Ghartey IV

All persons possessing any position or power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master Author and Founder of Society

He was by birth called Kwamena Akyempon. He was born in the year 1820 at Winneba to King Gyateh Kumah III and Obaapanyin Ekua Kaadze, a princess of Senya Beraku. As he grew up he became interested in coopery though the main preoccupation of the people of Winneba was fishing and his father was an illiterate king. He started his vocation with the major European firms then operating in Winneba. Unsatisfied with the pace of life, he decided to embark on a career at sea. He sailed on various English, Portuguese and Dutch vessels which made voyages along the West African coast.

An unpleasant incident in which his master was mysteriously stabbed while at the port of Apam forced him to disembark prematurely. The young prince then stayed and worked at Apam as a cooper in the factory of Stooves Bros. It was during this period in his life that the agent of the firm, Mynheer Stooves having observed with keen interest the intelligence of Kwamena Akyempon and out of fondness for him, gave him the name Robert Johnson Ghartey; the last being Anglicised ‘Gyateh’ which was his father’s name. This agent encouraged him to study from books he gave him and with determination and perseverance Robert Johnson Ghartey was able to read and write English.

Name: Kwamena Akyempon
Date of Birth: 1820
Death: July 30th, 1897

Robert Johnson Ghartey was later transferred to Elmina and then to Shama where the firm also manufactured soap and distilled rum by the River Prah. After 14 years of dedicated service to Stooves Bros, Robert Johnson Ghartey established his own enterprise at Anomabu, and named it Ghartey Bros. With the death of the last of the Stooves Bros, he purchased all their business; in all 13 factories from Ajua to Poni, which had been passed on to him according to the will of the Stooves Bros.

In 1861, Robert Johnson Ghartey went on a business trip to England, accompanied by Hon. F.C. Grant of Cape Coast on the S. S. Etheope with Captain Cook in charge. While there, he took the opportunity to see the grave of his late son, Johannes G. Ghartey, a student of Queens College at Taunton. R. Ghartey also came into contact with the Temperance Society at Sparkbrook, and on his return, instituted a branch at Anomabu with the support of Revds. T.B. Freeman, J. A. Solomon, J. Fynn and Messrs John Ogoe, J. E. Sampson among others.

He then dug a large bore-hole which served the water needs of the people at the cost of £150; this for years, became the only source of good drinking water for the people of Anomabu. From that same trip, Robert Johnson Ghartey also introduced the cover-shoulder dress; the Kabasrotu, an imitation of the English blouse, to help cover the semi-nudity of the shoulder of the illiterate class of Gold Coast women. He started this on his own maidservants and then on the illiterate girls of the Temperance Society. He then used these girls to set up the ‘Band of Hope’ section of the society which also rendered songs during church services and at funerals. This innovation started long before Rev. A.W. Parker of the Wesleyan Mission

Rev. Jacob Anaman, then also of the same Church set up the Singing Band in their churches. The dress eventually became universal and indispensable among the women folk and the orthodox churches. Prince Ghartey accomplished another feat in life when he meticulously and instinctively measured the distance from the Coast to Ashanti by the aid of his pocket watch, at the rate of three miles an hour. He did this when he accompanied Rev. William West, a Wesleyan Minister to Kumasi, with Prince John Owusu Ansah on a mission tour during the reign of King Kwaku Dua in 1862. From his recordings, he published a pamphlet in 1864 entitled ‘A Guide to Commassie’- the first travel book on Ashanti ever to be published. This later became a useful reference material in the British expedition under Sir Garnet Wolsey in 1874 and others. The usefulness of this compilation was acknowledged by the Government, as it was made at a considerable risk and entirely at the expense of R.J. Ghartey. By 1867 Prince Ghartey had achieved fame as a successful business man. His level of intelligence and respect for men earned him appointment as a Treasurer and subsequently a Magistrate for the Town Court by King Kofie Afedsi and the chiefs of Anomabu. In this same year, together with Mr George Blankson, Prince Brew of Dunkwa, the Rev. Joseph D. Hayford, and Mr James F. Amissah they established the Fante Confederacy comprising chiefs and prominent men of the Fante area. Prince Ghartey was its first president with Mr. George Blankson as the secretary. The organisation’s objectives were misconstrued by the Acting Administrator of the colony, His Excellency Charles Spencer Salmon, who caused the arrest of some of its prominent members for what he wrongly conceived to be a ‘conspiracy to subvert the rule of Her Majesty the Queen on the Gold Coast’. Though His Excellency, Mr Pope Hennessy, the Administrator-in-Chief of the West African settlements, disapproved of the action of Mr Salmon in his despatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated October 29, 1872, it did not help and the organisation died from this action.

