John Frederick MAURICE (1841 - 1912).
“Extract from Notes to accompany Itinerary from Cape Coast Castle to Coomassie”
[Aboard the SS Ambriz, off Freetown, Sierra Leone], September 27, 1873.
Manuscript: 11 pp., black pen on 6 large quarto (33.5 x 20.5 cm) pieces of official British Amy blue blind-stamped stationary, including a sketch map of the Ashanti capital ‘Coomassie’, original pagination, signed “J.M. Cape C.C.E.” [John Maurice, Cape Coast Castle Expedition], tied in corner with original pink string (Very Good, clean and bright, old folds and a few short marginal tears).
James STODDART (1813 - 1892).
ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR OF CAPE COAST CASTLE, GOLD COAST (GHANA):
“Cape Coast Castle, Admiral Stoddart, as Lieutenant, 1836” [Title on Verso].
Cape Coast Castle, Gold Coast, 1836.
Watercolour on card, title inscribed in pencil to verso (Very Good, lovely colours, just some light spotting), 18.5 x 26 cm.
An extraordinary two-part original manuscript archive relating to the General Sir Garnet Wolseley’s expedition against the Ashanti Confederacy (in today’s Ghana), known as the Third Anglo-Ashanti War (1873-4), consisting of a detailed operational plan for the upcoming campaign outlining the best options for invading Ashanti territory and capturing its capital Kumasi, illustrated with a sketch map, written by Wolseley’s private secretary (later Major General Sir) John Frederick Maurice; plus, a finely-executed watercolour view of Cape Coast Castle, Britain’s principal base in the region, made by Admiral James Stoddart.
This fine two-part archive is highlighted by an original manuscript operational plan for the envisaged British campaign against the Ashanti Confederacy, a powerful state located in the heart of what is today Ghana. In what was known as the Third Anglo-Ashanti War (1873-4), or the First Ashanti Expedition, a force commanded by General Sir Garnet Wolseley, who would later be considered one of the greatest military commanders the in the history of the British Empire, was charged with mounting a punitive mission against the Ashanti, employing the bordering British colony of the Gold Coast as a base. The present plan was drafted by Lieutenant (later Major General Sir) John Frederick Maurice, Wolseley’s private secretary, while the expedition’s command party was aboard a ship en route to West Africa.
Predicated upon the best available sources, Maurice plan provided Wolseley with a choice of the best options for leading the British force through the dangerous, jungle and disease infested countryside, to battle the Ashanti warriors, famous masters of guerrilla warfare, before taking their capital city, Kumasi. Very few such draft campaign plans for important military operations survive, and the present document is especially rich in content. It provides a valuable insight into the headquarters deliberations of one of the 19th Century’s great generals in preparation for one of the era’s most successful and high-profile military ventures.
Additionally, the archive is augmented by a beautifully rendered watercolour view of the Cape Coast Castle, the main British base on the Gold Coast, made by Admiral James Stoddart, a great naval commander and talented amateur artist. It was evidently given to by Stoddart to Maurice, or another member of the expedition, to provide them with an image of their future base of operations.
Historical Background: Wolseley vs. the Ashanti
During the mid-19th Century, Victorian Britain was in the process of changing the nature of its global empire. It was no longer content to have economic dominance or suzerainty over its colonial domains; it increasingly wished to possess and directly control the territory and its indigenous societies. This was true in what is today Ghana. For centuries, the littoral regions of the ‘Gold Coast’ was dominated by an archipelago of European forts, while the interior was home to the mighty Ashanti Confederacy, a culturally and militarily sophisticated nation made wealthy from the great gold fields that dotted its domains. By the latter 17th Century, the Gold Coast was divided amongst the England (based in their fort of the Cape Coast Castle); the Netherlands (headquartered at the Elmina fort); and the Denmark, which controlled the modern Accra region. For generations, the Europeans were content to maintain economic relationships with the indigenous nations and had little interest in interfering with the territories beyond the immediate vicinity of their forts.
