Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1847
Report of Mixed Courts at Sierra Leone for 1847

Royal NavyWest Africa slave trade1846 ◄► 1848

Her Majesty's Commissioners to Viscount Palmerston.- (Received Feb. 19, 1848.)

Sierra Leone, December 31, 1847.

My Lord,

WE have the honour to inclose herewith a return of the only case adjudicated 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 Court of Justice.

No slaves were emancipated by the Mixed Courts during the year.

The total number of cases prosecuted before the Mixed Commissions since their establishment here in June, 1819, up to the present date is 529, whereof 502 were cases of condemnation, and 27 were either withdrawn, dismissed, or restored to the claimant.

In the same period. there have been emancipated by these Mixed Courts 64,625 slaves, of whom 56,935 have been registered here.

Although owing to the circumstance of our having no longer jurisdiction over Brazilian vessels, and the now general destruction of evidences of nationality by Spanish slavers, the operations of the Mixed Courts here have been necessarily very limited; the number of slave cases altogether proceeded against at Sierra Leone during 1847 has been considerable.

In the Vice-Admiralty Court of the Colony there have been adjudicated within the year, under the Acts 2nd and 3rd Victoria, cap. 73, and 8th and 9th Victoria, cap. 122, seventeen acknowledged Brazilian vessels, and ten others without colours or papers (See inclosures in despatches marked General, of the 30th of June and 31st of December, 1847).

Of this number 26 were condemned, and one, a Brazilian vessel, was restored to the claimant.

These 27 captures were made in the following localities: - In the latitude or neighbourhood of Gallinas, Sherbro, or Cape Mount 5, in the Bight of Benin 9, off the coast of Loango 9, and off the coast of Angola 4.

In 13 of the cases there were slaves, the remainder were proceeded against for equipment only.

The number of slaves so captured was 3,967, of whom 3,671 were decreed emancipation (The slaves taken in three cases pending adjudication, viz., 1604 in two Brazilian brigs "Aguia" and "Malaga," and one in a brig run on shore by her crew, would make the total number captured 5572. There is also a case before the Vice-Admiralty Court of three canoes with 112 slaves, seized off Kent, within the ordinary Admiralty jurisdiction. These slaves were in course of transportation to the Soombia country, to the northward of Sierra Leone, and, it is supposed, were intended for agricultural or domestic purposes).

Of the 17 Brazilian vessels prosecuted under the Act 8th and 9th Victoria, cap. 122, 10 got their imperial passports at Rio de Janeiro, and 7 at Bahia; 10 cleared for Brazilian coasting voyages, 3 for the Azores, Canaries, or Cape Verd Islands, and 4 only for the coast of Africa.

From this it would seem that, although the Brazilian Slave Trade is prosecuted almost openly, and to an extent hitherto unparalleled, some sort of surveillance is still apparently exercised at Rio de Janeiro at least over national vessels clearing direct for this Coast.

Respecting the ten vessels unfurnished with flag or papers, we have of course very little information, but are inclined to think that the majority were engaged in Brazilian Slave Trade, though some so employed were probably Spanish property; the destruction of the flag and papers being resorted to for the purpose of avoiding exposure and the risk of punishment, which they would incur if proceeded against before the Mixed Courts.

It is understood also that some few of them were both Spanish property and engaged in Spanish Slave Trade; the present high price of slaves at Havana, holding out indeed an inducement not likely to be resisted by men restricted by nothing but a dread of severe punishment, which under existing circumstances they well know may be evaded by the course to which we have alluded.

From what we have stated it will be seen that nearly half the number of captures proceeded against at Sierra Leone have been slave laden; a very unusual proportion, and which would, we think, forcibly indicate increased exertions on the part of the slave-dealers.

So far as regards the slave-vessels adjudicated here, the number detained north of the Line rather exceeds those taken to the southward.

It is, however, an unquestionable fact that, during 1847, the principal Slave Trade has been carried on to the southward of the Line; though we regret to find that of late the Traffic in the Bight of Benin has greatly increased; that part of the Coast is indeed now described as "swarming with slavers."

Between the Bight of Benin and this settlement there has not been comparatively much Slave Trade during the year, so far as our means of intelligence extends, and to the northward of Sierra Leone still less.

In the River Pongas, as we have learnt with satisfaction, several of the slave-traders are turning their attention to the cultivation of ground-nuts, for which the demand is increasing, and far exceeds the supply.

The neighbourhood of Bissão and the Bissagos unfortunately, however, retain an infamous celebrity, and depôts for slaves collected at those places still exist in some of the Cape Verd Islands.

The Spanish schooner "Atrevida" condemned in the Mixed Court was, there can be no doubt, engaged in thus conveying slaves to these islands. A small Portuguese schooner was taken at the same time by the same cruizer (Her Majesty's sloop "Philomel"), but the prize officer eventually gave up this vessel, as we have been told, to the Governor of Bissão.

Information of both these schooners, as "suspected slavers," was received by Her Majesty's sloop "Philomel" from the French vessel-of-war cruizing in concert; thus carrying out the object of the Treaty between Great Britain and France; and though we have not the means of forming any very decided opinion on the subject, we are inclined to think that, in this immediate neighbourhood at least, the joint operations of French cruizers has been beneficial.

In closing our report for this year, we regret to have to state to your Lordship that, from the information which has reached us, we are led to the conviction that the Slave Trade on this Coast has never been more vigorously carried on than at present, or more successfully, notwithstanding the great zeal and activity of Her Majesty's squadron, demonstrated by the number of vessels captured and of slaves liberated. At the same time our very imperfect intelligence respecting the operations of a considerable portion of Her Majesty's squadron, as also of the proceedings of the Mixed British and Portuguese Courts established on the Coast, and the Vice-Admiralty Courts at St. Helena and the Cape of Good Hope, preclude our taking so extensive or particular a view of the subject as we could wish to have done.

We have, &c.

(Signed)M. L. MELVILLE.

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

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