Ch 5: Final Preparations

On December 16th the Ashanti Envoys arrived at Cape Coast on the "Roquelle", for an interview with the Governor. Governor Maxwell, Sir Francis Scott and Staff, and the Naval Officers from the Gunboats took their seats in the Castle, many of the Kings and Chiefs of the Protectorate also being present. The Governor told the Envoys to return at once to the capital, and tell the King, if his promise were sincere he must prove it by: first, meeting the Governor on the border of the Protectorate; second, signing a fresh treaty with England; and third, paying the expenses incurred by the Government through his defiant conduct. The Envoys smiled contemptuously. They evidently thought such terms perfectly ridiculous, the idea of Prempeh coming to meet the Governor being especially preposterous. Still there seemed a possible chance of the expedition being stopped on the border of Ashanti, though it was generally thought that Prempeh would never leave his capital to meet the Governor.
   The Ashanti policy had ever been a mixture of open treachery, insincerity and procrastination, and in the interests of trade and civilisation alone, Kumassi would have to be crushed. A section of the Press in London howled and fumed, but surely the Government, through fear of condemnation, were not hesitating before striking a decisive blow. Expedition after expedition had been sent during the last century, and yet all had failed to enforce obedience and respect from the truculent Ashantis, who had been a menace to the Gold Coast Colony only too long. British prestige alone demanded that Kumassi be taken once and for all, and kept in our hands. The abject submission of a dozen sham envoys or of Prempeh himself, would not have been worth the paper it was written on, as our past dealings with Ashanti have too clearly shown. There was but one course open, and that was for a force to march right into Kumassi, capture it, and leave a garrison there, unless we wanted to be made a laughing stock of the Ashantis, and all the surrounding tribes, who would thus be shown how even a savage king might twist the lion's tail with impunity. Governor Maxwell no doubt meant to have no shilly-shallying, but it was little use attempting any compromise, or giving the King loopholes of escape, to cause subsequent trouble. To satisfactorily overcome the difficulty, it was agreed that the final arrangements for a rapid advance on Kumassi should be immediately made.
   On December 24th, 100 Houssas from Lagos arrived under Captain Reeve Tucker and in the afternoon the West African Squadron dropped anchor off the castle. The vessels now anchored in the bay were the flagship "St. George", H.M.S. "Philomel", "Blonde" and the gunboats "Racoon" and "Magpie". In the afternoon Admiral Rawson, commanding the squadron, came ashore. He was met by Sir Francis Scott and Prince Christian, a guard of honour being formed by a company of the West India Regiment. The warships were to remain in order to operate in case of need on the coast, but their officers and men, "Jack Tars" and "Joeys", were very disappointed at having to remain everlastingly rocking in their narrow quarters on board, without a chance of gaining fresh laurels in Ashanti. Both bluejackets and marines on these ships are continually being called upon to summarily deal with some turbulent coast tribe. The men are landed; there is a sharp fight; an officer and a man or two are killed, and an entry made in dispatches. Owing to the absence of the ubiquitous Reuter in these out of the way villages, and the fact that the mail takes perhaps months to get home, the brisk little affairs cause small interest, being soon forgotten amid the excitement of more recent events.
   The wildest rumours came down continuously to the coast; there had been sharp fighting: Kumassi was undermined with powder: Prempeh was dead: the Ashanti army was being formed to invade the Protectorate: also many other reports so conflicting that no reliance could be placed on any one of them. Two of our Adansi scouts were found with their throats cut, but that had little significance beyond showing that the Ashantis were on the alert; and could not be looked on as the actual commencement of hostilities as some thought.
   The surf was very heavy during Christmas week, and communication with the mail boats dangerous. Anxious to get a letter on board the SS "Volta", which had just signalled for departure, I hurried to the shore to find the surf boats had ceased running for the evening. To wait for a crew would be out of the question as the steamer would be gone, so I foolishly decided to cross in a canoe. The two boatmen flatly refused to go at first, but the promise of a good "dash", or bribe, at last prevailed, and the sorry craft was duly launched. Time after time we attempted to get through the surf, but were driven back, till we broke through the crest of an advancing roller, which all but swamped us, and by vigorous paddling, got clear of the breakers, into open sea. Our troubles were, however, only just starting, for every moment tremendous seas threatened to overwhelm us, and while the niggers slaved at the paddles, I baled continuously with helmet and calabash, to keep the canoe afloat. We reached the ship, and by means of a rope thrown over the side I managed to scramble on to the ladder and deliver my letter. The difficulty was now to get back into the frail craft that was one moment alongside, the next, swept far away, but after a dozen tries I dropped, luckily, fairly in the centre, as the boat was swept right below me, and we then headed for the shore. Drawing near the jagged bar of rocks off the Castle, we steered for the narrow opening through them, but the rush of water swerved us violently on one side; a huge wave came behind, completely enveloping us; there was a dull scraping, a jolt; we were swamped, twisted over and over in mad confusion till I was suddenly thrown on shore, half choked with sand and water. The darkies were also safe, and we scrambled out of reach of the next wave, which brought up the canoe. Soaked and bruised we waded on shore with it, happily little the worse for the small adventure. The wave had carried us right over the bar, and brought us up almost high and dry, but had our frail canoe struck on one of those jagged spurs, we must have been dashed to pieces, as no one could live in a boiling sea, against those rocks.
   On Christmas day the transports, "Coromandel" and "Manilla", arrived with the white troops. The surf was still very heavy, and little communication could be held with the ships, but a surf boat went over, bringing back the mails which had been put on board instead of being sent by the ordinary and slower mail boat, not due till four days later, when many of us would be on the way up country. There was naturally much rejoicing over the unexpected piece of good luck, an instant rush being made to the Commandant's little post office in the Castle. Letters were none the less acceptable by arriving opportunely on Christmas day, when one's thoughts would revert far over the sea to the various home circles gathered in England.
   Two fishermen had rowed down the coast in a canoe, but on attempting to get through the bar, they came to grief on the same spot that we were capsized on the previous evening. Their boat was smashed, the men vainly battling with the waves that mercilessly battered them against the rocks. Happily, the surf boat was returning from the "Manilla", and under the direction of Sergeant-Major Bamford, A.S.C., who was on board, they were rescued with great difficulty, suffering from severe contusions.
   On board the hospital ship "Coromandel" were the Special Service Corps, with detachments of the Medical Staff and Engineers, and the "Manilla" brought from Gibraltar the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment under Colonel Price. Only Prince Henry of Battenberg landed, the troops all remaining on board till required.
   On Boxing Day, everyone was hard at work making final arrangements for the landing of the troops and the advance up country. Special stores were landed from the transports, also the two donkeys Prince Henry had brought with him for use on the march, though there was much surmising as to the effect of the dreaded tsetse-fly on them. The landing of these animals was difficult, but after their feet were tied, they were safely lowered into the surf boat. The twelve stalwart Fanti boatmen were in a ludicrous state of funk at the presence of these uncanny beasts, and every time they started to plunge or kick as they lay in the bottom of the boat, over would go every nigger head foremost into the sea. It took some time before they could be induced to resume their seats, and as these dives took place several times, the voyage ashore was unduly protracted. Once beached, the donkeys were turned out on the sands, this proceeding being watched by a large crowd of Fantis, but when one of the asses lifted up his voice in a glorious succession of ear-splitting brays, the crowd bolted en masse, not stopping till they were out of sight or perhaps sound. I much doubt if that animal's historic and voluble brother, Balaam's mentor, could have created a greater sensation.

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