Correspondence of Commodore Jones
Correspondence of Commodore Jones

Royal NavyWest Africa slave trade(2/3)

Commodore Jones' destruction of the barracoons at Dombocorro and elsewhere in February 1845
3: Jones' report of a subsequent conference with the Chiefs

"Penelope," off Gullinas, February 24, 1845.


I HAVE the honour to acquaint your Excellency that Sunday, the 23rd instant, was finally agreed upon for the conference with the Chiefs of Gallinas, which had been settled between Prince Manna and myself at Guindamar. Accordingly, I went early on that day with two cutters from this ship to the appointed place, which was Minnah, and the conference was held under the great silk cotton tree which grows there. I was accompanied by Commander Buckle, and several officers from this ship. We had to wait for the Chiefs many hours, and it was past noon before they were all assembled. Manna was the first to arrive, and after a long delay Schaffa and Luisini Rogers came, with several inferior Chiefs, all attended by numerous armed followers.

2 It would be tedious to detail this palaver at full length, but the following abstract may serve to give your Excellency a general idea of what occurred at this meeting. After mutual civilities, and the Chiefs accepting each a present from me, I opened the business in a long address, which appeared to be faithfully interpreted by Mr. Gordon, a brother-in-law of Manna, who spoke very good English. I began by explaining the object of my visit. This was to seek at the hands of the Chiefs redress and reparation for great injuries which had been sustained by British subjects within their dominions and jurisdiction; that I had hitherto sought in vain for the satisfaction which I now expected to receive from their justice. But, before I proceeded, I would gladly avow before the Chiefs present, that Prince Manna stood acquitted in my mind of the charge which I had originally brought against him personally, of having sold Tom Peters, a British subject, to the Spaniards as a slave; but that, while I willingly did this out of justice to Manna, the real grievance remained proved, not only by the evidence of Peters himself, but by the confession of the Spaniard Jimenes, who boldly avowed that he had caused the man to be branded with his mark, and kept in irons as a slave in the barracoon of Dombocorro, where he was detained a year before he was finally embarked in the "Enganador," at Seabar, and captured by the "Growler." That Mering, another Englishman, had been treated in a like manner, through for a shorter period. These injuries, committed on our fellow subjects, were in our eyes grievous and intolerable, and must be redressed. That we naturally looked to the Chiefs, as the Sovereigns of the country, for the redress that was due to us. They must see the equity of this course, as they would naturally object to our exercising a jurisdiction ourselves within their territories. That the steps already taken by me in burning their towns were only preliminary steps, from which they might perceive our determination to obtain final justice. Those measures had been reluctantly resorted to, but were rendered imperative by the delays and denials of redress of the Chiefs themselves. That my present business being chiefly the obtaining justice in the matter of the two men, Peters and Mering, I should confine myself to that object, and say no more until that was discussed and settled.

Prince Manna rose to reply, and continued to act as spokesman for the others through the day. His address was long and artful. He began quite wide of the matter in hand, by a detailed history of Captain Denman's proceedings with them, when he burnt the barracoons. It was in vain that I represented that I had not come to defend or justify that officer, who had nothing to do with the present business. The Chief persisted in his own course, the object of which appeared to be to prove that they had been surprised and forced unwillingly by Captain Denman to sign a Treaty, which could not be binding upon them under those circumstances. That as to the men Peters and Mering, their detention was unknown to the Chiefs, and that it could not be just that they should pay the penalty. That as to the Spaniards, they could not believe that their conduct would be considered unlawful in their own country, since no Spanish officer had ever been there to find fault with them. Did not the Commodore expect him (Manna) to pay the 800 dollars which he had demanded, if he could prove his charge? If so, let the Commodore now pay him 800 dollars for his false accusation! [This modest demand was almost too much for the gravity of the assembly, and being only laughed at by me, Manna proceeded.] It was not the wish of the Chiefs ever to offend the English, and they would faithfully promise not to do so in future. But as I insisted on the pecuniary penalty for what had occurred, to whom were they to look for it? Would I advise them? Should they go to the Spaniards? Was that the right course?

