Ghana – The Gold Coast

By sending missionaries to the Danish colony at the Gold Coast in West Africa DMS started mission work in 1828. The only surviving missionary was Andreas Riis who served in the area until 1845.

The Danish Colony at the Gold Coast

In addition to the Danish colonies in India and the West Indies (the Caribbean) Denmark had a colony in West Africa at the Coast Guinea – or the Gold Coast – today’s Ghana. From 1658-59, Denmark/Norway built forts here and had territorial interests in the area from the late 1700s until 1850.

The Gold Coast was named after the underlying interest to acquire gold from the country. Most of the trade was organized from the forts, Christiansborg (Christian’s Castle) and Frederiksborg (Frederik’s Castle). Denmark sold the latter to England in 1685. During a period from 1736 a total of five smaller forts were built along the coast, but from about 1820 the only manned fort was Christiansborg.

Christiansborg. The Gold Coast in West Africa (Ghana)

From the early 1700’s the trade changed character into trade of slaves in the so-called Triangle traffic with Danish ships carrying weapons and spirits from Denmark to West Africa, slaves from West Africa to the West Indies and sugar from the West Indies to Denmark. In 1792, King Christian VII (Crown Prince Frederik) was the first sovereign in the world to decide that trade of slaves had to stop by the end of 1802. During this period the estimate is that Danish ships carried about 100,000 slaves from West Africa to the West Indies. After ending slave trade the Danes tried to run plantations in the area. However, being unable to compete with the British, the possessions were sold to England in 1850.

Mission History Background

A Danish chaplain usually had been attached the fort Christiansborg. Among these were two older brothers of N.F.S. Grundtvig, Jacob (1775-1800) and Niels (1777-1803). Both died shortly after arriving at the Gold Coast. Generally, Danish chaplains were not regarded as missionaries their only responsibility being to serve the Danes.

In 1736, two missionaries from the Moravian Church made the first attempt for mission work at the Gold Coast. One died shortly after arrival. The other went back to Europe after some years and returned twice to the Gold Coast, but apparently the work did not bear fruit. In 1768, the Moravian Church made another attempt by sending five new missionaries to the area. Three died shortly after and due to health problems, the others did not achieve much. And after a last unsuccessful attempt with more missionaries, the Moravian Church gave up mission at the Gold Coast in 1809.

This was the situation in 1825, when the Basel Mission Society (founded in 1815) decided to establish a mission in the Danish Colony at the Gold Coast. After the Moravian Church had given up the mission field no Danish chaplain or missionary had been placed in the colony. In Basel the big number of missionary students made the mission society look constantly for new mission areas. One of the students was the Norwegian Jørgen Cappelen sent by DMS for education in Basel. Now he could present ideas of a mission work at the Gold Coast to DMS – this happened at the Board Meeting on 25 April 1825.

Collaboration of DMS and the Basel Mission Society

To collaborate on the mission at the Gold Coast a committee had been set up in Basel and now they asked DMS to do the same in Denmark. They underlined that the Danish committee had to be close related to the DMS Board and be the connecting link between Basel and the Danish government. DMS elected the Board members Bone F. Rønne and Rudelback PhD, to their committee. Other members were Reuss from the Moravian Church, C.F. Rønne (son of B.F. Rønne), consul de Coninck and two Englishmen, Watt and Gordon. The Danish committee was responsible for the contact to Basel, but further progress did not take place.

Bone Falck Rønne (1764-1833). Founder of the Danish Missionary Society (DMS) on 17 June 1821 and chairman of the Board until 1833.

Typically, Bone Falck Rønne became the one who made things happen. On 2 January 1826, he was received in the New Year Audience by his former student, Prince Christian Frederik. This gave Rønne the opportunity to tell about the enquiry from Basel, and the Prince spontaneously replied that the governor Major Richeliue for the time being was in Copenhagen. They ought to inform him about the matter which he might present to King Frederik VI.

The governor promised Rønne that he would assist in achieving the goal with all his ability and continued: In this I shall make it my point of honor that I by the Grace of God have been placed where I as a way or tool may be working and assisting in the proper rendering of the only true Word of Our Savior Jesus Christ.

The King too was very favorably disposed to the initiative and handed over the matter to the Danish Chancellery. They asked Bishop Münter for a statement. On 11 February 1826 he supported the proposal which was returned to the King for his decision. This came on 3rd of June and was sent to Rønne a few days later in a letter from the Bishop.

The resolution from King Frederik VI says:  We should graciously give our permission to send out a missionary to our establishments at the Coast Guinea at the expense of the mission society. The appointment and ordination of this missionary is to be similar to the conditions of the missionaries in Greenland, and he should be subordinated the Bishop of the Diocese of Zealand. However, before being sent out the missionary thus appointed must proof that he is fully acquainted with the mutual method of teaching.

