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Alan Boisragon (1860-1922)

The Benin Massacre / by Captain Alan Boisragon. 1897

20.0 x 3.0 cm (book measurement (inventory)) | RCIN 1121484

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  • By the late nineteenth century, the wealthy West African kingdom of Benin (now part of Nigeria) was a target for the colonial efforts of the Royal Niger Company. The Oba (king) of Benin held great influence and prevented the Company from forming a monopoly in the region. In 1896, the Company decided to mount an expedition to depose the Oba and replace him with a council appointed by British officials. The expedition set off in late December, reaching Benin territory in early January 1897. On 4 January, they were attacked by the forces of the Oba, and all but two Europeans were killed. One of the survivors, Alan Boisragon (1860-1922), was the author of this book, which recounts the mission and the subsequent British retaliation.

    On 12 January 1897, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal of receiving news that ‘there has been a terrible disaster on the Niger, near a place called Benin. No details are yet known beyond the fact that a number of English officers & civilians including doctors &c who went on a friendly mission, but imprudently not armed, were attacked & fired upon by the King of Benin’. Although she reports that the expedition was unarmed and consisted of civilians, in fact, the soldiers were in disguise, accompanied by 250 Africans dressed as porters, who concealed firearms in their luggage. The Oba had been informed by the Company that the mission was a peaceful one but had been tipped off about its true intent by a group of Itsekiri traders and, in response, he sent forces to ambush the British at Ughoton. The queen’s entry shows the misinformation spread by the Royal Niger Company following what came to be known as ‘Benin massacre’, in which they portrayed Benin as a violent nation prone to unprovoked attacks, in order to justify a larger punitive invasion.

    In response to the ambush, the government commissioned Sir Henry Rawson to lead a large expedition in retaliation with orders to capture the Oba and destroy the capital, Edo (Benin City). The expedition remains a controversial event in the history of the British Empire and resulted in the taking of thousands of objects from the city, including the ‘Benin bronzes’, many of which were sent to museums around the world.

  • Measurements

    20.0 x 3.0 cm (book measurement (inventory))

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