Mixed Court report on seized 'Firmé'
Mixed Court report on seized 'Firmé'

Royal NavyWest Africa slave trade ► William Loney prizes 

Her Majesty's Commissioners to Viscount Palmerston.

Sierra Leone, July 9, 1841.
(Received September 20.)


WE have the honour of reporting to your Lordship that Her Majesty's brigantine "Dolphin," Lieutenant Littlehales commanding, captured by two of the boats of that cruiser, under the command of Mr. Murray, on the 30th of May last, off Whydah, the Brazilian brigantine "Firmé," after a most determined resistance with muskets on the part of her crew for upwards of a quarter of an hour, and in consequence of which we regret to have to state that two of the "Dolphin's" seamen were killed and three injured, in addition to Mr. Murray, who was severely and dangerously wounded.

The detained vessel was nominally commanded by Silveiro de Brito, and owned by the well-known Jozé Maria Henriquez Ferreira, of Bahia, where she was cleared out on the 24th of April last for Valparaiso, which ostensible destination had been adopted in consequence, as it is said, of the Custom-house authorities at Bahia declining to clear vessels for the coast of Africa.

On the 28th ultimo the detained vessel anchored in this harbour, and on the following 1st of July proceedings commenced against her in the British and Brazilian Mixed Court, which terminated on the 8th instant in a sentence of confiscation of both vessel and cargo.

Our report of this case we have the honour herewith to lay before your Lordship.

From this report your Lordship will perceive that contradictory reasons were assigned by the witnesses for firing upon the boats of the "Dolphin," and that the supercargo attempted (unsuccessfully) to show that the man-of-war's boats were without colours, and in consequence mistaken for the boats of some Spanish pirate. The mate's explanation, however, will seem to be nearer the truth, as he declared that the crew resisted in order if possible to save their wages by avoiding capture.

Jozé Maria Henriquez Ferreira, the owner of the "Firmé," is the same person who appeared as owner of the Portuguese brig "Amelia," condemned here with a cargo of slaves, on the 30th of August, 1837. In the passport of the "Amelia" Ferreira is described as a Portuguese, residing at Bahia.

The "Firme's" voyage, like that of the "Amelia," was from Bahia to Whydah for slaves, and back to Bahia.

We have, &c.


The Right Hon. Viscount Palmerston, G.C.B.
&c. &c. &c.


Report of the Case of the Brazilian Brigantine "Firme," Silveiro de Brito, Master.

Sierra Leone, July 9, 1841.

THIS vessel was provided with the following official papers: -
l. Imperial Passport, No. 163, dated at Bahia April 24, 1841, in which Jozé Maria Henriquez Ferreira, of that city, is described as being the owner of the vessel, and the above-mentioned Silveiro de Brito as the master; that she is of foreign construction, and of the burthen of 179 tons.
2. The Muster-roll, dated on the same day, showed that the crew of the Brigantine consisted of l7 persons, and that she was bound to Valparaiso.
3. Bill of Health, agreeing in date and destination with No. 2.
4 to 8. Five official papers, being receipts for Port dues and charges, and a Fort-pass.

There was also found on board of the "Firme," with the foregoing papers, a personal passport for a Genoese trader, named Jeronimo Carlos Salsi, stated to be destined to Valparaiso, and dated Bahia, April 24, 1841. This person ultimately proved to be in reality the Supercargo of the vessel.

The "Firme" anchored in this port late on the 28th of June, 1841, and was immediately visited and reported upon by the Marshal to the Mixed Courts.

The papers in the case were not, however, presented to the British and Brazilian Court until the 30th of June, and proceedings therefore were only commenced on the 1st of July instant, when the papers seized having been duly authenticated by the prize officer, were filed, together with the declaration of the Seizor; the usual Monition was issued, and the witnesses in preparatory ordered for examination.

The Seizor's declaration was as follows: - "I, Edward Littlehales, Lieutenant and Commander of Her Britannic Majesty's Brigantine 'Dolphin,' do hereby declare, that on this 30th day of May, 1841, being off Whydah, I detained the Brigantine named the 'Firme,' sailing under Brazilian colours, armed with small arms, commanded by Paulo José de Millo e Brito, bound from Bahia to Whydah, with a crew consisting of 17 men, and 10 passengers, whose names are not mentioned in the papers; having on board no Slaves, but being fully equipped for the Slave trade."

