This section of the website contains full narratives of the events of the Benin Massacre in chronological order from 15 November 1896 to 8 January 1897.
Acting Consul General Robert James Phillips
James. R. Phillips, misguided by significant trusted others: Niger Coast Protectorate Commissioner and Consul-General, Ralph Denham Rayment Moor¹ and Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Galway²;
James. R. Phillips, incited by traders of the Royal Niger Company to plan an expedition to Benin: When he took up post of Acting Consul General in October 1896, main companies of the RNC attended his meeting on October 31st 1896 where they complained about Oba Overami being the main obstacle to them reaching the interiors of the Niger River country areas to trade directly with the producers of commodities. They complained that Oba Overami had stopped all trade and blocked trade routes with his 'juju'. Their position was that in order to enable free trade and to eliminate native middle men, action needed to be taken against Oba Overami;
James. R. Phillips, had his hands forced by Mr. Kenneth Campbell and Mr. Lyon District Commissioners of Sapele;³
James. R. Phillips, betrayed by Chief Dore and other Itsekiri chiefs who played him off against the king of Benin. Chief Dore and other chiefs met with him on 31st October 1896 and they complained about the king of Benin being the obstacle to free trade in the NCP. Chief Dore then informed the king of Benin that ‘the white men are bringing war’; [₂]. He subsequently warned Phillips against visiting Benin without the king’s agreement (Boisragon, 1897, pages 67 – 68);
James. R. Phillips, he should have waited two days at Gwatto for the king to prepare for his coming as the king had requested.⁴ But he told Benin mediation chiefs that he could not and would not wait as asked;⁵
James. R. Phillips, he led his men straight into an ambush of Benin soldiers, who were under orders to defend their country against the British invasion;
James. R. Phillips, oh, if only you had listened to the chiefs and waited as asked, the king would have ensured your safe passage to Benin. All the white men would have been safe.
Those culpable for the Benin Massacre
A1) The Royal Niger Company:
Negligent incitement to invade Kingdom of Benin. In that: (1) on October 31 1896, traders of major companies of the Royal Niger Company did instigate the newly appointed and inexperienced Acting Consul General Phillips to apply for permission from the Foreign Office in London to invade Benin and to remove the king from ' his stool'; (2) the companies supplied accompanying letters as supporting evidence to this effect; (3) on December 27 1896, the RNC trading companies did send representatives to accompany Mr. Phillips on his unauthorised expedition to Benin; (4) on January 3 1897, representatives of the RNC on the expedition failed to challenge Mr. Phillips on his insistence on getting to Benin and not waiting for two days as the king had requested; (5) on the morning of January 4 1897, participating in parading over 250 African troops in order to 'make a show' to local people at Gwatto thereby creating the impression of a military invading force; (6) On January 4 1897, participating in and leading a force of over 500 hundred men on the march to Benin City.
A2) The Royal Niger Company:
Negligent misrepresentation of a peaceful force as an invasion force. In that on January 4 1897, representatives of the Royal Niger Company did participate in misleading local people into believing that they were 'bringing war' to Benin City in order to remove the king by the number of men in their expedition force (about 500). Whereas only a maximum of thirty men was sufficient for the purpose of a peaceful visit.
B1) Captain Gallwey and his 'Benin City of Blood' rumour
Negligent misinformation and peddling of such. In that in 1892, when he visited Benin City, Mr. Gallwey falsely claimed afterwards that he saw hundreds of dead bodies littering the city. He thus coined the phrase 'Benin City of Blood,' to the detriment of the good image of Benin. This was in contrast to what other other Europeans who had visited the city in the past had observed.
B2) Captain Gallwey:
(1) negligent misrepresentation of data by falsely claiming that the king of Benin had signed his treaty. Whereas the signature was a forgery and not by king Overami;
(2) negligent misrepresentation of Benin character by encouraging Mr. Phillips to press ahead with an unarmed expedition to Benin saying, ‘it should be entirely successful.’ This in the full knowledge that his own expedition and those of others had not been in the past.
