as closely together as possible outside the houses, but within the
stockade. The carriers slept in the street of the village, where
so thickly did they lie that it was impossible for anyone to make
his way along without treading upon them.
News came in that night that Captain Butler with the Western Akims
had arrived within two days' march of Amoaful, but that without
the slightest reason the king and the whole of his army had left
Captain Butler and retired suddenly to the Prah. At the same time
they heard that the army of the Wassaws under Captain Dalrymple
had also broken up without having come in contact with the enemy.
From the rear also unpleasant news came up. The attack upon Quarman
had been no isolated event. Fomana had also been attacked, but the
garrison there had, after some hours' fighting, repulsed the enemy.
Several convoys had been assaulted, and the whole road down to the
Prah was unsafe. The next morning, after waiting till a large convoy
came safely in, the column marched at nine o'clock, Gifford's scouts,
Russell's regiment, and Rait's battery being as usual in front. The
resistance increased with every step, and the head of the column
was constantly engaged. Several villages were taken by Russell's
regiment, who, full of confidence in themselves and their officers,
carried them with a rush in capital style. It was but six miles
to the Dab, but the ground was swampy and the road intersected by
many streams. Consequently it was not until after being eight hours
on the road that the head of the column reached the river, three
hours later before the whole of the troops and their baggage were
CHAPTER XXIII: THE CAPTURE OF COOMASSIE
Upon the afternoon of the arrival of the English column upon the
Dah the king made another attempt to arrest their progress, with a
view no doubt of bringing up fresh reinforcements. A flag of truce
came in with a letter to the effect that our rapid advance had much
disconcerted him, which was no doubt true, and that he had not been
able to make arrangements for the payments claimed; that he would
send in hostages, but that most of those whom the general had
asked for were away, and that he could not agree to give the queen
mother or the heir apparent. These were, of course, the principal
hostages, indeed the only ones who would be of any real value.
The answer was accordingly sent back, that unless these personages
arrived before daybreak the next morning we should force our way
The Dah is a river about fifteen yards wide and three feet deep at
the deepest place. The Engineers set to work to bridge it directly
they arrived, Russell's regiment at once crossing the river and
bivouacking on the opposite bank.
It was unfortunate that this, the first night upon which the troops
had been unprovided with tents, should have turned out tremendously
wet. The thunder roared, the lightning flashed, and the rain came
down incessantly. Tired as the troops were there were few who slept,
and there was a general feeling of satisfaction when the morning
broke and the last day of the march began.
The rain held up a little before daybreak, and the sky was clear
when at six o'clock Wood's Bonny men, who had come up by a forced
march the evening before, led the advance. Lieutenant Saunders with
one of Rait's guns came next. The Rifles followed in support.
Before the Bonny men had gone half a mile they were hotly engaged,
and the combat was for two hours a repetition of that of Amoaful.
Saunders advanced again and again to the front with his gun, and
with a few rounds of grape cleared the sides of the path of the
enemy. At last, however, the Bonny men would advance no farther,
and Lieutenant Byre, the adjutant of Wood's regiment, was mortally
Lieutenant Saunders sent back to say it was impossible for him to
get on farther unless supported by white troops. The Rifles were
then sent forward to take the Bonny men's place, and slowly, very
slowly, the advance was continued until the clearing round a village
could be seen fifty yards away. Then the Rifles gave a cheer and
with a sudden rush swept through to the open and carried the village
without a check. In the meantime the whole column had been following
in the rear as the Rifles advanced, and were hotly engaged in
repelling a series of flank attacks on the part of the enemy. These
attacks were gallantly persevered in by the Ashantis, who at times
approached in such masses that the whole bush swayed and moved as
they pushed forward.
Their loss must have been extremely large, for our men lined the
road and kept up a tremendous Snider fire upon them at a short
distance. Our casualties were slight. The road, like almost all
roads in the country, was sunk two feet in the center below the
level of the surrounding ground, consequently the men were lying in
shelter as behind a breastwork, while they kept up their tremendous
fire upon the foe.
