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William Loney RN - Background  

Home-Loney-Background-West Africa  

Enlightened opinion caused a number of countries to declare the slave trade (but not necessarily slavery itself) illegal during or after the period of the Napoleonic wars. The Congress of Vienna - which rearranged Europe in 1815 - issued a high-sounding condemnation of the trade, but did not go so far as to ban it. Legislation alone, however, was not enough to bring the trade to an end, and it was many years before officials in slave-holding areas (notably Brazil and the Spanish colony of Cuba, but also the (southern) United States) loyally and effectively implemented national policy. British policy was aimed at making bilateral treaties with other nations giving the Royal Navy the right to detain suspected slavers and submit them to trial. This policy was given added impetus in 1817 by the judgement of the High Court of Admiralty in the case of the French slaver Louis, stating that the fact that slavery was illegal in the country under whose flag the ship was sailing, did not give the Royal Navy sufficient right to detain a slaver unless that right was explicitly granted by treaty.

The treaties applied initially only to ships actually carrying slaves when intercepted (which often led to slaves being rapidly landed - or even thrown overboard - when a Navy cruiser was sighted). This was later extended to ships which had being carrying slaves, and finally to ships which had not yet carried them, but were obviously intending to do so. The so-called "equipment clause" in later treaties typically allowed seizure if any of the following items were found on board:

British (or stateless) slavers were tried at Vice-Admiralty courts, for example at Freetown (Sierra Leone), St Helena or the Cape of Good Hope. Although many treaties stipulated that "Mixed Commission" courts be established on territories of both signatories, some countries (notably France and - initially - the United States) did not allow the Royal Navy the right of search, and insisted that intercepted slavers could only be tried in national courts.

TreatyLocations of Mixed Commission courtsNote
1817 PortugalFreetown, Rio de JaneiroEstablished in 1819. Only Freetown after Brazilian independence; defunct in 1839
1817 SpainFreetown, HavanaEstablished in 1819
1818 NetherlandsFreetown, SurinamEstablished in 1819
1828 BrazilFreetown, Rio de JaneiroPursuant to old treaty with Portugal; lapsed in 1845
1839 ChileFreetownNo Chilean court
1839 ArgentineFreetownNo Argentine court
1839 UruguayFreetownNo Uruguayan court
1840 BoliviaFreetownNo Bolivian court
1841 EcuadorFreetownNo Ecuadorian court
1842 PortugalCape of Good Hope, Spanish Town (Jamaica), Luanda (Angola), Boa Vista (Cape Verde Is.)Established in 1844. Spanish Town and Boa Vista closed in 1851
1862 United StatesExternal linkFreetown, Cape of Good Hope, New York 

In the period between 1819 and 1845 the Mixed Commission courts (and particularly those at Freetown) were responsible for the majority of trials (Freetown, Spanish: 241; Freetown, Portuguese: 155; Freetown, Brazilian: 111, Freetown, Dutch: 21, Havana: 50; Rio de Janeiro: 44; Surinam: 1). In 1839, where Portugal refused to renew the treaty, Palmerston introduced a law (2 & 3 Vict c. 73) allowing Portuguese vessels to be tried at Vice Admiralty courts (although without punishment of master or crew). Three years later a new treaty was agreed, including - for the first time - effective Portuguese penalties. As a result of this Portuguese slavers abandoned their national flag, and now being stateless could not be tried at the new Anglo-Portuguese Mixed Commission courts. Similar legislative developments in Spain in 1845, and Brazilian refusal to extend its treaty in the same year, resulted in transfer of Spanish and Brazilian cases from Mixed Commission to Vice Admiralty courts. After 1845 few cases were tried at Mixed Commission courts, and they were all formally disbanded in the 1870s.

Developments per country:

