Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1848
Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1848

Royal NavyWest Africa slave trade1847

Her Majesty's Acting Commissary Judge to Viscount Palmerston. - (Received March 12.)

Sierra Leone, December 31, 1848.

My Lord,

I HAVE now the honour to present to your Lordship my annual report on the state of Slave Trade on the western coast of Africa, during the year just ended, together with remarks, and such information as I have been able to collect in that period.

Owing to the operation of the Acts of the 2nd and 3rd Victoria, cap, 73, and 8 and 9 Victoria, cap. 122, no vessel has been brought into the Mixed Courts during 1848; but a very large number have been adjudicated in the Vice-Admiralty Court of this colony. That some of such vessels were really Spanish property, (though under the Brazilian flag) I cannot doubt; but the now general system of destroying the ship's papers, flags, &c., previous to capture, effectually conceals their nationality. This is, doubtless, caused by the Penal Law promulgated by Her Catholic Majesty at Madrid on the 2nd day of March, 1845; which law seems to have struck the Spanish slave-traders with terror; for during the last two years, only one vessel, the "Atrevida," under the Spanish flag, has been adjudicated in the Mixed Courts of Sierra Leone. The mate and three of the crew (being all who were brought here) of this vessel, were in accordance with the above-mentioned decree, sent prisoners to the Regente of the Courts of Justice of the Canary Islands; but I have not yet heard the result of their trial. It is a fact also, that many of the Brazilian slavers when captured, are found without either ship's papers or flag, thereby preventing the disclosure of the names of the owners of the ship and cargo, also the master, supercargo, and officers; and as the system of trying slave-vessels in the Vice-Admiralty Court does not expose the names of parties to the public, they of course prefer that to the Mixed Courts, where all the parties concerned are annually exposed in the papers laid before Parliament.

During the past year no case was brought before the British and Spanish, British and Netherlands, British and Chilean, British and Bolivian, British and Argentine, British and Uruguayan, Mixed Courts of Justice.

No slaves were emancipated by the Mixed Courts during the year. The total number of cases prosecuted before the Mixed Commissions since their establishment here in June, 1819, up to the present date, is 529, whereof 502 were cases of condemnation, and twenty-seven were either withdrawn, dismissed, or restored to the claimants.

In the same period, there have been emancipated by these Mixed Courts, 64,625 slaves; of whom 56,935 have been registered here.

I have the honour to inclose for your Lordship's information, an official copy, obtained from his Honour the Chief Justice, of a return of vessels captured on suspicion of being engaged in the Slave Trade, and adjudicated in the Vice-Admiralty Court at Sierra Leone, from the 30th June to the 31st December, 1848, amounting to seventeen vessels, which, with the fourteen adjudicated in the same Court during the previous half year, gives a total of thirty-one vessels adjudicated in the Vice-Admiralty Court of Sierra Leone, in the year just ended; under the Acts of the 5 George IV, cap. 113, 2 and 3 Victoria, cap. 73, and the Act of the 8 and 9 Victoria, cap. 122.

Of the thirty-one vessels, fourteen were captured under the Brazilian flag, fifteen were without either ship's papers or colours; one under the British flag, and one under the flag of the United States.

The aforesaid captures took place in the following localities; one in the Rio Pongas, two in the harbour of Sierra Leone, one off this colony, eleven between Seabar and Cape Palmas, fourteen within six degrees south of the line, and one captured full of slaves, probably on her passage to Cuba, in latitude 12° 22' south, longitude 37° 14' west.

Among the thirty-one captures, thirteen had slaves on board, the other eighteen cases were proceeded against for being found equipped for the Slave Trade.

The locality in which the thirteen vessels having slaves on board, were captured, is as follows, three canoes seized with 112 slaves on board within British waters off this colony; nine vessels within six degrees north of the equator; two within four degrees south of the equator; and one was captured full of slaves in latitude 12° 22' south, and longitude 37° 14' west.

The number of slaves so captured was 5,619, of whom 5,282 were decreed emancipated; 337 having died before such decree was passed. This dreadful mortality may be accounted for by the inhuman master of the slaver captured by Commander Sprigg of Her Majesty's sloop "Ferret," having stowed on board his vessel, admeasurement only 167 tons, 852 men, women, and children; 127 of whom died before they were emancipated; and, but for the humane conduct of Commander Sprigg, who transhipped about 300 slaves on board the "Ferret," the mortality must have proved even still more appalling.

In the course of the year just ended, two cases of a rather unusual occurrence have been adjudicated in the Vice-Admiralty Court of this place, The first was that of the British steamer "Maid of Islay," William Cunningham Townley, master, which vessel was seized on the 25th of May in this harbour, by Commander Dunlop, of Her Majesty's sloop "Alert," for being engaged in the Slave Trade, or otherwise aiding and abetting that traffic.

The "Maid of Islay," was adjudicated on the 19th day of July last, when Mr. Heddle, the Acting Judge, decreed that the aforesaid vessel, "Maid of Islay," her tackle, apparel, and furniture, be restored to William Cunningham Townley, the master and owner thereof; and the goods, wares, and merchandise on board the same be restored to Messrs. Hartung and Co., the owners and proprietors of the said cargo; and further decreed the seizor's costs, and condemned the said parties in such costs accordingly.

Against this decree, an appeal to a higher court at home has been made by the seizor.

In my despatch marked general, of the 18th of December last, I had the honour of transmitting to your Lordship all the particulars I could obtain in reference to this very extraordinary case, I therefore beg respectfully to refer you to the said despatch.

On or about the 27th of September, the American brig "Lawrence," Edward York, master, burthen 170 tons, was seized in the harbour of Sierra Leone by Commander Dunlop, of Her Majesty's sloop "Alert," for being found with slave equipment on board in British waters.

