Government Control Of The Gold Coast (Ghana) 1843

Government Control Of The Gold Coast (Ghana) 1843

The British Government, acting on the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1842, resumed direct administration of British forts on the Gold Coast in 1843. It appointed Captain Hill as Governor and Maclean as Judicial Assessor responsible for the administration of Justice among the coastal peoples. Maclean held this post until his death in 1847. Before this, he had assisted Hill to conclude the ‘Bond’ of 1844.

The Bond Of 1844

The signing of this agreement on 6th March 1844 is regarded as a very important event in Gold Coast history and Ghana chose that date for her. Independence in 1957.
The purpose of the Bond was to legalize the jurisdiction which Maclean had between 1830 and 1843 exercised irregularly and unofficially over the people of the coastal states.
It had become necessary to clarify, by a legal document, the relationship between the British government and the coastal peoples and the bond was meant to serve this purpose.

What were the contents or provisions of the Bond?

The document which originally signed by eight Gold Coast chiefs and the Governor (the later got eleven more chiefs to sign it) had three clauses: In the first clause, the chiefs agreed to acknowledge the power and jurisdiction that had hitherto been exercised on the behalf of the British Crown by Maclean and declared that ‘the first objects of law are the protection of individuals and property’.

In the second clause, the chiefs agreed to abolish human sacrifices and other barbarous customs such as panyarring.
In the third clause, the signatory agreed to allow cases of murder, robberies and other crimes to be tried by British Judicial officers and chiefs of the districts with a view to ‘molding the customs of the country according to the general principles of British laws’.

What Was The Historical Significance Of The Bond?

First, it was a formal recognition of the illegal jurisdiction already established by Maclean. It was in effect the first official step used by Britain to secure control over the Gold Coast.

Secondly, the Bond made it possible for the British legal system and justice to be exercised officially in the coastal states. According to J.B. Danquah, by it the signatory chiefs secured a better maintenance of their society which was growing more complex by reason of its contact with a society based on a differently organized system values.
However, so long as Maclean was Judicial Assessor, all went well. But after his death in 1847, a Chief Justice was appointed and cases began to be tried according to British law only and chiefs were excluded. This led to a wave of protests in the late 1850s. Thirdly, as a result of the close association created by the Bond between the British Government and coastal peoples, the latter began to demand from the British administration such modern amenities as schools, roads and hospitals.

This demand raised new problems of revenue. Finally, it must be pointed out here that the political significance of the Bond has often been exaggerated or misunderstood. The Bond did not transfer the sovereignty of the coastal states to the British Crown as some historians have claimed.
As ward put it, “There is no intention to grant to the Crown any territorial sovereignty or suzerainty, nor is there granted any authority beyond that of enforcing compliance with the orders of the court”. In other words, what the Bond granted to the British was not sovereignty power but only legal jurisdiction which was to be exercised “on the assent and concurrence of the sovereign power of the state within which it is exercised”.
In sum, the Bond did recognize the sovereignty of the signatory chiefs.

The Problem Of Revenue

As a result of growing British influence following the signing of the Bond, the coastal people began to demand such amenities as schools, hospitals and roads from the British administration.
Since the grant from the British government was quite inadequate to meet this demand, it became necessary to raise revenue locally. Moreover, in January 1850, the Gold Coast was separated from the Sierra Leone administration and had its own government with a Governor, an Executive Council and a nominated Legislative Council.
This of course meant increased of costs of administration which must be met from local resources. The problem of revenue was tackled in two ways.

First, the British administration decided to make the people pay for the amenities they demanded by imposing a poll tax. So in April 1852, a poll Tax Ordinance was passed imposing a tax of one shilling per head per year to be paid by every man, woman and child in the “Protectorate”.
But the Poll tax experiment failed. Of the estimated annual revenue of £20,000 from this source, only £7,500 was raised in the first year; and the yield fell so steadily in succeeding years that the poll tax was abandoned in 1861.
Second, steps were taken to raise revenue through customs duties. To achieve this objective, the British bought Danish forts on the Gold Coast in 1850. Pursuing this further, the British and the Dutch made an exchange of forts in 1867 so that the former could have all their forts on the eastern half of the coast while the Dutch had theirs on the western half.

This, the British authorities hoped, would enable them to impose uniform customs dues in their section of the coast and collect them effectively.
This hope was not realized until 1872 when the Dutch also sold their forts on the Gold Coast to the British for £3,790. Consequently, the British from then on became the only European power on the Gold Coast and the government was able to raise revenue by increasing customs duties but not enough to cover the growing cost of administration.


