Captain Bacon writes:
Sunday, 21st. The usual demolitions were proceeded with, and a good deal of work done. It was our last day in Benin, and none of us were sorry, except for the Protectorate officers who were to remain with the Houssas to settle the country. The early part of the day was quite uneventful, and we were preparing for a grand parade at four o'clock, when the colours were to be hoisted and three cheers given for the Queen, when an alarm of fire was raised, and sure enough smoke, evidently from the thatch of a roof, could be seen about three hundred yards off. The Admiral took in the position at a glance ; there was nothing to be done but save all we could, prevent panic, and let the fire burn itself out. Captain Campbell undertook looking after the saving of the sick from the Palava House, which was luckily roofed with zinc and not thatch, and therefore gave more chance to the rescuers. Mr. Moorshead, the commissariat officer, saved as many of his provision boxes as possible, and we had our twenty-five kegs of powder to be carted away before the fire could get close to them ; with the assistance of Lieutenant Pears and our sailors, these were taken well clear of the compound.
Wildfire is the only name for describing the flames. The first uprush of heated air caused a miniature whirlwind which fanned the flame and carried blazing brands to roof after roof. The air was filled with a thin black smoke which gusts of wind swept in every direction, curling and wreathing it in fantastic shapes. Soon everything seemed in a blaze, brands swept by the wind missed whole compounds and lighted some roof two hundred yards away. The heat was great, due to the volume of the flame caused by the dryness of the thatch, and the smoke, full of finely divided ash, irritated the eyes and throat. The gusts of this impromptu cyclone swept through the carrier and Houssa compounds, fanning the smouldering camp - fires into a blaze, and setting fire to the clothing and food that the carriers had left behind them in their flight, till, looking through the sweeping haze of smoke, it seemed as if the ground itself had caught fire and was burning. There was a dim grandeur about it all, and also there seemed to be a fate. Here was this head centre of iniquity, spared by us from its suitable end of burning for the sake of holding the new seat of justice where barbarism had held sway, given into our hands with the brand of blood soaked into every corner and relic ; fire only could purge it, and here on our last day we were to see its legitimate fate overtake it, and see this, the centre of bloodshed, burn before our eyes in retribution for the millions of lives that had been willfully sacrificed.
The smoke from the smouldering roofs gradually cleared, and the whole place seemed fresher and more healthy for its purging. We had now to assess our losses, A large quantity of provisions and water, and nearly all our personal effects were among the most important. Personally, I lost everything except what I stood in and my blanket, which consisted of four holes joined together by very little material.
1) Bacon, R. H. Benin City of Blood, 1897, pages 106 - 108
2) Bacon, R. Admiral Sir, Benin Expedition, A Naval Scrap-Book, First Part, 1877 – 1900: 197 – 207
3) Boisragon, A. The Benin Massacre,1897, pages 183 - 184
4) Roth, H. L. 1903 appendix 11 cited Roth N. F. A DIARY OF A SURGEON WITH THE BENIN PUNITIVE EXPEDITION'