Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1839
Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1839

Royal NavyWest Africa slave trade1840

Her Majesty's Commissioners to Viscount Palmerston.

Sierra Leone, December 31, 1839.
(Received September 17, 1840.)


WE have the honour herewith to enclose to your Lordship a list of all the cases adjudicated in the Mixed Courts established at Sierra Leone, between the 1st of January and the 31st of December, 1839.

In that period no vessel was brought before the British and Netherlands Mixed Court of Justice; 13 cases were tried in the Portuguese Court, 38 in the Spanish Court, and 11 in the Brazilian Court. One Portuguese vessel, the "Aurelia Feliz" and one Spanish vessel, the "Merced" were restored, and all the others were condemned. Two cases remain over for adjudication in the ensuing year.

Although 38 cases are comprised in the Spanish list, only 37 vessels, strictly speaking were before the Spanish Court; the schooner "Merced" having been twice before us, once on the occasion of her being restored, and again at a subsequent period, when she was prosecuted to condemnation. Whilst, therefore, the number of cases adjudicated was 62, the number of vessels upon which sentences were passed was only 61.

3283 slaves were emancipated during the same time, of whom 2795 were registered here: 25 slaves died after emancipation, but before their descriptions could be taken to be registered; and 413, though emancipated at Sierra Leone, had been previously landed at Nassau in New Providence, and at Honduras, and therefore could not be registered by us.

The total number of slaves emancipated by the Mixed Commission Courts at this Place, since their establishment, is 8,811, and the total number registered 51,154.

Of the 61 vessels which have passed through the Courts during the past year, 3 were captured in the West Indies and the remainder on this coast; 8 were captured to the southward of the line, but none below the latitude of 4° 58' South; and of the 50 vessels captured north of the line, 30 were met with to the eastward, and 20 to the westward, of Cape Palmas.

Eighteen of the whole number of vessels had slaves on board at the moment of detention; 11 of the cargoes having been shipped in ports to the eastward of Cape Palmas, and seven to the westward of the same point, viz., 1 cargo at Bissão, 1 in the river Pongas, 3 in the river Sherbro, 1 at Gallinas, 1 at New Cestos, 2 at Lagos, 1 in the river Bras, 1 in the river Nun, 3 in the river Calabar, 2 at Cape Lopez, 1 in the river Camma, and 1 at Cabinda.

Only 2, out of the 37 vessels which came before the Spanish Court, were supplied with Spanish papers: 30 of them sailed with Portuguese passports, 1 with Danish, 1 with Tuscan, 1 (which was captured in British waters) with American papers, and 2, whose national character was fixed by other circumstances, were altogether unprovided with documents of any description.

Five of the 11 vessels condemned in the Brazilian Court sailed with Portuguese papers, and the other 6 vessels were acknowledged to possess a Brazilian character. All the 13 vessels adjudicated in the Portuguese court were of course under the protection of the flag and pass of Portugal.

The 48 sets of Portuguese papers above mentioned were obtained as follows:-

6 at Lisbon, 18 at the Cape Verd Islands, 5 at Bissão, 10 at Prince's Island, 2 at the Island of St. Thomas', 4 at St. Paul de Loando, 1 from the Portuguese Consul-General at Rio de Janeiro, 1 from the Portuguese Consul-General at Baltimore, and 1 at some place unknown, the captain of the flag in this particular instance being on shore with the Portuguese papers at the time when his vessel was captured

The ports to which the same vessels severally belonged, as proved by ownership and course of trade, were as follows: - Havana, 26; Matanzas, 2; St. Jago de Cuba, 2; Porto Rico, 4; Havana and Matanzas, 3; Havana and Porto Rico, 1; Havana and Corunna, 1; Havana and Barcelona, 1; Havana and Cadiz, 1; Rio de Janeiro, 1; Bahia, 10; Portuguese settlements on the coast of Africa north of the Line (trading between the islands and the mainland, generally very small vessels), 7; and 2 vessels whose course of trade was both Brazilian and Spanish, carrying their cargoes sometimes to Bahia, and at other times to Havana.

From this statement it appears, that 6 out of the 13 vessels condemned in the Portuguese court might have been condemned in the Spanish court, had they been subjected to the rule which has latterly been adopted, of trying all vessels professing to be Portuguese, but to which a Spanish character can be affixed, only in that court in which a sentence of condemnation will be followed by the destruction of the condemned property.