While British influence was growing on the Gold Coast, the British authorities there were finding it increasingly difficult to meet the corresponding rise in the cost of administration.
The Asante invasion of the ‘Protectorate’ 1863 made the situation worse. As has already been pointed out, the invasion was provoked by the tactless refusal of Governor Richard Pine to return to the Asantehene fugitives from Asante Justice.

As a result of the Asante victory, British prestige in the Gold Coast slumped and trade came to a standstill. To further worsen an already bad situation, a British counter invasion aimed at striking “final blow” on Asante power in 1864 proved a dismal fiasco resulting in the death by fever of 13 British officers and 45 soldiers and the calling off of the campaign. It was these circumstances especially the mishandling of the Asante campaign that prompted the British government to send out Colonel Henry Ord in 1864 to investigate and report on the affairs of the four British settlements in the West Africa.

In 1865, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to study Colonel Ord’s report and make recommendations. The Committee recommended that the British Government should withdraw from all her West African settlements except probably Sierra Leone; that the withdrawal should be gradual in view of government’s obligation to British traders, missionaries and protected peoples; that in the interval the protected peoples should be encouraged to prepare for self-government and no further extension of territory should be undertaken.
What were the results of the recommendations as far as the Gold Coast was concerned? First, the Gold Coast was again brought under the Sierra Leone administration. Apart from this, no other aspect of the recommendations was implemented. Instead of preparing to withdraw, the British in face began to strengthen their position further in the Gold Coast by the deposition and deportation of King John Aggrey of Cape Coast in 1866; by the Anglo-Dutch forts in 1872; and finally by the annexation of the coastal states in 1874.

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Second, because of the so-called British policy of “withdrawal” contained in the recommendations, educated Fante elements and their chiefs began to organize a con federal government of their states to take over the administration in the event of British withdrawal. The outcome of this move was the Fante confederation.


The Fante Confederation was formed at a meeting of Fante chiefs and educated leaders held at Mankessim in January 1868. One reason for the formation of the confederation was that following the recommendations of the 1865 Committee, the Fante began to organize themselves for defense against future Asante invasions and to prepare to take over the administration from the British in the event of the latter’s proposed withdrawal. Another reason was Fante resistance to the Anglo-Dutch exchange of forts in 1867.

The exchange was most unacceptable to the Fante who regarded the Dutch as the traditional ally of Asante their great enemy. The formation of the confederation was also the outcome of long-standing Fante resistance to growing British influence, or more especially British encroachment on the judicial powers of the Fante chiefs since the 1850s.
The confederation as organized in 1868 had a king-president, an army and a civil service. In 1869, it asserted its sovereign status by declaring itself independent of the British, setting up its own Supreme court at Mankessim and imposing a poll tax to raise revenue for administration.

Two years later, it was decided to give the Confederation legal status by means of a written constitution. So, on October 16, 1871, at a meeting at Mankessim, the Fante states drew up the MANKESSIM CONSTITUTION.
The constitution of forty-seven articles set out the objects and structure of the government of the Confederation. The objects were to promote unity among the kings and chiefs of Fante for the purposes of defense against the Asante; to promote education by the establishment of schools; and to improve roads, agriculture, industry and the natural resources of the country.

The government of the Confederation was to be headed by a King-President elected from the body of Kings. There were to be an executive council consisting of ex-official members and those appointed by the Con federal assembly; a Representative Assembly consisting of two representatives from each state – one an educated and the other a chief; an assembly of kings and principal chiefs to meet annually to ratify the decisions of the Representative Assembly.
Provincial assessors were to be appointed to hold courts, account for revenue and expenditure and supervise schools, roads and do police work.

It was unfortunate that the Mankessim Constitution was never given the opportunity to come into effect. The Confederation was stifled by a hostile British administration which arrested and imprisoned its leaders for alleged treason in 1872 soon after the launching of the Mankessim Constitution.
Though they were freed a month later on the orders of the Secretary of State, the Confederation never recovered from the shock, and by 1873, it was no more.

What did the Fante Confederation achieve during its short span of life? First, it took positive steps to realize self-government by setting up its own governmental machinery comprising a King-President, an army, a civil service and a supreme court, this machinery operated as from 1868 and became the written constitution in 1871.
Secondly, the Confederation imposed and collected a poll tax and could have achieved some of its social objectives such as the building of roads and the establishment of schools if it had survived.
Thirdly, with its army it was able to oppose the Dutch take over and to assist the Kommenda against Elmina in 1868. Finally, its supreme court at Mankessim established in 1868 tried many cases which were referred to it by some of the chiefs courts.


