Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1840
Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1840

The West African Squadron and slave trade1839 ◄► 1841

Her Majesty's Commissioners to Viscount Palmerston.

Sierra Leone, December 31, 1840.
(Received April 13, 1841.)


We have the honour to enclose herewith a list of all the cases adjudicated during the year 1840 in the British and Portuguese, and British and Brazilian Courts of Mixed Commission, and in the British and Spanish Mixed Court of Justice established in this colony.

No case came before the British and Netherlands Mixed Court of Justice during the period.

The number of vessels adjudicated was 29, one having been tried in the British and Portuguese Court, 20 in the British and Spanish Court, and 8 in the British and Brazilian Court; all of which proved cases of condemnation, with one exception, that of the Spanish brig "Republicano," the proceedings against which vessel were withdrawn at the request of the parties concerned, and by the permission of the Court, the captor being unable to prove the charge he had preferred.

Seven hundred and twenty slaves were emancipated during the year, of whom all but 3, who died before their descriptions could be taken, were registered here.

The total number of vessels adjudged by the Mixed Commissions since their establishment in this colony in June, 1819, up to the present date, is 425, of which number 29 were cases of restoration to the claimants. From the vessels so condemned there have been emancipated 59,351 slaves, 51,871 of whom only have been registered here.

Of the 29 vessels which came before the Mixed Courts during this year, 1 was the "Republicano," a condemned Brazilian prize, bought, fitted out under the Spanish flag, and seized in this harbour, and eventually restored by consent of the parties, as previously mentioned. The remaining 28 were respectively engaged in the Spanish and Brazilian Slave Trade, 20 vessels being employed for the island of Cuba, and 8 for the ports of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia.

Of the 20 vessels employed in the Cuba trade, 15 sailed from the port of Havana, 4 only of which bore the flag of Spain, whilst 4 carried that of Portugal, and 7 the colours of the United States. Of the remaining 5 in the Cuba trade, 2 sailed under Spanish colours from St. Jago de Cuba, 1 from Matanzas, and 2 from the port of Cadiz, with the same flag.

Five of the 8 vessels engaged in the Brazilian Slave Trade sailed from Rio de Janeiro, 2 only of which carried the imperial flag, whilst 2 bore the colours of Portugal, and 1 those of Montevideo. The remaining 3 of the 8 sailed from Bahia, and were Brazilian vessels.

The destinations on this coast of the 20 vessels in the Cuba Slave Trade were, 11 for the ports lying between Sierra Leone and Cape Palmas, 4 to the Bight of Benin, and 5 to the Bight of Biafra.

The 8 vessels in the Brazilian Slave Trade were, when seized, proceeding as follows: 4 to the Bight of Benin, 1 to the river Gaboon, and 3 to the slaving-ports south of the Equator.

From these facts we think it will appear, that the opinion lately published that the Slave Trade in the Bights of Benin and Biafra had been withdrawn to the Portuguese settlements south of the Equator, and that lawful commerce is now carried on in its place, is unfortunately ill-founcled. For of the 28 vessels seized and condemned by this Mixed Commission we observe that no less than 13 of them were destined for the ports in the Bights, whilst only 3 seizures have been effected to the southward of the Equator.

Any check which the Slave Trade generally in the Bights may have received the British cruizers deserve a great deal, if not the whole credit of; whilst they are certainly fairly entitled to the entire merit of the reduction which that trade has suffered at Lagos and Whydah, where lawful commerce is almost unknown. During this year 3 vessels have visited those places from this colony, laden chiefly with prize-goods adapted to those markets, and each returned hither with scarce anything on board but specie, which with slaves form the staples of those ports.

To the southward of the Equator, although the seizures have not been so numerous as might have been hoped for from the very vigilant cruizing which has prevailed there for some mouths past, still we have lately received satisfactory accounts from that quarter of the result of the exertions of the squadron.

On the 15th of this month it appears the notorious slaving port of Ambriz had then been under blockade for three months, during which time the trade could not be carried on; and one of the consequences of this system has been to cause the slaves collected in the "barracoons" there to amount to 2000. This very large number of negroes is therefore now being idly maintained at a ruinous cost to their owners.

Besides the 3 vessels seized to the southward of the Line and sent hither for trial, there had also been some detentions under the Portuguese flag, which vessels had gone for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Courts at St. Helena or the Cape of Good Hope.

