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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 9 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2008 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 5 THE DUTCH GOLD-MINING EFFORT IN AHANTA, 1841–49 LARRY W. YARAK Introduction By early 1841 the Dutch position on the Gold Coast was tenuous. A major government initiative begun in 1836 to make the Dutch “possessions” on the coast more useful to the motherland—the “recruitment” of Africans for service in the Dutch East Indies1 at “depots” set up in Kumase and Elmina —was encountering substantial opposition, both in the East Indies and in Europe. In 1838 a serious mutiny of African troops had occurred at a remote outpost on the island of Sumatra. News of this event did not reach the Netherlands until 1839, and, after an investigation ordered by Minister of Colonies J. C. Baud and subsequent reports of unrest among the African troops, it was decided in 1840 to instruct the Dutch authorities in West Africa to limit the Gold Coast recruitment operation to 200 men per year, enough only to maintain current African troop strength in the East Indies. Further complicating matters, the Minister’s decision in 1840 to send 50 African recruits to serve in the military of the colony of Surinam had reignited British diplomatic protests that military recruitment was nothing more than disguised slave-trading, protests which the Dutch government thought had been put to rest nearly two years earlier. A new rebellion by African soldiers in June 1841 led the government to order the West African recruitment depot to be shuttered entirely in December. Consequently, when in mid-1841 a proposal was made to the Minister of Colonies for a new initiative that promised to increase government revenues at the Dutch possessions on the Gold Coast, it was taken seriously. 1. A brief examination of the Dutch military recruitment operation in the Gold Coast may be found in L. Yarak, Asante and the Dutch, 1744–1873 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 106–14. 6 Ghana Studies • volume 9 • 2006 The proposal appears to have been the inspiration of a colonial ministry officer, J. A. de Bruijn. De Bruijn was a rare nineteenth-century colonial bureaucrat: besides an early career in the Dutch Caribbean, he had actually visited the Gold Coast—and had even traveled to Kumase, the Asante capital—to help establish the expanded Dutch military recruitment operation in 1836–37. De Bruijn convinced retired Major-General B. Rottiers and J. Kruseman, the Inspector-General in the Ministry of Colonies, that gold was present on the coast “in abundance” and could be exploited directly by the Dutch government by means of a well-organized gold-mining effort employing the latest in European mining technology and a European work force.2 The Minister was intrigued by the proposal but proceeded cautiously ; he agreed first to send Rottiers and De Bruijn to Germany to visit gold-mining operations along the Rhine River, to investigate the latest mining technology in use there and to recruit a knowledgeable engineer to lead a Dutch-funded expedition to West Africa. Ultimately, the government organized two gold-mining expeditions to the Gold Coast in the 1840s, both of which failed spectacularly: a grand total of less than one ounce of gold was recovered and shipped back to the Netherlands, despite an outlay of hundreds of thousands of guilders. The story of the ill-fated Dutch gold-mining enterprise at the Gold Coast is interesting for several reasons. First, the effort is an excellent example of the concern that the Dutch government manifested during the first three quarters of the nineteenth century to extract financial or political benefit from its last remaining African possession, which was seen in most government and private circles in Holland as a budgetary liability. Secondly, the scale and sophistication of the effort to strike gold reflected the enhanced power of the nineteenth century European state and its interest in 2. Nationaal Archief, The Hague, Archief van het Ministerie van Koloniën 1814–49 (Dutch National Archives, Archive of the Ministry of Colonies—hereafter MK) 4270: verbaal, dd. 15 May 1841, No. 203 (secret), enclosure: memorandum by Rottiers and Kruseman, dd. The...


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