Ellis, Alfred Burdon (DNB01)

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ELLIS, ALFRED BURDON (1852–1894), soldier and writer, son of Lieutenant-general Sir Samuel Burdon Ellis, K.C.B., and his wife, Louisa Drayson, daughter of the governor of Waltham Abbey factory, was born at Bowater House, Woolwich, on 10 Jan. 1852. He was educated at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, entering the army as sub-lieutenant in the 34th foot on 2 Nov. 1872. He became lieutenant in the 1st West India regiment on 12 Nov. 1873. With them he was ordered to Ashanti, and first saw the Gold Coast in December 1873; he served through the Ashanti war, receiving the medal.

This was the beginning of a long connection with West Africa. He was temporarily employed as civil commandant during the early part of 1874 at Seccondee on the Gold Coast; he was recalled to military duty in May 1874. In 1875 he paid a visit to Monrovia, the capital of the Liberian Republic (West African Sketches, p. 138). The following year he spent mostly in the West Indies. In March 1877 he first visited the Gambia on his way to Sierra Leone, whither his regiment was now ordered. He came on leave to England this summer, and on 27 Oct. 1877 was seconded for service with the Gold Coast constabulary. He was sent to survey the country around Markessin, the capital of the Fantee country. In January 1878 he went to act as district commissioner at Quettah, and in October and November of that year conducted the operations of the Haussa constabulary against the Awunas, being wounded in the fighting. He claimed to have done much to check smuggling and spread order in that district, and spoke with some bitterness of his removal to Accra in December 1878.

On 2 July 1879 Ellis became captain of the 1st West India regiment and returned to military duty, being sent on special service to Zululand, and attached to the intelligence department during the Zulu campaign; but his absence from West Africa was not a long one. On 10 Oct. he left South Africa and towards the close of this year visited Whydah, the seaport of Dahomey, after which he strongly advocated the annexation of that coast. Thence, in the spring of 1880, he went to Lagos, and so on to Bonny and Old Calabar, returning to Sierra Leone in January 1881, in time to be ordered to the Gold Coast with his regiment on an alarm of war with the Ashantis: on 2 Feb. 1881 he arrived at Cape Coast, and on 8 Feb. was ordered to garrison Annamaboe with a hundred men; the danger, however, passed away, and he left that position on 20 March, though he remained for some time on the Gold Coast in command of the troops. From 1871 to 1882 Ellis had made use of various opportunities to visit most of the islands off the western coast of the African continent, including St. Helena and Ascension, as well as those nearer the west coast colonies. From 1882 onwards most of his leisure was devoted to those studies of native ethnology and language which give him his title to notice.

On 13 Feb. 1884 he was promoted major; in 1886 he was again in command of the troops on the Gold Coast. In 1889 he went with part of his regiment to the Bahamas, and remained in command of the troops in that colony till he became lieutenant-colonel on 4 Feb. 1891, when he returned to West Africa, and was placed in command of all the troops on the west coast, being stationed at Freetown, Sierra Leone; on 2 March 1892 he received the local rank of colonel in West Africa. For a few days in May 1892 he administered the government of Sierra Leone in the absence of the governor.

In June 1892 Ellis proceeded on a punitive expedition to the Tambaku country in the Sierra Leone protectorate, and captured Tambi. Almost immediately afterwards he was called to the Gambia to undertake the operations which ended in the taking of Toniataba: for the conduct of these he received the C.B. (9 Aug. 1892) and the West African medal with special clasp. At the end of 1893 he was called upon to conduct the expedition against the Sofas, in the course of which occurred the unfortunate incident at Waima, when two British officers were shot by the French in error. On returning from this expedition he was struck down by fever, and on 16 Feb. went to Teneriffe to recruit, but died there on 5 March 1894. In a gazette of 17 July 1894 the secretary of state for war announced that he would, if he had lived, have been recommended for K.C.B.

Ellis married, on 5 June 1871, Emma, daughter of Philip King, and left four children.

Ellis did much literary work, and his studies of the natives have high merit. His works (all published in London) are: 1. ‘West African Sketches,’ 1881. 2. ‘The Land of Fetish,’ 1883. 3. ‘A History of the West India Regiment,’ 1885. 4. ‘West African Islands,’ 1885. 5. ‘South African Sketches,’ 1887. 6. ‘The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West Africa,’ 1887. 7. ‘The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast,’ 1890. 8. ‘A History of the Gold Coast,’ 1893. 9. ‘The Yoruba-speaking People of the Slave Coast of West Africa,’ 1894.

[Times, 8 March 1894; Col. Office Records; Army Lists; Ellis's works; Allibone's Dict. Lit. Suppl.]

C. A. H.