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Opinions of Sunday, 11 September 2016

Columnist: A.R. Gomda

Some Gold Coast Governors

By A.R. Gomda

I love the history of the Gold Coast especially the relationship between the colonialists and their unwilling hosts. I regret not talking to as many elderly men and women who knew a lot about the Gold Coast before they passed on.

I met a few of such persons especially the ex-servicemen who fought alongside their British colleagues during the Second World War. I wonder how many of such veterans are living today.

I recall some veterans remembering how Japanese snipers made things difficult for them in their positions and the Kaladan campaign.

I do remember vividly a book a veteran, the late LA Brimah possessed which was about the Second World War. It said a lot about the role of the Royal West African Frontier Force, Gold Coast Regiment and others from the Commonwealth. The book “Our War” was authored by a certain Christopher Somerville. It is missing and the owner dead but I do remember some interesting aspects about the discrimination which the blacks suffered through the bad policy of the Colonial administration.

Lt. Seth Kobla Anthony the first man from the Gold Coast to be commissioned into the Gold Coast Regiment was denied the privileges which went with the status. It for instance took, according to the publication, flurry of correspondences between the authorities of the Royal West Frontier Force in Accra and the Whitehall in Britain to alter the oddities.

During my foraging activities at the National Archives of Ghana now Public Records and Archival Administration (PRAAD), I chanced upon troves of stuff about the Gold Coast some of them works of history scholars. I am unable to mention their names. So much time has elapsed and I can remember such details suffice it to point out that I am indebted to the unmentioned persons for their academic efforts without which important details which today form the central point of this issue could not have come about.

Most of us remember only the names of a few of governors of the Gold Coast. Some of them left indelible marks in the history of our country.

Besides Gordon Guggisberg, there are many others who represented the Colonial Office in the Gold Coast. In 1874, for instance, there was a gentleman called Sir William Edward Maxwell who served as the Governor of the Gold Coast having earlier served in the British Army between 1854 and 1867.

Records have it that he was the Collector of Customs in Lagos and later Colonial Secretary of the Gold Coast in 1873, a very important position.

He also became an administrator and Lt. Gov. of the Gold Coast until 1879.

On 14th July 1874, he proceeded to Kumasi where he successfully averted a war between the Ashantis and the Juaben. He is said to have played a critical role in the independence of the Juaben from the former.

He is credited with ensuring that the two maintained peace, keeping trade route open and releasing the prisoners of war each of them was keeping.

Captain G.C. Straham 1874-1876

This Captain is noted for the promulgation of two important ordinances in the Gold Coast in November 1874- the prohibition of slave dealing, the emancipation of existing slaves and a declaration that all children born after 5th November 1874 were born free. The laws were duly published and slaves left the bondage in which they were before the law came into force. Majority of the freed slaves decided to remain where they had been even though as freemen.

Sir Sanford Freeling 1876-1878

He was appointed Governor and Commander-In-Chief of the Gold Coast in 1876. Upon his recommendation, a Native Jurisdiction Ordinance was passed and this made for effective governance of the Gold Coast colony and the Protectorates. The commencement of mining in the Western districts in about 1875 was a source of worry to Sanford Freeling who foresaw land disputes in the future. European commissioners were sent down to Tarkwa and Odumasi which at the time were centres of British activities.

Brandford Griffith 1886

He was appointed in 1886 and is credited with massive infrastructure development in the Gold Coast. He was against the direct system of taxation and rather opted for ad valorem. When he visited England in 1889, he convinced the Secretary of State about his idea of taxation and in 1890 a new system of collecting duties was adopted. He encouraged educated Africans to show interest in the development of the country. Under his tenure, important strides were made with the creation of departments of sanitation 1888-Roads, Education-1890, Telegraph-1891 and Prisons-1891. During his tenure, an important development took place when the cocoa pod was smuggled into the country from Fernando Po, now Equitorial Guinea by a native of the Gold Coast, Tetteh Quarshie who had gone to work in the Portuguese territory.

Sir Samuel Rowe 1881- 1884

He became Governor in 1881 and did a lot of work in the area of communication. He is credited with linking up through trade between tribes in the North and others in the Southern parts of the country.

Sir C.A. Maloney

He was appointed acting Governor during which period he called the attention of the British Government to an Indian product which, in his estimation, could fetch a lot of money for the Gold Coast. It was being tried in Cape Coast by a certain F.C. Grant and by 1889 it was fetching some forty thousand pounds per annum. In 1875, he settled an important dispute between the Ashantis and the Adansis.

W.A. G. Young 1884- 1885

It was during his tenure that the French were moving deeper into the sub-region for which reason the British sought the support of the chiefs. In June 1884, he negotiated and secured a provisional agreement with the chiefs of Togoland to cede to Her Majesty, part of the seaboard of the country. In July 1884 the Germans appeared off the beach of Togoland and proclaimed a German protectorate of that country.

Sir F.M. Hodgson

He was appointed in 1898. In 1894 while acting as governor, he sent a message to the Asantehene requesting him to accept a British agent to discharge certain functions in Kumasi for the preservation of peace, promotion of development and security of trade. The request was turned down. In 1899, he searched for the Golden Stool. On 28th March 1900 at a meeting of chiefs held in Kumasi, he demanded the surrender of the stool. Three days after that the Ashantis led by Asantewaa declared war which they lost anyway.

Sir William Edward Maxwell

He was appointed Governor in 1895 and soon after this, he was instructed by the Secretary of State to send a message to the Asantehene to receive a British agent as demanded earlier by Hodgson.

He was still adamant and the British government arrested him (Asantehene) and others and sent them into exile in the Seychelles Island. On 30th January 1896, Maxwell signed a treaty of friendship and protection with Nsuta. He introduced a Lands Bill in 1897 which made all available lands, not in visible use, to be vested in the Crown.

A strong opposition followed this and the bill was withdrawn subsequently. He was succeeded by Governor Nathan.