This film is held by the BFI (ID: 430585).


Documentary on the Gold Coast, showing the building of a new harbour at Takoradi, and the construction of roads and railways.

The film shows the construction of the new harbour at Takoradi, with shots of 'one of the largest steam shovels in the world in operation' loading earth into trucks at a rate of 3.5 tons per load. The mechanical processes are shown, before the film highlights the building of a 'wonderful new road'. Africans, under European supervision, carry baskets of debris on their heads along the route and drop them into boxes at the end of the embankment. Next, the film shows the building of a railway. Africans, watched from above by a group of Europeans, dig, while other Africans carry a rail line on their heads. The line is put in place on steel sleepers. The construction of a railway bridge is then shown, as Africans carry on their heads bowls filled with cement and climb up the scaffolding of the pillars. A title explains that 'Gold Coast labourers are brought from all parts' as the film shows a large group of African workers. There are then scenes of 'a bush village in the Gold Coast', in which goats wander through the streets. The titles explain that 'the engineers and surveyors are mapping out new country for development', as a European surveyor, with the help of an African, draws a map and takes a compass reading. The film ends abruptly.



Blazing the Trail was released as part of the second set of ‘The Empire Series’ early in 1927. The series comprised primarily films exhibited at the Empire Exhibition in Wembley and those filmed during the Empire Cruise of 1923-24 and the Royal Tour of 1925. A letter from the Colonial Office regarding the series explained that ‘films of the Gold Coast and Nigeria for exhibition at Wembley were taken in 1923 by Messrs. Greville Bros.’, although footage from West Africa was also filmed by BIF during the Royal Tour (‘Letter dated 11 July 1927’, CO 323/985/23).

The 1928 British Instructional catalogue for non-theatrical exhibition included seven films relating to the Gold Coast. Although Blazing the Trail was not listed, another title – Clearing the Bush for Developing the Gold Coast – appears very closely related. ‘Man, it seems, is always seeking for fresh worlds to conquer’, the catalogue wrote, ‘and in this film he is seen endeavouring to tame the wilderness of the Bush by means of roads, railroads and bridges, and succeeding in his endeavours’ (British Instructional Films, 1928, 9). In its description of Blazing the Trail in 1927, Kinematograph Weekly wrote that ‘Blazing the Trail brings vividly to the screen the bustle and romance of railway-making on the Gold Coast’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 24 February 1927, 76).

British Instructional Films were commissioned by the Gold Coast Government to produce the official film on the making and opening of Takoradi Harbour in 1928 and the subject was frequently addressed within their films. For example, The Harbour (1930) includes footage of the rail and bridge construction from Blazing the Trail, and this same footage was also included in West Africa Calling (1927), which was produced for the Conservative Government.

The construction of Takoradi Harbour was part of a ten-year development plan within the Gold Coast implemented by Sir Gordon Guggisberg, when he became Governor in 1919. Guggisberg’s plan included the establishment of new educational facilities – such as Achimota College – and hospitals, as well as large scale transport development. At the opening of the harbour, Guggisberg claimed that ‘since first designed over 240 miles of railways and 4,000 miles of motor road have been added to the trades routes of the Gold Coast’ (The Times, 3 April 1928, 15).

The construction work at Takoradi began early in 1921, but was initially delayed by the trade slump, by worker strikes and then in 1924 by the resignation of the constructional engineers. Furthermore the ‘buy British’ regulations forced contractors to buy inferior British shovels rather than more suitable American ones. The ten-year plan was originally budgeted at £25 million, but this figure was revised to £16 million in 1927. Consequently some planned developments – for example the development of a rail link to the Northern Territories – did not materialise (Roberts, 1986, 430). 



Blazing the Trail proclaims a message of British discovery, development and expansion within Africa. In conveying these ideas the film presents a clear disparity between the British as a ‘developing’ force and traditional Africa. While the British introduce modern machinery – ‘one of the largest steam shovels in the world in operation’ – the Africans transport material on their heads. The dichotomy between the British and Africans, between machinery and man, the modern and the ‘primitive’ is further illustrated within a sequence showing ‘a bush village in the Gold Coast’ as European ‘engineers and surveyors’, with an African man alongside, map out ‘new country for development’. The European man uses a compass and takes readings – aligning the European with modern science – as the film presents the Europeans as adventuring pioneers discovering and developing ‘new country’.

While Europeans are here depicted as individuals, for the most part the Africans are represented as a collective group, often shot from above. A title introduces an ‘army of workers’ and although a later title states that that ‘Gold Coast labourers are brought from all parts’, the film does not address the divisions or identities amongst these African workers. This division between the British and the Africans is perhaps most clearly illustrated in a single shot showing the work of the African workers. The shot depicts a small group of bare-chested African men digging, while a group of Europeans in shorts, shirts and hats, positioned above them at the top of the frame, look on. Again a division is presented here, in their positions within the frame, in their dress, which was often seen as a signifier of ‘civilisation’, and finally in the work performed.

Blazing the Trail serves as a document of the developments introduced within the Gold Coast, highlighting sea, road and rail, under the governorship of Gordon Guggisberg in the 1920s. The repeated presentation of this subject within British Instructional Films indicates the importance of the Gold Coast in the popular representation of the Empire. The Gold Coast was often perceived as a ‘model colony’, but more specifically it was how this ‘model colony’ defined the British Empire that was important, as the films of the Gold Coast in the 1920s embodied a discourse of discovery, expansion and development.

Tom Rice (August 2008)


Works Cited

Bioscope, 24 February 1927, 72.

British Instructional Films, Catalogue of Films for Non-Theatrical Exhibition (1928).

Kinematograph Weekly, 24 February 1927, 76.

Kinematograph Weekly, 17 February 1927, 12.

‘Letter from Crown Agents to the Under Secretary of State, Colonial Office’, dated 11 July 1927, CO 323/985/23, accessed at the National Archives (PRO).

Roberts, A. D., ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 7 1905-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

‘Takoradi: A Harbour for the Gold Coast’, The Times, 3 April 1928, 15.

‘British Instructional Films, The Times, 26 April 1928, 24.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
12 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
800 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
WOOLFE, H. Bruce
NEWTON, Arthur Percival
Production Company
British Instructional Films







Production Organisations