JOHN OWUSU-ANSA (John Osoo Ansah) Autograph Letter Signed.
Akan Prince and chief negotiator for the Ashanti in the Anglo-Ashanti Wars.
ALS. 2pp and integral blank leaf. 28 Finsbury Square. 23rd July 1874. To Richard [Cooke] Coles, Esq.
"I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter enclosing the Bill which you kindly sent to the Foreign Office for me. Please to accept my sincere thanks. Regarding your offer to take the Bills, having been obliged to make some arrangements before we received it from the Colonial Office, I think we can avoid troubling you further about this Bill. But we may be glad to avail ourselves of your kind offer on future occasion. Thank you for your inquiry. We got home comfortably from Stamford Hill and are all much obliged for a very pleasant visit. With our kind regards to you and Mrs Coles."
8vo. Approx 8 x 5 inches. The integral blank leaf backed onto paper and with mounting traces on blank verso, else fine.
The son of an Akan Prince who was educated in England in the 1830s, John Owusu-Ansa (who here spells his name as Osoo Ansah) was himself educated at an English school and spent some time serving in the Gold Coast Rifle Corps. His western education and manners made him ideal as an emissary of the Akan tribes to Britain. There had been several wars between the powerful Ashanti and the British in the 19th century and both the Dutch and the British were anxious to hold influence in this gold rich area of Africa. In 1873-74 Sir Garnet Wolseley had defeated the Ashanti forces of Kofi Karikari in hard fighting that saw heavy casualties on both sides and the burning of the Ashanti capital, Kumasi. The war had been covered by both Henry Morton Stanley and G.A. Henty and had made a popular hero of Sir Garnet. It ended with the harsh Treaty of Fomena, which gave the British control and required the Ashanti to pay a fortune in gold by way of reparations. Following this war, John Owusu-Ansa became chief advisor to the Ashanti King Prempe (or Prempeh) I. Prempe appointed him ambassador to the British on the Gold Coast. Dressed in a bowler hat, English suits, patent-leather shoes and carrying a walking cane, Owusu-Ansa never failed to make an impression. In 1895, Owusu-Ansa headed King Prempe's delegation to London to complain about British interference in Ashanti affairs. However, the British, who had already given various permissions for expeditions to Kumasi and for its annexation to the Gold Coast colony, refused to meet the envoys. Whilst in England, however, Owusu-Ansa negotiated an agreement to accept a British diplomatic resident at Kumasi. The other members of the delegation realised on their return to Kumasi, that this meant that King Prempe would be expected to pay the whole cost of the diplomatic mission and believed that they had been deceived. King Prempe blamed John Owusu-Ansa for the failure of the diplomacy. A little later, the British Governor of the Gold Coast unexpectedly declared at a Durbar in Kumasi that no new treaty would be entered into as the Ashanti had failed to meet the terms of the Treaty of Fomena and he demanded payment in full of the costs of the expedition. Prempe offered to pay 7,000 ounces of gold, with the balance of 43,000 ounces to be paid by instalments. Maxwell refused and ordered Prempe, his court and family to proceed under escort to Cape Coast. Here Prempe was arrested and held at Elmina Castle before he and his family were sent into exile in Sierra Leone. Throughout this time John Owusu-Ansa remained in London and continued to negotiate for Prempe's release and his restoration to the throne. This letter, written on 23rd July 1874 shows that Owusu-Ansa was also in London at the time of the peace negotiations following the third Ashanti War of 1873-74. It appears, therefore, that he had also acted as envoy for Kofi Karikari and must have been one of those involved in settling the Treaty of Fomena. The Treaty was concluded in the same month as this letter (July 1874) and is probably the "Bill" referred to in the letter. At this time Owusu-Ansa would have been aged only about 24. The addressee, Richard Cooke Coles, was an East India trader, who must have been acting as a go-between or facilitator between the Ashanti delegation and the Foreign and Colonial Offices. It appears from other letters from the same source that he had performed a similar function for the King of Bonny on the Niger Delta during that country's civil wars. An interesting letter of historical significance and a rare Autograph.
From a 19th century family album of autograph letters compiled by Gladys Margaret Coles, daughter of Frederick W. Coles, an East India merchant of The Cedars, Epsom. Frederick Coles was the son of the addressee, Richard Cooke Coles, an East India Company Trader and his wife Elizabeth Regina Kreett, only daughter of Christopher Kreett, a British diplomat and Consul-General.