The English (later British) had controlled the massive, whitewashed bastion of the Cape Coast Castle since 1664. It was located within the territory of the Fante people (ancient enemies of the Ashanti), just to the east of Elmina. The British had tense relations with Ashanti, who were close allies of the Dutch. Through the 18th Century, the British generally avoided conflict with Ashanti, fearing reprisals for the Dutch, who were locally more powerful. However, during the Napoleonic Wars, when Dutch power declined, the British and Ashanti came to fight regular skirmishes.
During what was known as the First Anglo-Ashanti War (1823-31), the British attacked the Ashanti Confederacy, but were defeated. Notably, in 1824, the Ashanti killed the British governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles McCarthy; the Ashanti king was said to have used his skull, lined with gold, as a drinking cup! In 1831, the British recognized the sovereignty of the Ashanti, accepting the Pra River as the British-Ashanti boundary.
Tensions rose again, during what was known as the Second Anglo-Ashanti war (1863-4), when after an Ashanti incursion across the Pra River, the British mounted an abortive invasion of Ashanti territory that ended in the status quo antebellum.
Meanwhile, Britain consolidated its control over the Gold Coast. In the post-slavery era, Denmark and the Netherlands found that their establishments along the region were no longer commercially viable. At the same time, Britain had different objectives; it wanted to build its global empire, even at great initial financial cost. The British hoped that they could eventually make the Gold Coast profitable by fostering the agrarian and mining sectors. Denmark sold its share of the Gold Coast to Britain in 1850, while Britain made the Gold Coast a Crown Colony in 1867. The Netherlands sold its share of the Gold Coast to Britain in 1872; and this foretold real trouble between the British and the Ashanti.
The Ashanti enjoyed a special relationship with the Dutch, who allowed the landlocked nation to use Elmina as their gateway to the sea and a conduit to international trading markets. Upon Britain assuming control of Elmina, the Ashanti were frozen out, devastating their national economy.
In the early months of 1873, the Ashanti responded by invading the Gold Coast with a force that ranged, at various times, between 12,000 and 60,000 men. While their assault upon Elmina failed, they ensured that the Gold Coast became ungovernable for British, whose forces were confined to their coastal forts. Whitehall was outraged and determined to seek redress.
Enter General Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833 - 1913), who was already on his way to being known as one of the two greatest British military commanders of the Victorian Era (along with his arch-rival Frederick Roberts). Wolseley was already a veteran of 20 years of service in conflicts on three continents. He was one of the leading proponents of the ‘Cardwell Reforms’ that aimed to make the British Army a professional, ultra-disciplined force in the Prussian model, while constantly striving to employ the latest technological innovations. His clockwork operations inspired confidence wherever he went, giving rise to the popular phrase “everything’s all Sir Garnet”, meaning, “All is in order.”
Wolseley recently burnished his reputation for ‘special operations’ by leading a force over hundreds of miles of the Canadian Shield, from Toronto to Manitoba, to successfully extinguish the Red River Rebellion (1870). Wolseley seemed to relish being assigned missions that were thought to be impossible due to the forbidding and mysterious nature of the geography, disease-ridden climates and formidable local opposition. The situation in the Gold Coast ensured that he would not disappointed.
In May 1873, Wolseley approached the War Office, proposing to lead a punitive expedition against the Ashanti, submitting a detailed proposal. This offer was accepted an on August 13, Wolseley was appointed to raise and command the mission.
While what was to be known as the ‘First Ashanti Expedition’ (or the Third Anglo-Ashanti War) was a relatively small venture by the metric of the British imperial endeavours, it proved to be remarkable in many represents. Per Wolseley’s progressive designs, it was to be fast and light, meticulously organized, and employing novel technology. It was also to be one of the the first modern media savvy military operations, with frequent reports from the expedition’s officers published in London’s major newspapers, while prominent reporters, such as Henry Morton Stanley, were embedded with the force. Notably, John Frederick Maurice filed regular stories throughout the Ashanti campaign for the Daily News.
Wolseley was a stellar judge of character and talent. The command corps that he selected for the expedition to the Gold Coast consisted of several young officer who would later attain great fame, often supporting Wolseley’s subsequent endeavours. This so-called ‘Ashanti Ring’ or ‘Wolseley Ring’ consisted of John Carstairs McNeill; William Francis Butler; Redvers Henry Buller; Hugh McCalmont; Henry Brackenbury; George Pomeroy Colley; Baker Creed Russell; Henry Evelyn Wood; John Plumptre Carr Glyn; and John Frederick Maurice.