Britain
178828 Geo III c. 54 (An Act to regulate, for a limited Time, the shipping and carrying Slaves in British Vessels from the Coast of Africa; the so-called "Dolben Act"): first measure to improve conditions on slave ships, and to require a surgeon on board slave ships. Renewed annually (except in 1796 by oversight)
1807, 25 Mar47 Geo III c. 36 (An act for the abolition of the slave trade): end of British slave trade, penalty = forfeiture of vessel and £100 fine per slave
1808first British anti-slavery patrol on West African coast (frigate Solebay and sloop Derwent)
1810first effective RN squadron on the coast
1811, 14 May51 Geo III c. 23 (An act for rendering more effectual an act made in the forty-seventh year of His Majesty's reign, intitled "An act for the abolition of the slave trade"; the so-called "Felony act"): slave trade a felony, punishable by 14 years transportation
1815, 9 JunCongress of Vienna condemns, but does not ban, slave trade
1817, 15 DecHigh Court of Admiralty judge Sir William Scott (later Lord Stowell) gives verdict in case of French slaver Louis (captured by Queen Charlotte); search and capture of ships under foreign flag only possible if specifically allowed by treaty
1819RN established independent West African station
18245 Geo IV c. 17 (An Act for the more effectual Suppression of the African Slave Trade): slave trade considered equivalent to piracy, and punishable by death
18333&4 Will IV c. 73 (An act for the abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies, for promoting the industry of the manumitted slaves, and for compensating the persons hitherto entitled to the services of such slaves; the so-called "Emancipation act"): slavery abolished in British colonies (except India and St Helena) as of 1 August 1834; slaves to be compulsory "apprentices" until 1840
18377 Will IV & 1 Vict c. 88 (An act to amend certain acts relating to the crime of piracy): slave trade punishment reduced to transportation for life
1838, JulyWest Indian planters agree - under government pressure - to end "apprenticeship" of ex-slaves
1841Denman destroys slave barracoons in the Gallenas river
1841first treaties with African chiefs
1841Niger expedition
1842"Aberdeen letter" expresses doubts about legality of barracoon attacks, restricts navy campaign; Gallenas slaver Buron sues Denman for damages
18436&7 Vict c. 98 (An act for the more effectual suppression of the slave trade): extends prohibition to all British subjects, wherever domiciled
1846free trade: market opened to "slave sugar"
1847treaty making with African chiefs resumes
1848Denman wins case brought by Buron
 
Argentine (independent from Spain in 1816)
1839, 24 Maytreaty: right of search and Mixed Commission court (only at Freetown, no Argentine commissioner)
 
Austria
1841, 20 DecQuintuple treaty; right of search in Atlantic and Indian oceans, equipment clause
 
Bolivia (independent from Spain in 1825)
1840, 25 Septreaty: right of search and Mixed Commission court (only at Freetown, no Bolivian commissioner)
 
Brazil (independent from Portugal in 1822)
1825old Portuguese treaties to apply; Mixed Commission courts at Rio and Freetown
1826, 23 Novtreaty: import of slaves to be illegal after 1829
1845treaty of 1826 lapsed and not replaced; Mixed Courts at Rio and Freetown closed. Britain takes unilateral action: "Aberdeen Act" (8 & 9 Vict c. 122) allows Vice Admiralty courts to try Brazilian ships
1849unilateral British action starts in Brazilian waters
1853trade ends
1888slavery abolished
 
Chile (independent from Spain in 1818)
1839, 19 Jantreaty: right of search and Mixed Commission court (only at Freetown, no Chilean commissioner)
 
Denmark
1792law ending slave trade in 1802
1802slave trade illegal
1834, 26 Jultreaty: national courts
 
Ecuador (independent from Spain in 1830)
1841, 24 Maytreaty: right of search and Mixed Commission court (only at Freetown, no Ecuadorian commissioner)
 
France
1794, 4 Febslavery abolished in French colonies (decree of 16 Pluviôse II)
1801slavery reintroduced by Napoleon
1814Treaty of Paris: slave trade limited to French colonies; trade to end in 5 years
1818slave trade illegal
1828French anti-slavery patrol
1831, 31 NovConvention: right of search 15N-10S, 0-30W, trial by national courts, no equipment clause
1833, 22 MarConvention: equipment clause added
Instructions to Cruizers
1841Quintuple treaty; right of search in Atlantic and Indian oceans, equipment clause; not ratified
1845, 29 Maytreaty: national courts, no right of search, French squadron on the West African coast
1848, 27 Aprslavery abolished by the 2nd Republic
1855treaty of 1845 expires
 
Hanse towns
1837, 9 Juntreaty: right of search and national courts
 
Haiti (independent from France in 1804)
1839, 23 Dectreaty: right of search and national courts
 
Netherlands
1814slave trade illegal
1818, 4 MayTreaty: right of search and Mixed Commission courts at Freetown and Surinam
Instructions for the Ships of the British and Netherlands Royal Navies, employed to prevent the Traffic in Slaves
Regulations for the Mixed Commissions, which are to reside on the Coast of Africa, and in a Colonial Possession of His Majesty the King of the Netherlands
1822, 31 DecArticles explanatory of and additional to this treaty: condemnation if slaves had been carried, replacement of Commissioners
1823, 25 JanFurther additional Article: equipment clause
1830slave trade ends
1863slavery abolished
 
