My dearest Amelia,
It is the twenty first day of the fifth month in the year of our Lord 1824. I write you this final letter as a prisoner of war from a hut in the territories held by the Ashantee savages. I do not even know if this will reach you. What I do know is that I will not live for much longer my dear. I'm the last of my company. Jones, May, Harrington and the rest of the lads from Worcester Prep are all gone. Rest assured they served their Lord and the Empire well.
Once Governor MacCarthy declared war on the savages, we set off from the castle at Cape Coast to crush the Ashantees at the heart of their confederacy. The five hundred of us were to meet up with three infantry and two cavalry divisions but as we camped by the banks of the Pra, we were ambushed. The savages threw themselves senselessly into volley after volley of musket fire. I could think of nothing but coming back to you Amelia so I fought bravely. They were also brave but foolish - what else can we expect from savages? We fought with even more bravery and valour but however as evening fell upon us we ran out of ammunition. The savages then struck at the heart of our camp; they swarmed all over us like ants. More than ten thousand of them charged at us with their war drums beating loudly. I have never been more afraid. Many of the men fled or were killed. It was a great slaughter. So many good men were lost, good Christian men. Governor MacCarthy tried admirably to rally the men but he was cut down. Ensign Wetherell attempted to assist him but -- well his severed head now lies at my feet in the hut where I’m being held. Williams was spared because he had once done one of their chiefs a small favour. He in turn claimed I was his brother and we were both taken prisoner. Yet now, Williams is on his way back to the castle at Cape Coast and the savages stare at me and make threatening gestures. I pray my death is swift.
I think now of you Amelia. I wish I had valued more the time we spent together. I long to touch and to hold you once more. And I would give anything to sit in the garden with you one last time. As they never thought to search me, I still have your picture safely nestled in my field notebook which I keep in my back pocket. I gaze at it often. I wish I had told you how much I love those troublesome red curls of yours. I remember the first time I saw them. As you run after your dog across the beach, the redness of the sunset turned them into a great flaming mane upon your head. But what really took my breath away were your eyes and how they lit up and crinkled at the edges when you smiled as I handed the dog back to you. They smiled along really. I myself smile even as I write this. I love you so much Amelia. I hope my body would somehow be recovered and brought back to you. I would never have imagined dying in a pagan land so far from you when we gave our lives to each other in marriage.
Lately however, I've been having thoughts and doubts, about all of this. I try to remain strong but I can't help but wonder. It started a few days after I was captured. A young savage girl entered my hut to give me water. Not having drunk since the day of the battle, I was so eager that I did not give her a second glance and I'm ashamed to say I did not even pray. Who knows what foul god they had offered the water to before giving it to me?
But after I had drunk to my satisfaction, I got a good look at the savage girl. It’s hard to tell with them but she seemed to be young, no older than sixteen, the age you were when we first met. A young man then entered the hut and they shared an embrace. He looked around nervously all the time as though he was afraid of being caught. After a short while he turned to leave but she grabbed hold of his hand. He lingered for a moment and then left but a moment was all I needed to see. Her eyes smiled Amelia. Her eyes smiled!
I do not understand it. These are the same people -- animals -- whose leader the Asantehene drinks out of the gold rimmed skull of our beloved Governor MacCarthy. They threaten our protectorates, make claims to our territories and reject our Lord and the Crown. They are savage heathens alienated from the love of our Lord and are supposed to be unlike us in every manner. General Wolseley says they are barely human even. So why did her eyes smile just like yours? Why Amelia? Why? The thought scares me. I cannot bear the weight of the unspeakable realization that has come over me. I cannot even put it down on paper. I pray I’m wrong. God save my soul Amelia. God save all our souls.
James Arthur Pennant
Private, the Royal British Colonial Corps
A note by the author. This work of fiction is based on the real Battle of Nsamankow which was fought during the First Anglo Ashanti War from 1823 to 1831. The battle was a resounding loss for the British. The then Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles MacCarthy was killed in the fighting and his skull was rimmed with gold and used as a cup by an Ashanti chief. More information about the battle can be found here . The narrator is fictional as is his military unit.