The story of the Benin Bronzes

In 1897 a British Trading expedition arrived in Nigeria to explore the potential for conducting business with the region for various items such as Palm oil. An initial party of some 9 British officers arrived in Benin City in an attempt to open negotiation with the Oba and his Council of Chiefs. This meeting was a disaster and resulted in the death of the 9 British Naval officers.

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Once news of this incident reached the Admiralty back in England; a raiding party was swiftly arranged in revenge for the killing. This subsequent British assault on Benin City was merciless and intended to deliver a powerful message at the same time. Several thousand Nigerians lost their lives during this attack and the usual 'looting' the 'spoils of war' took place. The Royal Palace was no exception to this rampage and suffered the removal of hundreds of works of art which were decorating the Palace.


These works of art were the Benin Bronzes depicting images of the Oba and his Courtiers several centuries earlier. The Bronzes were taken back to the UK and have remained within the walls of the British Museum to this day. Despite several attempts by Nigeria in the 50's and 70's requesting the return of the Bronzes; they still remain the property of the Museum.

The Benin Bronzes are actually made of brass and not bronze; this was due to early trade with the Portuguese in the 15th Century who would often use brass bracelets and other similar objects in exchange for local goods. These items were subsequently meted down by highly talented individuals in Benin City and created the Benin Bronzes.

The British Museum has provided a secure environment for over a century and it is the actual security of these Bronzes in Nigeria which has been the main reason for not returning them. Another reason for the reluctance by the British Museum, in releasing these treasured items, is that such a gesture could in theory open the 'floodgates' for other applications from other Countries.

However, I believe the time has now arrived for the return of 'one or more' Benin Bronzes to the Royal Palace in Benin City for a variety of reasons and under certain conditions.

From personal experience I know the strength of feeling concerning the return of these bronzes is 'strong' from all parts of Nigeria. From the Muslims in the North to the Christians in the South; from the Ibo's in the East to Yoraba's in the West. These people from contrasting sections of Nigeria have had their differences and on occasions resulting in serious disturbances. The return of 'one or more' Benin Bronze to The Royal Palace in Benin City after over a century, will without doubt, help to unite the people of Nigeria in a single act of celebration. It would also provide a historic symbol of 'Goodwill' between our Two Countries and help enhance future prosperity.

This project is in its early days but I hope to soon receive
written authorisation from HRH The Oba of Benin City
in which to commence negotiations.

Steve Dunstone February 2012




Secrets of the Benin Bronzes : The Truth revealed

Much has been written about the seizure of the Benin Bronzes by the ‘might’ of the British military in 1897. The many hundreds of local Nigerian inhabitants killed during this mission; the reasons as to ‘why’ the British authorised this action has been widely documented, but is it the truth?

The British museum today proudly displays 48 of the Benin Bronzes with many hundreds stored away from public view. I am of the opinion that the British Museum should be celebrating over a century, caring for Nigeria's precious bronzes, which incidentally are made from brass. Many thousands of people from all over the world have enjoyed viewing these stunning works of art, depicting courtiers of the Obas palace in cultural dress and dance pose.

This is a ‘new age’ and Nigeria has a growing young population which has an insatiable ‘thirst’ for their history and cultural background. I feel that people should learn about their history of both their Community and Country, which in turn promotes a sense of ‘belonging’, which in turn promotes ‘happiness’ and ‘well being’. The story of the Benin Bronzes is of considerable historical importance and there are so many variations of the story that any factual evidence is virtually non existence... until now!

Mark Walker a retired medical consultant living in the UK contacted me via my website concerning two Benin Bronzes together with a diary , which has been in his family for over a century. Mark and I discussed at length the options in relation to the Bronzes and I felt the ‘gesture’ by Mark to donate the two bronzes back to the people of Nigeria, would be a truly remarkable one. Mark agreed and the repatriation of an IBIS bird bronze together with the diary will be conducted during 2014 and presented to the highest authority

The IBIS bird represents power and was once fixed on a wooden staff and carried by one of the Obas Chiefs; there would have been two such Ibis staff of office. The IBIS bird was once sacrificed in Northern Africa to stem off pestilence and plague; in Greek mythology the Ibis was associated with the God ‘Thor’ so generally represents power and a symbol of authority. So it is fitting that once this symbol of authority as removed/stolen by the British, it is now being returned over a century later.

The Diary was written in 1897 by an officer in the British Secret Service who left the UK shores on January 14th with a small task force whose objectives were to attack Benin City and kill the Oba.

The diary reveals the circumstances of how 9 British personnel on a peace mission to Benin City were ambushed, killed and beheaded on route to speak to the Oba. One individual Mr. Cambell survived the initial ambush and was captured and taken to the city; the Oba refused to allow him to be brought in, and he was carried to an adjacent village where he was put to death.

Acting Consul General Phillips may not have been acting strictly on British orders when he arranged the journey from Sapele to Benin. However, the massacre of these British Officers and civilians sent shockwaves around the world, especially into the heart of the British Government. An urgent armed response was required in retribution in which to teach the Oba a lesson and more importantly, in the watching eyes of the world, that Britain would not tolerate such a slight on their authority, without retaliation.

The diary reveals for the first time about this secret service operation; 6 maxim machine guns were utilised and believed for the first time in such ‘live’ conflict. Was this to be a timely ’test’ in combat of such a deadly weapon, which had such devastating results later on at Benin.