The village once gained, the leading troops were thrown out in a
circle round it, and the order was given to pass the baggage from
the rear to the village. The operation was carried out in safety,
the path being protected by the troops lying in a line along
it. The baggage once in, the troops closed up to the village, the
disappointed foe continuing a series of desperate attacks upon
their rear. These assaults were kept up even after all had reached
the cleared space of the village, the enemy's war horn sounding
and the men making the woods re-echo with their wild war cry. The
Naval Brigade at one time inflicted great slaughter upon the enemy
by remaining perfectly quiet until the Ashantis, thinking they had
retired, advanced full of confidence, cheering, when a tremendous
fire almost swept them away.
It was six hours from the time at which the advance began before
the rear guard entered the village, and as but a mile and a half
had been traversed and Coomassie was still six miles away, it
was evident that if the Ashantis continued to fight with the same
desperation, and if the baggage had to be carried on step by step
from village to village, the force would not get halfway on to
Coomassie by nightfall.
The instant the baggage was all in, preparations were made for a
fresh advance. Rait's guns, as usual, opened to clear the way, and
the 42d this time led the advance. The enemy's fire was very heavy
and the Highlanders at first advanced but slowly, their wounded
straggling back in quick succession into the village. After twenty
minutes' work, however, they had pushed back the enemy beyond the
brow of the hill, and from this point they advanced with great
rapidity, dashing forward at times at the double, until the foe,
scared by the sudden onslaught, gave way altogether and literally
fled at the top of their speed.
War drums and horns, chiefs' stools and umbrellas, littered the next
village and told how sudden and complete had been the stampede. As
the 42d advanced troops were from time to time sent forward until
a despatch came in from Sir A. Alison saying that all the villages
save the last were taken, that opposition had ceased, and that the
enemy were in complete rout. Up to this time the attack of the enemy
upon the rear of the village had continued with unabated vigor, and
shot and slug continually fell in the place itself. The news from
the front was soon known and was hailed with a cheer which went
right round the line of defense, and, whether scared by its note
of triumph or because they too had received the news, the efforts
of the enemy ceased at once, and scarcely another shot was fired.
At half past three the baggage was sent forward and the headquarter staff
and Rifle Brigade followed it. There was no further check. The 42d
and several companies of the Rifle Brigade entered Coomassie without
another shot being fired in its defense. Sir Garnet Wolseley soon
after arrived, and taking off his hat called for three cheers for
the Queen, which was responded to with a heartiness and vigor which
must have astonished the Ashantis. These were still in considerable
numbers in the town, having been told by the king that peace
was or would be made. They seemed in no way alarmed, but watched,
as amused and interested spectators, the proceedings of the white
The first thing to be done was to disarm those who had guns, and
this seemed to scare the others, for in a short time the town was
almost entirely deserted. It was now fast getting dark, and the
troops bivouacked in the marketplace, which had so often been the
scene of human sacrifices on a large scale.
Their day's work had, indeed, been a heavy one. They had been
twelve hours on the road without rest or time to cook food. Water
was very scarce, no really drinkable water having been met with during
the day. In addition to this they had undergone the excitement of
a long and obstinate fight with an enemy concealed in the bush,
after work of almost equal severity upon the day before, and had
passed a sleepless night in a tropical rainstorm, yet with the
exception of a few fever stricken men not a single soldier fell
out from his place in the ranks.
Nor was the first night in Coomassie destined to be a quiet one.
Soon after two o'clock a fire broke out in one of the largest of
the collections of huts, which was soon in a blaze from end to end.
