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Monday, 30 April 2012

Aspects of Slavery: On Abolition, Apologies and Propaganda

"Bristol got rich on the back of the slave trade..."
The Independent, 11 May, 2006

Update: 29 September 2015, The Guardian

  George Morland

African Hospitality

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1785-1845), Weymouth MP and abolitionist

The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy (1839;1840)

Alexander Falconbridge of Bristol, surgeon on slave ships

More on Falconbridge

The Dorset connection (BBC)

Legacies of British Slave Ownership

Bristol's Graceful Mansions (update)

Slavery and the British Country House (English Heritage, 2013)

On the film Twelve Years a Slave (New Statesman)

J. M. W. Turner and "The Slave Ship"; Thomas Clarkson

Representing Slavery - Art, Artefacts and Archives in the Collections of the National Maritime Museum

A Curse for a Nation, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

British Museum "The Wealth of Africa, The Slave Trade", Students' Booklet

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1839;1840) cites the eye-witness evidence of the ship's-surgeon Alexander Falconbridge, concerning the Middle Passage (before 1790). Buxton describes Falconbridge (from Bristol) as a respectable witness before the Committee of Inquiry in 1790:

"Falconbridge then tells us that the negroes are sometimes compelled to dance and sing, and that, if any reluctance is exhibited, the cat-o'-nine-tails is employed to enforce obedience. He goes on to mention the unbounded licence given to officers and crew of the slavers, as regards the women; and, speaking of the officers, he says, they 'are sometimes guilty of such brutal exceesses as disgrace human nature'..."

"An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa"

"Exercise being deemed necessary for the preservation of their health, they are sometimes obliged to dance, when the weather will permit their coming on deck. If they go about it reluctantly, or do not move with agility, they are flogged by a person standing by them all the time with a cat-o'- nine-tails in his hand for that purpose. Their musick, upon these occasions, consists of a drum, sometimes with only one head ; and when that is worn out, they do not scruple to make use of the bottom of one of the tubs before described. The poor wretches are frequently compelled to sing also, but when they do so, their songs are generally, as may naturally be expected, melancholy lamentations of their exile from their native country.
  On board some ships, the common sailors are allowed to have intercourse with such of the black women whose consent they can procure. And some of them have been known to take the inconstancy of their paramours so much to heart, as to leap overboard and drown themselves. The officers are permitted to indulge their passions among them at pleasure, and sometimes are guilty of such brutal excesses, as disgrace human nature. The hardships and inconveniencies suffered by the negroes during the passage, are scarcely to be enumerated or conceived. They are far more violently affected by the sea-sickness, than the Europeans. It frequently terminates in death, especially among the women...
  And, to conclude on this subject, I could not help being sensibly affected, on a former voyage, at observing with what apparent eagerness a black woman seized some dirt from off an African yam, and put it into her mouth; seeming to rejoice at the opportunity of possessing some of her native earth. From these instances I think it may be clearly deduced, that the unhappy Africans are not bereft of the finer feelings, but have a strong attachment to their native country, together with a just sense of the value of liberty. And the situation of the miserable beings above described, more forcibly urge the necessity of abolishing a trade which is the source of such evils, than the most eloquent harangue, or persuasive arguments could do".


From The Felon's Account of His Transportation at Virginia in America,
by John Lauson (mid 18th century)-
A chapbook of a Bristol boy's conviction for robbery and theft, transportation (for 14 years) and slavery on the Virginia plantations.
(reprinted and edited, J Stevens Cox, The Toucan Press, Guernsey, 1969):

The Poor Unhappy Transported Felon's Sorrowful Account of His 14 Years Transportation at Virginia, in America: In Six Parts. : Being a Remarkable and Succinct History of the Life of John Lauson, who was Put Apprentice by His Father to a Cooper in the City of Bristol, where He Got Into Bad Company, and Went a Robbing with a Gang of Thieves, But His Master Got Him Back, Yet He Would Not be Kept from His Old Companions, But Went a Thieving with Them Again, for which He was Transported for Fourteen Years. : With an Account of the Way the Transports Work, and the Punishment They Receive for Committing Any Fault. : Concluding with a Word of Advice to All Young Men to be Upon Their Guard, Lest They Go Through the Hardships He Went Through

"England as Slave-Trader and Slave-Owner"
(no 8 in a series of WWII propaganda booklets, "England ohne Maske" ("England Without a Mask") published by the German Information Office, Berlin, 1940):

  Berlin, 1940

Post-War Channel Islands booklet, from a different perspective :

Channel Islands, 1950s.

Related posting: The Greek Slave

Finally, a simple song written after visiting Fort Elmina, Ghana:


They took me down to Fort Elmina,
The meanest place I’ve ever seen.

