Battle of Nsamankow

The British faced a 10,000-strong army on 21 January 1824.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles M’Carthy, 1812.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles M’Carthy, 1812 © National Army Museum/Bridgeman Images.

The Anglo-Ashanti wars began with a debacle for the British. On 8 January 1824, word reached Cape Coast that the Ashanti were advancing. Sir Charles M’Carthy, newly appointed governor, divided up the forces at his disposal and hurried a few hundred men up country.

They waded through waist-deep mud and slept exposed to torrential rain. M’Carthy dismissed reports that the enemy was near. He was determined to see ‘how the Ashanti liked our balls’. But at about 2pm on 21 January, they could be heard approaching. There were 10,000 of them.

M’Carthy ordered his band to play ‘God Save the King’. The Ashanti responded with drums and horns. He ordered it played again. The musical dialogue repeated. A brief silence fell.

By 4pm the British were out of ammunition. The ordnance keeper, a Mr Brandon, arrived in the thick of battle – but ahead of his men. M’Carthy wanted Brandon hanged on the spot: of the four cases Brandon brought, three reportedly contained macaroni. Unable to retreat, M’Carthy and two others made a final stand beneath a tree.

One survivor was taken prisoner. He slept among the heads of the three last combatants. M’Carthy, he said, ‘presented nearly the same appearance as when he was alive’.