The period 1874- 1901 saw the establishment of British rule in the Gold Coast. Stages by which this was achieved.
The Annexation of the Southern states: 1874

The first stage was the annexation of the southern states as the British Crown Colony of the Gold Coast in 1874.
The decision to annex the southern states was influenced by the following factors. First, the withdrawal of the Dutch from the Gold Coast and the consequent take-over of all their forts by the British in 1872 enabled the latter to raise sufficient revenue from customs duties.

The British were thus enabled to meet the rising cost of administration which had hitherto been the main hindrance to the expansion of British authority in the Gold Coast from 1872, annual revenue from customs duties alone amounted to the record figure of £90,000 between 1875 and 1880, while expenditure on the country amounted to £83,000.

Secondly, there was a change in British attitude towards the acquisition of colonies from the 1870s. This change was brought about by the rise of the new imperialism which began with the growing competition for the overseas markets. Because of this, contemporary British public opinion was against withdrawal and in fact favored acquisition of new territories to serve as overseas markets.

Thirdly, the most immediate cause of the annexation was the Asante invasion of the coastal states in 1873 and the consequent British Victory in the war. The defeat of the Asante restored Britain’s prestige in the Gold Coast and put her in a position of strength to do what she liked with that country.

In the circumstances, the British Government felt that the only guarantee against further Asante invasions was the annexation of the coastal states under British protection. So in July 1874, the British Government issued a charter by which it formally annexed the southern states as the British Crown Colony of the Gold Coast.

The Conquest And Annexation Of Asante: 1896-1901

As a result of the Asante invasion of the “protectorate” in 1873, a British Force captured and sacked Kumasi in January 1874. By the Treaty of Fomena (1874), the Asante were forced to agree to give up all claims of sovereignty over the coastal states.

Meanwhile the British withdrew from Kumasi and for more that twenty years, the Asante were left alone. But the defeat had brought disaster on the Asante Union which was now on the verge of collapse as many of the subject states broke away.

However, by the 1890s, a number of factors had combined to make the British decide to deal with the Asante problem once and for all by annexing it.
First, the Asante had so sufficiently recovered from the shock of the 1874 defeat that they began to reconquer some of the break away states and under the Asantehenes Mensa Bonsu and Prempeh I, plans were afoot to revive the empire.

Knowing the danger to trade which Asante campaigns could cause, the British began to think of occupying Asante militarily. Secondly, this view of British occupation of Asante was reinforced by increasing French and German imperial activity in the hinterland.

The occupation would forestall French and German advance to this part of West Africa. So in 1895, the British charged the Asante with a breach of the Fomena Treaty, and demanded that they accept British protection.
When this was refused, a military expedition was sent which occupied Kumasi without opposition in 1896. And in spite of the peaceful surrender and acceptance of British protection by the Asantehene Prempeh I, he with the Queen Mother and his principal supporters were exiled.

The Asante Union was dissolved and a British Resident was stationed in Kumasi the capital. Thirdly, the final incident which led to the annexation was the Asante revolt of 1900.
One reason for the revolt was the strong feeling among the Asante agaainst the deportation of the Asantehene Prempeh and other Asante leaders. But the immediate cause was the tactless demand by the British Governor Sir Frederic Hodgson for the surrender of the Golden Stool which was the symbol of the United soul of the Asante.
This addition of insult to injury was more than they could bear. The people of Kumasi rose like one man, and only British military superiority saved the situation by quelling the revolt after nine months bitter fighting.
After this the British decided to annex Asante. In 1901, it was annexed as a British colony to be administered by the Governor of the Gold Coast. Thus came to end a century of Anglo Asante conflict in the Gold Coast and with it the final collapse of one of West Africa’s strongest states. The annexation of Asante in 1901 marks the final Stage in the establishment of British rule in the Gold Coast.

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The Northern Territories

Before the annexation of Asante in 1901, the British had. In fact extended their sphere of control to the Territories north of Asante in 1898. This was done to open up direct trade with them which the Asante middlemen had monopolized for long. But more important was the need to forestall the advance of the French and Germans in the area. As a result of treaties of protection signed with the chiefs of these territories by British agents, Britain declared a protectorate over them in 1898.

