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