A rocket attack on the city of Benin resulted in two rockets landing in the Obas garden from some considerable distance would have a significant effect on the moral of the local Benin people, when they could see how accurate the British rockets were.

A sacrifice tree is photographed and displayed within the diary together with 84 other remarkably preserved images. The hundreds of corpses discovered by the British having been sacrificed is described within the diary revealing disturbing local practices.

Approx 400 British men were either killed, wounded or suffered sickness by the end of the mission, leaving just over 100 men still fit for duty.

I have included just a few facts, which actually happened during this event, the diary reveals many more historical facts which will clarify history and finally the true story can be revealed.

Yes, the British did ‘steal’ the Benin Bronzes despite their removal not being one of the objectives of the mission; the author of the diary and in his own hand writing describes the proceeds as ‘loot’!!

The Diary describes military tactics used as they approached Benin City together with the pursuit of the Oba as he fled the city with his Chiefs.

Once this diary is made public the true story will finally be revealed to the world. The story may have been suppressed by the British Government under the 70 year rule not to reveal any ’secret’ information or military operations by the security services.

It is my hope that the publication of a new book depicting the discovery of this remarkable document, will eventually help to ratify the myth surrounding the story of the Benin Bronzes. In turn, I hope the publication will help to promote awareness and discussion about the story and location of the Benin Bronzes today.

The Benin Bronzes belong to the people of Nigeria, where once their talented descendents crafted them, using somewhat ‘crude’ smelting conditions. These works of art will inspire the people of Nigeria as they have done people, from all over the world as they have gazed into the shapes and contours of the sculptures at the British Museum for over a century.

I am in direct contact with the British Government and continue to pursue the subject to return the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, especially in this anniversary year. I hope to receive written authorisation from His Majesty The Oba of Benin himself to act on his behalf to pursue this matter.

A new publication revealing the secrets of the British military operation in 1897 will help enormously towards the repatriation of the Bronzes back to Nigeria.

As Nelson Mandela once said ‘’Education is the most powerful weapon in the world’’

Chief Steve Dunstone F.R.G.S           27TH January 2014







Return of the Ibis Bronze


The Ibis bird was just one of 3,000 bronze artefacts removed by the British military from HRH The Oba’s Royal Palace in Benin, Nigeria in 1897.
The majority of which are in the British Museum to this day with hundreds scattered about various museums in Europe. 

Several requests have been made by various bodies to return these treasured items back to Benin, as they form an important record of
their historical culture. To this date the British Museum have remained firm and do not wish to entertain discussion on the matter,
despite several hundred bronzes not on display but stored in boxes.

The Richard Lander Society are pleased therefore to announce that the above Ibis bronze together with a
bell bronze will be returned to HRH The Oba in June this year.

Dr Mark Walker, the owner of the ‘Ibis bronze’ and ‘bell’ wishes to return the items to their historical belonging, to the people of
Benin City. The two bronzes have been in his family since 1897 when his Grand Father Captain Herbert Sullivan Walker took an
active part in the punitive expedition that year. Dr. Mark Walker has also recently revealed the contents of a remarkable diary
written by his Grand Father which details the military operation to Kill the HRH The Oba and destroy the City of Benin.

This unique diary contains 85 photographs taken in Benin and also a hand written journal of events as they unfolded towards the Royal Palace and the hunt for the Oba.

This Secret Service operation has remained a mystery for over a Century until now, with the exposure of the contents of Captain Walker’s diary.

Following the murder of 9 British personnel in early January 1897by HRH The Oba , the British Government sent 12 special agents to Benin in a revenge mission to Kill the Oba and destroy the City.


These men pictured below, with Captain Hamilton seated in the front row and the author of the diary standing behind him, pose for a photograph on board ship on route to Benin.

The faces of these men reveal a hardened group of individuals and equivalent to the Special Forces of today. These men were the officers in charge of a task force of 540 men which subsequently attacked Benin City.

To this day little information has been found concerning the British military attack on Benin City together with the removal of some 3,000 bronze artefacts. The diary reveals the hacking off with a chisel some Benin Bronzes from the walls of the Royal Palace and in his own hand writing describes these proceeds as ‘Loot’.

The depth of feeling concerning these bronzes within Nigeria and especially the City of Benin goes deep; generations have past on stories about the attack and ‘theft’ of their historical and cultural bronzes. I have witnessed tears in the ‘eyes’ of elderly men from Benin when I have discussed the return of the ‘Ibis’ and ‘Bell’. The return of these two items will unite Nigeria for a single day and who knows what the potential of that could be.

The magnificent symbolic gesture by Dr. Mark Walker handing back, what his Grand Father took from Benin should not be under estimated.

This astonishing photograph is the last image of the 3,000 bronzes in Benin City , placed in line by the British just prior to their departure for the sea and subsequent return home. Who would have known that over a Century would pass without their return to their spiritual home.

The repatriation of both the ‘Ibis’ and ‘Bell’ in June 2014 will be a historic occasion; not since 1938 when HRH The Oba’s grandfather was presented with his ancestors regalia. It is hoped the presentation ceremony together with the symbolic gesture will reach the walls of the British Museum and signal the start of a change of UK public perception surrounding the story of the Benin Bronzes.

Steve Dunstone                      FRGS15TH April 2014