Britain at War with the Asante Nation 1823-1900 – ‘The White Man’s Grave’, Stephen Manning

Britain at War with the Asante Nation 1823-1900 – ‘The White Man’s Grave’, Stephen Manning

This book is split into three parts, which reflect the way in which the balance of power between the two sides changed over time. Part I covers the period where the Asanti had a clear advantage even killing the British governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles MacCarthay, in battle in 1823. During this early period the British and Asanti can be seen as two rival Imperial powers both interested in expanding into the Gold Coast area (with the British involvement actually pre-dating the formation of the Asante nation by a few decades!). The trigger for most of these early clashes was the Asante desire to conquer the coastal lands of the Fante,

Wolseley’s campaign of 1873-74 is interesting. It was very well organised, he won his battles and successfully reached the Asante capital at Kumasi, but found noone to negotiate with and was soon forced to retreat to the coast (although not before destroying the Royal palace). However the fact that the British were now able to reach Kumasi did force the Asante to the negotiating table, and the resulting peace lasted for twenty years. Even at this date, the campaign was a close run thing, with Wolseley’s army hard pressed, and the Asante fairly confident that the white man couldn’t fight in the interior.

The British attitude becomes really reprehensible during the ‘dash for Africa’ phase in the 1890s. Any pretense at a moral basis for the conflict disappears, to be replaced with excuses about blocked access to markets further inland and concerns that other European powers might get there first. King Prempeh I of the Asante was effectively kidnapped during a meeting and forced into exile. A few years in 1900 Governor Frederick Hodgson made such a disasterous appearance at Kumasi that he provoked a massive uprising (by complaining that the Asante’s sacred Golden Stool hadn’t been offered to him as seat) and ended up being besieged in the city! If the resulting war hadn’t cost so many lives on both sides his performance would almost have been comical. 

This book greatly benefits from the authors use of modern Ghanaian historians, who provide insights into the Asante side of the conflict (as well as a generally accepted framework of people and place names). The result is an excellent look at one of the British Empire’s more long running conflicts, against an opponent that inflicted more than one defeat on the British.

Part I: The Rise of the Asante Nation and the First Conflicts in the Anglo-Asante Wars
Early European Contact
The Asante Nation
The Asante Army
Contact and Conflict with the British
Governor McCarthy: British Humiliation
The Battle of Dodowa and its Aftermath
The Governorship of George Maclean
The Reign of Kwaku Dua I: Peace and Prosperity
A Collapse in Anglo-Asante Relations: Further Conflict

Part II: Empires Collide: Wolseley’s Expedition of 1873-4
Transfer of Dutch Assets to the British
The Road to War
British Plans and Preparations
Wolseley’s Arrival Upon the Gold Coast and First Shots
The British are Coming
The Four-Pronged Attack
The Battle of Amoaful, 31 January 1874
The Dash to Kumasi
Glover’s Expedition
Peace and Laurels

Part III: The British Dictate
Britain’s New Role
The Weakening of the Asante Nation
The Scramble for Africa
The Bloodless War
The Last Acts of Defiance
The Seige of Kumasi
The Last Campaign

Author: Stephen Manning
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 184
Publisher: Hardcover
Year: 2021

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