I at once answered, that I declined to advise them on that head; that I should learn wisdom from what had happened to Captain Denman, who, having given up the property of the Spaniards to them, had afterwards been called to account for it. It was the Chiefs, and to them alone that we should look for redress, and that we should have nothing to do with the foreigners who have settled among them. As Manna still continued to evade the subject of the money payment, I observed that I was not desirous of an immediate settlement on my own account, but upon theirs; for that now I considered myself authorized to conclude an agreement with them, which it might not be in my power to do at a future time, when I should receive the orders of my Government upon my reports, which had already gone home; that these orders might prescribe to me a course much more stringent and severe than the moderate terms which I was now disposed to consent to. Whatever they were, I should be bound to obey; and that as the Chiefs present knew that I had sufficient strength to carry out whatever instructions I might receive; and that, as Manna himself was aware, that I knew my way to Guindamar, I might possibly not have it in my power to spare it on my next visit. This hint had a visible effect, and lowered the tone of Manna, who asked, in a complaining way, Why we had entered the river without notice, and left the Chiefs without a shelter from the sun, by destroying their towns? My answer was prompt and indignant, That I had not done so, as they very well knew! That it was not until I had exhausted every mode of persuasion and warning, that I had kept my word and entered the river. That even then I waited several hours for the Chiefs before I gave the final orders. That up to the last moment, if they had come out with generous confidence as Manna had done, their towns would have been spared as Guindamar was afterwards. That the Rogers family had acted in a totally different manner; and when the town of Tindor was kindled, they had commenced hostilities by firing from the bush upon our people, which drew upon them the further chastisement which followed.

No reply was attempted to this, and after some more unsatisfactory and evasive talk on their part, I saw that it was necessary to bring them, if possible, to something definite on other points than this of the indemnity, which I knew I could enforce whenever it might be deemed convenient. I therefore asked them 1st, Whether they considered Captain Denman's Treaty binding upon them? 2nd, Whether they were prepared to send away the Spanish slave dealers, according to that Treaty? To these questions they answered distinctly in the negative.

I then made my final reply, in which I said that I was come to talk to them without passion; that I would not quarrel with them for holding mistaken opinions, and acting on the prejudices which they had been taught, so long as they did not injure us; that reparation for our wrongs not having been made, we remained where we were, and should do so until I received further instructions. It was for them to consider how much longer the Slave Trade could be carried on when it ceased to be gainful. Here it had virtually ceased; no vessel could carry away slaves, nor should any while I held the keys of Gallinas in my pocket. I adjured them, as Chiefs who ought to be the fathers of their people, to look before them, and consider whether it would not be well for them to provide for the time when the Slave Trade, by which they now subsisted, should cease to exist. Would it not be well to work out resources from the natural advantages of their fine country? England had set her face against the Slave Trade, and was acting against it with a power which would be found invincible, and must prevail at last. Finally, would they themselves suggest any thing in reason which could be considered a fair equivalent for giving up Slave Trade?

After a private conversation among themselves, they requested a month's time to assemble all the neighbouring Chiefs, and to consider my propositions, particularly the last, with which they seemed a good deal impressed. I thought it best to accede to their request for delay, as it afforded a faint hope that something satisfactory in the way of a Treaty might result from it, and the postponement was immaterial in other respects. I therefore consented, and we finally parted on apparently friendly terms.

This, Sir, was, nearly as I can recollect, the substance of what took place at the meeting. It does not amount to much, and yet I would fain hope that it may lead to better things hereafter. We have evidently impressed these people with a very wholesome terror, and they begin to think resistance to our power is useless.

I have endeavoured to inspire them with confidence in our friendly disposition towards them.

Manna has been twice entertained on board the ships, and was highly gratified. Several of the Chiefs have also visited us, and were evidently pleased with their reception. But I cannot but doubt whether much good can ever be expected from them which is not induced by their supposed interest or fear. Their intercourse with the Spanish slavedealers appears to have had a most corrupt and debasing influence upon them. Their meanness is surprising. The Chiefs do not scruple to beg for shoes, or any article which they want. I should have no hope from such materials if I had not ascertained their relative weakness, and that we can always act upon their fears.

I found out that the Rogers family were sorely displeased and jealous at Guindamar having been spared. They would have been much better pleased if it had shared the fate of their own towns. The loss from our fire was on that occasion, as I learnt from various quarters, three killed and fourteen wounded.

I have, &c.
(Signed) W. Jones,
Commodore, and Senior Officer commanding.

His Excellency the Lieut.-Governor,
&c. &c.

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