The pioneer of Ghana’s modern mining industry was an educated Ghanaian from Cape Coast named Thomas Hughes. A trader and civic leader, Hughes made a journey to the Ankobra sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s and secured a mining lease in Wassa Amenfi near one of the richest gold bearing areas. He hired a team of porters from Cape Coast to transport several tons of crushing machinery from abroad to the mining site.
Most historians, including Macphee and Dickson, erroneously believe that the French trader Marie Joseph Bonnat was the founder of modern gold mining in the Gold Coast and Asante (Macphee 1926; Dickson, 1969; Silver, 1981). The truth is the first European miner to take out a concession and dig for gold on the famous Tarkwa Ridge occurred in 1877 by an Englishman, known as J. A. Skertchley. Bonnat’s name dominates the literature because he was a prolific writer who boosted his own commercial adventures. Bonnat was more interested in commerce than mining. In 1874 to 1875, he concentrated on establishing a trading relationship in the market town of Salaga in the Northern Territories, to exchange Birmingham and Manchester goods with Ivory and indigenous salt (Bevin, 1960; Dumett, 1998).
Modern mining in Obuasi (Adanse) evolved from a small operation owned by local merchants into a multinational company with properties in gold-endowed African countries (Ayensu, 1998). It has weathered some turbulent storms, from resistance of local people and the Ashanti Kingdom to European domination, to conflicts with local miners whose operations were rendered illegal by the colonial authorities and subsequently by the fact that the entire area became a private property following the official licensing of the areas as an AGC prospect. It has also been buffeted by industrial action by workers, political interference and economic setbacks resulting from economic decisions by its management, notably its choice of hedging options.
Before the arrival of the Europeans, local people were engaged in mining of reefs, in addition to panning gold from streams. Available records indicate that the first concession involving the present mine was obtained on 4th June, 1875, by Monsieur Marie Joseph Bonnat in the area (Junner, 1935; Quashie et al., 1981; Ayensu, 1998). However, it was not until the end of the 19th century that the idea of an orderly commercial approach to gold mining in the Gold Coast began to gather momentum. Two Fante merchants from Cape Coast, Joseph E. Ellis and Joseph E. Biney, began the modern story of Ashanti Goldfields Company when in March 1890, they laid claim to a concession of land area totalling 265 km 2 (Minerals Commission, 1991; Deeds to Obuasi lands, 1890). A mine named the Ellis Mine was subsequently developed but five years after running this, it became apparent that although this vast goldfield was very lucrative, it required a lot more capital and expertise. As a result, on 16th August 1895, the concession was transferred to Edwin Arthur Cade in the presence of chiefs of Bekwai and Adansi as the concession lay between both the Bekwai and Adansi kingdoms. The provisional agreement to the new mine, Cote d’Or Mining Company was signed on August 27, 1985, at Cape Coast Castle and the right of the company to the concession ratified by the British Government. Approval for mining, trading and agricultural rights was subsequently given in April 1896. A new company under the name Ashanti Goldfields Company Ltd. (AGC) was registered and on June 11, 1897, all assets and liabilities of Cote d’Or Mining Company were transferred to this new company. The same day marked the listing of the company on the London Stock Exchange. In the 1890s, Ashanti resistance to British rule affected the industry as ratification of the first concession had to wait for annexation of the Ashanti by the British Empire.
A Research paper in 2011 by:
Emmanuel Ababio Ofosu-Mensah
Department of History, University of Ghana,
P. O. Box 12, Legon, Accra, Ghana.