Thoughts about “Correspondence relative to the recent Expedition to the Red River Settlement: with Journal of Operations”

Red River Settlement, 1870

Red River Settlement, 1870

The source is like all the other British Gov documents I’ve sifted through in my MA work on the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. They’re routine, detailed, and steeped in administrative duty. This makes them great sources: their attempt at an almost scientific objectivity, since the posture of the writer’s mind is so administrative that a bias immediately jumps off the page. You can really read through the lines in bureaucratic records; the writers are doing a job and yet their selves always comes out eventually. We all know emotions are like that, never being contained or hidden for long before you’re over the sink trying to wash the blood off your hands. Good luck.

So far, I can share that the diplomatic correspondence between the levels of the Dominion Canadian government and the Imperial Government in Britain at either the War Office or the Colonial Office reveals the agreed need among all involved that the Red River Expedition needs to be “Imperial in character”. The various reasons, especially according to Lieutenant-Colonel James Lindsay, included wanting to bolster the morale of the largely volunteer militias that the Government of Canada was planning to field. In fact, this source indicates more than a few times that authorities had trouble recruiting members to completely fill Quebec Battalion. A familiar Canadian political story appears in the drama to ensure French and English Canadians play visible roles in the service of the Dominion and Imperial governments. Lindsay could only barely and almost too late mobilize the whole force for want of recruits from Quebec. The presence of professional soldiers from England would also send the message to the burgeoning Canadian public that government had the support of the Crown in maintaing peace and order in the Red River. Riel was, clearly, an enemy of the state, a murderer, and an insurrectionist in this document.


Opening page in progress…

Defiant, the ships of the British Army poised their sails to complete their journey towards the far-flung coast. At the proper distance away from the shallow beach, the anchors slid quickly into the watery darkness and connected with the bottom of the Guinea Coast. Watching above from the slow gliding clouds, the silhouette of several dark teardrops left their larger hosts and meandered their way towards a long sandy break on the rocks. Determined, their final destination was finally within close view.

Men of war rode the sickening lift and fall of the immense silver water clutching and swaying their heavy oars from knee to chest, knee to chest, knee to chest. All eyes watched the contours of the distant horizon. Small fires fueled whiffs of smoke at various spots at the edge of the water. Shifting red coats moved about, out of place, along the grey stonewalls of the fortress. The encampments drew the eyes of the men to the dark forested background beyond the beachhead. Alien. Birds zipped and circled above the edge of the water, and the smell of the fires mingled with the hot, salty air of the Gold Coast. …

  • Check out this free digitized source:
  • Primary source writing about the Red River Expedition:
    • Wrote The Soldier’s Pocketbook, 1869
    • Blackwoods December 1870
    • Directorate of History and Heritage 83/309: Narrative of the Red River Expedition: By an Officer of the Expeditionary Force, 1870
    • Library and Archives Canada, Manuscript Group 29-E111 Journal of the Red River Rebellion
    • Captain G.L. Huyshe. The Red River Expedition (London: MacMillan and Co.) 1871.
    • Colonel Wolseley’s official account: Correspondence relative to the recent Expedition to the Red River Settlement: with Journal of Operations, 1871. This wonderfully detailed source is full of implicit and explicit details about the RRE. So far, it is particularly interesting how the British and Canadian intelligentsia wanted to ensure the largely Canadian militia force, although augmented by a regiment of the British 60th Rifles, would be a display of  “imperial” power against Riel for the Canadian public. This small detail shows me the documentation from the period is full of promising details and perspectives for my handling of Wolseley. Now I have to keep making time to finish this part of the research so I can start writing the first chapter. Maybe I can have it finished before summer?

…The plot thickens


Comparative history is interesting because it connects stories that are usually separate along the similarities that have always been there.

I wonder if continuing the narrative of British imperialism in turn of the century Gold Coast with turn of the century imperialism in Western Canada would accomplish that same end? The issue is increasingly tricky since Canada and Ghana have quite a significant difference; namely that the colonizer left in Ghana while remaining in Canada. Nevertheless, did not the statesmen of the new Republican government in Ghana merely, or, maybe not so merely, inherit a European form of nationhood constructed by the British? The British origins to our Canadian federation is clear, and so I think there is some continuity there. I’m sure there is some problems with my thinking here. But what I am sure of is the shared attitudes and actions of the Anglo policy towards native populations in each area under foreign rule. Foreign rule ended in Ghana in 1957, but continues on to the present day here in Canada, and that is the key to everything in my efforts to construct any degree of comparative history in my work.

I’m thinking through the possibility of adding a string of Ghanaian colonial history that begins with the Wolseley expedition against Kumasi after the Red River Rebellion of 1870. Perhaps there is even a comparison to be made between the hinterland of the Northern Territories and the Canadian prairies in terms of a shared frontier landscape?

More later…

The Gold Coast Connection

Sir Garnet



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.