For sixty years the Royal Navy fought against the West African slave trade, in one of the longest campaigns ever fought by the Navy. For most of that period a fairly small squadron of ships attempted to enforce an ever changing array of anti-slavery laws and treaties, often agreed with countries in which the slave trade was still legal.
It is interesting to note that the international slave trade was actually outlawed some time before slavery itself. In Britain the slave trade was abolished in 1807, slavery not until 1833, and even in the US the international slave trade was banned at national level in 1808, having been outlawed in the states even earlier. At the other extreme Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888! In many cases it was British pressure that led to abolution, or at least to the end of the slave trade, as anti-slavery clauses were inserted into other treaties. Many of the chapters in this book start with a change in the law or the treaties, and look at the impact that had on the campaign.
Most of this book is take up by blow by blow accounts of the individual clashes between the Royal Navy and the slaving ships, looking at the clash at sea, which often involved some fairly brutal fighting, the eventual result of the encounter, what was discovered on each ship, how many people were onboard, how many survived to reach safety, and the eventual result of the resulting legal cases. At first I found this a tad repetitive, but after a bit I found it to be an effective way of getting across the length and scale of the campaign. It also makes you realise just how dreadful the human coast of the slave trade was, with hundreds of people jammed into tiny spaces, in the most brutal of conditions, and even rescue by the Royal Navy being no guarantee of survival – each account tells you how many slaves were found on each ship, and how many survived to reach port, and the difference is often depressingly vast.
This is a compelling account of this long and costly but ultimately successful campaign, covering one of the longest but least well known British naval campaigns.
1 – Slavers and Abolitions
2 – Early Operations: November 1807-November 1814
3 – Hagan Versus the Slavers: December 1814-December 1819
4 – The American Squadron: January 1820-February 1822
5 – The Equipment Clause: February 1822-December 1824
6 – Captain Owen’s Island: January 1825-June 1827
7 – The Black Joke: June 1827-December 1829
8 – The Brazilian Trade: January 1830-November 1831
9 – Commands Combined: December 1831-September 1834
10 – The Spanish Equipment Clause: September 1834-December 1836
11 – The Fever Coast: January 1837-December 1838
12 – The American Slavers: January 1839-December 1839
13 – Attacking the Source: January 1840-December 1841
14 – Treaties and Palavers: January 1842-December 1843
15 – The End of the Trade: 1844-1867
Author: Anthony Sullivan