It is so hard to find out the truth by looking at the past. The process of time obscures the truth and even contemporaneous writers disguise and twist out of malice or flattery. — Plutarch

Ashanti Wars

1823 to 1901
Ashantis — versus — British, and Fanti

First Ashanti War — 1823-1826      Second Ashanti War — 1873-1874     
Third Ashanti War and Ashanti Uprising — 1894-1901     


The Europeans had traded on the west coast of Africa for hundreds of years. By the 19th century, the slave trade was officially forbidden by Britain, but the trade in gold and ivory continued. During all this time, the Europeans, (mostly French, Dutch and British by the 19th century) only inhabited coastal islands and forts, and did not venture inland at all. The Europeans dealt only with the coastal tribes, and largely ignored inter-tribal disputes, as long as they didn't affect the tribes with which they directly conducted their business.

First Ashanti War : 1823-1826

During the 18th century, the Ashanti became the ascendant tribe in the region of the Volta River, or Modern day Ghana, and came into conflict with the Fanti, the ruling coastal tribe. Eventually the Ashantis became so powerful that they raided coastal towns and forts. At this point, the British needed to either protect the Fanti tribes with whom they traded from being massacred and enslaved by the Ashanti, or leave them to their fate. They tried of course, to make treaties and negotiate with the Ashantis in order to prevent war, but eventually the British took the side of the Fanti. Sir Charles McCarthy, the British governor of the region led a troop of 1000, mostly consisting of Natives, against 10,000 Ashanti, but was routed and killed. The Ashanti's famously used the governor's skull as a drinking cup, which did not endear them to the British. In the following two years Britain fought several decisive battles against the Ashanti and drove them out of the coastal area. Eventually a treaty was signed fixing the boundary of the Ashanti kingdom at a particular inland river in such a way that the coastal tribes were officially under British protection.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Accra (First ) Ashanti victory
Fought 1824, between 10,000 Ashantis and a force of 1,000 British under Sir Charles McCarthy. The British were surrounded and routed by the natives, McCarthy being killed.
Battle of Accra (First ) British victory
Fought 1825, between 15,000 Ashantis and 400 British troops, with 4,600 native auxiliaries. The Ashantis were completely defeated, and the king compelled to abandon his designs on Cape Coast Castle.
Battle of Dodowah (First ) British victory
Fought 1826, between the Ashanti army, which had invaded the Gold Coast, and the British under Colonel Purdon. The Ashantis fought bravely, but were routed with heavy loss.

Short Biography
Sir Charles McCarthy Governor of the British trading post in the Gold Coast, who was killed by the Ashanti.

Second Ashanti War : 1873-1874

For fifty years after the first Ashanti war, there was peace within the British "protectorate", interrupted only by a minor war involving a fugitive Ashanti slave, who had escaped to the British for protection. In this incident, the Ashanti raided British territory, but withdrew and the British did not pursue or punish this foray. This emboldened the Ashanti, and in 1873 war broke out again. The immediate cause was the fact that the British had recently taken over a Dutch fort in the region, and the Ashanti considered the Dutch fort as their territory, since the Dutch had presented them with an annual gift in return for their goodwill. The Ashanti unexpectedly crossed the border of the British protectorate and attacked the inhabitants. By the time Britain raised a large force to march upon the Ashanti, fever and smallpox had broken out in the region, and the Ashanti's fighting force was much diminished. Nevertheless, the force under Wolseley crossed the border into Ashanti land, and marched on the capital at Kumasi, which they destroyed. As a result of the second Ashanti war, a number of other tribes that were under the sway of the Ashanti requested British protection, but this was refused. After destroying the capital of the Ashanti the British returned to their protectorate and made no further demands of the Ashanti.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Amoaful (Second ) British victory
Fought January 31, 1874, when the British expeditionary force under Sir Garnet Wolseley defeated the Ashantis after a desperate resistance, which cost the assailants 16 officers and 174 men killed and wounded. The 42nd Regiment, which led the attack, lost 9 officers and 105 men.

Short Biography
Kofi Karikari King of Ashanti's who lead the second Ashanti War.
Garnet Wolseley British general who led several wars in Africa including putting down the Arabi and Ashanti rebellions.

Third Ashanti War and Ashanti Uprising : 1894-1901

Since Brtain did not make any attempt to break up the Ashanti confederacy, they soon re-emerged as a dominant power, and soon afterward, a new Ashanti king came to power who repudiated much of the treaty with Britain. In 1893, the Ashantis again made incursions into the British protectorate, and this gave the British a pretext for making new demands on the Ashanti government, including both the keeping of previous treaties, and accepting additional constraints. When the British received no response, they invaded Ashanti-land but met little resistance, and quickly dominated the region. The Third Ashanti War was one of several British Imperial Wars that were likely motivated both by genuine humanitarian concerns, and also by economic and imperial ambitions. The european powers had recently 'carved up' Africa, and established guidelines for colonial expansion which provided that any region claimed as a colony must first be actually occupied, hence the necessity establishing a residency in the Ashanti Capital of Kumasi.

Several years after the imposition of British residency in Ashanti-land, a major rebellion occurred, incited by a British demand that the Kusami tribe turn over the golden stool on which they enthrone their kings. By this time however, the confederation was broken up, and only certain tribes, including the Kusami, rebelled. The rebelling tribes besieged all of the European residents as well as many of their native allies in the fort in Kusami. The outcome of this rebellion, which took several months to put down, was that Britain formally annexed all of Ashanti-land into the British dominions, and created the Crown Colony of the Gold Coast.

Short Biography
Prempeh King of Ashanti's during the Third Ashanti War. Exiled by the British.
Sir Frederick Hodgson British Governor of Ashanti-land. Incited a rebellion by his unreasonable demands.

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Story Links
Book Links
Conclusion  in  The Land of the Golden Trade  by  John Lang
Story of British West Africa  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge
British in West Africa  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge