Consul General Phillips
Below are the accounts of witnesses who played major parts or were affected by the Benin Massacre of this date in history. The statements can be taken as true and accurate as they independently corroborate each other in what each person said happened.
Their evidence help us to piece together the true course of events and to lay to rest all other speculations about the king Overami’s intentions in asking Mr. Phillips to wait at Gwatto for two more day.
We can hear directly from each person.
Three Benin junior soldiers.
Igbedio, Agamoye and Wobari confirmed that they with many others were sent by the chiefs to kill the white men, Jekries, and Kru boys ; which they did. Before the massacre a chief named Idahie passed them, with the white man's stick, on his way to the king.¹
Obahawaie gave evidence that the big chiefs, amongst whom were Ologbosheri and lyasheri [Yaceri] overruled the king's orders not to kill the white men, and ordered him to massacre, saying other men would be sent to kill him if he did not destroy the white men. He said that Ologbosheri had countermanded the king's orders after instructions from the Prime Minister, saying lyasheri had threatened to kill him if the white men were not killed. He said while he was talking to Isayeri's messengers he heard firing, and a white man ran past him, whom none of his people touched.²
Usu likewise defended the king, saying : " The king called me and sent me to tell the people not to kill the white men. If they brought war to catch the king, or they came to play with him, the people must allow them to come. The king said since he was born there had not been any white men killed in Benin city, so no white man must be killed." He said that Ologbosheri had countermanded the king's orders, saying lyasheri had threatened to kill him if the white men were not killed.³
Ugiagbe told the court he was stationed at Egbini, in order that when a white man came from the Jekries he could take him to the king and bring him back. He said he had been sent to kill the white men by Ologbosheri and Obadesagbo, and that Ojuma had also been sent to fight.
Omaregboma, last night checked all the white men’s things and could not find any weapons. He explained further that it was evening when the white men arrived at Gwatto so they had to sleep there and in the morning they started for Benin City. He gave evidence that, “I undertook to lead them, so I was in front of them." The white men slept at Egbini, Herbert Clarke having requested him to go ahead to make preparations for them. He said he found the boys on the road waiting to fight the white men, and on seeing this went in search of Ologbosheri, to whom he went on his knees, imploring him not to kill the white men, but while he was doing this the massacre took place. One white man ran to him for protection, and he left him to find Herbert Clarke, who was still living, but he could not find the latter, and on his return was told Ochudi's boys had killed the other white man.
Idiaie's evidence was to the effect that he was sent by the white man, who gave him a message with a stick to hand to the king.⁴ On meeting the chiefs Ologbosheri, Obadesagdo, Osague, Obahawaie and Obaiuwana on the road, he told them that the white men were coming, but unarmed. Usu, whom he also met, told him he had a message from the king, to tell the people not to kill the white men. He handed the stick to the king with the message that the white men were not coming with war. " So the king sent me back to tell the people not to kill the white men. When I reached Ojumo's I met some Kru-boys and heard that the white men had been killed."
The great chief Aro told the court that the Jekries sent word to Benin that the white men were coming with war, at which news the king was much concerned, as since the time of his grandfather, no white man had made war against Benin; neither the king nor Ojumo wished to fight. There was some doubt as to the white man sending sometime beforehand saying he was coming. He was of opinion the people did the massacre to bring trouble on the king.
King Overami's statement was simply that his orders were that the white men were not to be killed.
Consul General Phillips
The following evidence is taken posthumously from the letter written by Mr. Phillips on 3 January 1897.
"As things are turning out I think we shall be back within the fortnight from the start. We have been threatened and solemnly warned at every step that the soldiers of the King of Benin are waiting to fire upon us if we dare to land at Gwato. So much so that in a moment of panic I sent back the Band for which I am sorry now. However, here we are. We have had a palaver with the representatives of the Benin standing army which ended in great hilarity and general good will and they propose to accompany us at daybreak to the City of Benin. Chief Dore did his level best to frighten us out of going and all the interpreters etc. are in league together to keep us back but so far we have had no opposition to talk and I don’t think we shall have any at all." ⁵
¹ This was the same Idiaie who was sent last night by Mr. Phillips and the mediating Chiefs to take the white man’s stick to the king immediately as proof of a peaceful visit. However, from the evidence of the others, he did not leave Gwatto till the following morning.
² The Prime Minister based on substantiated evidence of an invasion by Mr. Phillips had declared war two days before. All the soldiers had been sworn under war conditions to kill all the men in the invading troop.
³ These were instructions given under war conditions.
⁴ He was asked to take the message on the previous day. He must have delayed owing to it being night time at the time.
⁵ The tone of this letter is very jovial and upbeat. His last sentence shows that both sides have agreed to talk as has been his objective throughout this expedition, ‘so far we have had no opposition to talk and I don’t think we shall have any at all.’
He however gave the natives the impression of planning to invade Benin by agreeing with Mr. Campbell to take so many carriers. The number of people going on the expedition was beyond peaceful mission. He brought the Drum and Fifes Band ‘to make a show’ and he, ‘Having then paraded our carriers,’ (Boisragon, 1897, page 92). These are only needed for war purposes.
It could equally be argued that by these actions he wanted to impress the Benin people so that the king would accept his authority and open up his country to the white men. The most telling evidence of all is him offering his ring in place of the Whiteman’s stick. This action says and shows everything about this person. Additionally, he was adored by Basilli his Benin Citizen guide (was, 'as usual squatting at Phillips' feet teaching him Benin "customs" ' - Boisragon, pg 97) and the people at Gwatto liked him (they looked 'blue' for him as he left for Benin - Boisragon, pg. 92).
1) Ratté, Mary Lou, "Imperial looting and the case of Benin." ().Masters Theses 1911 - February 2014. Paper 1898. Page 63. Accessed: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/theses/1898
2) Roth, H. L, Great Benin, 1903, app xiv – xv
3) Roth H.L.,Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903
4) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903