Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1842
Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1842

Royal NavyWest Africa slave trade1841 ◄► 1843

Her Majesty's Commissioners to the Earl of Aberdeen.

Sierra Leone, December 31, 1842.
(Received March 8, 1843.)


We have the honour to enclose herewith a list of all the cases adjudicated during the year 1842, in the British and Portuguese, and British and Brazilian Courts of Mixed Commission, and in the British and Spanish Mixed Court of Justice established in this Colony.

No case came before the British and Netherlands Mixed Court of Justice.

The number of vessels adjudicated was eleven, one having been tried in the British and Portuguese Court, four in the British and Spanish Court, and six in the British and Brazilian Court; nine were cases of condemnation, one of restoration to the claimant, and one was withdrawn for want of evidence to establish her Spanish nationality; and for the purpose of being prosecuted in the Vice-Admiralty Court, by which she was subsequently condemned.

Four hundred and forty slaves were emancipated during the year, of whom four hundred and thirty-nine were registered.

The total number of vessels prosecuted before the Courts of Mixed Commissions, since their establishment in this Colony in June, 1819, to the present date, is four hundred and fifty-eight, four hundred and thirty-four of which were cases of confiscation, twenty-three of restoration, and one was withdrawn, in order to be proceeded against in the Court of Vice-Admiralty.

During the same period there have been emancipated by these Courts sixty thousand two hundred and seventy-seven slaves, of whom fifty-two thousand six hundred and sixteen have been registered here.

Of the eleven vessels which came before the Mixed Courts during this year, one only had slaves on board, who were shipped in the neighbourhood of Lagos for Espiritu Santo, in the Brazils; her flag and papers, however, having indicated a Portuguese nationality, this vessel was tried, and condemned as such; and was the only case adjudicated in the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission.

Of the remaining ten vessels, all cases of equipment, four were engaged in the Spanish, and six in the Brazilian Slave Trade.

The Spanish Slavers were exclusively employed for the Island of Cuba, three of them cleared from Havana - two under Portuguese, and one under Spanish colours; the fourth sailed from St. Jago de Cuba under the Spanish flag. They were all captured to the north of the line, and their respective destinations on this coast were, - two for Lagos, one for New Cestos, and one for Bissaõ.

Three of the six Brazilians belonged to Bahia; the others to Rio, Pernambuco, and Santos: their destinations on this coast being one for Whydah, one for Princes' Island and St. Thomas's, two for Angola, and two for Benguela; - the places of capture corresponded with those destinations, two having been taken to the north, and four to the south of the line, all under the flag of Brazil, but each supplied with other colours; five of them having Portuguese flags; two, American; one, a Spanish; one, a Tuscan; and one, an English ensign.

Of the Spanish vessels, one was furnished with the flags of Portugal and France, in addition to that of Spain.

Five of these eleven vessels were built in the United States, although two only were found provided with the colours of that nation; and it would seem that the American flag, though still occasionally used, is not now resorted to, by parties employed in the Slave Trade, to nearly the same extent as in 1839 and 1840. No doubt the numerous seizures made during these two years have operated as a salutary check; and we trust that the establishment, by the United States, of an efficient squadron on this coast, acting in concert with Her Majesty's cruizers, will tend to deprive the Slave Traders altogether of the protection of an ensign which has so often of late years covered their infamous transactions.

The direct export Slave Trade, from places between Sierra Leone and the Gambia, seems to be almost entirely suppressed, a result effected by the recent destruction of slave depôts at Bulama, and in its neighbourhood, and by the continued vigilance and increased force of Her Majesty's cruizers stationed to the northward. We do not know of any slaves having been directly shipped from either the Pongas or Nunez during the past year; and whilst we have before us a list of no less than six vessels which are stated to have carried off, from the neighbourhood of Bissaõ, about 1500 negroes in the last six months of 1841, we have no reason to believe that more than one vessel effected its escape with a cargo of slaves from that locality during the whole of 1842. The traffic, however, still continues to be carried on with considerable vigour through the Cape Verd Islands, the slaves being collected from the Pongas, Nunez, and other places, and conveyed in canoes to spots suitable for temporary concealment, whence they are taken in small sailing vessels to the Cape Verds, thence to be transported to the West Indies and South America, as opportunities present.

The authorities of the Cape Verds seem still to afford, as they have ever done, all possible facility and protection to the Slave Traders. The Governor is said to have gone so far, during the past year, as to suspend the Chief Magistrate, with a view of screening from tardy justice certain individuals under prosecution for slave dealing. It also appears that the local government of these islands has recently established export and import duties on slaves; the objet of this impost is probably to increase the revenue; we, however, look upon the measure as giving a sort of tacit sanction to the slave dealer, in which light it will, in all likelihood, be considered by parties concerned in the traffic.

The notorious Caetaneo Nozzolini, we are informed, has taken up his residence at the Cape Verds, no doubt for the purpose of superintending the illicit trade, which he will probably be enabled to carry on with impunity under the auspices of the Governor-General, between whom and that slave dealer, it is believed, there exists an understanding highly discreditable to the representative of Her Most Faithful Majesty.