On his holiday in 1826, Jørgen Cappelen traveled around Norway to get support to the project. He probably expected going to the Gold Coast himself, but the following year it became obvious that his health did not permit life as an abroad missionary. However, Cappelen continued his efforts to create interest for the mission at the Gold Coast. Support committees were established in Trondheim, with Bishop P.O. Bugge as the chairman, and in Christiania (Oslo) led by Rev. V.A. Wexels. The following years the Gold Coast mission received considerable financial support from Norway, and Bone F. Rønne and Bishop Bugge had an extensive correspondence.

Sending of Missionaries to the Gold Coast

In June 1827, four missionary students arrived in Copenhagen from the Mission School in Basel. The future missionaries, Carl Ferdinand Salbach, Philipp Henke, Johan Gottlieb Schmid and Gottlieb Holzwarth came to learn the Danish language before going to the Danish colony. In addition, they had to learn some medical and surgical subjects and be acquainted with the English language. Finally, they had to learn the local language (Accraish) and for this the well-known Danish philologist, Professor Rask assisted and an Accraish-Danish dictionary was written. The following year, Bishop Münter ordained the four German men to be pastors of the Danish Evangelical-Lutheran Church. The service took place on 13 June in the German St. Petri Church in Copenhagen.

Now they were ready to be the first missionaries in the history of the young mission society. At the 7th anniversary celebration on 19 June 1828, they were sent out from Lyngby Church in the presence of Prince Christian Frederik and Princess Caroline Amalie. The church was packed with people who wanted to witness this historical event.

Bone Falck Rønne performed the sending ceremony of the missionaries to the Gold Coast and said, Brothers in the Lord! How shall I on behalf of the congregation and myself speak to you on this day – a day my soul has been longing for since we founded our small society 7 years ago; by then, a day I hardly expected to experience? – Oh, my heart and my spirit are rejoicing in the Lord who has done far more than I have prayed for and understood. – Still, my joy is of a mingled nature; as I might see you for the last time in this life, and I am viewing a path laid out for you full of thorns and guarded by mighty enemies. If you had to walk this path on your own, I believe you should lose all courage and perish completely. With sad concern, I see you in my spirit on the rough sea, in the unhealthy and unbroken ground, fighting superstition and old-fashioned ways of thinking, fighting infidelity and craving for power….  I know that the Devil himself and all his servants should rise against you…

Rønne knew the mission history.  Even though the young men received the full support by the Danish King, the journey was dangerous and life at the Gold Coast claimed many victims. In addition, missionaries met with strong opposition from people stationed from Europe. Finally, Rønne knew that the Climate-fever had killed most missionaries from the Moravian Church and many Europeans, among others the two brothers of Grundtvig sent out for pastoral service.

The four missionaries left Denmark on 26 August. They travelled via the Netherlands and England and on 11 October 1828 they continued onboard the ship ‘The Hope’. They reached Christiansborg at the Gold Coast on 17 December 1828 and stayed here over Christmas. And Rønne could tell friends of the mission in Denmark: Until now, they have preached in the fort (Christiansborg) every Sunday, and during the week, Holzwarth teaches school children the tunes they are going to sing in church on Sundays. The most able children can read but understand very little. Hencke is considering confirmation lessons and the two others would teach religion and understanding of reading materials. All teaching is in Danish, a language only few Negroes know, and that is why the missionaries to the best of their abilities are going to learn the local language.

Bone F. Rønne was right in his misgivings. Holzwarth, Schmid and Henke caught the climate-fever already in early 1829 reducing their work very much. Later that year Salbach caught the illness – and within the first year Holzwarth, Salbach and Schmid ‘had gone home to their heavenly Father’. Henke held on a little longer. He did not die until 1831!

Despite this great loss, three other young men came forward in 1831 to continue mission at the Gold Coast. The men in question were two Southern Jutlanders, Peter Petersen Jæger and Andreas Riis. They were ordained in Baden in Germany but Bishop Münter only reluctantly approved this ordination. The third one was a German doctor, C.F. Heinze. Jæger and Heinze died shortly after their arrival while Andreas Riis as the only missionary worked in the area until 1845. At the beginning he worked with pastoral service and teaching at the fort Christiansborg. However, in 1835 he decided to transfer mission work from the coast area with the deadly climate to a healthier region in the country. Akropong, the most important town in the forested hill range, Akwapem, became the center of his work. From here, he travelled several times to explore possible expansion of the mission. However, due to unrest this proved impossible.

Bone F. Rønne had a comprehensive correspondence with the missionaries clearly showing that they regarded themselves as sent out by DMS. However, postal service to the Gold Coast was very slow and difficult –  e.g. illustrated by the fact that Andreas Riis sent several letters to Rønne after he had passed away on 13 May 1833. Riis did not know about this until one year later.

