Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1844
Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1844

The West African Squadron and slave trade1843 ◄► 1845

Her Majesty's Commissioners to the Earl of Aberdeen.

Sierra Leone, December 31, 1844.
(Received March 24, 1845.)


We have the honour to enclose herewith a list of all the cases adjudicated during the year 1844, in the British and Portuguese, and British and Brazilian Courts of Mixed Commission, arid in the British and Spanish Mixed Court of Justice, established in this colony.

No case came before the British and Netherlands, British and Argentine, British and Chilian, British and Bolivian, nor the British and Uruguayan Mixed Courts of Justice.

The number of vessels adjudicated was 27, of which 14 were prosecuted in the British and Brazilian Court, 12 in the British and Spanish Court, and one in the British and Portuguese Court. Twenty-six were cases of condemnation, and one of restoration to the claimant.

Two thousand three hundred and fifty-one slaves were emancipated during the year, of whom 2,327 were registered.

The total number of vessels prosecuted before the Mixed Commissions since their establishment in this colony, in June 1819, up to the present date, is 498, whereof 473 were cases of condemnation, and 25 were either withdrawn or restored to the claimant.

During the same period there have been emancipated by these courts 63,436 slaves, of whom 55,748 have been registered here.

Of the vessels adjudicated during 1844, 10 had slaves on board when chased, but one unfortunately landed her cargo before capture; of these five were Brazilians, four Spanish, and one Portuguese.

The Portuguese craft had shipped her slaves at Cape Lopez, and was returning with them to St. Thomas, to which island she belonged.

The Spaniards had obtained their living cargoes at the Sherbro, Ambriz, Cabinda, and Loanda, and were all bound to Havana.

Four of the Brazilian vessels had embarked their slaves in the Bight of Benin, the fifth on the coast of Benguela; and they were bound respectively, one for Pernambuco, two for Bahia, one for Macahé, and one for San Francisco do Sul.

The destination on the coast of the other 17 vessels were, four for Gallinas or Sherbro, five for the Bight of Benin, one for the Bight of Biafra, one for Cape Lopez, five for Cabinda, Angola, and Benguela, and one for Quilimane on the eastern coast; and, had they not been captured, their return voyages, so far as can be ascertained, would have been, seven for the Island of Cuba, three for Bahia, three for the neighbourhood of Rio, two for Espirito Santo, one for Campos, and one for San Francisco.

Of the 14 vessels prosecuted in the British and Brazilian Court, eight had no passports, three had them dated at Rio, two at Bahia, and one at Espirito Santo.

Seven of the 12 Spanish vessels had Havana pasports, and one a sailing license from that port, one had a royal passport, dated at Mataro near Barcelona, and three were without official papers.

Of the whole number, l2 were captured to the north and l5 to the south of the Equator; ten were American built, five Brazilian, two French, two Genoese, two Spanish, one Portuguese, one Swedish, and one native African; where the remaining three were constructed we have no means of ascertaining.

It will be seen, from what is stated above, that during 1844 a very considerable increase has taken place in the number of vessels adjudicated.

The return for 1843, transmitted from this department to your Lordship, enumerated but 13 cases, every one of which was concerned in Brazilian Slave Trade. The number, in the present report, of vessels so employed is 15, one of which was Spanish; but in addition to these there have been 11 condemned for being engaged in supplying the markets of Cuba, and one Portuguese employed in: the same traffic between St. Thomas and the main land.

From this it would seem that the Cuban Slave Trade, which under the honourable administration of General Valdez had been almost annihilated, has been latterly revived to a very lamentable extent, owing no doubt, in a great measure, to the protection and encouragement afforded to the slave traders by his less scrupulous successor General O'Donnell.

From the following list of cases adjudicated in this colony, it is apparent that the Spanish Slave Trade had been gradually falling off during the three years preceding 1844, whilst that of Brazil had fluctuated.

Abstract of Cases brought before the Courts of Mixed Commissions and (under the 2 and 3 Vict. and 5 Geo. IV.) before the Court of Vice-Admiralty, at Sierra Leone, during the five years ending 31st December, 1844.

  1840 1841 1842 1843 1844
In the several Mixed Courts:
Spanish vessels201141*12§
Brazilian vessels81061114
Portuguese vessels111*1*1
In the Court of Vice-Admiralty:
Portuguese, or without any national character,
2 and 3 Vict cap 73
British and Hamburg, French and American
vessels equiped within British jurisdiction,
5 Geo IV cap 114

* These vessels were engaged in Brazilian trade
§ one of these was engaged in Brazilian trade

And although this abstract necessarily affords but an imperfect view of the matter, in the absence of any information respecting the proceedings of other Vice-Admiralty Courts, or of the new British and Portuguese Mixed Courts now in active operation, it is yet certain that the number of vessels engaged in Brazilian Slave Trade which have been prosecuted here during 1844 exceeds that in any previous year since this British and Brazilian Mixed Court came into operation.

It is probable also that the list of Spanish vessels would have been even larger then it is, but for the temporarily depressing effect which the recent disturbances amongst the slave population of Cuba has had in creating a want of confidence on the part of the slave factors (especially the Portuguese and Brazilians) on this coast, and deterring them from making large shipments to the West Indies on speculation.

The activity of the increased squadron, and especially the addition of effective steam vessels to the British cruizers on this coast, has without doubt had a considerable effect upon the number of captures; in point of fact, more than one half of the whole number of vessels actually detained within the year have been prizes to four of those steamers, and to three of the sloops of war removed to this station from the other side of the Atlantic. Still, however, we believe that the Slave Trade is increasing, and that it is conducted perhaps more systematically than it has ever been hitherto.