Portugal
1810, 19 Febtreaty: only slaving from Portuguese possessions in Africa (and Whydah and the Gold Coast)
1815, 22 JanTreaty: slave trade illegal north of the equator
Additional Article: Portuguese settlers may take domestic slaves if retiring to Portuguese territories north of the line
1817, 28 JulAdditional Convention: right of search and Mixed Commission courts in Sierra Leone and at Rio
Form of Passport for Portuguese Vessels destined for the lawful Traffic in Slaves
Instructions intended for the British and Portuguese Ships of War employed to prevent the illicit Traffic in Slaves
Regulations for the Mixed Commissions, which are to reside on the Coast of Africa, in the Brazils and London
Commission for a British Commissary-Judge, a Commissioner of Arbitration, and a Secretary or Registrar in Sierra Leone
Separate Article
1819, 3 AprDeclaration: correcting clerical error
1823, 15 MarAdditional Articles to the Convention: equipment clause added
1839, 24 Augfailure to agree to new treaty results in British law (2 & 3 Vict c. 73) to allow Portuguese vessels to be tried at Vice Admiralty courts; Mixed Commission court at Freetown defunct
1842, 3 Jultreaty: new Mixed Commission courts at Luanda, Boa Vista, Spanish Town and Cape of Good Hope; stringent Portuguese legislation; Portuguese flag no longer used by slavers
 
Prussia
1841, 20 DecQuintuple treaty; right of search in Atlantic and Indian oceans, equipment clause
 
Russia
1841, 20 DecQuintuple treaty; right of search in Atlantic and Indian oceans, equipment clause
 
Sardinia
1834, 8 Augtreaty: right of search and national courts
 
two Sicilies
1838, 14 Febtreaty: right of search and national courts
 
Spain
1808treaty
1817, 23 SepTreaty: slave trade illegal north of the equator, right of search, Mixed Commission courts at Freetown and Havana, slave trade to be illegal after 30 May 1820
Form of Passport for Spanish Vessels destined for the lawful Traffic in Slaves
Instructions for the British and Spanish Ships of War employed to prevent the illicit Traffic in Slaves
Regulations for the Mixed Commissions, which are to reside on the Coast of Africa and in a Colonial Possession of His Catholic Majesty
1820, 30 Mayslave trade illegal
1822, 10 DecExplanatory Article to the Treaty of 23 September 1817: also condemnation if slaves had been carried
Additional Article to the Treaty of 23 September 1817: replacement of Commissioners
1824, 2 FebDeclaration explanatory of Additional Article: correction of clerical error
1835, 28 Juntreaty: equipment clause
1840Valdez, Captain-General of Cuba diligent opponent of slave trade
1845, 2 Marstringent legislation in Cortes; Spanish flag no longer used by slavers
1850Cuban trade revives
1869end of Cuban slave trade
1886slavery abolished in Cuba
 
Sweden (and Norway)
1813slave trade illegal
1824, 6 Novtreaty: right of search (Mixed Commission courts not necessary as trade stopped)
 
Texas (independent from Mexico in 1836, joined United States in 1845)
1840, 16 Novtreaty: right of search and national courts
 
Tuscany
1837, 24 Novtreaty: right of search and national courts
 
Uruguay (independent from Brazil in 1828)
1839, 13 Jultreaty: right of search and Mixed Commission court (only at Freetown, no Uruguayan commissioner)
 
USA
1807, 2 Marslave trade illegal
1820slavery equated with piracy, punishable by death
1821US navy squadron on the West African coast (until 1824)
1836slavers sailing under American colours
1840USS Dolphin (later USS Grampus) on the coast; Tucker-Paine cooperation
1842, 9 AugWebster-Ashburton treaty: national courts, no right of search, US navy squadron on the West African coast
1862, 21 Novdeath penalty under law of 1820 first exacted
1862, 7 AprWashington treatyExternal link: right of search and Mixed Commission courts in Sierra Leone, Cape of Good Hope and New York
1863slavery abolished in the north
186513th amendment: slavery abolished
 
Venezuela
1839, 15 Martreaty: right of search and national courts

The information on the page is derived primarily from Lloyd; Ward; and Bethell.


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