A tour of Inspection 
A tour of Inspection 

Royal NavyEast Africa slave trade  

Dr. Kirk to Earl Granville.- (Received August 5.)

Zanzibar, May 31, 1873.

My Lord,

I HAVE the honour to report that, availing myself of the invitation of Captain Malcolm to accompany him on the hurried visit he proposed making to several of the northern ports within the Sultan's dominions, I went on board Her Majesty's ship "Briton" on the 4th April.

2. The First place touched was Pangani, where we landed the same afternoon. We were there well received by the Arab Governor, and afterwards walked about in the bazaars conversing with the people. The trade of Pangani consists of ivory, grain, ghee, timber, molasses, and cattle. Caravans here set out that explore the regions to the north-west as far as the shores of the Victoria Nyanza, and the Baringo Lakes. Shorter trips are made to Jagga and the country near Kilimanjaro and the neighbouring hills of the Wasegna that overlook the Masai Plains. Pangani, therefore, holds an important place in the commerce of Zanzibar; there we find an Indian Colony that consists of thirty Bhattias, three Khojas, and one Bohra, in whose hands the export and import trade is chiefly held while Suahelis conduct the ivory caravans that go inland. I was pleased to learn that whereas formerly no caravan having less than 600 muskets for its protection could safely pass the Masai country that lays right in the way to the lakes, now smaller bodies with from 50 to 100 guns can go through safely and return laden with ivory.

3. Unlike the more southerly Unyamwezi route, however, all the ivory has here to be carried by the caravan itself, there being no tribe in the line of march that will take service to the coast for pay, and this not being a slave-producing region in the interior.

4. The country outside Pangani, including the Mountains of Usbambala, has for several years been the theatre of a slave-hunting war, carried on by one village against another, the captives being sent to the markets of Pangani, Tanga, or other coast villages for sale. In this way vast, and until lately, well-peopled districts have become barren wastes, or inhabited by the few straggling remains of the former industrious agricultural population.

5. Although this slave-hunting has now almost exhausted itself I ascertained that it still goes on to a certain extent, a village not far distant from Pangani having been attacked the previous day to our arrival, and the captives, thirty-five in number, carried off to Tanga by the Wadigo. On a former occasion I urged the Governor to do what he could to atop this state of things, but the Sultan's power can hardly be said to extend beyond the immediate vicinity of the towns.

6. The Pangani River, although perennial and of considerable size, is not navigable above a very limited extent from the ocean. The lower part is, however, a rich field for the cultivation of the sugar-cane, which there grows luxuriantly.

7. The next point touched at being Mombasa, I need not delay with the mention of a town so recently described by Sir Bartle Frere. While there my attention was called to the holding of slaves by Indians, on which subject, as it then came before me, I have the honour to forward a few remarks in Inclosure l.

8. Passing Melinda, which is one of the richest corn-producing regions on the coast, we proceeded to Mogdeesho, a Somali town north of the Equator, the natives of which are reputed the must dangerous on the whole coast to Europeans. I was here struck with the considerable export of corn that went on, proving how very rich the country must be behind the barren ridge of sand and rock that skirts the coast, extensive and rich plantations being found on the banks of the river that passes Ahmed Yoosoof's country at Geledi. Unfortunately we could not land and meet the elders of the place, the principal of whom is styled a Sultan, and also an Imam of religion.

9. The flag of the Sultan of Zanzibar was displayed on our arrival, but he has neither influence nor power. The town is evidently worth a careful study; there are many buildings and towers with curious inscriptions, of which at Brava I have seen specimens well cut in an Arabic character more simple than the Kufic, but quite illegible to the people now. Being unable to land here on account of the surf, we sailed on our return voyage the same day, passing Merka, which seemed also a very considerable and thriving town. There were nineteen dhows at anchor laden with grain, which they had shipped here.

10. At Brava we anchored and landed. Although here received without any deference, there was nothing in the behaviour of the Somali or town-people objectionable, and I soon found that being able to converse freely with them in person, and without an interpreter, I had no reason to fear a misunderstanding. On the contrary, we arranged a party for next day to cross over the hills and into the Somali plains. In conversation with the natives, on this excursion, I gained much information that at a formal meeting in town they never would have given; nor had we the smallest reason to suspect the people of the treachery usually ascribed to them, for some of our party overcome by heat and fatigue fell behind, and did not return until sunset, when they came straggling in; and another, unacquainted with a word of the language, was brought back safely the following morning from the endless plain on which, after spending the night alone, he had again set out in search of the sea-coast, but in the wrong direction. For notes on the Somali Slave Trade I beg to refer to inclosure marked No. 2 herewith forwarded.

11. After Brava we anchored at the mouth of the River Juba, but finding the bar impassable, proceeded to the harbour south of Cape Bissell, known to the natives as Kismayo, although that name has been transferred on the Admiralty charts to an island further south, to which it does not apply. This is a harbour first brought to notice by His Highness Seyyid Majid, and here there are two distinct settlements of Somalis, both foreign to this part of the country. These live near the mouth of the River Juba, where good pasture is found for cattle. Although at present the trade of Kismayo is insignificant, there can be little doubt in time it will rise to importance as the natural harbour for the River Juba, which possesses so very bad an approach at its mouth, and from the fact that north of this is no other refuge to be found on the whole of the Somali coast available during the monsoons.

12. Here, as at Brava, having special objects in view ides forming a collection of the rare vegetation, I again set out with the people upon a long walking excursion that occupied the whole day. Nor did I find any difficulty either among the Somalis in the village or outside its limits. The information collected here bearing upon the reported captives in the Galla land I have thrown into the inclosure No. 3.

13. After Kismayo we visited the Shamba River, a mere creek of the the Tola River, which although larger is nothing more, and thence came back to Zanzibar without communicating at any other spot along the coast

I have, &c.
(Signed) JOHN KIRK.

Inclosure 1.

Memorandum on Slave-holding by Natives of India settled on the African Coast.

IT is well known, and has been often reported to Government, that Indian traders residing at the coast towns distant from the head-quarters of the British Agency still hold domestic slaves, as did their countrymen in Zanzibar previous to the measures taken by Colonel Rigby for the abolition of slavery among them.

During the very hurried visit paid by me to Mombasa in Her Majesty's ship "Briton," immediately after the departure of his Excellency Sir Bartle Frere, I took the occasion of a slave having sought refuge on board the ship I was in to investigate in a preliminary way this matter and arrange the means for organized interference that will put an end to the practice as effectually there and elsewhere on the coast as here.

I ascertained that in Mombasa there are 3l Hindoos, 131 Bohras, besides a considerable body of Scindi residents, and that amongst both the latter slave-holding is pretty general. Although I could not at the time ascertain that any of the Banians held domestic slaves, I doubt not that a full inquiry will show that they are, if to a less extent, also implicated.

With only a few hours and no staff whatever at my disposal it was clearly impossible to attack successfully an institution such as this, but I determined on the first possible occasion to collect the fullest particulars of those who own slaves, where they reside, and how they are employed, with a view to a personal visit, when, with the necessary time at disposal the offenders may be fairly tried and punished if found guilty.

I called the owner of the slave who claimed my protection on board her Majesty's ahip "Briton", but he did not appear until arrested at my request through the Arab authorities, when he confessed the fact of owning not only this one slave who came off, but also others whom I secured. As the man was a native of Scinde, who had come here not many years ago, there could be no doubt of our jurisdiction. I accordingly ordered him to appear in Zanzibar, which he has not done. I shall, therefore, take steps to have him seized and his property confiscated, following this at the same time by giving freedom to all slaves found in the possession of other Indians there, of whom I am now being provided with a list.

There can be no doubt, as I have before stated in official reports, that slaves are very generally held by Indians at the coast towns, but in making this strong statement I would not wish to be understood to imply that the Indians, as a class, are slave-dealers who enter into the traffic as a commercial speculation; on the contrary, they are, I believe, as free of this as any part of the trading community. With their European and American fellow-traders, they are interested in the sale of Venetian beads, English and Swiss prints, and American cottons, and would willingly see the disturbance in trade that must for a time follow the stoppage of a large branch of commerce averted or lessened; but except at Quiloa itself I have no reason to think that Indians do more than purchase slaves for house use, or accept them in pledge for debts.

I have most carefully investigated the loose accusations of a more sweeping nature made against the Indian traders as a class, and find them to rest on no firmer foundation than that the local capital in trade here is Indian, and goods pass through their hands, but that with the exception of the petty traders at Qui1oa, the Indians are as free of all criminality in the slave traffic as a branch of commerce as the European and American merchants who bring out goods that are used not alone in Slave Trade, but in the varied commerce of Zanzibar.

The holding of domestic slaves by Kutchees when out of sight of the Agency is, however, a known fact, and one easily remedied, the first time a vessel is placed at the disposal of the Agent.

At the present moment, with only two vessels on the station, it would be injudicious to withdraw one for such a purpose when they are performing so well the duty they have taken in hand of blockading the Slave Trade of Quiloa; but I have the thorough support of Captain Malcolm in the course I have proposed, and that officer will, I know, place his ship at my disposal on the earliest occasion, nor should I desire to have a more intelligent officer to co-operate with on such a duty.

(Signed) JOHN KIRK.

Inclosure 2.

Memorandum on the Somali Slave Trade.

