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, did participate 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, did participate 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 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 so 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: