Benin Punitive Expedition
Key facts from publication: Life of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson (Rawson, G. 1914 ,page 113):
Operation Cost: £30,000.00 [£36.6 million today]
Operation duration: 5 weeks
Casualties: no true figures exist
> British side: Black troops did most of the fighting and were at the front of the advances. As they fell they were simply stepped over and left where they fell. No reliable record was kept by the British on how many of them were killed in action (Roth, 1903).
> Benin casualties were hurriedly dumped in mass graves across Benin City as the people fled (Bacon,1897; Moor, 1897; Rawson, G, 1914; Roth, 1903).
Roll call -
People involved in the lead up to and in the Benin Expedition
Source: By The National Archives UK, OGL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57004045
Cargo Ship MAASHAVEN renamed Oba Overami in 1967.
Photo source: credit--->
Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was the 35th King of Benin Kingdom and ruled from 1888 to 1897.
Born in circa 1857, Oba Overami was fabulously rich. According to Boisragon (1897, page 13), ‘the King was supposed to be very rich in ivory, as he received, or was supposed, to receive, one tusk of every elephant shot in his dominions ; but this ivory he seems to have stacked in his houses instead of selling.'
Acting Consul General Phillips wrote this to the Foreign Office in London in November 1896: 'PS I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient Ivory may be found in the King’s house to pay the expenses in removing the King from his Stool.'
Oba Ovonramwen successfully held out against colonial rule. He evacuated Benin City and neighbouring countryside villages and towns to minimise civilian casualties in the pending British invasion (Benin Punitive Expedition of February 1897).
As recorded by Roth (1897), when Oba Ovomramwen gave himself up on August 7 1897, ‘The king was simply covered with masses of strings of coral, interspersed with larger pieces, supposed to be worth many pounds. His head dress, which was in the shape of a Leghorn straw hat, was composed wholly of coral of excellent quality, meshed closely together. His wrists up to his elbows were closely covered with coral bangles, so were his ankles. He only wore the usual white cloth of a chief, and underneath, a pair of embroidered and brocaded trousers; he had nothing in the way of a coat, but his breast was completely hidden from view by the coral beads encircling his neck.’ (Roth, 1903, appendix 1 p.xiii).
Red Coral is a natural gemstone in the same family as pearl and amber. The excellent quality type that Oba Ovonramwen was covered in, would in today’s price cost up to over £195 per carat. View price heres --->
Oba Ovonramwen was simply covered in thousands of red coral beads each worth nearly a thousand pounds. This was Benin opulence on display.
All these were either seized by Mr. Moor or stolen by opportunist locals at the house where he was staying. Oba Ovonramwen on Monday 13 September 1897, before he was sent into exile by Mr. Moor, complained that, ‘his coral, he said, had been stolen by his own "boys." .’ (Roth, 1903, appendix p. xviii)
His kingdom, his palace, his houses and his personal effects were plundered as a result of 'a new king' in town.
Oba Ovonramwen died in exile in Calabar in 1914.
1) Akenzua E. The Case of Benin Memorandum, accessed-http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/
2) Boisragon A. Benin Massacre, 1897, p. 13
3) Phillips, J.R. , 17 Nov 1896. Dispatches to Foreign Office from Consul-General, Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of the Niger Coast Protectorate, 268 3/3/3, p. 240. National Archives of Nigeria Enugu.
4) Roth H. L. Great Benin, 1903, appendix 11, p.xii
5) Ibid p. xvii
6) Ibid page xviii
Between 9 - 22 February 1897,
Admiral Sir Harry Rawson led the Benin Expedition invasion force of 1,200 British squadron comprising Royal marines, sailors and over 5,000 Niger Coast Protectorate Forces.
In addition it is estimated that some 5,000 natives served in one form or the other including as carriers, guides, mappers, cooks, etc.
It was during the march back from Benin on 22 February 1897 that Rawson developed hip arthritis which caused him excruciating and agonising torture that he had to live with for the rest of his life (Rawson G. page 156). "For his services on this occasion Rawson received the K.C.B. and the thanks of the Foreign Office, but his pleasure at receiving these new-found honours was more than counterbalanced by the permanent injury to his health resulting from the expedition. His determination to share the privations of his men cost him dear. For weeks afterwards he was prostrated, and he bore the marks of the Benin campaign to his grave." (Rawson G., 1914, page 159). Harry Rawson died 3 November 1910.
1) Bacon R. Benin City of Blood, 1897
2) Rawson G. Life of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, 1914,pages 109 - 159
3) Ibid page 156
4) Ibid page 159
5) Ibid Page 161
6) Roth H.L. Great Benin, 1903, appendix 11.
Sir Ralph Moor, was left behind to look after British interests in the territory after the expedition.