C) Consul General Ralph Moor:
Negligent failure to properly support Mr. Phillips who was new to the post and was acting for him whilst he was on leave in England. He instead encouraged Mr. Phillips to embark on an expedition to Benin in the full knowledge that this was a dangerous enterprise. Mr. Phillips in his dispatch of 16 November 1896 to London stated, "Moor was "fully cognizant of all matters dealt with in this despatch".
D) Mr. Kenneth Campbell:
Craftily forcing Mr. Phillips to embark on the expedition by making inappropriate and unreasonable preparation for an unarmed expedition to Benin thus giving Mr. Phillips no option but to see it through.
E) Chief Dore and other Itsekiri chiefs:
(1) Abuse of trust placed in them by both Oba Overami and Mr. Phillips.
(2) Negligent misinformation to both parties.
F) The nine white men - Major Copland Crawford, Mr. Locke, Captain Maling, Mr. Kenneth Campbell, Dr. Elliot, Mr. Lyon, Mr. Powis, Mr. Gordon and Mr. Boisragon:
Negligent failure to challenge Mr. Phillips on his decision and determination not to wait at Gwatto for two days as requested by the Benin mediation chiefs and King Overami.
G) Acting Consul General Robert James Phillips:
(1) negligent failure to heed advice and warnings from others who knew the Benin soldiers well;
(2) negligent failure to engage with and consider proposals by the Benin mediation chiefs to wait at Gwatto for two days;
(3) negligent failure to consider his own and the safety of his men.
¹ In the course of a conversation on Saturday morning, Mr. Moor, the consul general, said the expedition against Benin was an important one as regarded the Niger coast protectorate, since the effect of it would be to extend an unquestionable British authority throughout the territory, and, by putting an end to atrocities and leading to a settled and peaceable government, greatly promote trade and improve the conditions of the natives. The existence of Benin was one of the chief difficulties in the way of complete administration, and the subjugation of the king would have a most beneficial effect. The more fertile parts of the country would become freely accessible from the coast, and its resources opened up to the benefit of the whole population of the protectorate. [ ₁ ]
²Sir Alfred Jephson who was Agent General for the Niger Coast Protectorate until 1895 told a representative of the Reuter’s Agency that, “ if Major Gallwey had been on the spot instead of being engaged in an expedition I am sure he would have used all his influence to prevent an unarmed expedition starting for Benin City. If it was necessary for anyone to go there, Major Gallwey should have gone himself, he being the only Protectorate officer who has ever seen the king.’
However, we know this view to be incorrect because as per Boisragon (page 62), ‘We left the military expedition at Degamah on the 28th December, returning ourselves to Bonny the same day. There we saw Captain Gallwey, who was at that time Vice-Consul of the district. It has been stated by several newspapers that if Captain Gallwey, with his knowledge of the Benin City Country and people, had known about this expedition, he would have persuaded Phillips not to go. Of course Gallwey did not hear the message received by Phillips afterwards ; but at the time we met him he, like all the rest of us, never dreamt of anything serious happening, and thought we should be entirely successful.’
³ All these two hundred and forty men we found that Campbell, with the help of Lyon (another Assistant District Commissioner of Sapele), had numbered and told off, each to the charge of his particular head man and load; in fact, Campbell had made all his arrangements as nearly perfect as possible. If it had been only on poor Kenneth Campbell's account, the expedition deserved to have succeeded (Boisragon, 1897, page 61).
⁴ They informed Phillips that the King had sent them down to escort us up to Benin City, but hoped that we would wait at Gwatto for two days, so that they could send up and let the King know in time for him to make his preparations for receiving us (Boisragon, 1897, page 83, last paragraph).
⁵ He (Phillips) regretted much that he couldn't wait at Gwatto for two days as he had been asked to do, but he had so much work to do elsewhere that he couldn't afford to lose a day, and so must start early the next morning (boisragon,1897, page 84, last paragraph). … After a little argument between the King's messengers and Phillips, the former trying to persuade him to stop another day, and the latter trying to make them understand that that was impossible, (Boisragon, 1897, page 85, first paragraph).
1) Bacon R. Benin City of Blood
2) Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897, pages 53 - 111
4) Benin City Battle, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2HHWsr3A2M
5) Kirk, J. Sir, Benin Massacre, Latest News at the Foreign Office, Reasons for Hope, Interview with Sir John Kirk (Central News Telegram); Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 14, 1897, Section: None; Page 2
6) 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.
