Admiral Rawson's expedition assembles
Admiral Rawson's expedition assembles

The Bluejackets Periods anti-Slavery patrols Benin expedition

Admiral Rawson's expedition assembles

Admiral Harry Rawson's expedition assembles off the coast of Benin

Feb 03, 1897
Benin expedition


ON Feb. 3 the two ships belonging to the Mediterranean Squadron, Theseus and Forte, having joined Admiral Rawson's fleet lying off the Brass River, the former ship having on board the Consul-General, Mr. Ralph Moor, C.M.G., who had been embarked at Bas Palmas, as the man-of-war would arrive at Brass before the steam-ship Bathurst, all arrangements for the punitive expedition against Benin city were complete. Captain Charles Campbell, C.B., of the Theseus, was given command of the 1st Division, consisting of A, B, and C Companies and marine detachment of Theseus, and rocket party of H.M.S. Philomel, Captain Thomas MacGill, of H.M.S. Ploebe, of the 2nd Division, consisting of A, B, and C Companies of the St. George; Captain Randolph Foote, of H.M.S. Forte, of the Carrier Column, which had as guard the A Company and marine detachment of Forte; and the Marine Battalion under Captain Byrne, R.M.L.I. —120 men, of whom three officers and 100 men belonged to the R.M.L.I., drawn from Portsmouth and Chatham, and one officer and twenty men were of the Royal Marine Artillery. There were in all about 1200 men, including five companies of Houssas under Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce Hamilton, and 100 scouts under Lieutenant S. K. Erskine, R.N., the whole force being under the command of Rear-Admiral H. H. Rawson C.B., who had as Chief of the Staff Captain G. Egerton, R.N., and Staff Officer lieutenant Stuart Nicholson, R.N. This scheme was afterwards considerably altered, as will appear later on, small parties having to be sent to Gwato and Sapelbar. Just at the last moment it was thought that this number could reduced by one half, but as the force had to be divided up, it was found necessary to send for the remainder in order to guard the flanks and rear, as experience showed that the usual tactics of the savage races of Africa were to allow the advance party and main force to get well into their country, and then to try and cut them off by attacking and occupying the rear. On the 8th the fleet at different times weighed anchor, and proceeded to the Forcados Fiver, some - namely, the St. George, Theseus, and Forte- to anchor outside, and the smaller ships, Philomel, Phoebe, Widgeon, Magpire, Barrosa and Alecto, to go up the river to the base, The P. and O. Malacca now arrived from England, bringing the Marine Battalion mentioned above, and stores of every description, and having on board all the appliances for attending on the wounded, and three Naval Hospital sisters. The stores were taken up to Warrigi, which had been selected as the base of operations; and on Feb. 9 Captain Charles Campbell, C.B., was instructed by the Admiral, who had gone on, to superintend the embarkation the troops in the small steamers provided to take them up the river. At two p.m. all were embarked, the St. George's men in the South African S. N. Company’s steam-ship Florin, the Theseus men in the Lagoon, the Marine Battalion in the Eloby, and the remainder in the Eko. The bar was crossed that night, and the fleet anchored in the Forcados Beach to wait for daylight, before the fifty-five miles of difficult navigation through the-winding creeks and rivers to Warrigi was commenced.


All thought to find it very monotonous on board, but the result proved quite the contrary. The river was at places very narrow, and, as the ships steamed along, the trees on either side could almost be touched. The luxuriant vegetation, the huge trees, the thick foliage, and the sharp bends of the river, all combined to make one of the most entrancing scenes that the eye of man has ever beheld. Animal life was not wanting, the birds were singing on every branch, the alligators and crocodiles were basking in the sun on the low river banks, hundreds of flies darted about, and lastly, on board the steamer lived a pet monkey, which kept up a continual squirming and squeaking in his pleasure or disgust at his home being invaded by so many human beings. Warrigi was reached that evening at sunset. The river here presented most busy appearance, with the Phoebe, the Ivy (the Niger Coast Protectorate yacht), the four steamers with the troops, a steam-launch which was afterwards to do service at Ologbo creek, and the men-of-war's boats plying between the shore and the ships. All this was nothing, however, to the bustle and apparent confusion of the next morning on and around the landing place—the men with their arms and accoutrements, the jabber of hundreds of native carriers, the boat-loads of gear, such as Maxim and seven-pounder guns, rockets, ammunition, lamps, kettles, clothes, provisions, and every-thing one can think of. The advance division were the first to land, and all tried to get off as soon as possible. At six a.m. on Feb. 11, and 13 Companies of the Theseus and their marines landed, very soon to be followed by the St. George's men and the Marine Battalion. Each company, was given its group of carriers, who had been numbered in gangs of eighteen and marked with a distinguishing colour for the division to which they belonged. These carriers - in all about 1700 - had been brought from Sierra Leone, Bonny, and other places along the Gold Coast. Directions were given to the companies as they landed to march up to Ceri, to a camp which had been made about seven miles off in a northerly direction.


For some time after our start the journey seemed exactly like a stroll in the early morning along an English country lane, but affairs were soon to wear a different aspect; the sun came up and the temperature quickly reached 130 degrees in the shade, and all began to gasp for breath, many men falling out. Ceri was reached in the afternoon, and everybody was indeed grateful for the shelter afforded by the sheds which had been hastily constructed from the trees cut out down to make a clearing for the camp. It was difficult to realise that only a week back the path, or one could almost call it a road, along which we had come, had been thick bush, which had now been cut in order to enable us to get to a certain part of Ologbo creek, so that the enemy’s country could be penetrated at a spot where they least expected us. That evening a little incident occurred in the camp at which I, being a landsman, and unused to the naivete of our sailors, was much amused. One of the men was told off for sentry-go, and hearing someone approaching his post he wished to challenge him, but couldn’t think, for the moment, what to say. He puzzled his brains for some time until matters began to get critical, when everybody was astounded to hear the words “Boat ahoy!” shouted in very stentorian tones, which, needless to say, were greeted with roars of laughter. Next morning a party of A Company of the Theseus, under Lieutenant Fyler, was ordered to join up with portion the Houssas, under Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, and to go up Ologbo creek about five hundred yards in a steam-launch to where the enemy had formed a camp, and attack them.

Illustrated London News, March 27, 1897


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