HL Deb 02 May 1873 vol 215 cc1392-6

said, that since he brought the subject of the Ashantee incursion under their Lordships' notice there had been, according to reports in the public newspapers, a serious engagement between the Ashantees and our protected tribes. As to the exportation of arms to Africa, he had seen a statistical paper, which gave 10,000 as the number of arms exported from this country to the West Coast in the month of April last; and that there had been exported during the months ending 31st March 4,000,000 lbs. of gunpowder, and 89,000, stand of arms. Those arms and a very large quantity of powder were consigned to various points, such as the Bonny River, Old Calabar, and other places, all south of the Gambia, and north of the Line. There was a very great trade in arms and ammunition along that coast, and it was of very great importance at the present crisis that every precaution should be taken to prevent them from getting into the hands of the Ashantees. On the other hand, it was reported that our own men had been obliged to give way before the enemy for want of ammunition, and that the ladies at Cape Coast Castle were subscribing money to supply them with powder. It was further stated that no fewer than 30,000 Ashantees were within six hours' march of Cape Coast Castle, and that the only re-inforcements that had been sent were 120 troops and 150 Coolies. Now be thought that wherever we hoisted the British flag we ought to have a sufficient force of native or other troops to resist any attack that might be made on it. The forts which we had to protect on this West Coast extended along a line of coast 60 miles in extent; and to send out European troops was out of the question—they would die as soon as they landed. He wished to ask the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies—What measures have been taken to prevent the Ashantees getting supplies of arms and munitions of war; What number of troops we have on the spot to defend and hold the various forts under the British flag, eight or ten in number; And if any of the Colonial troops were engaged in the battle, an account of which has been received at the Colonial Office?


said, he would take the Questions of the noble and gallant Earl seriatim. With regard to the first of them—whether any steps had been taken to prevent the Ashantees from obtaining supplies of ammunition—before he answered it, he would like to explain that as to some of the points to which the noble and gallant Earl had referred as those to which a very large number of arms and great supplies of ammunition had been sent, the Ashantees had no more access to them than they had to the Cape of Good Hope. Those places were not in the neighbourhood of the country of the Ashantees. Of course it was of the last importance that measures should be taken to prevent the Ashantees, whose territory lay at the back of the Protected Territories on the Gold Coast, getting supplies of arms and ammunition, and instructions on the subject had been sent out from the Colonial Office; but it was not necessary that he should read them, because they had been anticipated on the spot by the Adminis- trator, Colonel Harley. On the 8th of February the gallant Colonel issued a Proclamation forbidding all persons within the Settlements and Protected Territories on the Gold Coast, and on the waters, rivers, and estuaries thereof, to sell, barter, give, or transfer, directly or indirectly, any arms, ammunition, or warlike stores to the Ashantees or their allies, or to other enemies of the Protectorate. He also prohibited the importation of arms, ammunition, and warlike stores, excepting at Cape Coast, Elmina, and Accra, and such other ports as the importer might be especially authorized to land them at under a licence obtained from the Collector of Customs. The next question of the noble and gallant Earl was as to the number of troops we had on the spot to defend and hold the various forts under the British flag. Now, in order that their Lordships should understand the position of affairs in that part of the country, he ought to state that this was not British Territory, but British-protected Territory, and he could not do better than quote to their Lordships, Instructions sent out by Mr. Cardwell, which, though dated in June, 1864, were quite applicable to the present occasion. Writing to Governor Pine, Mr. Cardwell said:— The duty of defending the extensive territory included in the Protectorate can only be satisfactorily discharged if the chiefs to whom it belongs are united and resolute in their own defence. If they are not united, and will not take upon themselves the principal part of the exertions necessary, it will not be possible to defend them without exposing the Queen's forces to the risks of a deadly climate, and to the hazard of being virtually defeated by the disastrous consequences of that climate, before they have been able to bring the native enemy to the issue of arms. The proper course, therefore, is to take every possible means for bringing the chiefs to an united and decided system of defence, and for this purpose to give them advice, to supply them judiciously with military stores, and, in concert with the officer in command of the forces, to furnish them with such assistance as he may be able to afford, without exposing his officers and men to any protracted residence in the interior, especially at the unhealthy season, and without weakening his force upon the coast so as to endanger the safety of the settlements themselves. The same steps as Mr. Cardwell advised to be taken had been taken by the present Administrator, Colonel Harley, and, from all the accounts which had been received, the chiefs were quite able to defend the territory if they were willing to do so. Of course, if they were not so disposed, they could not be forced to resist the Ashantees. In a despatch recently received from the Administrator, he stated that the published accounts much exaggerated the number of Ashantees engaged in the incursion. Colonel Harley did not believe it exceeded 4,000—though doubtless it was in the power of the Ashantees to bring up re-inforcements. The tribes under our protection must be at least 10 times as numerous as the Ashantee army, and if they acted with energy there could be no question about their being able to repel the enemy. But there was a difficulty in the way of keeping them properly supplied with ammunition. Unfortunately, they had a foolish habit of firing off an unlimited number of blank charges before they came in sight of the enemy. It was, therefore, impossible to undertake to supply them with an unlimited quantity of ammunition; but a great deal had been sent to them, and also a great number of arms. In addition to the forces which the tribes themselves might be expected to supply, we had on the spot 270 troops of the West India Regiment, 220 armed Houssas, 200 Volunteers, and 150 Native Police, making in all an armed force under the Administrator of 840 men. Then, besides that force, there were at the latest date four vessels of war on the coast. They could not go up the interior, but the men on board would be useful in case of an attack near the coast or on the forts. By the latest ad-vices there was another war ship on her way to the Coast; and since then a larger ship had been sent in the same direction. Writing on the 8th of April, Colonel Harley said:— I may add that a feeling of complete security is felt here and along the coast, which the presence of four of Her Majesty's ships at present in the roads no doubt strengthens. He thought that when the Military Administrator spoke in those terms there could be no doubt that confidence was felt in the resources at hand. The attack was serious, but there had been much exaggeration both as to what had occurred and the strength of the enemy. In answer to his noble and gallant Friend's last Question, none of the British troops were engaged in the recent engagement. They had not been sent into the interior, nor was it intended to send them.


said, that the statement of the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies was, as far as he understood it, on the whole, a satisfactory one. But he understood that we were supplying arms and ammunition to a great number of semi-barbarous tribes. He did not know what degree of confidence was to be placed in these tribes, and he wished to know whether any security had been taken that we should get our arms back.


could not say that any security had been asked or given. It was not probable that at a moment of such emergency a bargain could have been made with those tribes for the return of the arms; but arms had been supplied on former occasions, and no difficulty had arisen. We never had had any dissension with the tribes whom we were now arming, and there was no reason to think they would turn against us.