John Frederick Maurice (1841 - 1912) deserves special mention, as while not the most prominent member of the Wolseley’s Ring, he played a critical role in the success of the Ashanti Expedition. He was the son of the prominent and controversial Anglican theologian Frederick Douglas Maurice, and grew up in an environment of rigorous intellectual debate. He was educated at the military schools of Addiscombe and Woolwich, attaining the highest honours. Maurice was subsequently appointed instructor of tactics at Sandhurst and gained Wolseley’s notice in 1872 when he defeated him in the competition for the prestigious 1872 Wellington Essay Prize. Wolseley appointed Maurice to be his private secretary for the Ashanti campaign, and while the headstrong general did not always follow his secretary’s advice, he took his counsel seriously and it always informed his actions.
The ‘Ashanti Ring’ had an awesome challenge in front of them. To strike a devastating blow against the Ashanti, they would have to move their force from Cape Coast Castle 160 miles (260 km) to the Ashanti capital of “Coomassie” (today: Kumasi) through jungles, across rivers and over malaria-ridden swamps, all the while dodging stealth attacks from the Ashanti warriors who were masters of guerrilla warfare. Many veterans of campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa warned Wolseley that this was a case of ‘mission impossible’; yet that only seemed to spike the general’s determination to press ahead. Wolseley was aware that the Ashanti campaign must be completed within a narrow window, during the West Africa dry season, which lasted between December and March. Should the mission get bogged down beyond that, the British force would be totally decimated by disease and trapped, as the travel routes would become impassable due to torrential rains.
A major factor that imperilled Wolseley’s ability to carry out the mission was that the British had virtually no recent, accurate information on the interior of the country beyond the immediate vicinity of the coastal forts, let along the heart of Ashanti territory along the approaches to Kumasi. It was assumed that the best possible route needed to be found for the expedition to be completed within the necessary timeframe. Any error in orienteering could doom even an otherwise well-prepared operation. Wolseley had personally spent months combing through all the reports, maps and records he could find at the various Whitehall ministries. However, as he prepared to depart for the Gold Coast, his signature self-confidence was tinged with an uneasy feeling that he was leading his men into an abyss!
On September 12, 1873, Wolseley, accompanied by 35 staff officers, departed Liverpool aboard a dilapidated, rat infested steamer, the SS Ambriz. A team of engineers had been sent to the Cape Coast Castle in advance, while the great majority of the force would arrive after Wolseley’s command party. Before their departure, Wolseley and his officers had gone to great lengths to assemble every scrap of research material available on the Gold Coast and the Ashanti lands. During the three-week voyage, in the words of Winwood Reade, one of participants, “The saloon of the steamer was half a brigade office, half a reading-room, the table being covered with blue-books, despatches, and books of African travel”.
The Ashanti Ring became Wolseley’s ‘brain trust’, continually probing the sources to glean slivers of truth from various reports. The goal was to find the best route through the country and the best method of approach to Kumasi. Maurice, whom was perhaps the most academically gifted member of the team, was the principal researcher, responsible for summarizing information into written reports, while George Blackenbury and Henry Huyshe were charged with giving oral presentations on the findings to the rest of the officers, so that everyone would be the same page. By all account, the ring took their job seriously, doing their best with sources that were, for the most part, decades old.