At the Gallinas, the Slave Trade, which had been paralyzed for a time by the sweeping destruction of the factories and barracoons, is stated to have again partially revived. We have heard, however, of only one cargo of slaves having been carried off recently from that neighbourhood. All the proceedings of the Slave Traders, especially in that quarter, are now conducted with much more than customary secrecy, and it is with difficulty that any information can be obtained respecting them: legitimate traders to places frequented by slavers have of late, we are told, generally professed total ignorance on the subject, owing, it is supposed, to a dread of injurious consequences, should it transpire that any intelligence had, through their agency, been obtained by Her Majesty's cruizers. This timidity, or indifference, must necessarily be attended, if persisted in, with unfavourable results; yet it is difficult to say what remedy would be applicable - one only presents itself to us at this monument, which is, that one or more of Her Majesty's steamers should be directed to visit periodically, and penetrate, as far as practicable, into those haunts, not only for the purpose of capturing slave vessels, but to afford as much protection as possible to the persons and property of British subjects engaged there in lawful traffic.

A similar practice to that which prevails in the neighbourhood of Bissaõ is also followed on the coast in the vicinity of Princes Island and St. Thomas's; negroes are constantly carried across in small sailing-boats from the Gaboon, and other places adjoining, and a sufficient number having been collected in one or other of these Islands, they are shipped off in the first vessels for Havana or Brazil; slavers, in fact, sometimes go no further than St. Thomas's, despatching boats thence to the main-land for their cargoes.

It has been mentioned to us, by a party who had been afforded good opportunities of forming a sound opinion on the subject, that the establishment of a British Consulate at St. Thomas's would probably act as a considerable restraint upon the traffic in that neighbourhood; in fact, be a means of breaking up the depôts in the Islands, and might also render great service by procuring information respecting slaving transactions, which can only be obtained by parties resident, or in direct communication with those frequenting the Slave Marts. We feel disposed to think most favourably of this suggestion, and beg leave to submit its expediency for your Lordship's consideration.

If any inference may be drawn from the progressive decrease in the number of vessels tried at Sierra Leone during the last three years, it would seem that the Slave Trade on the West Coast, and especially to the north of the line, was rapidly falling off, so much so, indeed, as to afford some hope of its final extinction in that quarter. Without referring to the extraordinary list of captures during l839, we find the total number of slave vessels brought before the Courts of Mixed Commissions and of Vice-Admiralty at Sierra Leone, during the year 1840, to have been forty-three; in 1841, thirty-two; and in 1842, only eighteen; in fact only seventeen, one of the vessels having been proceeded against in both Courts, and consequently included in the lists of each.

Though, possibly, the alleged depression in the trade of Cuba and Brazil may have tended in some degree to this decrease, there appears ground for attributing it chiefly to three causes, all of which have been in operation for a limited period.:

1st. The seizure, and the frequent condemnation, of late years, of Brazilian and Portuguese vessels equipped only for the traffic;

2nd. The practice, latterly so efficiently carried out, of blockading the places most resorted to by slave dealers; and,

3dly. To that measure of destroying barracoons and slave factories, not under European protection, which prevailed during 184l, and part of l842; indeed, however questionable may be considered the policy of proceedings of so arbitrary a nature, in territories over which Great Britain claims no right to exercise sovereignty, to this last method of suppression may, we think, be ascribed, perhaps more than to either of the other causes which we have named, that decrease which has been so remarkable during the past year.

We have no sufficient information from which to form a correct judgement of the exact number of slave vessels captured on the Coast, under the provisions of the Act 2nd and 3d Victoria, cap. 73, during the period referred to, and which have been taken to other Vice-Admiralty Courts than that of Sierra Leone; but we have reason to believe that the proportion of such cases has been less during the year 1842 than in either of the preceding years. Our latest intelligence from the Havana shows also, for a great portion of last year, an apparent reduction unprecedented at any former period. Thirty-one vessels, known or supposed to be engaged in the Slave Traffic, are reported to have cleared from Havana in 1841, being an obvious falling-off from the preceding year, whilst only three suspected vessels are named as having sailed thence during the first seven months of 1842.

The recent addition of armed steam vessels to the British squadron, cannot fail to effect much towards the suppression of the Slave Trade; there are at present, three of Her Majesty's steamers employed on this coast, but we would respectfully suggest that this force might at least be doubled, with the greatest possible prospect of beneficial results. The advantages possessed by small steamers over sailing vessels are unquestionable, independently of their superior qualities in calms and light winds, as well as the greater facility of ascending rivers against stream or tide, and thereby avoiding the frequent use of boats, and the consequent great exposure of human life; they might render invaluable service merely by conveying provisions and other supplies to vessels of the squadron stationed off the slave ports, thus superseding the necessity of periodical absence from the cruizing grounds, for which the Slave Traders are continually on the watch, and are usually prepared to turn to advantage.

We cannot help thinking also, that although it may be expedient to discontinue the more direct mode of destroying slaving establishments by the means latterly adopted, it might be advisable, and be quite as practicable, to effect that destruction by inducing the native chiefs to drive out those lawless traders; Her Majesty's cruizers being instructed to render every assistance for that purpose, short of active intervention.

We are also still of opinion, that much advantage would be derived from the adoption of some effectual measure to prevent the crews of captured slavers being let loose, as at present, upon the coast, to man other slavers short of seamen, to turn pirates in desperation, or to perish in a manner which, despite their crimes, it must be painful to humanity to reflect upon. We observe with much pleasure, that a clause in the Treaty recently concluded with Portugal, provides that the whole of captured crews shall be taken, with the prizes, to the port of adjudication; and the Commissioners having, on former occasions, brought this matter under the notice of Her Majesty's Government, it will be unnecessary for us to make further remark upon the subject.

We have, &c.


The Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen, K.T.
&c, &c, &c,

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