Nearly all the formerly noted slave haunts appear to be still frequented, and notwithstanding the stringent measures adopted by the British Commodore with the powerful force under his command, there can be no question but that there has been a very large number of slaves transported both to Cuba and Brazil.

We learn that the Cape Verd Islands are still the rendezvous of slave vessels waiting for the collection of their human freights, in the rivers to the northward of this place, or in the Sherbro or Gallinas. At Bissano the trade is still carried on, though possibly partially checked by the quarrels between the Portuguese and the natives; and we have heard of some cargoes having been lately carried off from the Pongas and its neighbourhood.

At Sherbro and Gallinas we regret to state very large numbers of slaves have been collected by the factors, and in spite of the strictest and apparently most judicious measures adopted in watching the different outlets of these places, some slavers have got clear off with their cargoes,

In the Bight of Benin, and especially at Lagos, our return shows that the traffic is largely carried on; there has been, however, only one capture in the Bight of Biafra; but the vessels taken to the southward of the Line are more than usually numerous, and on that line of coast, and especially in the neighbourhood of Benguela, extensive barracoons are reported to be maintained by the traders.

One of the captures was made on the eastern coast, where it would seem the traffic with Brazil is still pursued.

The actual export of negroes from all points of the coast, appears to be now chiefly carried on under the flags of Brazil and Spain; there can be no question, however, that, indirectly, the flags of other nations continue to be used in aid of the traffic. In respect to that of America indeed, though possibly not employed so openly as formerly, in consequence of the more effective surveillance of the United States cruizers, still the most effectual assistance is rendered by it to the slave dealer; not only are vessels built expressly for him at New Orleans and other American ports, but they are frequently brought to the coast and there transferred to him, the American flag being retained until the slaves are embarked. American vessels are also now regularly chartered by some of the principal slave dealers for a period, say two years, during which they are bound to go whithersoever they may be sent by the charterers, and to ship such freight as may be procured for them; the only stipulation being, that they are not to be required to take any cargo which will subject them to seizure. In this way goods of all descriptions suitable for the traffic are taken direct to the slave factories from the places of manufacture, and also staves, hoops, deals, and other articles necessary for slave equipment, but which may be safely carried by American vessels under the name of "lumber."

The houses of Pedro Blanco, and of Zulueta and Co. are reported to employ American vessels in this manner; but French, Tuscan, and other European bottoms are also concerned extensively in conveying goods for the slave market.

Articles of equipment are sometimes supplied to the factories on a large scale in a different manner. We lately heard of the arrival upon the coast of a crazy old brig, which had been bought in Brazil by the slave dealers for a very small sum, being unseaworthy; she was then laden with as great a quantity of slave shackles, boilers, casks, slave provisions, &c., as she could carry; and a small crew being put into her, she was dispatched to Lagos, where she arrived safely, and afterwards proceeded to other slave ports. Had she been captured, her loss would have fallen lightly upon the speculators, as the whole value of both vessel and cargo was comparatively small.

The impulse given to the Spanish trade by the conduct of the Government of Cuba, appears to have induced some of the principal dealers to use larger vessels than had been customary; of this class are the barques "Andalusia," (or "Crawford,") and "Melvira," and the felucca "Huracan," all three connected with the above-mentioned houses of Blanco and Zulueta. These two barques are American built, and have taken away cargoes of 800 slaves each; the felucca is stated to have carried off four cargoes of 700, but on her last trip (in October) she got aground near the mouth of the Sherbro, and received so much damage that she was obliged to return to Havana empty. This vessel is both heavily armed and manned, and was built at Barcelona under the direction of a Senor Negri, reported to be a Captain in the Spanish navy, formerly employed in the revenue service on the coast of Spain, but now residing at Barcelona; his son, a Lieutenant in the same service, commands the felucca. These three vessels have hitherto unfortunately evaded capture; but on the other hand, the records of this year note the capture and final destruction of the "Volador" and the "Jacinto," two of the most successful slave vessels that have ever sailed from Havana; these brigantines had for many years carried on the trade with impunity, and had taken an extraordinary number of slaves from this coast.

Some of the vessels which have come before the Mixed Courts during 1844, have been found, when captured, without any flag, or without papers, or wanting both; and a common practice appears to have prevailed latterly, either for the slaver to quit the coast without her papers, which are forwarded by another and safer opportunity to her port of destination, or for the papers, and sometimes the flag, to be thrown overboard previously to capture; by such means, or by having a muster roll with fictitious names, the real master and chief officers of a prize may avoid being detained as witnesses, of which they have commonly a great dread, owing probably to the privations they are often subjected to, when brought up here, in the subsequent attempt to reach some place where they may either obtain employment or a passage to Brazil or Havana. It has indeed been frequently manifest, that the party produced as the master of the prize was no more than a common seaman, illiterate and ignorant, and incapable, if he were even willing, to afford any correct information respecting the ownership and other important matters; the true master in such cases having probably escaped notice in the guise of one of his own men, or as a passenger, contriving to carry off with him, as has occasionally happened, a portion of the money intended for the purchase of his cargo, and perhaps the papers as well.

The vigilance of Her Majesty's cruizers has certainly compelled an unusual number of slave vessels to quit the coast without cargoes, and in consequence an accumulation of slaves is reported to have occurred in several barracoons, occasioning much disease and mortality, from the crowded state of these places and a scarcity of food.

We have, &c.


The Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen, K.T.
&c, &c, &c,

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