7) Publication:Guardian 1821 - 2000; date; Feb 10, 1897; Section: None; page 6
8) THE BENIN MASSACRE. CONFIRMATORY NEWS. EXPECTED PUNITIVE EXPEDITION. IMMEDIATE DEPARTURE OF OFFICERS ORDERED. RECENT EVENTS IN THE “CITY OF BLOOD.” (CENTRAL NEWS TELEGRAM.) LONDON, TUESDAY EVENING. Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 13, 1897, Section: None; Pages 7 - 10
9) THE BENIN MASSACRE. CONFIRMATORY NEWS. EXPECTED PUNITIVE EXPEDITION. IMMEDIATE DEPARTURE OF OFFICERS ORDERED. RECENT EVENTS IN THE “CITY OF BLOOD.” THE VICTIMS (CENTRAL NEWS TELEGRAM.) LONDON, TUESDAY EVENING. Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 13, 1897, Section: None; Page 10
10) THE BENIN MASSACRE. CONFIRMATORY NEWS. EXPECTED PUNITIVE EXPEDITION. IMMEDIATE DEPARTURE OF OFFICERS ORDERED. RECENT EVENTS IN THE “CITY OF BLOOD.” CONSUL GENERAL MOOR ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE PROTECTORATE (CENTRAL NEWS TELEGRAM.) LONDON, TUESDAY EVENING. Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 13, 1897, Section: None; Pages 11 - 12
11) THE BENIN DISASTER. PROBABLE PLANS OF A PUNITIVE EXPEDITION. INTERVIEW WITH SIR A. JEPHSON. THE OBJECT OF THE JOURNEY TO BENIN CITY (CENTRAL NEWS TELEGRAM), LONDON THURSDAY EVENING, Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 15, 1897, Section: None; Page 4
12) THE BENIN MASSACRE ITS PROBABLE CAUSE. Hobart Newspaper (3rd March 1897), page 3. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9392982
13) THE BENIN MASSACRE. MESSAGE FROM THE SURVIVORS. DEPARTURE OF OFFICERS FROM LIVERPOOL. (REUTER’S TELEGRAM), MALTA, SATURDAY, Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Page 2.
14) THE BENIN MASSACRE – MESSAGE FROM THE SURVIVORS - DEPARTURE OF OFFICERS FROM LIVERPOOL – WHY THE EXPEDITION WENT TO BENIN, Reuter Liverpool Correspondent interview with unnamed gentleman, Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Pages 2 -3.
15) THE BENIN MASSACRE – NARRATIVE OF MR. LOCKE (REUTER’S SPECIAL SERVICE); FORCADOS RIVER, FEBRUARY 4.
Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Feb 10, 1897, Section: None; Page 6.
16) THE BENIN MASSACRE - WHY THE EXPEDITION WENT TO BENIN;
Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Page 5.
17) THE DISASTER TO THE BENIN EXPEDITION – SAFETY OF TWO OFFICERS- CONSUL GENERAL MOOR ON THE SITUATION – PRESS ASSOCIATION TELEGRAM, FRIDAY EVENING, 15 January 1897, LONDON, Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 16, 1897, Section: None; Page 8 [₁]
18) Ratté, Mary Lou, "Imperial looting and the case of Benin." ().
Masters Theses 1911 - February 2014. Paper 1898. Pages 8, 33, 37, 43 -48
19) Roth, H. L, Great Benin, 1903, app xiv – xv
20) Roth H.L.,Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903 [₂]
21) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903
22) Royal Niger Company, accessed:
Lord Salisbury, from the Foreign Office in London has today sent Mr. Phillips a telegraph asking him to postpone his planned invasion of Benin for another one year due to not enough available troops for the undertaking. At least 400 troops are needed.
However, Consul General Phillips is already dead. He was gunned down by Benin soldiers on his way to Benin City four days ago.
Ratté, Mary Lou, "Imperial looting and the case of Benin." ().Masters Theses 1911 - February 2014. Paper 1898. Page 43. Accessed: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/theses/1898
Photograph by Reginald Kerr Granville, 1897
An Ode To The Benin Chiefs
You provide an insight into the running of,
One of the most efficient administrative systems in the world;
King and Chiefs working hand in hand with the people,
To leave a legacy for all ages.