On the 2nd instant the Registrar examined the Mate of the detained vessel, Jozé Ferreira Diaz on the standing and special interrogatories, when he deposed, "That the Master's name is Silveiro de Brito; has known him three or four years. The Master is a native of Bahia, where he lives. Does not know whether he be married. Jozé Maria Henriquez Ferreira, the owner, gave Silveiro de Brito the command and possession of the vessel in April last at Bahia. The vessel, which is of Baltimore build, was first seen by witness at Bahia about three months ago. He was on board at the time of capture, which took place, as witness believes, on account of her being engaged in the Slave trade. The vessel sailed under the Brazilian flag, and had no others. The vessel is called 'Firme,' the only name to witness's knowledge she has ever borne. There were 23 or 24 officers and mariners with the Master, some Portuguese and others Brazilians, engaged at Bahia by the Master. Neither officers nor sailors had any part or share in the ship or lading. Witness was Mate. Three passengers, Joâo Telles de Faria, José (Portuguese), and Cunha (a Brazilian), embarked at Bahia for a passage to Whydah. Witness does not know why they were going there. They had no interest or authority in or over the detained vessel. The vessel last cleared out at Bahia, where the voyage commenced, and (after coming to Whydah on the Coast) where it would have ended. Touched at no ports or places from the time of leaving Bahia to the time of capture. The clearance from Bahia was for Valparaiso. The capturing vessel was first observed off Whydah, whither she was bound, on the 30th of May; and after a chase of two or three hours (during which all sail was made to avoid capture), the man-of-war's boats came up with the detained vessel, and capture took place. The course of the vessel was always direct from Bahia to Adjudah (Whydah). There are no guns mounted, but about 20 muskets and 8 or l0 cutlasses, and of ammunition only half a barrel of powder, for the purpose of quelling any risings among the Slaves. Witness was at the helm when the sailors against the Captain's orders broke open the arm-chest and commenced firing upon the boats. On this witness went below. The sailors determined upon resisting a search, because they said that, although the boats might be English, they would endeavour to escape and save their wages. The resistance continued about ten or fifteen minutes, during which two of the prize's crew were killed and one wounded. Witness does not know how many of the English were killed or wounded, The owner, José Maria Henriquez Ferreira, junior, is a Brazilian by birth and lives at Bahia. Knows nothing of the existence of a bill-of-sale nor of the price of the vessel. Witness has heard that the vessel was purchased from some Americans at Bahia in March last, but cannot tell their names. The cargo was the property of the owner, by whom it was shipped at Bahia. Does not know the name of the consignee. The cargo consisted of slave provisions. After cruising in company with the man-of-war (on board of which witness remained until they came off Accra) for some days, the detained vessel was brought direct to Sierra Leone. All the passports and papers were true and fair. None of the papers were destroyed or concealed. Does not know whether there may be any other papers relating to the vessel or cargo in any other country. Knows nothing of any charter-party. Does not know if the vessel or cargo be insured. The supercargo, Jeronimo Carlos Salvi, had the management of the vessel and cargo. The hatches are fitted with open gratings, wooden at the top and iron underneath. There are iron bars on board, but witness does not know the number of them; these are intended to secure the slaves below. There are three bulk-heads parting off the forecastle, cabin, and store-room. There are no spare planks. A slave-deck is laid fore and aft. There are no shackles, bolts, nor handcuffs. Thinks that there are about ninety water-casks large and small, some empty and some filled with fresh water for the use of the slaves. He thinks that there were about 40 or 50 mess-tins for the slaves to feed in. There was one large iron boiler for cooking slave provisions. There were from 80 to 100 large bags of farinha and about 30 of jerked beef as slave-food. Does not know whether there was any rice, maize, or flour on board.

Jeronimo Carlos Salvi or Salsi, the supercargo of the detained vesse1, was the second witness produced by the captors. This witness by his evidence fully confirmed the testimony of the mate in every respect, except only as regarded the resistance made to the seizor's boats, which he explained was offered under the impression by the crew that they belonged to Spanish pirates, no colours (as he stated) having been hoisted. Salvi added that the reason of this vessel having been cleared at the Bahia Custom-house for Valparaiso was, that the authorities of Bahia declined clearing vessels for the Coast of Africa. This witness also stated that the money seized in the "Firme" was owned partly by himself, partly by three of the passengers, and by some of the sailors whose names he did not know.

Publication passed on the 3rd instant.

On the 5th instant an explanatory affidavit of the prize-officer was allowed to be filed. From this document we learned that the prize-officer was in command of one of the boats of Her Majesty's Brigantine "Dolphin," which captured the "Firme," and that on the said boats getting within musket shot of the "Firme," British colours were hoisted in both boats, subsequent to which the firing from the "Firme" on the boats commenced. The delay in sending this vessel up for adjudication was stated to have arisen from the master not having given up the "Firme's" papers at the time of detention and the search for the same, which therefore became necessary. A subsequent affidavit of the prize-officer explained that Silveiro de Brito, the Master of this vessel according to her papers, had been landed with her crew at Accra, in consequence of the seizor having been informed that Brito was only the "Captain of the Flag," a statement which the prize-officer alleged was confirmed by his appearance, as he looked more like a common seaman than one having authority on board.

With this affidavit the proceedings in the case were closed, and the monition which had been issued being returnable on the 8th instant, that day was appointed for the adjudication of this vessel. The Court accordingly assembled on the day named, when a sentence of condemnation was passed upon the "Firme" and her cargo.


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