The Benin Massacre Route Day 4
The yacht Ivy arrives at New Benin. On board are Acting Consul – General Phillips, Captain Boisragon, Mr Powis, Captain Maling and Dr. D’Arcy.
The people are celebrating their annual Ague festival.
Oba Overami and his Council of chiefs call a general meeting of Benin high ranking chiefs and elders. Over ten thousand people are at this meeting.
The objective of the meeting is to inform the Benin people of the threatened invasion by the whitemen and also for them to hear directly from the messengers from the chief of the whitemen.
The messengers inform the meeting gathering that the chief of the whitemen is as they speak on his way to Benin. He has with him 9 other whitemen, over 250 African soldiers and many carriers and other military people. To support them, the whiteman is also bringing along their war drummers who give signals to soldiers when to attack (Boisragon, 1897, Page 68, lines 18 – 23). These soldiers have been training for months.
They also inform the gathering that all the Itsekiri and Ijaw chiefs have advised the whiteman not to attack Benin to no avail. The whiteman has now sent them to inform the Oba and his chiefs that they are on their way.
Oba Overami advise caution to this message stating that more information is needed to see if the white men were truly coming¹ (Boisragon 1897, page 69, paragraph 2).
After deliberation with his chiefs, the elders and the people, a message is composed to be sent to the chief of the white men.
Oba Overami sends the messengers to tell the chief of the whitemen that he is delighted that he wants to come to visit him however as he has sent to him before, he is celebrating the annual custom of honouring his father and cannot receive foreign visitors. ² He and his chiefs will gladly welcome him in two months’ time when it is over. Additionally, due to the rumours that they have been hearing, the Whiteman should come alone and with one Itsekiri Chief and no other Whitemen (Boisragon, 1896, pg 68). This way there can be no confusion about their intention.
Benin Council of Chiefs are however deeply alarmed by the ongoing rumours and intelligence of an invasion and they have no reason to disbelieve the messengers who sound credible. The Chief Commander of the Benin Army, Prime Minister Iyashe immediately deploys soldiers to Benin border locations to protect and defend Benin against any invasion. Senior Army Commander Ologbosere is put in charge of the Benin Border Strike Force defending the Gwato area the expected invasion route into Benin. ³
The dedicated Benin Border Strike Force soldiers are instructed to go and prepare immediately and to make their way to the borders to secure them.
¹ ‘We took the messengers with us in the Primrose, and the chief one of them, a Jakri, —whose name I am sorry to say I have forgotten, a most intelligent man, —informed Phillips afterwards, that just as he was leaving the King's house, the King had spoken to him very privately, and had told him that if the white men really were coming up, he (the messenger) was to come back as quickly as possible and
² ‘… that the King of Benin was extremely grateful for the unexpected present he had received;’ The mention of presents to the king has not been corroborated by any other source. It is highly likely that this is embellishment on the part of Captain Boisragon. Evidence given by both sides during the trial of the king referred only to the White man’s stick sent to the king (Roth H.L. App. xiv). Additionally he does not name any present allegedly sent.
³ ‘The messenger added, that as they were leaving Benin City they heard orders given for parties of soldiers to be sent to all the waterside towns;’
1) Benin Expedition of 1897, Benin Massacre, Wikipedia, accessed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benin_Expedition_of_1897#The_.22Benin_Massacre.22
2)Benin Massacre 1896, accessed: edodeltamovement.wordpress.com/benin-british-war/
3)Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897, p65, pages 67 - 69
4)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.
5) THE BENIN MASSACRE ITS PROBABLE CAUSE. Hobart Newspaper (3rd March 1897), page 3. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9392982
6)THE BENIN MASSACRE - WHY THE EXPEDITION WENT TO BENIN;
7)Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Page 5.
8)Roth H.L.,Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903
9) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903