You flaunt not your riches,
They lie buried in the dust of age in store rooms,
In compound wells and on ancestral alters;
Diamond, gold or silver, appeal not to you.
You worship your head,
Which controls all your bodily functions,
Your intelligence is held in your head; therefore,
You celebrate this annually in the Ague festival.
Your lesson to the world is,
Brains and intelligence,
Are what matter most in this life;
All earthly riches not.
You are an inspiration for,
Through all times.
All hail the Benin chiefs.
1) Bacon R. H, Benin The City of Blood, 1897.
2) Benin Expedition of 1897, Benin Massacre, Wikipedia,
3) Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897.
accessed 6 January 2017.
5) Roth, H. L, Great Benin, 1903, app xiv – xv.
6) Roth H.L., Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903.
7) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903.
4 January 1897 (part 4) –The Benin Massacre - Mr Locke's account (locations: Gwatto, Ughoton forest path to Benin)
All the men were ready to start off at 7 a.m. They said good bye to Mr. Lyon, who had to return to Sapele in the launch Daisy, leaving the Primrose behind at Gwatto waterside, in case she was wanted to take any messages. The Daisy would return in about a week, to pick the expedition party up again as they plan to be back in about seven or eight days, which would have given them three or four days at Benin City.
Many Gwatto people gathered to see the men off asking Mr. Phillips for payments for all they did for them yesterday. Amongst these were the Juju men who had washed their feet the day before but in each case, he answered that they would all get it on their return came back. For some reason, all the Gwatto people looked sad and the white men put this down to them not receiving any payment or ‘dash’.
The carriers were paraded and then the men were joined by the three Benin Chiefs from yesterday.
They left Gwatto about 7.30 a.m. Some friends and well-wishers from yesterday joined them including Crawford's friend Mary Boma, who was ‘in the highest of spirits all day, and seemed to display tremendous friendship for Crawford and Maling’. He came up, laughing and joking with them every time they stopped. They travelled along a path through the forest which was only fit for marching in a single file. They walked in the following order:
:—First came their guide Basilli, the Benin City man. Then followed Jumbo, a civil policeman who was Phillips' orderly, in blue uniform. He carried the Consul-General's flag, a blue ensign with the Protectorate crest in the corner. After him came Herbert Clarke, the mixed-race government interpreter (he had been educated in England). Then came Messrs. Phillips, Crawford, Boisragon, Maling, who was making a survey of the road, Locke, and Elliot. Powis and Gordon during the morning were some way back at the head of the line of carriers, with Kenneth Campbell, who kept walking up and down the long line of men to see they kept up. Though the gaps opening between them must have been nearly a mile of road.
As the party had been walking very slowly with the intention that the carriers keep up with them, the Benin Chiefs and the other escorts soon left them behind disappearing into the front. In this way, they passed three villages during that morning's march, stopping at the crossroads between the villages and the main path. This enabled the carriers to catch up with them. All this time, there were several men going and returning along the road. One of them was the Chief of the second village identifiable by his old red tunic with white metal buttons, with South Cork Militia. Mr. Phillips and his men paid no attention to the passers-by believing that they were simply going about their business.
At about 11 a.m. they reached the third village and decided to stop for breakfast, having marched only about seven and a half or seven and three-quarter miles by Maling's calculations. Whilst having breakfast, they were joined again by the three Benin mediation chiefs and also by Mary Boma. Mary Boma was immediately on his arrival, led away by the men of the village for private talk.¹ Mr. Boisragaon noticed and he told Mr. Phillips about this but they did not see anything amiss with this and paid no further attention to it. They also had confidence in their guard Basilli to inform them if there was any trouble or issues but he, ‘was as usual squatting at Phillips' feet, telling him about Benin " customs.". (Boisragaon, page 97). Here too, a crowd of people gathered round to look at them.
At 1 p.m., after having their meal they set off again. The Benin Chiefs, Mary Boma and their other escorts had already gone ahead stating that the white men walked faster than they did and would catch up with them soon enough. They passed two more villages stopping at the second for a couple of minutes to let the carriers catch up. After, over six miles’ march from the last village and fourteen miles from Gwatto, they were about half way to Benin City. Mr. Phillips then said that they would stop for a ten minutes break at the next village.
