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Taking of Lagos - War on the Slave Trade

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines


Location: West Africa


Period/ Conflict: War on the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade


Year: 1851


Date/s: 26th - 27th December 1851


The taking of Lagos by boats of HMS Bloodhound and HMS Tartar, Lieutenant J.W.C. Williams RM and E, McArthur RMA were present with 27 RMA and 47 Royal Marines, taking part.


Lieutenant Williams was wounded.


There were actually two naval actions; one in November 1851 and the second in December 1851.


Battle of November 25, 1851


The first attack on November 25, 1851 was hastily organized and led by Commander Forbes who underestimated Oba Kosoko's defenses of about 5,000 men armed with muskets. Forbes' attack party consisted of 306 officers, men, marines and sailors aboard HMS Bloodhound along with 21 boats. Although Bloodhound sustained heavy cannon fire from the shore, a landing party went ashore but met stiff resistance. By nightfall, the British had sustained two dead and ten injuries; Commander Forbes ordered a retreat.


Image from the Illustrated London News of 1852 depicting the attack


Battle of December 26, 1851

British Men o' War Attacked by the King of Lagos

The battle of December 26, 1851 was termed by Lagosians Ogun Ahoyaya/Ogun Agidingbi (translated, "The Boiling Battle"). Captain Jones led the attack party consisting HMS Bloodhound, HMS Teaser, a flotilla of boats including The Victoria and The Harlequin equipped with overwhelming fire power engaged Kosoko in a battle lasting three days.


Kosoko put up a stiff resistance, but the Royal Navy's superior firepower won the day. Kosoko and his leading chiefs fled Lagos for Epe on December 28, 1851. According to Samuel Davies, a Saro and younger brother of JPL Davies who participated on the British side aboard HMS Bloodhound, Kosoko would have inflicted great losses on the Royal Navy if he had deployed his war canoes with their swivel guns.


However, he relied solely on static defenses which were overwhelmed. On the British side 15 men died and 75 were wounded.


Akitoye was taken ashore on December 29 to assess the bombarded town. He accepted the loyalty of the chiefs and was installed as Oba of Lagos. On December 30, the Royal Navy dismantled all Kosoko's batteries and dumped 46 of his war guns at sea


St Ann's Church - Lagos Engagements - TO THE MEMORY OF THE OFFICERS, SEAMEN AND ROYAL MARINES WHO WERE KILLED OR MORTALLY WOUNDED IN THE ENGAGEMENTS AT LAGOS ON THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA AD 1851 THIS TABLET IS ERECTED BY THEIR SHIPMATES AND COMPANIONS IN ARMS JOHN G.F. DYER AND HENRY H. HALL, MATES OF HMS "NIGER", KILLED 25TH NOV. 1851. FREDK.R. FLETCHER MID: JNO. McDONALD, WM. LAWS, FREDK HUNN, THOMAS SUTTON, JAMES WEBB, THOS.DAVIS, SAML. PITT, BENJN. TRACEY AND RICHD PEACOCK, SEAMEN FRANCIS BONE, THOS. NONELY AND WM. WILSON. ROYAL MAR.ARTY., AND KING GEORGE. KROOMEN OF HMS "PENELOPE" KILLED 26 TH DECEMBER 1851. HY.M. GILHAM. MASTERS ASSISTANT. GEORGE E. HOWELL, GUNNER AND W. BOTTERS RMA. HMS "PENELOPE". MORTALLY WOUNDED, THOMAS RICHARDS, MID: HMS "SAMPSON" KILLED 26TH DECEMBER 1851.

The power of the Royal Navy was subsequently used to suppress the slave trade, and while some illegal trade, mostly with Brazil, continued, the Atlantic slave trade would be eradicated by the middle of the 19th century.


The West Africa Squadron was credited with capturing 1,600 slave ships between 1808 and 1860 and freeing 150,000 Africans who were aboard these ships.


Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against the usurping King of Lagos, deposed in 1851.


 

Destruction of Lagos.


Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 13 March 1852.

Volume: 20 , Issue: 549, page 16


THE DESTRUCTION OF LAGOS.


WE have already detailed the British attack upon Lagos (ILN 21 February 1852, Volume: 20 , Issue: 546), the nest of the slave-trade in the Bights, and, as far as we know, on the west coast of Africa. We now engrave the scene of action, with an extract from a private letter from a Correspondent on board her Majesty's ship Penelope, describing the second day's attack (27 December 1851). The little Teaser got on shore the second time before she could take un the proper position ; in an hour and a half from our starting we were snugly fast head and stern close to our little friend the Bloodhound, and then we began in right good earnest.


The firing could not have been better directed on board the Excellent, in Portsmouth Harbour, and must have told fearfully on the devoted town. Captain Coate about this time came up in the Volcano with his boats, and entered con amore into the work of the day. At twelve one of our rockets set fire to the Marine Monarch's house, one of the largest in the place; and as we did not strike fire up for him with our shot and shell, it was Io fault of mine. The roofs of the houses were all of reed and straw.


A pleasant little sea breeze springing up at the time, and the rocket boat having made two or three lucky hits in other quarters, the whole town was coon in a blaze, and a famous bonfire it made, varied occasionally by the blowing up of their numerous powder-magazines. One of the Lampoon's paddleboats was on the point of starting for the ship with 23 of the worst cases of our numerous wounded when the flames burst forth, and our reiterated cheers had the most renovating effect upon their spirits.


The Waterwitch's boats also came up about this time, and did service; the result, however, would have been the same. The town burnt famously all night. On the following morning (Sunday) we did not fire a shot, and were surprised in the morning to see several detached houses set on fire. In the afternoon we received certain information that the King and everybody in the place had decamped, leaving us in quiet possession of the walls of the capital. Our African allies from Abiacuta and Badagry, amounting to about 700 men, and who had been very useful in protecting the left bank of tile river, then crossed over, and took quiet possession of as much plunder as they could collect.


Lagos is the finest African town I have ever seen. The houses are regularly and well built, and particularly clean in the inside. The poor inhabitants made haste to quit in tile greatest possible confusion. It is difficult to form an estimate of the force opposed to us; they could not have amounted to less than 8000, and an equal number armed with other weapons. One of the chiefs told me he knew of 500 killed by our fires besides a great number wounded. I landed on the Monday to have a look at the fortifications, which were wonderfully strong, and 500 resolute men could have defended them against any force.


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