The real enemy was the bush.
The first British military expedition to the heart of the Ashanti empire.
And so i’ve often wondered, when thinking about how the same group of elite British officers galavanted about the Empire, how the experiences of Sir Garnet Wolseley during the Red River Rebellion in 1870 shaped his view of the British mission against Kumasi in 1874. The Dominion of Canada and the Gold Coast Colony in 1870 were just more outposts to the British Crown, whose agents were busy increasing their sphere of influence by “trade where they could, but by flag where they must”. The famous Robinson and Gallagher slogan is apt in both examples since the British began their involvement with trade on the brain, but ended it all with the bloody flag in their hearts.
In what few primary sources I’ve consulted about Wolseley and his activities in the late 18th C, he is the usual imperial soldier: career-oriented and perfectly sure of the manifest destiny his Queen and Country has across the world. His memoirs and such portray him even in terms of resurrecting any fears that Britain’s colonial rationale and reason d’être could ever fade.
So for me, I am considering a meaningful first chapter set in the Gold Coast just before the man set out against the Ashanti in whatever Anglo-Ashanti War he led in 1874 that toppled Kumasi. His successes against Riel and the Metis undoubtedly shaped his confidence in his abilities in war based on logistics and manoeuvre. More so, both the Half-Breeds and the Ashanti were more savages in need of the treaty, the sword, the Bible, and the flag–usually in that order, but not necessarily.
I envision him maybe on his ship about to land on the coast, like in the painting abvove, or maybe he is in a expeditionary camp on the beach or further afield in the forest. He could be writing a letter to home; perhaps something intimate that could satisfy a deep look into the man’s personality and truest values. Interestingly, either situation could be symbolic of Britain’s feelings of poetic isolation while exercising their burden to civilize savages in the service of the Queen.
In his cabin, for instance, he could represent the technological master at the dawn of the Industrialized world. A man able to voyage great distances to prosecute any colonial war his handlers saw fit. He could reflect on the vast logistical achievement of the British Army; this as he faced a similar campaign but in wildly different physical environments. And in all this, I could show how the modern mindset is so satisfied and reliant upon expending wild amounts of energy to defeat nature: to carry all the great materiel of war along paths drawn on maps. Military strategies that do not reflect the human toll of a two month projection of power across an adverse landscape. The battle all soldiers face is first the field of war itself, then their own psychological determination, and then finally the other man who has defeated those already and is now able to kill you in earnest.
And then the natives, the aboriginals, the savages, and all the other nouns are able to fall into the same process of objectification, as things to control and master, describe and rule. People and the landscape all need to be measured, understood, and then controlled in Europe’s growing positivist imagination.
Wolseley could remember his campaign in Canada and see no difference between that place and its people and this new one in Africa. And with that clarity, the identity of Canada as just another imperial place on the map on the globe would have to surface. By seeing the arrogance and ultimate goals of the British through the eyes of this prototype British officer, a reader would have to admit the first and ongoing actions of the Crown in the prairies were the same as their mission in West Africa: to remove any resistance from local peoples by either the gun or diplomacy, and to create a new world at all costs.
Wolseley could imagine the expansion of a new society spreading across the globe. He could be offering premonitions about a industrialized, utopian society, and that proving the superiority of Britain on the imperial battlefield was the first step.
Then some continuity will emerge about the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginals in Canada. The Metis in my story could be both observers and agents to that relationship, as is historically accurate about their intermediary place between Settler and Indian society. And, because Metis culture descends matrilineally (largely Cree), I imagine many Metis shared in the impending and increasing loss of their way of life.
Hopefully, a reader would be able to relate somehow to the Metis people in my book and gain a stronger understanding of the existential hurt felt among First Nation people in Canada. More importantly, I hope the story would explain how many people see the Indian Act and the attitude of the government of Canada as a text-book colonial perspective towards non-European societies. I’m also hoping that because the Fleury’s in my story were not so harshly discriminated upon by the Residential School system, but instead ran from the Government in part to escape the ‘social services’, that their seeming affiliation to the rest of settler society would draw in non-Aboriginal readers into the story as well. After all, looking at a picture of the Fleury’s at RMH, they don’t look much different that the European migrants who struggled in the bush and in their poverty and social problems, too.