The brig "Lawrence" came into this harbour on the 23rd of September last; her master alleging that she was making thirty-four inches of water per hour, and that he came into this port for the purpose of getting his vessel repaired.

On November the 25th the aforesaid American brig "Lawrence," Edward York, master, was condemned as good prize in the Vice-Admiralty Court of Sierra Leone. Previous to the day of trial, the master took his departure for Brazil, and I believe carried away the register of the "Lawrence."

I have further the honour to report, for your Lordship's information, that Her Majesty's sloop "Alert," Commander Dunlop, arrived in our harbour this morning with 100 slaves on board, who were immediately landed in "the Queen's Yard."

I beg respectfully to solicit your Lordship's attention to this novel and interesting era in the history of the abolition of Slave Trade, because it clearly proves that a highly important change has taken place in the very locality (Bissao) where an extensive Slave Trade has flourished for more than a hundred years; but where now many thousands of natives are daily employed in cultivating ground-nuts for shipping. And the Slave Trade is strictly prohibited by the powerful young King Branco of Beeomba. The notorious Cayetaneo, the Portuguese Governor of Bissao, has also abolished the Slave Trade, and is employing vast numbers of slaves in cultivating ground-nuts upon the British Island of Bulama.

It appears that Commander Dunlop sent his boats into Bissao to search the different creeks that run into the river Jeba, for slavers, and that, on hearing of their arrival, His Majesty King Branco, though sick, officially applied to the commander for help, and requested him to remove to Sierra Leone all the slaves in the barracoons belonging to the two Spaniards, Don Bito (alias Victor) Dalreda, and Don Joze Vanrell (Joze Vanrell was formerly master of the Spanish schooner "Atrevida," condemned in the Mixed Courts of Sierra Leone, on the 8th of December, 1847). At the same time assuring Commander Dunlop that he, the King of Beeomba, had finally abolished the Slave Trade in his dominions. Thereupon, the slaves in the barracoons were asked if they preferred to be then and there made free and remain, when they all declared that they wished to be taken to Sierra Leone. This was acceded to by the authorities, and the slaves were embarked on board the "Alert," and, as before stated, landed in this colony. The two Spaniards fled by land to their companions in human traffic on the Rio Pongas, where the notorious Spanish dealers in slaves, Senior Pellegrin and Don Paul Fabre, reside, also the native slave-dealers, Mrs. Lightburn and Mr. Allen.

The Rio Pongas may now be considered to be the sole mart for the Slave Trade to the northward Sierra Leone.

I have only heard of two slavers having escaped with slaves on board from the Rio Pongas during the year 1848, and I believe they were both owned by Spaniards.

I have the pleasure to report to your Lordship that, by order of the French Government, all the slaves in Senegal and Goree have been emancipated. This highly interesting event cannot fail to produce important effects upon the natives of the neighbouring kingdoms, and to convince them that Great Britain and France are determined, not only to suppress the Slave Trade, but also slavery itself in every part of their dominions.

Already agriculture, upon a most extensive scale, is in progress among the natives living between this place and Gambia. Rice and ground-nuts are the chief articles cultivated. The ground-nut trade has for several years past formed a highly important and valuable branch of export trade. The demand for ground-nuts from France, Hamburgh, and America far exceeds the supply. I earnestly hope that the spirit of agriculture and commerce, now happily manifesting itself among the natives, is the sure dawn of brighter days for benighted Africa.

With the only exception of the Rio Pongas, I consider that we have now no export Slave Trade between Cape Blanco and Sierra Leone, a distance of coast of upwards of 600 miles.

Before concluding my report, I beg respectfully to make a few remarks on the suggestions promulgated by certain parties in reference to the withdrawal of the British squadron on this coast for the suppression of the Slave Trade.

For more than thirty years I have taken a lively interest in the cause of abolition, and my present position in Her Majesty's service, together with a residence of many years in Africa, enable me to state for your Lordship's information an opinion gained by actual experience and observation upon the present progress of the cause of the abolition of the Slave Trade, which I humbly trust may induce some of those who entertain the mistaken views of advocating the withdrawal of the squadron, to pause ere they sanction a measure so utterly ruinous to millions of the human family.

It is my firm belief that in nine or twelve months after the withdrawal of our squadron, the whole of Western Africa, from Cape Verd to Benguela, would present a scene of cruelty and devastation too fearful to contemplate. All the progress of Christianity, civilization, and commerce would be annihilated: in a word, Western Africa would, in the course of a year or two, be rolled back to its worst pristine savage condition. The coast would become the resort of the most degraded renegades and pirates of Brazil and other nations.

If our merchants entertain a hope that the trade of palm oil, gold, ivory, ground-nuts, hides, wax, &c., will continue to exist, after the withdrawal of our squadron, I fear that they will be wofully disappointed. The thousands of palm-oil carriers, and agricultural labourers, would instantly be kidnapped and carried on board slave-vessels. After a time the remaining natives would avoid the coast as they would the locality of a plague.

In my humble opinion, this dreaded calamity can only be evaded by a strong treaty with Brazil, similar to or more stringent than that with Spain. Your Lordship has doubtless noticed the excellent effect of the penal law of Spain, dated the 2nd of March, 1845, upon the Spanish slave traders; since its promulgation, upwards of two years ago, we have only had one vessel under Spanish colours brought before the Mixed Courts of Sierra Leone.

I would also venture to remark, that hardly any squadron, however vigilant, and none could be more so than the present, would alone effect the total abolition of the Slave Trade on this coast, unless it be supported by a zealous, honest co-operation of the Brazilian and Spanish Governments.

In my opinion, the concluding part of this great undertaking can only be brought to a successful termination by applying gentler means, and strict enforcement of treaties before the squadron is withdrawn from this coast.

I have, &c.


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