to negotiate.

MacCarthy led an invading force from the Cape Coast in two columns: the governor was in the first group of 500, out of touch with the second column of 2,500 when he encountered an Ashanti army of around 10,000 on 22 January 1824, in the battle of Nsamankow. The British were overrun, suffered losses, and ran out of ammunition. Almost all the British force were killed immediately; only around 20 managed to escape.

MacCarthy and Ensign Wetherell were killed and Williams taken prisoner. Major Alexander Gordon Laing returned to Britain with news of their fate. The Ashanti swept down to the coast, but disease forced them back. The new governor of the Gold Coast, John Hope Smith, started to gather a new army, mainly comprising natives, including Denkyiras, many of the traditional enemies of the Ashanti. In August 1826, the governor heard that the Ashanti were planning on attacking Accra. When the Ashanti army appeared and attacked, they found the British prepared. Rockets were fired: The novelty of the weapons, the explosions, rocket trails, and grievous wounds caused by flying metal shards caused the Ashanti to fall back. Soon they fled leaving thousands of casualties on the field. In 1831, the Pra River was accepted as the border in a treaty.

If you’re interested in the topic, you can read original documents from the expeditions on Archive Portal Europe, thanks especially to the work of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Edinburgh University Library and Hessisches Staatsarchiv Darmstadt.

In the picture: “Defeat of the Ashantees, by the British forces under the command of Coll. Sutherland, July 11th, 1824”

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