The Black Watch patrol the forests of Ashanti
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Freetown, Sierra Leone, was a British Crown Colony that became a Protectorate in 1896. In 1812 Sir Charles M'Carthy was appointed governor in Freetown. M'Carthy was to suffer an inglorious and unexpected end.
Inland, the Ashanti kings who ruled from the Golden Stool, said to have come from the great god guardian of the Ashanti soul, Nyame, would not allow themselves to be governed by the British. Also, by the 1820s the British had decided to support one of the other tribes, the Fanti, enemies of the Ashanti.
In 1824, the British, led by M'Carthy, were squaring up for a dreadful conflict with the Ashanti. M'Carthy, with some arrogance or bad military intelligence, led his army of barely 600 men against perhaps 10,000 Ashanti warriors and their king, Osai Tutu Kwadwo. (The exact numbers are very hard to pin down.)
M'Carthy's planning was bad and therefore so was his logistical supply in mostly swamp and jungle conditions with seemingly ceaseless downpours. Little wonder that his men were demoralized and exhausted. Moreover, after the first skirmish the British had all but run out of ammunition.
So confident was the king of the Ashantis that he prophesized that soon he would defeat the British and that M'Carthy's jawbones would be used as drumsticks and his skull as a loving cup. As the Ashanti advanced, Sir Charles ordered his band to strike up with God Save The Queen.
The closer the Ashanti got, the quicker M'Carthey's Fantis deserted him. When the British guns were silent the Ashanti held back thinking the silence was a British ploy. But then it dawned. The British had run out of musket balls and powder. As one of the few survivors reported "our gallant little force still defended themselves with their bayonets until they were completely over-powered by the myriads who instantly beheaded nearly every one of those who unfortunately fell into their remorseless hands".
It was not until 1831 that a treaty was signed to define the boundaries of the Ashanti kingdom and the authority of the British territorial claim in the Gold Coast.Back to top