The engineers pulled down the huts on either side and with great
difficulty prevented the flames from spreading. These fires were the
result of carriers and others plundering, and one man, a policeman,
caught with loot upon him, was forthwith hung from a tree. Several
others were flogged, and after some hours' excitement the place
quieted down. Sir Garnet was greatly vexed at the occurrence, as
he had the evening before sent a messenger to the king asking him
to come in and make peace, and promising to spare the town if he
Although Coomassie was well known to Frank he was still ignorant of
the character of the interior of the chiefs' houses, and the next
day he wandered about with almost as much curiosity as the soldiers
themselves. The interiors even of the palaces of the chiefs showed
that the Ashantis can have no idea of what we call comfort. The
houses were filled with dust and litter, and this could not be
accounted for solely by the bustle and hurry of picking out the things
worth carrying away prior to the hurried evacuation of the place.
From the roofs hung masses of spiders' web, thick with dust, while
sweeping a place out before occupying it brought down an accumulation
of dust which must have been the result of years of neglect. The
principal apartments were lumbered up with drums, great umbrellas,
and other paraphernalia of processions, such as horns, state chairs,
wooden maces, etc. Before the door of each house stood a tree, at
the foot of which were placed little idols, calabashes, bits of
china, bones, and an extraordinary jumble of strange odds and ends
of every kind, all of which were looked upon as fetish. Over the
doors and alcoves were suspended a variety of charms, old stone axes
and arrow tips, nuts, gourds, amulets, beads, and other trumpery
The palace was in all respects exactly as the king had left it. The
royal bed and couch were in their places, the royal chairs occupied
their usual raised position. Only, curiously enough, all had been
turned round and over. The storerooms upstairs were untouched, and
here was found an infinite variety of articles, for the most part
mere rubbish, but many interesting and valuable: silver plate,
gold masks, gold cups, clocks, glass, china, pillows, guns, cloth,
caskets, and cabinets; an olla podrida, which resembled the contents
of a sale room.
In many of the native apartments of the palace were signs that human
sacrifice had been carried on to the last minute. Several stools
were found covered with thick coatings of recently shed blood, and
a horrible smell of gore pervaded the whole palace, and, indeed, the
whole town. The palace was full of fetish objects just as trumpery
and meaningless as those in the humblest cottages. The king's private
sitting room was, like the rest, an open court with a tree growing
in it. This tree was covered with fetish objects, and thickly hung
with spiders' webs. At each end was a small but deep alcove with
a royal chair, so that the monarch could always sit on the shady
Along each side of the little court ran a sort of verandah, beneath
which was an immense assortment of little idols and fetishes of
From one of the verandahs a door opened into the king's bedroom,
which was about ten feet by eight. It was very dark, being lighted
only by a small window about a foot square, opening into the women's
apartments. At one end was the royal couch, a raised bedstead with
curtains, and upon a ledge by the near side (that is to say the
king had to step over the ledge to get into bed) were a number of
pistols and other weapons, among them an English general's sword,
bearing the inscription, "From Queen Victoria to the King of Ashanti."
This sword was presented to the predecessor of King Coffee. Upon
the floor at the end opposite the bed was a couch upon which the
king could sit and talk with his wives through the little window.
In the women's apartments all sorts of stuffs, some of European,
some of native manufacture, were found scattered about in the
wildest confusion. The terror and horror of the four or five hundred
ladies, when they found that their husband was about to abandon his
palace and that they would have no time to remove their treasured
finery, can be well imagined.
In almost every apartment and yard of the palace were very slightly
raised mounds, some no larger than a plate, others two or even three
feet long. These were whitewashed and presented a strong contrast
to the general red of the ground and lower walls. These patches
marked the places of graves. The whole palace, in fact, appeared
to be little better than a cemetery and a slaughterhouse in one.
A guard was placed over the palace, and here, as elsewhere through
the town, looting was strictly forbidden.
All day the general expected the arrival of the king, who had sent
a messenger to say he would be in early. At two o'clock a tremendous
rainstorm broke over the town, lasting for three hours. In the evening
it became evident that he was again deceiving us, and orders were
issued that the troops, in the morning, should push on another three
miles to the tombs of the kings, where he was said to be staying.
Later on, however, the news came that the king had gone right away
into the interior, and as another storm was coming up it became
evident that the rainy season was setting in in earnest. The
determination was therefore come to, to burn the town and to start
for the coast next morning.