THE southern Somali towns of Brava, Merka, Mogdeesho, and Worsheikh, commonly known as the "Benadir," or the "Harbours," from being the only points at which native vessels are able to call along this part of the coast, have been long marked as chief places at which slaves are yearly landed in thousands; and the general belief has been that so barren a country and so wild a race as the Somalis do not require slaves, all taken there being destined for reshipment to Arabia and elsewhere.

That this was to a considerable extent at one time done, there can be no doubt; but it is equally certain that at present a large part of the slaves now taken to the Benadir and retained, and used as slaves in the interior of the Somali land itself.

On the occasion of my recent visit, I was much struck with the development of the grain trade from Merka and Mogdeesho, at each of which places we found nineteen or twenty good-sized native vessels laying at anchor, some fully laden, and all with bags ready to load with native grain. Many other vessels, provided with empty bags, were also communicated with on the voyage there. To this must be added the enormous amount of orchilla weed, which, until very lately, was exported from those places, and crops of the best kind of sesam oil-seed, that forms a very important item in the Zanzibar trade, not to mention ox-hides, that, arriving from the Benadir in great numbers, constitute one of the chief exports of the latter place.

A comparison, however, of the average prices of slaves ruling at Muscat and on the Somali coast will show that the export from the latter could not have been effected of late years, unless at a loss. I therefore reported, in 1871, that, in my opinion, the Somali land retained at least 3,000 slaves yearly - a number that I am now convinced was far below the truth; that, in fact, the demand for slaves in that country itself has been one of the chief supports of the Quiloa Slave Trade, as the transport thither was so profitable and, at the same time, so easy, while the Sultan issued passes in favour of any one who applied, securing the cargo as far as Lamo.

Once at Lamo, there is no difficulty, if ships are known to be in the vicinity, in moving the slaves for a considerable distance by water behind the island, when s short voyage took them to Brava, or elsewhere, as information led the owners to think the boats of our cruizers were stationed.

While the feuds subsisted between the Somalis of the north of the Juba with their rivals (new settlers at Kismayo, to the south of that river), many captures of slave-vessels were made by our cruizers, as the disposition of the boats was not known to the Lamo traders; but now, the land communication being open, intelligence is speedily passed to Lamo when the boats of Her Majesty's cruisers have taken up any one station.

This year, knowing that greater difficulty would be met with, the land route, which I before informed the Government would be a resource to which the Arabs would fall back when the sea became too dangerous, has been tried; and, at the time of our visit to Brava, in April, one caravan had already passed, having marched through Kismayo and Brava to Mogdeesho.

As there is every reason to believe that the present enormous demand for slaves in Somali land itself is but of comparative recent growth, it seems the more necessary at once to call attention to it, and to take means for its suppression.

The Somalis are a cruel treacherous race; described to me, by those who have been among them, as the very worst of all slave-masters, and who, from their behaviour generally to Europeans, although to me personally they were not uncivil, do not deserve the smallest consideration.

(Signed) JOHN KIRK.

Inclosure 3.

Memorandum of Inquiries at Brava and Kismayo regarding the reported White Captives in Galla Land, South of the River Juba.

AS directed by the Government of India I took the first occasion of a flying visit to Brava and Kismayo to make inquiries regarding a rumour that reached Zanzibar through two French gentlemen who had ascended the River Juba, and reported a story they had heard of white captives in Galla Land south of that river.

My facilities during the very short stay at either place were perhaps greater than those usually afforded to a mere passer, and if not conclusive I look upon the information obtained as greatly strengthening the conclusion that this rumour is without foundation.

When at Brava, in company with three gentlemen from the Cape of Good Hope, fellow-passengers on board Her Majesty's ship "Briton," I crossed the sand-hills and entered the plain beyond, attended by some Somalis who had travelled recently to Genana, Berdera, and other parts of Somali Land. I questioned them, not in a formal manner, but in course of conversation, to pass the time occupied on the march, and besides inquiries regarding Slave Trade, geography, and other matters, touched upon the subject of captives.

All knew well the story of the "St. Abb's" captives in Somali Land, as it seemed to me entirely through the numerous inquiries made, but not one gave the smallest hint of captives south of the river, among the Gallas.

At Kismayo, under equally favourable circumstances I collected no other information unless from the man who accompanied the French gentlemen who first spread the report, and he sad he had heard the tale, but that the captives were reported to be very far distant from Berdera.

As this man, although a Somali, was a foreigner in this part and as never travelled far from the river, and as no one either at Brava or Kismayo seemed to know anything of the story, I venture to think it has no foundation, the more so as the original informer proves to be a Somali who had been to Bombay, Aden, &c., where he possibly first heard of prisoners in Somali Land, which he afterwards confounded so as to give rise to the story that there were others in the Galla country as well.

(Signed) JOHN KIRK.

Valid HTML 5.0