Mission Views and Affiliation of Missionaries

The first missionaries to the Gold Coast were sent jointly by DMS and the Basel Mission. This too, goes for Andreas Riis, as mentioned the only survivor to continue the work and throughout his mission period attached to both societies (though in his last years mainly to the Basel Mission). However, during the following years DMS found a closer affiliation of Andreas Riis to their society of great importance. As a new mission society, the question of attachment might be explained as a wish for ‘own missionaries’, but in addition it reflected differences in mission views and priority of the objects at the Gold Coast.

This emerges from letters between Andreas Riis and DMS. In a letter dated 12 October 1835, Andreas Riis outlines a plan to build schools for the youth and promises to teach the African children. This was in accordance with the principles of mission from Basel and also in line with the permission from Frederik VI to send missionaries to the Danish colony. Rev. P.A. Fenger answers the letter on behalf of the DMS Board and does not set aside that building schools might promote the mission but also reminds Riis that his primary work was to build a church. Because a missionary must always keep in mind his main purpose to gather a congregation and found the Church of God.

Andreas Riis had asked DMS to send a teacher to assist him in the work. DMS turned this down by saying that for the time being they had no suitable candidates. Fenger goes on: But if anybody gave us occasion for believing that he had the call to be a missionary, we should of course promote his journey to you in the best way – the more so, as seen from the Scripture (Mark 6, 7) usually two have joined each other for the mission service.

DMS totally rejects a suggestion from Riis to pay for education of some young Africans in Denmark enabling them to assist him in mission work at the Gold Coast. This might surprise, as the idea that the mission was not successful until local inhabitants took over was familiar to several members of the DMS Board.

The correspondence between DMS and Andreas Riis continues the following years concerning affiliation as well as work priorities. In 1841 Riis suggested to move some African families from the West Indies back to the Gold Coast as missionaries. And he did succeed in supplying the mission with a number of African missionaries. In Jamaica he made 24 Africans join him back to Guinea where they arrived in April 1843. However, the project was unsuccessful. In Jamaica they had tasted too much of Western life conditions and demanded a European way of life. In addition, they were not very keen to take up mission work – the real purpose of their return to Guinea.

Andreas Riis stayed on with the Basel Mission until 1845, when he left Africa for Europe. His wife, Anna Margrethe Riis had fallen ill and died during their return journey. In 1846, together with the society in Basel he decided to finish his missionary work in West Africa. He settled in Norway and worked here for some years as a travelling pastor for the mission. Andreas Riis passed away on 20 January 1854.

Memorial plate of Missionary Andreas Riis placed on his house of birth at Løgumkloster.

Conclusion – What did it lead to?

The DMS work in the Danish colony at the Gold Coast was initiated in 1828 with four missionaries and in 1832 with another three. Out of these, only Andreas Riis survived and worked in the area until 1845. With him, DMS finished 18 years of mission work under extremely difficult conditions as to climate and political issues. And in 1850 Denmark sold the colony to England.

The Danish Biographical Encyclopedia (Dansk Biografisk Leksikon 1933-44) writes about Andreas Riis: In 1844, he had a small church inaugurated but already in 1845 the state of his health was so bad that he had to return home. He did not baptize a single Negro, however, his persevering and self-denying work contributed to the later great results of the Basel Mission in the area.

Dedication of the Memorial plate of Andreas Riis in Løgumkloster. Left to right: the Major Therkild Geil, Rev. Anders Bork Hansen and a family member of Andreas Riis. (Photo 1958).

Andreas Riis was born on 12 January 1804 in Løgumkloster, Southern Jutland, and his hometown did not forget him. In the autumn of 1958, DMS had a big gathering with more than 200 participants in the town. Here a special event was the unveiling of two memorial plates over former missionaries, donated by the inhabitants and put up at their birthplaces. One of these was Andreas Riis, pioneer missionary at the Gold Coast, 1832-1845. The Mayor, Therkild Geil carried out the unveiling and the Rev. Anders Bork Hansen asked the audience to commemorate the pioneers who had inscribed their names in the history of mission. In connection with Andreas Riis, he mentioned, He endured a lot of hardships, and even his assistants died in the unhealthy climate. However, today a living congregation and a church stands out there… (Dansk Missionsblad 25/1958).

Extracts from the Books of Harald Nielsen (in Danish): Bone Falck Rønne – en pioner i folkeoplysning og mission, Dansk Missionsråd 2014, and ’DMS HISTORIE’ (in preparation).

Edited by Ingrid Ammitzbøll – May 2018

Translated by Marianne Boisen – May 2018

See more photos from Ghana – the Gold Coast here


Harald Nielsen (1946). Master of Theology 1975. Secretary General in DMS/Danmission, 1996-2002.
Islam secretary and later leader of the Danmission Dialogue Team, 2002-2010. Author of mission historical books (in Danish), among others Bone Falck Rønne – en pioner i folkeoplysning og mission, 2014, and ’DMS HISTORIE’ (in the process of writing).

Rev. dato: 18. September 2018
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