1900-1919 | Burning towns and cities | Collective punishments | Gambia | Livestock targeted | Punitive operations

Two towns burned, crops and livestock seized in punitive operation

Sir George Denton – 
public domain via Wikimedia.

[ 26 May 1902 ]

On 26 May 1902, Reuters filed a report at Banjul on a British punitive expedition in the Gambia against the Jola, who were described as ‘a wild people in the neighbourhood of the French frontier’ (today marked by the country’s border with Senegal.) It appeared in British newspapers in mid-June under various approving headlines, including ‘A Lesson for an African Tribe’ (The Lancashire Evening Post), ‘Successful Little Expedition: Punishing Unruly Africans’ (The Sheffield Evening Telegraph) and ‘Another Gambia Punitive Expedition’ (The Westminster Gazette.)1

It explained how, following a murder there, Jola villagers had been either unwilling or unable to hand over the culprits. So, Governor Sir George Denton led an expedition of 130 soldiers, including 60 men of the West India Regiment and 70 men of the West African Frontier Force, through the bush to discover that the entire district had been abandoned, the terrified population having fled across the frontier. Sir George therefore decided to inflict a punishment that would be remembered for generations, burning down both of the principal towns – Bita and Fujan – and seizing the crops and the livestock, so that the returning population would be left with neither shelter nor food. The report explained that he subsequently arranged ‘palavers with the Jolahs’ which ‘were most successful,’ adding that the four men suspected of the original murders were captured, tried and sentenced to death.2 Shortly afterwards, they were taken back to the district and subjected to a public hanging.3


  1. ‘Punitive Expedition in the Gambia,’ The Globe, 13 June 1902, p. 5, ‘Another Gambia Punitive Expedition, The Westminster Gazette, 13 June 1902, p.9, ‘A lesson for a West African Tribe,’ The Lancashire Evening Post, 13 June 1902, p. 5 and ‘Successful Little Expedition,’ The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 13 June 1902, p. 4. See also The Army and Navy Gazette, 28 June 1902, p. 607.
  2. Ibid.
  3. ‘Affairs on the Gambia: Public Execution of Native Criminals,’ The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 4 July 1902, p. 5.

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