In the same year boundary agreements regarding the Northern Territories and the rest of the Gold Coast were negotiated with the French in the Ivory Coast and the Germans in Togo. The declaration of a protectorate over the Northern Territories in 1898 could be said to be the second stage in the establishment of British rule in the Gold Coast.


Causes of the decline and collapse of Asante:
The Asante kingdom was once of the few West African Forest states which survived throughout the 19th century. Its strength and survival in the 19th century depended upon its efficient professional army, its Sound economy and a reformed system of imperial administration which tried to tighten Asante control over the provincial states by stationing regional and district commissioners in them. But in spite of these elements of strength, the empire declined rapidly in the second half of the 19th century and after 1901, it was no more.

What Factors were responsible for its decline and collapse? First, the decline of the Asante empire was the result of its inherent internal weakness: The empire contained the seeds of its own weakness. One source of this weakness was the constitution of the empire. The Asante Union was a loose federation of autonomous states that were brought together by military and economic exigency, namely, mutual defense against common enemies and gaining access to the coastal trade with Europeans.

To the chiefs of the member states, the Asantehene at Kumasi was just a first among equals. Each state maintained its own army which was sent to become part of the Union’s army in times of war.
The constitution worked well so long as the Union was made up of people of Asante origin. But as the empire expanded by conquest and non-Asante nations such as the Denkyira, Akim, Banda, Gyaman and others were brought into the Union, the flaws of the constitution became apparent.

These conquered nations with their own traditions and cultures could not be persuaded to accept membership of the Union. So, they often revolted and were only kept as members by the military might of Asante. Another source of weakness lay in the administration of the empire.

Asante made no attempt to suppress the local nationalism of the conquered non-Asante state either by a strong system of provincial administration of the Dahomey type or by garrisoning their territories.
It is true an attempt was made in the 19th century to improve the provincial administration by creating a class of imperial officials who carried out the Asantehene’s will in the conquered states. But this did not suppress their urge to regain independence. Thus, rebellions were rife and cost Asante dearly in men and resources.

A third and very important source of weakness was Asante’s geographical position. It was an inland power that depended on the coastal trade with Europeans for its supply of arms for its Wars. This meant that a regular supply of arms depended upon direct access to the coastal trade which in turn depended upon the goodwill of the Fante coastal states.

But since the Fante were not prepared to compromise with their middlemen position in the coastal trade, Asante had no alternative but to fight her way To the coast by conquering the Fante states and keeping them under permanent subjection.

It was the struggle to overcome this difficulty that turned Asaante into a military state always fighting For her Survival. But frequent wars were detrimental to the growth and stability of the state and led to wastage of resources and eventually to decline. But it was not these weaknesses alone that finally brought about the fall of the Asante empire.

In fact, the empire continued to survive in spite of them, and could have survived as a strong state into the 20th century but for the Anglo-Asante conflict in the 19th century. British policy in the Gold Coast in the 19th century was to support the Fante coastal states against the military might of Asante.
The resulting conflict eventually led to the defeat of Asante and the destruction of Kumasi in 1874. This defeat had disastrous consequences for the empire and marked the beginning of its collapse.
It was a great blow to Asante military prestige and a signal for many of the subject states – Juaben, Kwahu, Mampong, Agona, Nsuta, Bekwai and others to break away. It also caused chaos, civil war and political instability in Kumasi. Kofi Karikari the reigning Asantehene was deposed in favor of his younger brother Mensa Bonsu who in turn was deposed in 1883.

Civil wars followed until 1888 when Prempeh was installed as Asantehene. Thus Military weakened by the 1874 defeat and politically by the resulting confusion in Kumasi and the empire, Asante was now only a shadow of her former greatness.

Perhaps Asante could have revived under the leadership of the fearless and redoubtable Prempeh I, for after the sack of Kumasi in 1874, the British withdrew and left Asante alone as before. Even some progress had been made in restoring political stability and in the reconquest of some of the breakaway states, for example, Nkoranza.
But Asante was destined not to survive the European scramble for territories in West Africa. It was to forestall French and German advance in The Gold coast hinterland that Kumasi was occupied by the British in 1896.
The Asante were forced to accept British protection, the Asantehene and his chief aides were exiled, and a British Resident was stationed in Kumasi. Asante’s constituent states were made to sign separate treaties accepting British protection which meant that the empire had been dissolved.

The final chapter in the story of the collapse of the great Asante empire was therefore written in 1896. With the annexation of Asante as a British Colony in 1901, that chapter was closed and West Africa’s last great forest empire ceased to exist.

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