In addition to the cases already described, 12 other vessels (as per margin: Russian-Goloubtschick, American-Florida, Hazard, Eagle, Iago, Mary Cushing, Traveller, Perry Spencer, Euphrates, Mary, Catherine, Butterfly) came before us, and our Reports respecting them form part of the series of the last year's correspondence. They were not, however, admitted to prosecution in the Mixed Courts, because in our opinion they were exempt from capture by the fact that they were sailing under the flag and pass of a Power which his not conceded to our cruizers the right of visiting, searching, and detaining her vessels for any purpose whatever.

Every one of these vessels was engaged in Spanish Slave Trade, or in that mixed Slave Trade, which is carried on to a great extent, partly with Bahia, and partly with Havana. The "Iago" was owned at Matanzas, and all the rest apparently at Havana. Six of the same vessels were detained east, and 6 west, of Cape Palmas; and they received their registers severally as follows:- 6 at Baltimore, 3 at New Orleans, 1 at Mobile, 1 at Philadelphia, and 1 was sailing under Russian papers obtained at Odessa.

In our Despatch, marked "Spain," of the 24th of June last, we had the honour to report to your Lordship that a prosecution which had been instituted against the schooner "Carolina," in the British and Spanish Mixed Court of Justice, had been abandoned by the capturing officer, who restored the detained vessel to the foreign crew. The schooner was in every respect fitted for carrying slaves; and in consequence of her delaying, for some time after her withdrawal from the Spanish court, to leave the harbour of Sierra Leone, she was again seized, but not by the same naval officer, and was prosecuted to condemnation in the Vice-Admiralty Court of this place, as a foreign vessel equipped for the Slave Trade, lying in British waters.

We had also the honour to report to your Lordship, in our Despatch, marked "Spain," of the 17th August last, that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to bring into court a Spanish vessel named the "Tres Emanuel" alias "Maria Segunda;" but as this vessel was totally destroyed in the river Congo by Captain Tucker, of Her Majesty's sloop "Wolverine," in consequence of her having wantonly fired into one of the boats of that ship, she was, like the "Carolina" just mentioned, as effectually withdrawn from the Slave Trade, as if a sentence of condemnation had been passed on her by the court.

Our Despatches of the 12th of February, and the 17th of May, stated that the slave-schooners "Florida" and "Perry Spenser" (two of the vessels which the British and Spanish judges declined to admit to prosecution) were cut up and sold at Sierra Leone by the American captains of the flag, who appropriated the proceeds to their own use. Here also the sentence of the court could have done no more than was effected by the dishonesty of two men, who took this method of overreaching those, by whom they had been employed to carry out a scheme of deception and villany.

The following is an account of the disposal of that portion of the slave-vessels mentioned above, the fate of which has become known to us

In the Spanish court:
Cut up, and sold in separate parts37
In the Portuguese court:
Sold, but not cut up11
Burnt at Princes' Island by the captor, as not seaworthy ("Passos")1
In the Brazilian court:
Sold, but not cut up11
Condemned in the Vice-Admiralty Court at Sierra Leone, after having been withdrawn from the Spanish Mixed Court ("Carolina")1
Destroyed by Captain Tucker in the river Congo ("Tres Emanuel")1
Destroyed and sold at Sierra Leone by the American captains of the flag ("Florida" and "Perry Spencer")1
Sent to England ("Goloubtschick")1
Sent to the United States ("Eagle", Catherine", "Butterfly")3


Three of the vessels condemned during the past year ("Violante," "Ontario" and "Sete de Avril") continued under the protection of the American papers with which they cleared out from the Island of Cuba, until the very moment when they took on board the cargo of slaves which formed the ground of their condemnation; and two of these vessels, the "Violante" and "Sete de Avril," whilst still professing to be the American schooners "Mary Ann Cassard," and "Mary Cushing" were amongst those whose admission to prosecution in the Spanish court had been refused. Numerous other instances have been pointed out by us, in which the flag and pass of the United States, so readily granted by the American Consuls at Havana, Matanzas and Bahia, have availed to protect the Slave Trade of foreigners. And if America should still decline to apply a remedy to this extensive evil, she must consent henceforth to be classed with those unhappy Powers, who can only escape from the charge of wilfully violating their engagements and promises for the suppression of the Slave Trade, by confessing the total absence of authority and control in the Supreme Government.

We do not feel called upon to accompany the above summary with any suggestions or remarks, because the Reports, which we have lately had the Honour to transmit to your Lordship, contain a more than usually full exposition of the present state of the Slave Trade on this coast.

We have, &c.


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

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