About 3 p.m., and still walking in much the same order as when they started, except that Locke had stopped behind to tie up his bootlace, suddenly a shot rang out a few yards behind them followed immediately by a series of shots in quick succession. At the first shot they couldn't believe that the firing was real, and thought, as one of them suggested, that it was only a salute in their honour. However cries from the carriers and yells from the Benin soldiers soon proved that this was not the case. They realized that they were under attack in an ambush. They had no weapons to defend themselves as all their revolvers were locked away in their boxes and with their carriers. Mr. Boisragon wanted to go back for his but Mr. Phillips said, " No revolvers, gentlemen." In any case, they would not have been able to get to their revolvers as the carriers were now either dead or have fled.²
Very soon in less than thirty minutes, seven of the white men lay dead. Mr. Boisragon and Mr. Locke only survive and were badly wounded. They managed to escape into the forest.
¹ The men would have been pleading with Mary Boma to ask his friends to turn back but as Mr. Phillips was adamant about getting to Benin and many people had already warned them, Mary Boma would have been feeling helpless and unable to help his friends.
² This statement by Mr. Boisragon is evidence that the Benin soldiers only wanted to defend their borders and were not interested in fighting for its own sake, ‘It is worthwhile relating here that on the evening of this day, and after the massacre had taken place, some Benin men came down to the waterside, and, calling out to the engineer of the Primrose, told him that the white men who had gone up had sent them down to tell him to go back and bring back the other white man, as they wanted him. Though unaware that any disaster had happened, the engineer said his orders were to stop for the white men, and he could take no different orders from anyone else ; and stop he did until some unfortunate carriers came down who had escaped, and told him that all the white men and nearly all the carriers had been killed. Even then I believe all he did was to get up steam and keep cruising about in case anyone came down, until he was ordered back to Sapele. It is curious that the Benin City men didn't fire on the launch, as it was anchored only about fifteen yards away from the landing-place, but they didn't.’ (Boisragon, 1897, page 91).
Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897, pages 90 - 110
4 January 1897 (part 2) – The Benin Massacre- Witness accounts (locations: Gwatto, Ughoton forest path to Benin)
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
Three Itsekiri Chiefs - Fregonon, Dud and Dore. Dore is on the right with raised hand.
Build - up
Yesterday evening, three high ranking chiefs arrived from Benin to establish from Mr. Phillips what his intentions are. They were able to deduce that he and the other whitemen men are coming on a peaceful mission to have talks with the king. This differed from intelligence that they had received and for which they can see the evidence – many white men with hundreds of carriers – notwithstanding they give Mr. Phillips the benefit of doubt and accept that he is coming on a peaceful visit and is unarmed.
As the chiefs, had already declared a state of war with the White Queen and Mr. Phillips, they needed to be instructed by the king to cancel this plan. To do so would take at least two days from hence. First a message will need to be sent to the king that this is a peaceful visit. The message will arrive the next day. Then the king will need to send a message to his chiefs and soldiers at Gwatto to call off the war. This message will get to the chiefs and soldiers the following day. In all urgency, at least two days is required to settle the matter with the chiefs and soldiers. It is these two days allowance that the king requested, “They were all three rather elderly, grave, and most respectable - looking men. They informed Phillips that the King had sent them down to escort us up to Benin City, but hoped that we would wait at Gwatto for two days, so that they could send up and let the King know in time for him to make his preparations for receiving us.” (Boisragon, 1897, pages 83 -84). As Mr. Phillips is not privy to all the intelligence, he refuses to listen to the chiefs and agree to this.
The young chief at Gwatto and his people have managed to put Mr. Phillips and all the other white men at ease and they relax and enjoy themselves before retiring for the night (Boisragon, 1897, page 89). During the night, Benin spies check through all that the white men have brought with them, they are aided in this by the carriers and interpreters (Omaregboma’s evidence). They do not find any war weapons apart from pistols. This information is shared with the three mediation chiefs and they instruct Idiaie to tell the king so when he takes the white man’s stick to him in the morning.