The Slave Trade has, we hear also, received a decided check, for a time at least, at the island of Corisco, in the mouth of the river Danger, by the destruction of the slave factories on that island, in consequence of the foreigners concerned in them having made a most unwarrantable hostile attack on the boats of Her Majesty's sloop "Wolverine," when they were quietly entering that river on duty.

With respect to the state of the Slave Trade from the southern boundary of this colony to Sesters, we are enabled to lay before your Lordship some important particulars, through the kindness of the commander of Her Majesty's sloop "Wanderer," the Honourable Joseph Denman, who has charge of the small squadron kept on the Sierra Leone Station. The strict blockade which this active and zealous officer has maintained along that part of the coast above mentioned since the month of May last, enables him to afford an exact account of the number of vessels engaged in the traffic, and the results of their voyages.

From Commander Denman's communication, we learn that in the eight months during which he has thus blockaded the Gallinas and its neighbourhood, 21 vessels came thither to carry off human cargoes, of which number only 5 had escaped. These 5 vessels, however, took away 1560 slaves. Of the remainder, 15 had been captured by British cruisiers, 2 of which were condemned in the Vice-Admiralty Court here, and 11 in the Mixed Commission Courts, and 2 are yet for trial in the latter Courts. The remaining vessel of the 21, the "Courtenay," after having been chased off the coast by the "Wanderer," was brought by the crew into this port, where they denounced her to the authorities as a Spanish slave-trader, and she was subsequently seized for being found illegally equipped in British waters, and prosecuted to condemnation in the Vice-Admiralty Court. Upwards of three-fourths of the vessels employed in the Slave Trade of the Gallinas and its neighbourhood for the last eight months have therefore been lost to those engaged in it, and must, we hope, have created for them ruinous losses.

Great, however, as the good effects of this blockading system may appear, we have yet to communicate to your Lordship what we consider a much more important feature in the history of the Gallinas Slave Trade, which is the total destruction of the 8 slave-factories established there, and the emancipation of 841 slaves, who were on that occasion given up by the native King Seaeca to Captain Denman, and by him conveyed to this colony and placed in the hands of the government. It is stated that the foreign slave-dealers at the Gallinas lost on this occasion a very large amount of property, variously estimated between 100,000L. and 500,000L. sterling, as well as their claims on the natives for no less than 13,000 slaves, the price of whom they had advanced from time to time in the course of trade. These measures of hostility towards the slave-dealers were, as we are informed, conducted by the native chiefs, between whom and the slave-dealers, we think, there is now so serious a feud established as to render impossible, at least for a considerable time to come, the re-establishment there of slave-factories. And if, in the mean while, the Sierra Leone squadron shalt be enabled to continue its effective blockade of this part of the coast, and thus keep the natives from the temptations of the Slave Trade for such a length of time that, their acquired wants being unsupplied, they may be stimulated to exertions for the establishment of legitimate trade, the result must be, we anticipate, pleasing to the friends of humanity and beneficial to Africa.

The panic which the destruction of this stronghold of slavery has created is very great; and the foreigners have quitted the Gallinas in the greatest alarm, in the belief that their lives were no longer safe there from the ill disposition manifested by the natives.

We earnestly hope, that the good thus effected will be followed up in that manner which will secure for the cause of Africa all the advantages which prompt and judicious measures would obtain; and that we may not now be doomed to witness the revival of the odious traffic at the Gallinas, as was the case in the river Sherbro, after the total destruction of the trade there in the years 1825 and 1826, by the late lamented Governor Turner; when the re-establishment there of that trade might, by a comparatively small and well-applied expenditure, have been prevented, thereby giving to Sierra Leone for lawful trade one of the most fertile districts on this part of the coast, and which trade would, by this time, no doubt, have increased to an amount of considerable importance.

Captain Denman was also so obliging as to place in our hands some Spanish letters and books which had fallen into his possession at the time of the destruction of the Gallinas factories, from which we learned that at Dombocorrow, the establishment belonging to the firm of Pedro Martinez and Company, and which was lately conducted by Pablo Alvarez, the number of slaves purchased between the 1st of August, l839, and 19th of October, 1840 (fourteen and a half months), was 1465, giving a yearly average of 1212; and that the number of slaves shipped in that period was 1710, part of that amount being on freight for the account of Louis Lemaignère of Seabar and others. The tone of several of these letters from the Gallinas to the Havana, dated in September and October last, is most desponding; the writers declare that their prospects have been nearly ruined by the vigilance of the British squadron. The subsequent measures previously referred to have, we hope, had the effect of putting a final stop to the Gallinas Slave Trade, which, from the papers and information furnished to us by Commander Denman, may be fairly estimated at between 9000 and 10,000 slaves annually.