Shortly after British troops plundered Benin City, Consul-General Moor, pursued Oba Overami into the forests. He reported back to the Foreign Office in London that he'd tracked through seven towns and villages to the north and he'd burnt a deserted town which had been built to the same plan as Benin City. (Ratte M. L 1972, p.64). A number of chiefs were also shot dead for not betraying Oba Overami's whereabouts.
Oba Overami surrendered on August 3 1897. Moor trialled him in a kangaroo court on September 5 and sent him into exile in chains on September 13 1897.
In 1909, Ralph Moor committed suicide by poison deliberately taken whilst temporarily insane after suffering acutely from insomnia. He'd taken weedkiller that he'd bought for his garden. The inquest heard that for four years after he returned from Africa, he suffered with Malarial and Blackwater fever that induced insomnia.
Sir Reginald Bacon wrote a very detailed account of the expedition in his book Benin City of Blood.
The language used in the book was very condescending of other races and cultures that were not English. The book also contained many inaccuracies. Fantastic claims were made which can now be challenged with our increased knowledge of science. Read an example here --->
Acting Consul-General Phillips would not take no for an answer not to visit the king.
He led an invading force of nine British officials and over 260 African soldiers and carriers. They were annihilated by Benin Strike Force on January 4 1897. Two British officials however lived to tell the tale of what happened to them. They survived by hiding in the forest for five days.
The British government reacted by sending in the punitive force which came to be known as Benin Punitive Expedition.
Vice Consul Kenneth Campbell the Assistant District Commissioner for Sapele was meticulous in making excellent arrangements for the planned expedition (invasion) to Benin (Boisragon, 1897, pages 59 - 60).
He oversaw the black troops and carriers.
In this photograph, he can be seen with the Kroomen. They were part of the Royal Protectorate Force based in Sierra Leone. They were often called upon and brought over to help in British military actions against natives across the protectorate.
He was well regarded by all for his hard work. Unfortunately, he did not pay heed to the warnings from everyone to turn back. He followed Phillips without permission from London.
General Ologberese commanded and led the Strike Force that annihilated the invading British force on January 4th 1987. Additionally, in support of king and country he held out and fought the British for a further two years from the jungle. He was eventually betrayed, snared and turned in by people who were frustrated with British tactics of destroying their houses and food crops. The British were effectively starving to death people whose homes they had burnt down in towns and villages suspected of harbouring him or any of the other freedom fighter chiefs. He was trialled on June 27 and executed on June 28.
Three of the British officers massacred in Benin.
Some naval rankings of the 1,200 British troops deployed to the punitive expedition.
By 28 February 1897 when the men had re-embarked their ships, over four hundred of them across five war ships were inflicted with malarial fever. These lasted many weeks and months with some of them developing complications from their illness (Rawson H. 1897; Rawson G. 1914).
Sir George Goldie founder of the United African Company (1879) which became the Royal Niger Company in 1896 had the idea to add the Benin River areas to the British Empire. His commercial model was government of territories by Chartered companies within the empire. In order to increase his territorial holdings, he strangled livelihood of local traders who had to accept his terms of trade or starve. He had ongoing disputes with the Brass People of the Benin Rivers. On 26 January 1897, he killed two Fulani princes in the Battle for Bida, dethroned Emir (king) Abubakar of Nupe and moved into his massive palace, taking over his extensive gardens and lands. British Public reaction --->
Goldie believed that removing the Benin River middlemen mainly the Itsekiris and the Ijaws and dealing directly with the main producers of export commodities (palm oil, nuts and rubber) would be beneficial to the Royal Niger Company.
Both the Niger Coast Protectorate and The Royal Niger Company perceived the Oba of Benin as their main obstacle to this end and resolved to use whatever means necessary to persuade him to open up the routes for this to happen. In October 1896 Consul General Phillips sent a letter to Oba Overami to, 'Let the Whiteman come up to your country whenever he wants,' (Boisragon, 1897, p58). The NCP also wanted to colonise Benin Kingdom in order to bring it under the control of the Southern Protectorate of the Niger River to make this a single unit for administration.
Four Benin chiefs accused along with 3 other chiefs of killing the seven white-men in the Phillips invasion force.
Chief Obahawaie, Chief Obaiuwana, Chief Ugiagbe and Chief Usu, the four chiefs accused along with General Ologbosere of being responsible for killing Phillips and the other white men in the invading British Force of January 4th 1897. Their trial took place in the Consular Court House in Benin City on Wednesday 1st September 1897 beginning at 4 p.m. It was a kangaroo court with no advocate on either side. Chief Obaiuwana committed suicide the night before the trial began. Chief Ugiagbe also committed suicide. Chief Obahawaie and Chief Usu were found guilty on 3rd September and shot the following morning 4th September 1897. The search for General Ologbosere continued for the next two years despite Consul General Moor instructing any villages suspected of assisting him to be burnt down (Moor dispatch to Salisbury, Foreign Office in London, March 12, 1897).
His Majesty Oba Ovonramwen the Great
His Majesty still managed a smile.