To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
The following extract from ’Wanderings in West Africa,’ a book which I wrote in 1862 and published (anonymously) in 1863, will best explain the reasons which lately sent me to Western Africa:–
In several countries, for instance, Dinkira, Tueful, Wásá (Wassaw), and especially Akim, the hill-region lying north of Accra, the people are still active in digging gold. The pits, varying from two to three feet in diameter, and from twelve to fifty deep (eighty feet is the extreme), are often so near the roads that loss of life has been the result. ’Shoring up’ being little known, the miners are not unfrequently buried alive. The stuff is drawn up by ropes in clay pots, or calabashes, and thus a workman at the bottom widens the pit to a pyriform shape; tunnelling, however, is unknown. The excavated earth is carried down to be washed. Besides sinking these holes, they pan in the beds of rivers, and in places collect quartz, which is roughly pounded.
They (the natives) often refuse to dig deeper than the chin, for fear of the earth ’caving in;’ and, quartz-crushing and the use of quicksilver being unknown, they will not wash unless the gold ’show colour’ to the naked eye.
As we advance northwards from the Gold Coast the yield becomes richer....
It is becoming evident that Africa will one day equal half-a-dozen Californias....
Will our grandsons believe in these times ... that this Ophir–that this California, where every river is a Tmolus and a Pactolus, every hillock is a gold-field–does not contain a cradle, a puddling-machine, a quartz-crusher, a pound of mercury? That half the washings are wasted because quicksilver is unknown? That whilst convict labour is attainable, not a company has been formed, not a surveyor has been sent out? I exclaim with Dominie Sampson–’Pro-di-gious!’
Western Africa was the first field that supplied the precious metal to mediaeval Europe. The French claim to have imported it from Elmina as early as A.D. 1382. In 1442 Gonçales Baldeza returned from his second voyage to the regions about Bojador, bringing with him the first gold. Presently a company was formed for the purpose of carrying on the gold-trade between Portugal and Africa. Its leading men were the navigators Lanzarote and Gilianez, and Prince Henry ’the Navigator’ did not disdain to become a member. In 1471 João de Santarem and Pedro Escobar reached a place on the Gold Coast to which, from the abundance of gold found there, they gave the name of ’São Jorje da Mina,’ the present Elmina. After this a flood of gold poured into the lap of Europe; and at last, cupidity having mastered terror of the Papal Bull, which assigned to Portugal an exclusive right to the Eastern Hemisphere, English, French, and Dutch adventurers hastened to share the spoils.
For long years my words fell upon flat ears. Presently the Ashanti war of 1873-74 brought the subject before the public. The Protectorate was overrun by British officers, and their reports and itineraries never failed to contain, with a marvellous unanimity of iteration, the magic word–Gold.
The fraction of country, twenty-six miles of seaboard out of two hundred, by a depth of sixty–in fact, the valley of the Ancobra River–now (early 1882) contains five working companies. Upwards of seventy concessions, to my knowledge, have been obtained from native owners, and many more are spoken of. In fact, development has at length begun, and the line of progress is clearly traced.
At Madeira I was joined (January 8, 1882) by Captain Cameron, R.N., C.B., &c. Our object was to explore the so-called Kong Mountains, which of late years have become quasi-mythical. He came out admirably equipped; nor was I less prepared. But inevitable business had delayed us both, and we landed on the Gold Coast at the end of January instead of early October. The hot-dry season had set in with a heat and a drought unknown for years; the climate was exceptionally trying, and all experts predicted early and violent rains. Finally, we found so much to do upon the Ancobra River that we had no time for exploration. Geography is good, but Gold is better.
In this joint book my energetic and hard-working friend and fellow-traveller has described the five working mines which I was unable to visit. He has also made an excellent route-survey of the country, corrected by many and careful astronomical observations. It is curious to compare his work with the sketches of previous observers, Jeekel, Wyatt, Bonnat, and Dahse. To my companion’s industry also are mainly due our collections of natural history.
We are answerable only for our own, not for each other’s statements. As regards my part, I have described the Gold-land as minutely as possible, despite the many and obvious disadvantages of the ’photographic style.’ Indeed, we travellers often find ourselves in a serious dilemma. If we do not draw our landscapes somewhat in pre-Raphaelite fashion, they do not impress the reader; if we do, critics tell us that they are wearisome longueurs, and that the half would be better than the whole. The latter alternative must often be risked, especially in writing about a country where many at home have friends and relatives. Of course they desire to have as much detail about it as possible; hence the reader will probably pardon my ’curiosity.’
The Appendix discusses at some length the various objections made to the Gold Coast mines by the public, which suffers equally from the ’bull’ and the ’bear’ and from the wild rumours set afloat by those not interested in the speculation. I first dispose of the dangers menaced by Ashanti invasions. The second number notices the threatened labour-famine, and shows how immigration of Chinese, of coolies, and of Zanzibar-men will, when wanted, supply not only the Gold Coast, but also the whole of our unhappy West African stations, miscalled colonies, which are now starving for lack of hands. The third briefly sketches the history of the Gold-trade in the north-western section of the Dark Continent, discusses the position and the connections of the auriferous Kong Mountains, and suggests the easiest system of ’getting’ the precious metal. This is by shallow working, by washing, and by the ’hydraulicking’ which I had studied in California. The earlier miners have, it is believed, begun at the wrong end with deep workings, shafts, and tunnels; with quartz-crushers, stamps, and heavy and expensive machinery, when flumes and force-pumps would have cost less and brought more. Our observations and deductions, drawn from a section of coast, will apply if true, as I believe they are, to the whole region between the Assini and the Volta Rivers.
I went to the Gold Coast with small expectations. I found the Wásá (Wassaw) country, Ancobra section, far richer than the most glowing descriptions had represented it. Gold and other metals are there in abundance, and there are good signs of diamond, ruby, and sapphire.
Remains to be seen if England has still honesty and public spirit enough to work this old-new California as it should be worked. I will answer for its success if the workers will avoid over-exclusiveness, undue jealousy and rivalry, stockjobbing, and the rings of ’guinea-pigs’ and ’guinea-worms.’
Richard F. Burton