All night Major Home with a party of Engineers was at work mining
the palace and preparing it for explosion, while a prize committee were
engaged in selecting and packing everything which they considered
worth taking down to the coast. The news of the change of plan,
however, had not got abroad, and the troops paraded next morning
under the belief that they were about to march still farther up the
country. When it became known that they were bound for the coast
there was a general brightening of faces, and a buzz of satisfaction
ran down the ranks. It was true that it was believed that a large
amount of treasure was collected at the kings' tombs, and the prize
money would not have been unwelcome, still the men felt that their
powers were rapidly becoming exhausted. The hope of a fight with
the foe and of the capture of Coomassie had kept them up upon the
march, but now that this had been done the usual collapse after
great exertion followed. Every hour added to the number of fever
stricken men who would have to be carried down to the coast, and
each man, as he saw his comrades fall out from the ranks, felt that
his own turn might come next.
At six o'clock in the morning the advanced guard of the baggage
began to move out of the town. The main body was off by seven. The
42d remained as rearguard to cover the Engineers and burning party.
Frank stayed behind to see the destruction of the town. A hundred
engineer laborers were supplied with palm leaf torches, and in
spite of the outer coats of thatch being saturated by the tremendous
rains, the flames soon spread. Volumes of black smoke poured up, and
soon a huge pile of smoke resting over the town told the Ashantis
of the destruction of their blood stained capital. The palace was
blown up, and when the Engineers and 42d marched out from the town
scarce a house remained untouched by the flames.
The troops had proceeded but a short distance before they had reason
to congratulate themselves on their retreat before the rains began
in earnest, and to rejoice over the fact that the thunderstorms did
not set in three days earlier than they did. The marsh round the
town had increased a foot in depth, while the next stream, before
a rivulet two feet and a half deep, had now swollen its banks for
a hundred and fifty yards on either side, with over five feet and
a half of water in the old channel.
Across this channel the Engineers had with much difficulty thrown
a tree, over which the white troops passed, while the native carriers
had to wade across. It was laughable to see only the eyes of the
taller men above the water, while the shorter disappeared altogether,
nothing being seen but the boxes they carried. Fortunately the
deep part was only three or four yards wide. Thus the carriers by
taking a long breath on arriving at the edge of the original channel
were able to struggle across.
This caused a terrible delay, and a still greater one occurred at
the Dah. Here the water was more than two feet above the bridge
which the Engineers had made on the passage up. The river was as
deep as the previous one had been, and the carriers therefore waded
as before; but the deep part was wider, so wide, indeed, that it
was impossible for the shorter men to keep under water long enough
to carry their burdens across. The tall men therefore crossed and
recrossed with the burdens, the short men swimming over.
The passage across the bridge too was slow and tedious in the extreme.
Some of the cross planks had been swept away, and each man had to
feel every step of his way over. So tedious was the work that at
five in the afternoon it became evident that it would be impossible
for all the white troops to get across - a process at once slow
and dangerous - before nightfall. The river was still rising, and
it was a matter of importance that none should be left upon the
other side at night, as the Ashantis might, for anything they could
tell, be gathering in force in the rear. Consequently Sir Archibald
Alison gave the order for the white troops to strip and to wade
across taking only their helmets and guns. The clothes were made
up in bundles and carried over by natives swimming, while others
took their places below in case any of the men should be carried
off their feet by the stream. All passed over without any accident.
One result, however, was a laughable incident next morning, an
incident which, it may be safely asserted, never before occurred in
the British army. It was quite dark before the last party were over,
and the natives collecting the clothes did not notice those of one
of the men who had undressed at the foot of a tree. Consequently he
had to pass the night, a very wet one, in a blanket, and absolutely
paraded with his regiment in the morning in nothing but a helmet and
rifle. The incident caused immense laughter, and a native swimming
across the river found and brought back his clothes.