They took me down to Fort Elmina,
The meanest place I’ve ever seen.

They threw me in a dark old dungeon,
The walls were thick, (I) couldn’t see the sun.

The ocean’s roar can’t hide our cries,
As one more slave amongst us dies.

The floor is wet, the floor is foul,
A new-born babe begins to howl.

Cape Coast is worse, the rumours say,
But if I could change, I’d go today.

The ship came in, after three long months,
They packed us in, they chained us down.

I said farewell to Fort Elmina,
The prettiest sight I’ve ever seen.

I said farewell to Fort Elmina,
The prettiest sight I’ve ever seen.


ROBERT SOUTHEY (born Bristol)

Poems on the Slave Trade

Sonnet I

Hold your mad hands! for ever on your plain

Must the gorged vulture clog his beak with blood?

For ever must your Nigers tainted flood

Roll to the ravenous shark his banquet slain?

Hold your mad hands! what daemon prompts to rear

The arm of Slaughter? on your savage shore

Can hell-sprung Glory claim the feast of gore,

With laurels water'd by the widow's tear

Wreathing his helmet crown? lift high the spear!

And like the desolating whirlwinds sweep,

Plunge ye yon bark of anguish in the deep;

For the pale fiend, cold-hearted Commerce there

Breathes his gold-gender'd pestilence afar,

And calls to share the prey his kindred Daemon War.

Sonnet II

Why dost thou beat thy breast and rend thine hair,

And to the deaf sea pour thy frantic cries?

Before the gale the laden vessel flies;

The Heavens all-favoring smile, the breeze is fair;

Hark to the clamors of the exulting crew!

Hark how their thunders mock the patient skies!

Why dost thou shriek and strain thy red-swoln eyes

As the white sail dim lessens from thy view?

Go pine in want and anguish and despair,

There is no mercy found in human-kind--

Go Widow to thy grave and rest thee there!

But may the God of Justice bid the wind

Whelm that curst bark beneath the mountain wave,

And bless with Liberty and Death the Slave!

Sonnet III

Oh he is worn with toil! the big drops run

Down his dark cheek; hold--hold thy merciless hand,

Pale tyrant! for beneath thy hard command

O'erwearied Nature sinks. The scorching Sun,

As pityless as proud Prosperity,

Darts on him his full beams; gasping he lies

Arraigning with his looks the patient skies,

While that inhuman trader lifts on high

The mangling scourge. Oh ye who at your ease

Sip the blood-sweeten'd beverage! thoughts like these

Haply ye scorn: I thank thee Gracious God!

That I do feel upon my cheek the glow

Of indignation, when beneath the rod

A sable brother writhes in silent woe.

Sonnet IV

'Tis night; the mercenary tyrants sleep

As undisturb'd as Justice! but no more

The wretched Slave, as on his native shore,

Rests on his reedy couch: he wakes to weep!

Tho' thro' the toil and anguish of the day

No tear escap'd him, not one suffering groan

Beneath the twisted thong, he weeps alone

In bitterness; thinking that far away

Tho' the gay negroes join the midnight song,

Tho' merriment resounds on Niger's shore,

She whom he loves far from the chearful throng

Stands sad, and gazes from her lowly door

With dim grown eye, silent and woe-begone,

And weeps for him who will return no more. 

Sonnet V

Did then the bold Slave rear at last the Sword

Of Vengeance? drench'd he deep its thirsty blade

In the cold bosom of his tyrant lord?

Oh! who shall blame him? thro' the midnight shade

Still o'er his tortur'd memory rush'd the thought

Of every past delight; his native grove,

Friendship's best joys, and Liberty and Love,

All lost for ever! then Remembrance wrought

His soul to madness; round his restless bed

Freedom's pale spectre stalk'd, with a stern smile

Pointing the wounds of slavery, the while

She shook her chains and hung her sullen head:

No more on Heaven he calls with fruitless breath,

But sweetens with revenge, the draught of death. 

Sonnet VI

High in the air expos'd the Slave is hung

To all the birds of Heaven, their living food!

He groans not, tho' awaked by that fierce Sun

New torturers live to drink their parent blood!

He groans not, tho' the gorging Vulture tear

The quivering fibre! hither gaze O ye

Who tore this Man from Peace and Liberty!

Gaze hither ye who weigh with scrupulous care

The right and prudent; for beyond the grave

There is another world! and call to mind,

Ere your decrees proclaim to all mankind

Murder is legalized, that there the Slave

Before the Eternal, "thunder-tongued shall plead

"Against the deep damnation of your deed."