In addition to the slaves emancipated at the Gallinas through the influence of Commander Denman, there have likewise arrived here 104 slaves from the Factory of Theodore Canot at New Sesters, who was induced to grant the freedom of these persons at the instance of the Commander of Her Majesty's brigantine "Termagant," Lieutenant Seagram, which cruizer has lately been engaged in the blockade of that part of the coast. Lieutenant Seagram's activity on the occasion we cannot but consider extremely commendable. It has had the immediate effect of inducing Canot to promise to renounce the Slave Trade; and thus depriving the still more notorious Pedro Blanco of one of his most active, vigilant, and courageous agents.

Respecting the Slave Trade in the rivers between this colony and the Gambia, we are enabled to offer some remarks from the communications of our old and obliging correspondent residing to windward.

That gentleman informs us that the Rio Nunez has not been visited for three years by a slave-vessel, but has nevertheless suffered from the influence of a very active Slave Trade carried on at Bissão, whence agents are despatched to the Nunez to collect slaves, whom they send round to Bissão by every convenient opportunity. The notorious Cayetano Nozzolini (Kyetan) of Bissão has had his full share in this traffic, and employed in the Nunez at one time two European agents, besides the coloured people in his service, to collect slaves.

The estimated annual export of slaves, chiefly to Cuba, from Bissão is upwards of 2000.

The report which has been circulated to windward of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to reoccupy the British island of Bulama, has struck terror into all connected with the Slave Trade of Bissão and Cacheo, and created bright prospects of success for those engaged in the prosecution of lawful commerce in that quarter.

We sincerely hope that the unfounded claim of the Portuguese Government to this Island, urged, it is alleged, through the influence and for the benefit of those engaged in the odious traffic in slaves carried on at the Portuguese settlements, will have by this time been disposed of, and that British merchants may find themselves at liberty to establish factories on that Island, to carry on a peaceable commerce with the natives.

During the present year it appears that the Rio Pongas has been visited by fewer slaving-vessels than for many years past; not, however, from any falling off in the activity of the foreigners engaged in that traffic, but from the fact of several of their vessels having been, within the last two years, exposed to the ill-treatment of the slaves of the late King of the river, Mungo Yangey, who on his demise declared their independence, and have since set at defiance all the authorities of the place. These negroes, on the arrival of a slave-vessel, have been in the habit of possessing themselves of the cargo, for which very liberal promises of early payment of the full value were at once tendered; but, after a delay of many months, the slavers have been obliged to depart with only a third, or perhaps a fourth, of the return cargo which had been agreed upon. Such a mode of carrying on business even the enormous profits of the slave-traffic will not bear, and hence the decrease of that traffic in the Rio Pongas during this year.

On the death of the notorious slave-dealer, John Ormond, his numerous slaves followed the example of the late King's negroes, and declared themselves free. They withdrew at once from the late John Ormond's town of Bangalang, in the Pongas, and established themselves in a village of their own on the confines of the Foulah country, and have intrenched themselves within a strong stockade. These acts of self-emancipation on the part of large bodies of negroes in the Pongas must, we think, speedily so change the state of affairs in that river as to lead to the hope that, by timely and judicious interference on the part of the friends of Africa, the Slave Trade might be there eradicated.

Taking a review of the present state of the Slave Trade along the coast from the Gambia to Cape Palmas, excepting of course the Portuguese Colonies, we are of opinion it may be pronounced to be so far reduced that, if the principal marts could be permanently blockaded, and thus keep off the slave-dealers, at the same time adopting suitable measures for bringing the attention of the natives to the lawful productions of the country, the total eradication of the Slave Trade might be looked for in a few years.

We have lately received intelligence, on which we can depend, that the notorious Edward Jousiffe, who made his escape from the gaol of this colony after his conviction as a British subject for slave-dealing, died not very long since at the Rio Pongas.

We beg leave to mention, as a result of the measures adopted for the suppression of the Slave Trade during this year, that there have been ten vessels, bearing the flag of Portugal, condemned in the Vice-Admiralty Court of this colony, for being equipped for that trade, under the provisions of the 2nd and 3rd Victoria, cap. 73.

We have, &c.


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

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