Blood and Bronze

The British Empire and the Sack of Benin

December 2021 9781787384569 240pp, 8pp b&w illus
Available as an eBook
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The Benin Bronzes are among the British Museum’s most prized possessions. Celebrated for their great beauty, they embody the history, myth and artistry of the ancient Kingdom of Benin, once West Africa’s most powerful, and today part of Nigeria. But despite the Bronzes’ renown, little has been written about the brutal imperial violence with which they were plundered. Paddy Docherty’s searing new history tells that story: the 1897 British invasion of Benin.

Armed with shocking details discovered in the archives, Blood and Bronze sets this assault in its late Victorian context. As British power faced new commercial and strategic pressures elsewhere, it ruthlessly expanded in West Africa. Revealing both the extent of African resistance and previously concealed British outrages, this is a definitive account of the destruction of Benin. Laying bare the Empire’s true motives and violent means, including the official coverup of grotesque sexual crimes, Docherty demolishes any moral argument for Britain retaining the Bronzes, making a passionate case for their immediate repatriation to Nigeria.


‘Revealed: How Lord Salisbury hid rape by his British consul in Benin’ — Paddy Docherty’s research highlighted in The Guardian

‘A stark exploration of the blood-soaked British raid that plundered the treasures of Benin.’ — BBC History Magazine

‘A powerful and thoughtful exploration of the deep history behind the looting of some of Africa’s greatest artistic treasures. If you want to understand why the Benin Bronzes must be returned to Nigeria, read this book.’ — David Olusoga, historian, broadcaster, and author of Black and British

‘This compelling account of the plunder of Benin provides a deeply disquieting snapshot of the workings of the British Empire in Africa and beyond. There is a manifestly powerful case for restitution and reparation.’ — Priyamvada Gopal, Professor of Postcolonial Studies, University of Cambridge, and author of Insurgent Empire

‘Blood and Bronze is a scholarly, forensic and wonderfully readable account of the circumstances leading to the fateful Benin Expedition of 1897 and the looting of the bronzes. Vivid, passionate and compelling, it deserves to be widely read—and surely will be.’ — John Darwin, Professor of Global and Imperial History, University of Oxford, and author of Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain

‘An absorbing, original and beautifully written historical horror story. Docherty skilfully weaves a rich tale of the almost primal evil inflicted on Benin by the British Empire. Essential reading for anyone with an interest in the unvarnished truth of the “glorious” days of Empire.’ — Louise Raw, historian, broadcaster, and author of Striking a Light

‘An audacious and brave narrative about how the Benin Bronzes were looted during the colonial era and exhibited in the British Museum. Careful and lucid, Blood and Bronze weaves an engrossing narrative explaining how the theft of cultural artifacts is the theft of culture itself.’ — Rafia Zakaria, writer, political philosopher, attorney, and author of Against White Feminism

‘This is, hands down, the most granular and compelling account yet of the 1897 British invasion of Benin. After reading this book, I dare you to make any reasonable argument against restitution of Benin’s looted treasures.’ — Chika Okeke-Agulu, Director of the Program in African Studies, Princeton University, and author of Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria

‘Docherty gives vivid access to a place and time we don’t know but should: the resource-rich Niger Delta when the British Empire still believed its own myths. An impassioned plea to understand our colonial past in all its greed and ruthlessness—and to return the spoils of Empire to where they belong.’ — Llewelyn Morgan, Professor of Classical Languages and Literature, University of Oxford


Paddy Docherty is a historian of empire, with a particular interest in the British Empire, anticolonial resistance, and the cultural impact of imperialism. He was educated at the University of Oxford and is the author of The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion.  

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