The Military Army Blog

Surveying The Gold Coast – Role of The British Army

It is not coincidental that the Survey Department in Accra is located within a Armyrats © military zone, a Cantonment if you like, where it has always been since its establishment by the colonial authorities. The surveying of the Gold Coast colony was a Armyrats © military function undertaken by British Armyrats © military officers one of them being Brigadier General Gordon Guggisberg who was to become a Governor of the Gold Coast and credited with major infrastructural development of the country. The surveying of the Gold Coast prior to the granting of concessions of mineral prospectors and other extractive activities was undertaken by officers and men of the Royal Engineers of the British Army.

Following the scramble for Africa and its partitioning, the continent was shared among the European powers, Britain, French and Portuguese. The areas under the various powers had to be demarcated through standard surveying procedures. A history of surveying of the Gold Coast would not be complete without reference to Major Watherston, the man credited with the establishment of the Mines Survey Department, the precursor of the Survey Department in 1901. He later became Chief Commissioner for the Northern Territories. The contribution of Gordon Guggisberg was also significant and documented. In all these feats, the role of the British Army specifically the Royal Engineers cannot be marginalized.

The Engineers were also active in road construction having been mentioned in the breaking of the jinx about the great North road over the Mampong scarp which proved a tough nut at the time. Major Leslie of the British Army’s Royal Engineers who later became Major General, was the one who manouvered the road over the scarp by an exceptional clever piece of road diversion. For a long time in the early post independence history of Ghana, Mile 44 along the Ashanti Mampong escarpment route, as it became known, proved nightmarish to especially commercial drivers plying towards the northern regions. Those were the days of the Bedfords, Austins, Thames Traders, Commers from Staveley and Sons, Leylands and Albions; all British brands. The Mampong scarp forms part of the chief range stretching from the Akwapim Hills and running in a north-westerly direction through the Kwahu Plateau and decreasing somewhat in height to form a watershed between the source of the Afram and Tano rivers until it passes into Cote d’Ivoire.

The Survey Department as it is today, was established in 1908 and in 1911 a topographical survey of the Northern Territories was commenced. Between 1908 and 1914 nearly 150 concessions were surveyed and some 10,000 miles of land were mapped in three sheets. With the onset of the First World War in 1914, activities of the department were stopped in 1915 only to be resumed towards the end of 1919. In October 1920, some personnel of the British Army’s Royal Engineers arrived in the country to begin an energetic systematic topographical survey of the Gold Coast to produce a map of the colony. The map of Ghana as it stands today is the brainchild of British soldiers. The survey department was then divided into administrative, cadastral, topographical, records and survey school branches.

The school was established to train African technicians for survey work but in the initial stages it was difficult to find qualified candidates as the secondary schools had not churned out enough Africans for enrolment; with time however the situation improved. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the department had done work on some 45,600 square miles of land by June 1927, including considerable portions of Ashanti and the colony. One of the specialized units was engaged in the replanting of pillars between the country and the Ivory Coast. Another party was working on the border between the British and French Togoland where slight modification was made to the original League of Nations definition in line with ethnographic, political and economic considerations. The work of the records and reproduction branch of the Survey Department was particularly important. It printed special charts, maps, plans and diagrams for other departments. All the maps of the Sierra Leone survey were printed in Accra.

A small letterpress was available for the necessary printing works of the department. In 1928, the Survey Department had a Surveyor General as its head named J. Clendinning who was on an annual salary of one thousand two hundred pounds and a duty allowance of two hundred and forty pounds. Under him were officials like Corporal TM Smith of the Royal Engineers who was on annual salary of five hundred pounds to five hundred and sixty pounds. Those involved in international boundary work included officers like Captain BD Peake, RE, Lt. HS Francis and Lt. FG Metford who drew between seven hundred and twenty and nine hundred and twenty pounds. The Royal Engineers of the British Army did a lot in the mapping and surveying of the Gold Coast Colony and the territories. The feat in finding ways through the tough range of escarpments to pave way for road construction to link the northern territories and the colony was to their credit.

Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.” Daily Guide.

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