1860-1899 | Burning villages | Collective punishments | Punitive operations



[ 17 November 1821 ]

In 1817, the London Missionary Society sent John Smith to Demerara (now part of Guyana)  with instructions to preach the word of God at a small chapel at Le Resouvenir. The posting was situated in an area where hundreds of slaves were employed on the surrounding coffee, cotton and sugar plantations.


Niger Delta map (1898) with arrows added to show the location of the river Farcados – Harold Bindloss – public domain via Wikimedia.

[ 17 November 1882 ]

Today in 1882, the river gunboat HMS Flint opened fire with its two 7 inch guns, propelling 50 kg explosive shells in to the village of Torofani on the river Farcados, a navigable channel of the Niger Delta. The attack was ordered as a punishment by Edward Hewett, the British consul for the Bights of Benin and Biafra, for an earlier attack by unknown individuals on a British owned factory on the Niger River, which had resulted in the disappearance of the manager and four workers, who were assumed to have been either murdered or sold as slaves.

After a heavy bombardment as well as machine gun fire from the ship’s Gatling gun, a landing party was sent in to burn any remaining huts, not already destroyed. The assault, followed two similar punitive attacks on nearby villages the previous day, and was implemented despite protestations of innocence by the villagers. A correspondent for the Western Morning News who witnessed the incident, commented ‘it is hoped that this punishment will have a salutary effect.’1  According to Historian Thomas Pakenham, the village ‘was left in smoking ruins and the inhabitants killed or expelled.’2


  1. ‘Expedition up the River Niger by HMS Flirt,’ The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 10 January 1883, p. 2.
  2. The village was referred to alternately as ‘Zorofani’ or ‘Torafain’ in some British newspaper reports, but was most probably the village of Torofani. Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa, 1876-1912, Abacus, London 2003, p. 193, British Expedition up the Niger,’ The Edinburgh Evening News, 1 January 1883, p. 4, ‘Punishing the Niger Pirates,’ The Yorkshire Gazette, 6 January 1883, p. 4, ‘Operations on the Niger,’ The Portsmouth Evening News, 13 January 1883, p. 4, ‘Expedition up the River Niger by HMS Flirt,’ The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 10 January 1883, p2 and ‘Punishing the Niger Pirates: Several Villages Destroyed,’ The Cheshire Observer, 6 January 1883 p. 3.

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