Prince Ghartey pioneered palm-nut cracking on the Gold Coast and made it an export commodity. He also promoted gold mining and timber industries and at his own expense opened up the River Ayensu and rendered it navigable for floating down timber from the hinterland to Winneba. It is on record that the first shipment of palm kernels ever made was by the firm of Ghartey Bros. (from the ports of Sekondi and Ajua). For this feat, Messrs. F. & A. Swanzy, the leading experts in port firm acknowledged the commercial foresight of Mr Ghartey by a letter and a gift through their agent in Accra, Mr. Crocker, in 1873. Following this success, it was followed in the Western Province by Messrs. C. Barnes, Clinton and Carew in pioneering in the timber industry on the Rivers Ankobra at Axim and Prah at Shama. At Winneba, then as King, R. J. Ghartey, shipped the first consignment of mahogany logs per the S.STeneriffe, on August 15, 1893 through the firm of Messrs. J.J. Fischer, and subsequently another consignment per the S.S. Niger. A publication by the editor of the African Times, Mr. Fitz-Gerald who had followed Mr. Ghartey through his visit to England in 1861 and subsequent business achievements gave much impetus to timber industry. In 1872, on the death of King Henry Acquah I, alias Kwesi Eguasi, Prince Ghartey, was enstooled as King Ghartey IV.

His first action after his entsoolment was to invite European merchants to establish in Winneba for the rapid development of the town. Hence, Messrs F. & A. Swanzy, came first followed later by the Basel Mission, J. J. Fisher and others to join Messrs. T. B. Acquah, S. W. Swatson and John Grant who were already established in Winneba. Subsequent media support for the enterprising spirit of the King included that of the weekly journal, the Gold Coast Independent edited by Mr. Bright Davis of Sierra Leone and published in Accra. The October 31st, 1896 edition gave a glowing testimony about R J Ghartey as one of the most intelligent and respectable citizens of the community of Winneba. This testimony was culled from a published interview which Mr. W.A. Yates of Yates Bros. & Shattuck had with a representative of the Knenebec Journal. In that interview, Mr. W.A. Yates, then doing a general mercantile business in the Gold Coast stated that he was very well acquainted with King Ghartey, who was the fourth King of that name. ‘That the King spoke good English as anyone and speaks all the dialects of the Coast’. ‘He is a whole-souled, warm-hearted man, who has seen sixty-eight years of a busy life which has been fruitful of good results to his people’. In Mr. Yates’ own words, the King ‘was a humanitarian, a diplomat, scholar and a gentleman. His son is in our employ, and we consider him one of the smartest, brightest young men of the Coast’. He added that the King ‘had great linguistic powers, since he could speak with much freedom both indigenous and foreign languages; Fanti, Effutu, Ga, English and Dutch with a smattering of Portuguese’. King Ghartey IV was very religious. In an invitation to His Excellency Sir W.B. Griffith, K.C.M.G to take a preaching appointment on the occasion of his visit to Winneba, he wrote:

Winneba, July 15th, 1893
My Dear Governor,
‘May I take the liberty to ask Your Excellency if you have kindly made up your mind to take the appointment of giving us exhortation tomorrow morning service if time will permit Your Excellency to do so. I shall read the prayers at our Wesleyan Chapel for you. Wishing you good and pleasant morning. I remain,
Yours faithfully,
‘To His Excellency
Sir W. B. Griffith,
Governor & Commander-in-chief of the Gold Coast Colony.

In reply to this request, His Excellency wrote:

Government House,

‘Dear King Ghartey,’
I have received your note and will have much pleasure in doing what you wish tomorrow.
Yours faithfully,
(Sgd) W. Brandford Griffith
‘His Majesty,
King Ghartey, Of Winneba.

On July 16th, 1893, the Governor took the appointment and preached from three texts: from Psalms 3 verse 6; 23 verse 4 and 14 verse 6, grouped into one, and admirably acquitted himself to the satisfaction of those present. This novelty was an occasion not witnessed before in the annals of the Gold Coast. It was King Ghartey who did the preliminaries and interpretation; and it must have been a splendid sight to see a Governor in the pulpit and an Omanhen officiating together.

What might have spelt the gradual loss of condition for the king was when in 1885 the Asafo riots between Tuafo and Dentsefo led to their prosecution at Accra on a capital charge, and finally the condemnation to death of a good many of those who took part in the riot. King Ghartey’s petition on their behalf failed to achieve anything.

When they were executed eventually, it was noted mysteriously that all officials involved in the condemnation and execution died one after the other in the same year: the Queen’s Advocate who prosecuted, the Chief Justice who sentenced the people, the Sheriff who delivered them for execution, the Engineer who fixed the gallows, and Governor W. A. Young himself, who signed the death warrant and finally the gaoler (Trant), who did the last act of execution.