The Sailor, Who Had Served In The Slave Trade

In September, 1798, a Dissenting Minister of Bristol, discovered a Sailor in the neighbourhood of that City, groaning and praying in a hovel. The circumstance that occasioned his agony of mind is detailed in the annexed Ballad, without the slightest addition or alteration. By presenting it as a Poem the story is made more public, and such stories ought to be made as public as possible.


He stopt,--it surely was a groan

That from the hovel came!

He stopt and listened anxiously

Again it sounds the same.

It surely from the hovel comes!

And now he hastens there,

And thence he hears the name of Christ

Amidst a broken prayer.

He entered in the hovel now,

A sailor there he sees,

His hands were lifted up to Heaven

And he was on his knees.

Nor did the Sailor so intent

His entering footsteps heed,

But now the Lord's prayer said, and now

His half-forgotten creed.

And often on his Saviour call'd

With many a bitter groan,

In such heart-anguish as could spring

From deepest guilt alone.

He ask'd the miserable man

Why he was kneeling there,

And what the crime had been that caus'd

The anguish of his prayer.

Oh I have done a wicked thing!

It haunts me night and day,

And I have sought this lonely place

Here undisturb'd to pray.

I have no place to pray on board

So I came here alone,

That I might freely kneel and pray,

And call on Christ and groan.

If to the main-mast head I go,

The wicked one is there,

From place to place, from rope to rope,

He follows every where.

I shut my eyes,--it matters not--

Still still the same I see,--

And when I lie me down at night

'Tis always day with me.

He follows follows every where,

And every place is Hell!

O God--and I must go with him

In endless fire to dwell.

He follows follows every where,

He's still above--below,

Oh tell me where to fly from him!

Oh tell me where to go!

But tell me, quoth the Stranger then,

What this thy crime hath been,

So haply I may comfort give

To one that grieves for sin.

O I have done a cursed deed

The wretched man replies,

And night and day and every where

'Tis still before my eyes.

I sail'd on board a Guinea-man

And to the slave-coast went;

Would that the sea had swallowed me

When I was innocent!

And we took in our cargo there,

Three hundred negroe slaves,

And we sail'd homeward merrily

Over the ocean waves.

But some were sulky of the slaves

And would not touch their meat,

So therefore we were forced by threats

And blows to make them eat.

One woman sulkier than the rest

Would still refuse her food,--

O Jesus God! I hear her cries--

I see her in her blood!

The Captain made me tie her up

And flog while he stood by,

And then he curs'd me if I staid

My hand to hear her cry.

She groan'd, she shriek'd--I could not spare

For the Captain he stood by--

Dear God! that I might rest one night

From that poor woman's cry!

She twisted from the blows--her blood

Her mangled flesh I see--

And still the Captain would not spare--

Oh he was worse than me!

She could not be more glad than I

When she was taken down,

A blessed minute--'twas the last

That I have ever known!

I did not close my eyes all night,

Thinking what I had done;

I heard her groans and they grew faint

About the rising sun.

She groan'd and groan'd, but her groans grew

Fainter at morning tide,

Fainter and fainter still they came

Till at the noon she died.

They flung her overboard;--poor wretch

She rested from her pain,--

But when--O Christ! O blessed God!

Shall I have rest again!

I saw the sea close over her,

Yet she was still in sight;

I see her twisting every where;

I see her day and night.

Go where I will, do what I can

The wicked one I see--

Dear Christ have mercy on my soul,

O God deliver me!

To morrow I set sail again

Not to the Negroe shore--

Wretch that I am I will at least

Commit that sin no more.

O give me comfort if you can--

Oh tell me where to fly--

And bid me hope, if there be hope,

For one so lost as I.

Poor wretch, the stranger he replied,

Put thou thy trust in heaven,

And call on him for whose dear sake

All sins shall be forgiven.

This night at least is thine, go thou

And seek the house of prayer,

There shalt thou hear the word of God

And he will help thee there!


William Cowper, Anti-Slavery Poems

Slavery by Another Name, Douglas A Blackmon

White Cargo

New York Times review of White Cargo 

Sail Away, Randy Newman

Ten Million Slaves, Otis Taylor

Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners Part 1 (BBC 2 iPlayer) 1. Profit and Loss
Documentary. David Olusoga discovers the price of the abolition of slavery. Huge sums of money were paid out in compensation, not to slaves, but to the slave owners.

Part 2, The Price of Freedom
Documentary. David Olusoga traces the bitter propaganda war waged between the pro-slavery lobby and the abolitionists.

"Colonialism,,,", from The Intellectualist (Facebook):

Artist credit unknown.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  from Poems on Slavery, 1842

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