Friday, 24 September 2010

Decoration for Important War Service, with the clasp Guinea 1869-1870

Apart from the Medal for Bravery and Loyalty Guinea 1869-1870, about which I wrote before, there was one other military decoration with a special variant issued for service in the Dutch Gold Coast. This was the Decoration for Important War Service, with the clasp Guinea 1869-1870 ("Ereteken voor Belangrijke Krijgsbedrijven, met de gesp Guinea 1869-1870").

This decoration was commonly also known as the Expedition Cross or the Cross for War Service. It is a Dutch military decoration, instituted 19 February 1869 by King Willem III, and issued to all officers, non-commissioned officers and men who took part in certain important military expeditions. The decoration was issued for participation, rather than merit, although two crossed swords or a silver crown, attached to the ribbon, would indicate ownership of an honorary sabre or a mention in despatches respectively.

The cross itself was produced from a cheap silver-coloured metal named Nickel silver, also known as German silver or alpaca, an alloy of copper with nickel and zinc. On the front it bears the portrait of King Willem III of the Netherlands (reigned 1849-1890), framed by a garter and the text "VOOR BELANGRIJKE KRIJGSVERRIGTINGEN". The four arms of the cross bear the monogram of the founder, a "W". The ribbon is divided in three vertical bars, namely two narrow ones in yellow on the sides and a wide one in green in the middle.

On the ribbon one or more metal clasps could be attached with the name(s) of the expedition(s) the bearer participated in. Thirty-two clasps referred to various expeditions in the Netherlands East Indies, held between 1846 and 1942. Only one clasp, "Guinea 1869-1870", was issued for service on the Dutch Gold Coast, in the same expedition for which the Medal for Bravery and Loyalty Guinea 1869-1870 was instituted (go there for details). The decoration was issued both to the European expeditionary troops that fought in this war, and the local African troops in Dutch service.

Ereteken voor Belangrijke Krijgsbedrijven, Wikipedia NL.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Medal for Bravery and Loyalty Guinea 1869-1870

The Dutch Medal for Bravery and Loyalty Guinea 1869-1870 ("Medaille voor Moed en Trouw Guinea 1869-1870") was instituted by a Royal Disposition ("Koninklijk Kabinetsbesluit") of 31 October 1870, No. 38. It was meant as a reward for "natives who had disthinguished themselves with actions of bravery and loyalty during the expedition to the Coast of Guinea in the years 1869 and 1870". The decision to institute the medal was directly linked to the fact that the only medal the Dutch government had to honour 'native' soldiers in its colonial forces, the Medal for Bravery and Loyalty, was expressly intended for soldiers of the Netherlands East Indies Army, as a reward for actions in the Netherlands East Indies.

In 1868, the Dutch and the British reorganised their respective possessions in the Gold Coast (the Coast of Guinea). They redivided them in such a manner, that both nations controlled a continuous strip of land for the first time in over 200 years. The Dutch took over all British possessions to the west of Elmina, and the British took over all Dutch possessions to the East of Cape Coast. In the negotiations leading up to this repartition, the local African polities were hardly consulted, and protests against possible negative political and social-economic effects were brushed aside. Eventually this led to several uprisings in the new Dutch territories, especially in and around Komenda and Sekondi. The Dutch sent an expeditionary force to quash the unrest, and a small colonial war was fought out. In this war, the local Dutch garrison was also involved.

When the war was over, it was felt that several soldiers from the local garrison deserved a medal, for which there was no provision. The new medal amended this. On 10 November 1870, the medals were awarded to the following men:

Pieter van Chama, sergeant
Alexander Prins, corporal
Esson Koffie, private
Ekrom Kwakoe II, private
Jan Plange, private
Kondua Robbena, private
Pieter Robbena, private East Indies Army

With only seven people decorated, the medal has the distinction of being the rarest Dutch official decoration.

The medal itself is hexagonal, made in bronze, and 30 millimetre in width. The front is adorned with the coat of arms of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the insription "MOED EN TROUW 1869-1870". The back carries the inscription "COMMENDAH. ANDEMA-ATJIRM. KWASSIE-KROM.", referring to the three places were battles were fought. The ribbon is divided in three vertical bars of equal width, in the colours of the Dutch flag, red, white, and blue.

W.F. Bax, Ridderorden, eereteekenen, draagteekens en penningen, betreffende de Weermacht van Nederland en Koloniƫn (1813-heden). Maastricht: Van der Dussen, 1973.