Also Mr. Phillips had expected Idiaie to set off with the white man’s stick last night travelling through the forest alone all night to tell the king that they were coming on a peaceful visit to talk. Perhaps he was not aware that this was an impossible task to request, for what man would take on the jungle at night alone? Sensibly, Idiaie does not leave Gwatto till the following morning and after hearing from the mediation chiefs that no weapons have been found in the white men’s luggage.
1) Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897, pages 76 – 89
THE BENIN MASSACRE ITS PROBABLE CAUSE. Hobart Newspaper (3rd March 1897), page 3. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9392982
2) THE BENIN MASSACRE - WHY THE EXPEDITION WENT TO BENIN;
Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Page 5.
3) Roth, H. L, Great Benin, 1903, app xiv – xv
4) Roth H.L.,Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903
5) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903
Evidence given by witnesses (both sides British Government and the king and his chiefs) during the trial of the king and his chiefs enable us to piece together the true sequence of events and the reasoning behind actions taken by each person.
These are the actual statements made by each person regarding the Benin Massacre.
Whenever anything happened, the king would call the chiefs and tell them¹, and they did what they thought fit. We were in this town about five days before the massacre, having a big play, when we heard that white men were coming with war. The king then called the people², and told them ' the white man is bringing war—now if you go you must not fight with him—let them come, and if they like they can come and see me and say anything they have to say. Perhaps they are coming to play [to pay a friendly visit] ; you do not know, you must allow them to come and if it is war, we will find out.' " ³
He went so far as to say that the king had even offered kola nuts to lyasheri, begging him not to fight the white men.
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.
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. Ojuma had also been sent to fight. He was not sent by the king.
Omaregboma, who was stationed at Gwato to take white men to the king, said : " Ohebo came and met me at Gwato, and told me that the chiefs sent him to say that they had heard that plenty white men were coming, and I must send to tell the king what they brought. ³
Ohebo had not come from Benin city yet when the white men came, and I allowed them a room where they put all their things, so I asked Ohebo to look at the things that the white men brought.
They had neither guns nor swords. The only cutlasses that the carriers had were tied up and put in the launch; I made Ohebo look at them so that he could tell the chiefs what they wanted when he came to Benin city. It was evening, so the white men slept at Gwato and in the morning they started for Benin City.
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.
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.
Consul General Phillips
Mr. Phillips writes this letter this evening. It is to be his last letter:
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. ⁴
¹This provides evidence on how the Benin royal administration worked. The king of Benin ruled through his chiefs.
² This is further evidence on how the king and his chiefs involved the people in decisions making. On 30th December when Mr. Phillips sent his message that he was on his way to visit, all the people were involved in composing a response to him. They agreed to monitor developments. Mr. Phillips then substantiated the Jakri (Itsekiri’s) information that the white men were bring war by the sheer numbers of personnel he had coming with him. Albeit he wanted ‘to make a show.’ As Mr. Boisragon has disclosed.
³ The chiefs made efforts to gather more information on Mr. Phillips mission. Whilst intelligence from Benin border guards were accurate, the Jakris and other carriers reported what they had seen with their own eyes. The situation was not helped by Mr. Phillips making every effort to show off his carriers, stores and white men and their roles.
Omaregboma with other soldiers searched their luggage during the night and found no war weapons. However, this was not the impression that Mr. Phillips had given to everyone throughout.
⁴ This letter is very telling and one cannot help but feel some sympathy for Mr. Phillips who success of the expedition is very important to. His mindset must have been, ‘I have come this far and I am not prepared to back down now particularly as my very experienced colleagues believe that this should be nothing but successful; Consul General Moor and Captain Gallwey have said so and Vice Consul Campbell has made all the arrangements.’ But Phillips failed to reckon with how the king works with his chiefs to rule the people. ₁
1) Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897, pages 76 – 89
2) THE BENIN MASSACRE ITS PROBABLE CAUSE. Hobart Newspaper (3rd March 1897), page 3. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9392982 ₁
3) THE BENIN MASSACRE - WHY THE EXPEDITION WENT TO BENIN;
Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Page 5.
4) Roth, H. L, Great Benin, 1903, app xiv – xv
5) Roth H.L.,Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903
6) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903