As noted by the military historian Ian Beckett:
“The degree of careful preparation is an apparent from the activity on board the Ambriz en route to Cape Coast. Half the saloon was covered with all the publications on the Gold Coast that could be obtained including Parliamentary Blue Books, the accounts by Bowdich and Dupuis of their respective diplomatic missions to Asante in 1817 and 1820, other visitors’ accounts by William Hutton (1821), John Beecham (1841) and Richard Burton (1863). Major H.I. Ricketts’s narrative of the 1824 war, and notes by the War Office Topographical and Statistical Department, which also produced a highly inaccurate map.” (Beckett, p. 45)
The Present Archive in Focus
Maurice’s “Extract from Notes to accompany Itinerary from Cape Coast Castle to Coomassie” is an extraordinary original manuscript plan for the Ashanti Campaign, prepared for the benefit of Wolseley, summarizing the best available information on the topography of the Gold Coast-Ashanti region, and evaluating different alternative routes for conveying the British forces from Gold Coast to Kumasi. It was made aboard the Ambriz, which was then off Freetown, Sierra Leone, on September 27, 1873, just five days before the party’s arrival in the Gold Coast. While such briefing reports were often made in anticipation of military operations, very few survive even in institutional archives, and is it a great rarity for such an item to appear on the market. The tone of the present campaign plan is professional, but candid, and is especially rich in content, granting a valuable, authentic insight into the nature of high-level military planing during an important military operation in a frontier environment.
The document is written on blue official British Army stationary and is signed “J.M. Cape C.C.E. 27 Sept 73” [John Maurice, Cape Coast Castle Expedition, September 23, 1873]. Maurice commences by listing his principal sources (page 1), which include Bowdich’s Mission to Ashantee (1817), Hutton's A Voyage to Africa (1820), Dupuy's Journal of a Residence in Ashantee (1820), Commander William Winniatt’s Journal of his visit to the King of Ashantee (1848) and the Guide for Strangers traveling to Coomassie (1862), which was authored by the merchant R.J. Gharty. Of these, he notes that he credits the “Guide, as giving the most recent information, and as being apparently the most correct” is used as the source for has account of the countryside, according to Gharty’s itinerary. Importantly, however, as asserted later, he does not recommend following in Gharty’s footsteps (as the route would then be too dangerous), but merely details his travels to give some idea of the nature of the country.
Maurice proceeds to describe the “District between Cape Coast Castle and the Coomassie [Kumasi] along the line of route given in the Itinerary” (pages 1-4). He gives a “General Description” of the topography, before going on to discuss the various natural hazards that await the force en route. This includes discourses on the “Rivers”, “Swamps”, “Rains”, “Temperature”. This is followed by comments on the “Supplies” that can be found along the way, although he notes that while food and such are normally plentiful, most resources would have likely been “exhausted” by the Ashanti.
Next, Maurice provides a heavily annotated chart describing the distances between junctures along the route from “Anamaboe [Anomabo] to the River Prah [Pra]” (pages 5 and 6). Anomabo is a town located just to the east of Cape Coast Castle, which Ghatry found to be a good starting point for trekking to the Pra River, the boundary between the British Gold Coast and Ashanti Territory. Distances (in miles) and walking times (in hours) are given between several intermediate stations. This route adds up to 81 miles from Anomabo to the Pra River.
Next Maurice sketches out Gharty’s route from “the River Prah [Pra] to Coomassie [Kumasi]” (pages 7 and 8) in the same detailed fashion as the former but omitting the walking times. This part of the route comes in at 85 miles in total.
An intriguing aspect is the inclusion of a map of Kumasi “Sketch of Coomassie from Bowditch” (page 9), based on that made in by Thomas Edward Bowditch, who visited the Ashanti capital in 1817. The map is quite detailed for a sketch, done to a scale of 400 paces to an inch, it labels 17 major sites, including the King’s Palace. It notes all major streets and the nature for the lands immediately surrounding the city, crucial information for a besieging force.
Finally, but importantly, Maurice provides some fail-safes, in his “Recapitulation of Routes to Coomassie from Gold Coast” (pages 9-11), whereupon he describes and evaluates five different routes for reaching Kumasi from various bases in the Gold Coast.
The first route runs from Cape Coast Castle to the River Prah through Kairokou, Eusaguesu, Abbatea and Biaqua, and then to Coomassie. Maurice opines that as the tribes to the west of Elmina are currently at odds with the British, this route leaves the left flank of the line of communication overly exposed, such that to pursue that option would be “would seem madness”. This itinerary is estimated at being 180 miles in total.
The second route, which has already been well-explored, calls for one to travel from Cape Coast Castle to Kumasi via Anomabo, following Gharty’s itinerary; however, this route is discounted as being “too difficult and dangerous”. This journey is estimated at being “180 miles odd”.