H.G. Meijer, C.P. Mulder & B.W. Wagenaar, Orders and Decorations of The Netherlands. Venlo: Van Grinsven, 1984. 2nd revised edition.

Picture of medal courtesy of Robert Prummel, published in Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.2 (Guinea Medal 1870).

Friday, 17 September 2010

Who Do You Think You Are: Hugh Quarshie (2)

In the programme, Hugh Quarshie's uncle Jimmy Phillips - his mother's brother - showed him a book called the Pen-Pictures, containing a series of biographies in which Hugh's grandfather had an entry.

In full, the book is titled The Pen Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities, published by the Ghanaian businessman and author C.F. Hutchison. It was published around 1928, and gives biographies in blank verse of some 162 Ghanaians ("Gold Coasters") who, according to Hutchison, were important pillars of society, standing at the root of modernisation and development in the Gold Coast Colony. The list includes both western-educated men (and three women) from a budding middle class, and traditional chiefs (some of whom had had a western education as well) who were instrumental in the policy of merging traditional rule with British colonial rule. Almost all biographies come with a portrait picture of the subject involved.

In 2003 I decided that, because of the importance of the book for Ghanaian history, as well as its rarity, the book warranted a new scholarly edition, properly annotated, and with an explicative and analytical introduction. With the help of Carla, my wife, who retyped and copy-edited the complete text, this project was finished within a year. The book was published in 2005. Since then it has turned into a bible for the study of the early 20th-century Gold Coast elite.

Cover of the 2005 edition (Click to access the full size image in Picasa.):

The entry for William Reginald Phillips is interesting in several ways, and quite detailed, referring to his "whiteness" and his mix of African and European heritage, as well as giving details about his school days, law studies, business, marriage, and his lodge membership. Having already looked into the Kamerling family history in depth, it was fairly easy to produce an annotation sketching the context of Phillips's connection to the Kamerling family and Abi village.

Print from the old edition:

In the television programme, the old edition wetted Hugh's appetite to find out more about his grandfather, which he of course subsequently did. It was the new publication that put the Wall-to-Wall production team on my track in September 2009, and started a co-operation that culminated in the television recording of March this year, and the broadcast of 7 September. Obviously, the existence of the new book could not be divulged to Hugh, as it would have given the game away.

It was my privilege to present the book to him after the recording in the National Archives in The Hague. Hugh then told me he was also affiliated, through his mother's sister's husband, with the Bartels' family. This family was very prominent in Elmina in the nineteenth century, and also constitute one half of the Bartels-Hutchison clan of Elmina and Cape Coast, which figures prominently in the book and of which the author, C.F. Hutchison, was a member. It's a small world...

Prints from the 2005 edition:

M.R. Doortmont (ed.), The Pen-Pictures of Modern Africans and African Celebrities. A Collective Biography of Elite Society in the Gold Coast Colony. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2005.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Asante princess on display

Part of my research into Gold Coast history - and an ever more important part - is the hunt for images. As such I started collecting historical postcards, depicting a multitude of images. Most recently I set myself to investigate the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925, which has attracted a lot of attention from classic postcard collectors (which I am not). There are several publications about the postcards issued at the exhibition, a number which runs into the thousands. In these publications much attention is given to the printing particulars of the cards, especially the backs. I am more interested in the images on the front and the context - if any - in which the cards were produced. A larger project I am currently working on is the set of postcards produced by the artist Edith Cheesman for the Government of the Gold Coast, to accompany the presentation of that colony in the Empire Exhibition, and printed by the famous postcard printer Raphael Tuck & Sons (also discussed in an earlier blog). Some of the images can already be viewed via a menu option in the Gold Coast DataBase or by clicking here. The story behind the pics will follow shortly.

