Thursday, 17 June 2010

Treaty making on the Gold Coast, 1672

The British postcard publisher Raphael Tuck & Sons published several series of so-called 'oilette' full-colour postcards on Africa and the British Empire. This card is part of the series "The Rise of Our Empire Beyond the Seas" - Series I, and is undated. Most likely it was published on the occasion of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in London in 1924-1925, for which the company made several series. The series "The Rise of Our Empire Beyond the Seas" contained pictures from all parts of the British Empire, many showing the encounter between the British and local authorities.

This image is titled "An official of he Guinea (Royal African) Company, treaty making on the Gold Coast in 1672", and shows an elaborately dressed English merchant with two other Europeans discussing with a Gold Coast chief, apparently about a treaty. Both the chief and the British delegation are accompanied by and entourage. It is uncertain whether the picture is imagined, or shows an historical event. The fact that a date is mentioned could be an indication of the latter, but the year 1672 does not seem to have special significance in British-Gold Coast relations.

On the back of the card is a description, which runs as follows: "The Gold Coast. The Gold Coast, now a British Colony and Protectorate, was once in the hands of the Portuguese and the Dutch, who, settling there before England was a sea-going power of importance, built forts and began a search for gold. In 1664, however, the English successfully attacked the Dutch defences, and four years later the "new five pieces of gold coined by the Guiny Company" were issued. In 1844 the jurisdiction of England on the Gold Coast was defined."

The description is not historically inaccurate, but nevertheless rather uneven. No mention is made of the importance of the Atlantic slave trade, for instance, nor of the problematic relationship between the British and the Asante Kingdom. The reference to the five pieces of gold coined by the Guinea company is obscure. It can not refer to the famous Gold Guinea coin, because this was first coined in 1663, by the English government. "1844" refers to the Bond, concluded between the British government and the Fante states of the Gold Coast, delimiting jurisdictions, but not turning the area into a Crown Colony yet. That happened in 1874.