The third route commences from Accra, located along the coast considerably to the east of Cape Coast Castle, and proceeds to Aguieso, and then across the rivers Birrimo, Auinee and Boosim-Prah, before reaching Kumasi. It is described as having the advantage of starting from Accra, which is both the healthiest place on the coast, as well as being located well within British territory. This itinerary is estimated at being 220 miles in total.
The fourth route also commences from Accra but passes to the north of the third route. This itinerary is estimated at being 250 miles in total, the longest of the all the options.
The fifth route leads to Kumasi via the River Volta, which Maurice notes as only being possible if the river is navigable during the time of the campaign; this presents a great uncertainty, given that the expedition would occur during the dry season. This itinerary is estimated at being 200 miles in total.
The second part of the archive is an original watercolour view of the Cape Coast Castle, made in 1836, by then Lieutenant (later Admiral) James Stoddart, who was then serving in West Africa as the First Mate of the HMS Columbine. From April 1835 until October 1837, Stoddart and his crew patrolled the West Coast of Africa, combating the slave trade, of which the Gold Coast was major conduit for the ignoble institution. While done by an amateur artist, the view is exceptionally well executed; taken from a vantage point aboard the Columbine sailing offshore, it captures the enormity of the great whitewashed bastion.
Stoddart had a long career with postings all over the world; however, he is best known for his distinguished service as a during the First Opium War (1839-42). Stoddart made watercolour views of the places his visited throughout his life. We frequently gifted his paintings to friends and colleagues, such that they have since tended to appear in variety of different places. His work is well known to maritime art connoisseurs; a fine album containing his work sold at Sotheby’s in 2012.
By 1873, Stoddart was retired in England, and supposedly provided his view of the Cape Coast Castle to Maurice, or perhaps another member of the Ashanti Ring.
How the Expedition Unfolded
Wolseley and his party of officers arrived at Cape Coast Castle on October 2, 1873. They immediately set about preparing in advance of the arrival of their main force. Redvers Buller was placed in charge of gaining intelligence, aided by the team of engineers who had already arrived, as well as local Fante tribesman. Wolseley sent frequent despatches to London, making specific requests for materials and troop specializations. Notably, Wolseley had succeeded in ensuring that his troops would arrive in special, more comfortable uniforms geared for the tropics, winning a concession from the army old guard who long esisted such innovations.
The engineers commenced building the route out of Cape Coast Castle in November, although the bulk of the expedition’s force arrived at the end of December and the beginning of January 1874. The force eventually consisted of 2,500 army regulars, plus several thousand West Indian and African auxiliaries.
Importantly, Maurice’s present campaign plan was helpful for framing the options and allowing Buller to ask the right questions of his sources. However, the intelligence that had been received at Cape Coast Castle following the command party’s arrival caused Wolseley to pursue a course that was different than those Maurice had proposed.
Wolseley followed an amalgam of Maurice’s first two options, described respectively as “madness” and “difficult and dangerous”. He made these options more appetising by convincing the previously hostile tribes who lived along the left flank of these routes, to join the British cause against the Ashanti, their mutual enemies. Once this danger had been negated, the engineers informed him that that a route up that direction was the most expeditious. As there was no possibility of moving a sizeable force at once along what would be a narrow corridor, Wolseley decided to divide his army into three to four different columns, which would move at different times, to converge before the decisive attack upon Kumasi.
Construction of the single-lane road towards Kumasi proceeded with great speed, a project micromanaged by Wolseley, a notorious taskmaster. Fortified rest stations were built at the end of each day’s march, roughly every 10 miles (16 km). Once they reached Prasu, on the Pra Rvier, the boundary of the Ashanti lands, they built a sizable forward base and hospital, and forded the river with a bridge made of pieces prefabricated in England. The Prasu base was stocked with 400 tons of food and 1.1 million rounds of ammunition, and by January 24 was connected to the coast by a telegraph line.
Towards the end of January, the British advance parties began to encounter Ashanti patrols, resulting in skirmishes. The British employed aggressive tactics to compel the Ashanti to retreat at the Battle of Amoaful (January 31,), which importantly opened the way towards Kumasi.