My latest acquisition comes from a series of three postcards from original photos, also printed by Tuck for the British Empire Exhibition. This series seems rather rare. The card I bought is the first one in the series, titled Princess Baa of Ashanti and her Husband. The other two, which I hope to find in the market at some point in the future, are Prempeh, son of the late King of Ashanti, and Gold Coast Africans in the Native Village at Wembley. The title of the last card clinches the essence of these three images. The three pics of African "natives" were a depiction of these people on display to the general public. Ethnology brought home, so to speak. In the late 19th and early 20th century the displaying of "natives" was nothing special; it occurred on a regular basis, and fitted seamless into the traditions of the - equally unquestioned - display of disformed people at fairs and circuses, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

The photo of Princess Baa holds few clues as to where it was taken, and if she and her husband were actually at the Exhibition to show themselves off to the public. There is an indication that the photo was taken in Europe though (see below). Apart from the caption on the front of the card, there is no explicative text. I am not an expert on Asante history, and I do not know who Princess Baa is, or her husband for that matter. Maybe a specialist in the field can help me out here. The backdrop of the portrait shows a decorated wall and a door-screen, which could be either in the Gold Coast Pavillion of the Exhibition, or in Kumase or another Asante town. A postcard picture of the Asante Court at Wembley (see picture below) does not give any clues. The site Exploring 20th-Century London lists the same image, with a description positively stating that the couple is indeed photographed inside the "West African Pavillion" (sic), but without any evidence to that effect.

The husband is seated on a wicker chair - I assume it is a chair, and not an upturned basket - and faces the camera with a self-assured look in his eyes. He is dressed in cloth and slippers, and wears gold rings and bracelets, as well as some other accessories that befit his social status. How different is this for his wife, the main character in the caption, Princess Baa. She wears fewer accessories than her husband. The cloth is nice, but looks like it is draped in a hurry. She stands to the side of her husband, rather stiffly, legs slightly apart, arms hanging down, lips pressed closed, and awkwardly looking away from the lens. She definitely does not want to be there.

What struck me most in the picture is one specific detail: the princess's footwear. Rather than the traditional slippers, like the ones of her husband, she wears sturdy European walking shoes. Once spotted, it is a feature one can ponder over for hours. I can, at least. Was this a photo session at Wembley for which she had to come especially, and did she forget to take her slippers? Did she object to this picture taken from the outset, because she did not want to get out of her warm European dress in the cold London weather? Or was it an act of defiance against being turned into a circus attraction? It looks very much as if she is wearing stockings, although the image is not detailed enough to be completely sure about this. It would at least be a positive indication that the photo was taken in Europe. One would wish to be able to speak to Princess Baa about it all.

I wonder if there are any records or oral traditions about the scene and Princess Baa. Who was her husband? If at Wembley, why were they there? Another research project in the making...

Postcard info:
Princess Baa of Ashanti and her Husband. Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., London. Printed in England.
Interior - Gold Coast Building - Wembley. Ashanti Court. Copyright Government of the Gold Coast. Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd., London. Printed in England.

M. Perkins & B. tonkin, Postcards of the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley 1924 & 1925. West Wickham: Exhibition Study Group, 1994. p. 88-89.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Who Do You Think You Are: Hugh Quarshie

Tonight BBC 1 broadcast the Hugh Quarshie episode of the Who Do You Think You Are series 7. It was my privilege to contribute to the programme in several ways, advising the team, as well as providing materials and contacts. For me the story was not new. Already in 1995, as part of a research project into the Dutch historical presence in Ghana, I visited the Kamerling House in Elmina and Abii village. I met several of the family members and was impressed by their knowledge of their family history.

On my return home,I contacted Eric Kamerling, whom I had known for many years as a fellow genealogist. He showed me the photos and papers from Ghana and told me the story of his great-grand-uncle Pieter Martinus Johannes Kamerling, who went to Africa and had a family there. It is a thrilling story and it was very nice to relive and re-tell it with Hugh and the Wall-to-Wall production team.

Obviously, as is the case with all television documentaries, the story is bigger than the small screen allows for. Additional info on some of the stars from the programme is available in the Gold Coast Data Base. Work on a more complete publication is in progress but requires additional research, both in The Netherlands and Ghana.

One issue brought up in the programme can be addressed here already.

In the episode one of the mysteries is the name of Pieter Kamerling's wife. In family tradition she is called Efua Yenkye (pronounced 'Yentshee'; mis-spelled on the family tree as 'Jensch'). In the Dutch documents she is called Ellen van der Spek, and even signs a document with that name. On screen I say that in my opinion the two ladies are one and the same. It now turns out from new evidence that Efua Yenkye (aka Janet van der Spek) was Pieter's first wife in Ghana. He fell out with her over money and other matters and Janet took Pieter to court over the dispute. It meant the end of that relationship. About a year later he was married to Ellen, in all probability Janet's sister, with whom - as the programme showed so vividly - he had a loving relationship that survived their separation.

Photo's courtesy of Eric Kamerling, Vorden (NL)