The health of King Ghartey noticeably deteriorated remarkably in July 1897. Many assigned this to the worry and work of the Diamond Jubilee festivities of Her Majesty Queen Victoria which had taken place in the previous month and the agitation about the Land’s Bill which must have brought him unpleasant memories of the days of the Fante Confederation. On 4th July, 1987, Rev. I. H. Hayford of the Wesleyan Mission administered to him his last sacrament. He addressed a farewell letter on July 27th to His Excellency Governor Maxwell, and the next day the Governor accompanied by Dr. Henderson visited him and promised to comply with the requests contained in his letter reproduced below:

Winneba, July 27th, 1897.

‘Sir, On June 12th last the District Commissioner, Dr.Adrain L. Breen, by your kind instructions presented to me on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Victoria a Silver Medal in recognition of services rendered by me as King of Winneba during the recent Ashanti Expedition (1895-6). ‘In acknowledging the receipt today of this valuable gift, I have the honour to express my deep regret that severe illness had prevented me from rendering my sincere thanks earlier. But I value it immensely.

‘I may here remark the just pride respecting the Winneba people that their loyalty to Government is not of today: their unchangeableness and courage in some previous struggles with the Ashanti won for them a high opinion as evidenced by the presentation to their King, late Aryerabi, at Tantum, of one puncheon rum, one sword and one Silver Medal bearing the inscription of King George III of Great Britain, 1814. ‘This sword and medal we still preserve. My health failing me so rapidly now, I would hereby most humbly yet confidently lay before your Excellency my desire (1) That my thanks for the Medal be transmitted to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen. (2) That during my absence the Government may continue to treat my chiefs and the Winneba people generally with due leniency and justice, and (3) To recognize, protect and help the successor from my off-spring so that my name may not be lost to the Government. This is my solemn request. ‘Should I die any moment from now, I am sure I do so loyal to the Queen, true to my country, and faithful to my own God, Amen. I have, etc.’

King of Winneba’
‘To His Excellency,
Sir W.E. Maxwell, K.C.M.G.,
Governor & Commander-in-Chief of the Gold Coast Colony
Christiansborg Castle,

Also reproduced below is another farewell letter the King addressed to the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society at Cape Coast:

Winneba, July 28th, 1897.
‘J.P. Brown, Esq.,
Aborigines Rights Protection Society,
Cape Coast.

God has so willed it that I must now resign my charge; and by His Grace I do so fearlessly. ‘Now, in the big struggle before us are that Land Bill, etc., the history of the past, present and future call with one loud voice for loyalty of purpose and perseverance in actions. Already I notice the efforts of Lawyer Sarbah, Rev.S.R.B Solomon, Prince Brew of Dunkwa, your good self and others. Hopefully therefore, I fall in this battlefield with many wounds fresh and old and deep scar of the defunct Fante Confederation. ‘Kindly convey my last farewell to all true patriotic native Kings and friends of the country’s cause here and elsewhere, and to the Aborigines’ Society in England. Be constitutional, God bless you, our country and the Queen. Amen I beg to remain,

Faithfully and sincerely yours
King of Winneba.’

The King addressed a third farewell letter to the Revds. J. A. Solomon and A.W. Parker:

Winneba, July 28th, 1897.
‘Dear Sirs & Bros.,

‘The Master hath need for me elsewhere and I may sooner or later disappear from among you to join the great army of the redeemed above. As my last Christian experience, I wish to say that I enlisted under the banner of Christ at an early age; and that in all the vicissitudes of life, private and public, which were often sore and trying my God never forsook me.

I therefore through your medium to all Christian friends here and in England, wish to testify to the power and goodness of God; sending them meantime my farewell greetings. I die in faith a soldier of Christ in His arms. ‘May the course of the Temperance Society, which was the first of its kind introduced into this part of the world by me at Anomabu in 1861, ever and ever flourish for the Glory of God. Amen I remain, Dear Sirs and Bros.,

Fraternally and sincerely yours,
By order (Sgd.) Jos. E. Ghartey
For Ghartey IV of Winneba.’
J. A Solomon and A. W. Parker,
Wesleyan Native Ministers
Mission House,
Cape Coast.

On the morning of July 30th, 1897, the good King breathed his last. He was laid in state for three days, as was often done for great kings and the coffin provided by his surviving children, was made of glass-panelled casket with solid silver trimmings and handles and at high cost of 500 dollars.

The funeral was attended by Governor Maxwell’s son as representing His Excellency, Commissioner Kelley, and Doctors Breen and Wilken and other prominent Europeans; and then members of Forester. There were also Chiefs, Elders and Councillors. The two Asafo Companies were present and often fired musketry in his honour. He was buried in the royal mausoleum at Winneba.


Excerpts from
Gold Coast Men of Affairs (Past and Present)
Magnus J. Sampson, B.A.,(Durham) 1937,
Arthur H. Stockwell, Ltd, London.