Apparently, the Ashanti, who were normally very brave fighters, were alarmed by the speed and force of the British expedition and believed that they could not win a direct contest. Their only option was to bog the British down in guerrilla warfare and watch them fall due disease during the rainy season. They abandoned Kumasi before the British force arrived in the city on February 4, 1874.
The British were amazed by the size and sophistication of some of the building and artwork they encountered in the Ashanti capital. Impressively, the royal palace featured a library with “rows of books in many languages”. Nonetheless, this was a punitive expedition, not a cultural heritage tour. Wolseley ordered that the palace be levelled by dynamite, while the rest of the city was sacked and burned. Feeling that this was a clear enough message, the British promptly left Kumasi, heading back to the coast, while maintaining their fortified road system between the Cape Coast Castle and Prasu (which lay within British territory).
Wolseley, the Ashanti Ring, and most of the troops quickly returned home, before the deadly rains commenced in March. Amazingly, the entire British force suffered only 18 deaths from combat and 55 from disease, with 185 wounded. This was an incredibly low casualty rate for a tropical battle zone.
In July 1874, the Ashanti were compelled to sign the Treaty of Treaty of Fomena. The Ashanti had to pay Britain an enormous indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold; had to agree not to cross the Pra River except for reasons of commerce; had to open their lands to free trade with Britain; and were compelled to end the traditional custom of human sacrifice. The legacy of the expedition was that it served to anchor enduring British power in West Africa. While the Ashanti would militarily contest British power on two further occasions, eventually resulting in the annexation of the Ashanti lands to the Gold Coast colony, in 1902, they would never again pose an existential threat to British hegemony in the region.
Upon his return to London, Wolseley was hailed as hero and laden with honours, for what was inarguably one of the best executed mid-scale military operations in British history. He would go on to achieve great success in campaigns in South Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, eventually becoming the Commander-in-Chief of the entire British Army. The Ashanti Expedition also did much to advance the careers of the members of the Ashanti Ring, most of whom went on to gain fame for achievements in their own right.
As for John Fredrick Maurice, between academic postings, he continued to serve at Wolseley’s side, during the Zulu War (1879) in South Africa and as the deputy adjunct general during the Egyptian Campaign (1882). From 1885 to 1892, he was a professor of military history at the Staff College, Camberly. In 1895, Maurice was promoted to Major General and made army commander of the Woolwich District. In 1905, he was part of a special diplomatic mission to Berlin to negotiate navy estimates with Germany. In 1906, he came into considerable political controversy for allegedly leaking anti-German information to the press in support of his strong Entente Cordiale agenda. Curiously, his son, Sir Frederick Barton Maurice (1871 – 19 May 1951), also a British major general and academic, also got into hot water for questioning government policy during World War I.
Maurice is perhaps best remembered today for being the author of several important works on military history, including Popular History of Ashanti Campaign (1874); Hostilities Without Declaration of War (1883); The Balance of Military Power in Europe (1888); The Franco-German War, 1870–1871 (1900) and History of the War in South Africa, an official account (four volumes, 1906–1910).
References: Cf. [On Historical Background and Context:] Ian E. Beckett (ed.), Wolseley and Ashanti; The Asante Joutnal and Correspondence of Major General Sir Gqrnet Wolseley, 1873 – 1874 (London, 2009); George Lightfoot Huyshe, ‘III. The Topography of Ashanti and the Protectorate of the gold Coast’, in Henry Brackenbury and George Lightfoot Huyshe, Fanti and Ashanti: Three Papers Read on Board the S. S. Ambriz on the Voyage ..., (London, 1873), p. 91-131; Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London, 1999), pp. 61; Low, A Memoir of Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet J. Wolseley (London, 1878), vol. II, pp. 86 – 231; McIntyre, W. ‘British Policy in West Africa: The Ashanti Expedition of 1873-4’, The Historical Journal, 5:1 (1962), pp. 19-46; W. David McIntyre, Imperial Frontier in the Tropics (London, 1967); John Frederick Maurice, A Popular History of Ashanti Campaign (London, 1874); Winwood Reade, The Story of the Ashantee Campaign (London, 1874); Bruce Vandervort, Wars of Imperial Conquest In Africa, 1830-1914 (London, 1998).