As the journeys were necessarily slow and tedious, owing to the
quantity of baggage and sick being carried down, Frank now determined
to push straight down to the coast, and, bidding goodbye to Sir
Garnet and the many friends he had made during the expedition, he
took his place for the first time in the hammock, which with its
bearers had accompanied him from Cape Coast, and started for the
sea. There was some risk as far as the Prah, for straggling bodies
of the enemy frequently intercepted the convoys. Frank, however,
met with no obstacle, and in ten days after leaving the army reached
Ostik implored his master to take him with him across the sea; but
Frank pointed out to him that he would not be happy long in England,
where the customs were so different from his own, and where in winter
he would feel the cold terribly. Ostik yielded to the arguments,
and having earned enough to purchase for years the small comforts
and luxuries dear to the negro heart, he agreed to start for the
Gaboon immediately Frank left for England.
On his first arrival at Cape Coast he had to his great satisfaction
found that the Houssas who had escaped from Coomassie had succeeded
in reaching the coast in safety, and that having obtained their
pay from the agent they had sailed for their homes.
Three days after Frank's arrival at Cape Coast the mail steamer
came along, and he took passage for England. Very strange indeed
did it feel to him when he set foot in Liverpool. Nearly two years
and a half had elapsed since he had sailed, and he had gone through
adventures sufficient for a lifetime. He was but eighteen years
old now, but he had been so long accustomed to do man's work that
he felt far older than he was. The next day on arriving in town he
put up at the Charing Cross Hotel and then sallied out to see his
He determined to go first of all to visit the porter who had been
the earliest friend he had made in London, and then to drive to
Ruthven's, where he was sure of a hearty welcome. He had written
several times, since it had been possible for him to send letters,
to his various friends, first of all to his sister, and the doctor,
to Ruthven, to the porter, and to the old naturalist. He drove to
London Bridge Station, and there learned that the porter had been
for a week absent from duty, having strained his back in lifting a
heavy trunk. He therefore drove to Ratcliff Highway. The shop was
closed, but his knock brought the naturalist to the door.
"What can I do for you, sir?" he asked civilly.
"Well, in the first place, you can shake me by the hand."
The old man started at the voice.
"Why, 'tis Frank!" he exclaimed, "grown and sunburnt out of all
recollection. My dear boy, I am glad indeed to see you. Come in,
come in; John is inside."
Frank received another hearty greeting, and sat for a couple of
hours chatting over his adventures. He found that had he arrived
a fortnight later he would not have found either of his friends.
The porter was in a week about to be married again to a widow who
kept a small shop and was in comfortable circumstances. The naturalist
had sold the business, and was going down into the country to live
with a sister there.
After leaving them Frank drove to the residence of Sir James Ruthven
in Eaton Square. Frank sent in his name and was shown up to the
drawing room. A minute later the door opened with a crash and his
old schoolfellow rushed in.
"My dear, dear, old boy," he said wringing Frank's hand, "I am
glad to see you; but, bless me, how you have changed! How thin you
are, and how black! I should have passed you in the street without
knowing you; and you look years older than I do. But that is no
wonder after all you've gone through. Well, when did you arrive,
and where are your things? Why have you not brought them here?"
Frank said that he had left them at the hotel, as he was going down
early the next morning to Deal. He stayed, however, and dined with
his friend, whose father received him with the greatest cordiality
On leaving the hotel next morning he directed his portmanteau to
be sent in the course of the day to Sir James Ruthven's. He had
bought a few things at Cape Coast, and had obtained a couple of
suits of clothes for immediate use at Liverpool.
On arriving at Deal he found his sister much grown and very well
and happy. She was almost out of her mind with delight at seeing
him. He stayed two or three days with her and then returned to town
and took up his abode in Eaton Square.
"Well, my dear boy, what are you thinking of doing?" Sir James
Ruthven asked next morning at breakfast. "You have had almost enough
of travel, I should think."
"Quite enough, sir," Frank said. "I have made up my mind that
I shall be a doctor. The gold necklace which I showed you, which