Ashanti Wars

Ashanti Wars
   A series of four nineteenth-century Anglo-Ashanti conflicts in West Africa. The Ashanti essentially won the first two wars, the British the last two. In 1821, the West African coastal forts, originally established for slaving, were taken by the British government from the disbanded Royal African Company, and for the next half-century were used against the slave trade and to support mercantile interests in the region. Although the explorer Thomas Bowditch had signed a treaty of cooperation on behalf of the African Company with the Ashanti in 1818, in 1823 the Ashanti moved against Cape Coast Castle in retaliation for British protection of their enemies, the Fante. In January 1824, a small forward party of British troops and African troops in British service was completely overwhelmed by the Ashanti. Its leader, the Governor of Cape Coast Castle, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Macarthy , was killed and his head taken as a trophy by the victorious Ashanti. This episode led the government to let a committee of merchants take control of Cape Coast Castle. One of their employees, Captain George McLean, negotiated an agreement with the Ashanti whereby the regions near the coast fell under British protection and the British recognized Ashanti rights in the interior. What has been called the McLean system then broke down over British efforts to suppress the slave trade. An unauthorized expedition into the interior at the initiative of the local governor in 1863–1864 led to massive loss of life from disease. The disaster led a committee of the House of Commons to suggest that the Gold Coast be abandoned. The suggestion, however, was never acted on.
   In 1873, disputes over slavery and fugitives aggravated by the British acquisition of additional territory in the region from the Dutch led to an Ashanti invasion of British-protected territory. This time an expedition was sent from England under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, “the very model of a modern major general,” who had the wisdom to fight his campaign during the dry and hence healthier season. Wolseley defeated the Ashanti army and burned Kumasi to the ground. A treaty in 1874 extracted an indemnity.
   Failure to pay the indemnity of 1874 and the ever-recurring issue of slavery led to a renewed British expedition against Kumasi in 1895–1896, this time rapidly successful. A subsequent unsuccessful rebellion by a number of Ashanti chiefs in 1900 led to the 1901 declaration of a British protectorate over the territory of the Ashanti.
   See also <>; <>.
    Baden-Powell, R.S.S. The Downfall of Prempeh. London: Methuen, 1896;
    Kochanski, Halik. Sir Garnet Wolseley: A Victorian Hero. London: Hambledon, 1999;
    Lloyd, Alan. The Drums of Kumasi: The Story of the Ashanti Wars. London: Longmans, 1964.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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