« PreviousContinue »
What then remains to be done? Are we, in utter despair, to withdraw our cruizers from the coast of Africa; to abandon all our forts and settlements on that coast, and throw open at once the whole line of this devoted country to the full and unrestrained scope of the slave-dealers of those governments who are more disposed to encourage than to repress the hateful traffic; and who have the insolence to ascribe our anxiety for its extinction solely to interested motives? Or, are we to compel by force of arms, the French, the Spaniards, and the Portugueze to abandon it? It is but too obvious that hitherto persuasion and remonstrance have. equally failed; though our steady perseverance has produced, in the course of the past year, some little glimmering of hope, that a sense of shame has just touched the ruling powers of France, and that public opinion in that country is beginning to declare itself against a trade, which the French king, twelve years ago, solemnly pronounced repugnant to the principles of natural justice, and of the enlightened age in which we live. Even the Baron de Damas has at length admitted the utter inefficiency of the existing law. Even he (we are told)
did not hesitate to acknowledge, that the slave-trade from the French ports bad very much increased during the last two years; and he gave assurances that the French ministers were examining thoroughly the whole question, not only with the view of adopting an improved mode of administering the present law, but with the intention of collecting materials on which to found the proposition of a new law to the chambers. He apprehended, however, that the investigation was not in a state of sufficient forwardness to enable the government to bring forward the question during the ensuing session.'
Indeed, we have little doubt, that the French government will find it necessary, in the course of next session, to adopt something more efficient than the present law; the support they are likely to meet with, from the most respectable men in the two Chambers, will leave them no excuse for evasion: The directors of the African Institution say• The Baron de Staël, who visited Nantz in the course of last year, whilst drawing the strongest picture of that place, (which is in France now, what Liverpool was in its days of less creditable commerce,) and declaring the impossibility that any man of good faith there can question its truth, at the same time adds, that “ nobody doubts for a moment that the slave-trade will be suppressed almost instantaneously whenever the government will adopt severe measures, and employ honest men to carry them into execution. The slave-dealers, whatever may be their impudence, and absolute want of moral feeling on the subject, know that they are supported by no real interest, and that their traffic has no chance of lasting.'
A more rapid progress may perhaps now be looked for. The Baron de Staël readily obt during the two ays which he staid in Nantz, specimens of the irons used in the slave-ships. Upon laying these before the Dauphin, he had the satisfaction of finding the expectations of justice and humanity not deceived. His Royal Highness seems prepared to give the authority of bis high station in behalf of this great cause; and has promised that every measure adapted for the suppression of the slave-trade shall bave, not only his approbation, but his support.'-— Twentieth Report, p. 26.
P P 4
laying * While this sheet is passing through the press, we observe (Sept. 2) the arrival of some Sierra Leone Gazettes filled with new instances of Portugueze, as well as French, cruelty and audacity, in the unremitted prosecution of this traffic. A Portuguèze schooner, La Fortuna, had just been captured and brought in, with 200 slaves, the remainder of 250, of which the cargo had originally consisted. Ten slavers had been seen lying together in the Bonny, of which seven were French, and the Maidstone had just fallen in with a frigate-built French vessel, the original cargo of which had been 700 negrues.
There is some hope too that Spain, having no longer any great interest in pursuing the traffic, and having an honest minister at the head of her councils, may ere long pass such a law against the trade as shall effectually prevent her flag and her subjects from being engaged in it; and as for that wretched government of Portugal, which owes its existence, feeble and palsied as it is, to Great Britain, she ought to be peremptorily ordered to abandon the traffic altogether. Having no slave colonies she can no longer have even a pretext for carrying it on; her ships, therefore, found in the prosecution of the slave-trade ought unquestionably to be considered as mere pirates, and treated accordingly. The Marquis of Palmella acknowledged indeed, two years ago, to our ambassador at Lisbon, that he was almost willing to consent at once to the total abolition of the slave-trade, in which Portugal could have no interest, in case of the independence of the Brazils. On which the directors of the Institution justly observe, ' As the independence of Brazil has been subsequently recognized, and as any negociation binding its direct interests must be now made with Brazil, it is difficult to explain why, as far as Portugal is concerned, this abolition has not been proclaimed-especially since it is understood that the British government have determined to enter into no treaty with Portugal in which the effectual abolition of the slave-trade should not be provided for.'
We shall presently see what is the determination of the new representative government of Portugal.* With regard to the Brazils, the surrounding states of America will, when once settled in their respective governments, dispose of Don Pedro's negroes, and probably of himself; in the mean time, should his ships continue to desolate Africa, we hope they may be most rigidly kept within the limits prescribed in the existing treaties, and harassed even there by every possible means. At present every Brazilian slave-dealer practises a double fraud, assisted by the corrupt con
nivance of the officers of his government. Firstly, his imperial passport directs him to Molembo; but both the giver and receiver of that well know there are no slaves to be had at Molembo; secondly, the same passport declares the tonnage of the vessel to be quite different from what it actually is, by means of which vile trick, instead of taking on board five slaves for every two tons, according to treaty, it has been discovered that they are in the constant practice of taking on board four or five to every single ton.
• It has been attempted' (say the directors of the African Institution) to justify this infringement of positive treaty by the singular declaration that there are two modes of measuring vessels ; one for merchant vessels in general, and another for slave-ships : in other words, that a nominal and fictitious tonnage is taken for the last, "whereby human beings can be crammed into a smaller space than that known to be occupied by their weight in lead. The wretched creatures thus stowed away have been, consequently, chained together so close, that in all cases extreme misery, and in very many madness and death, bave followed.” Mr. Canning's expostulation against this violation of common humanity, as well as of solemn compacts, was presented during the course of last May to the government of Brazil, begging for an “ immediate decree to do away this one, at least, among many evils.” M. Carvalhoe Melho has answered, with a most concise indifference, that " he will take a fit opportunity to direct the
proper measures. The following description of a Brazilian slave-trader, taken in the present year, may serve as a specimen of the condition of the poor negroes put on board a ship of this nation. It is that of the Perpetuo Defensor,'having on board 424 slaves.
* A short time after detention (it is Commodore Bullen who speaks) " I visited her, to be an eye-witness to the state of the slaves on their being brought on deck for the purpose of being counted; and I have to assure their lordships, that the extent of human misery evinced by these unfortunate beings is almost impossible for me to describe. They were all confined in a most crowded state below, and many in irons, which latter were released as soon as they could be got at. The putrid atmosphere emitting from the slave-deck was horrible in the extreme, and so inhuman are these fellow-creature dealers, that several of those who were confined at the farther end of the slave-room, were obliged to be dragged on deck in almost a lifeless state, and wasted away to mere shadows, never having breathed the fresh air since their embarkation. Many females had infants at their breasts, and all were crowded together in a solid mass of filth and corruption, several suffering from dysentery, and although but a fortnight on board forty-seven of them had died from that complaint.
The directors of the African Institution appear to think that, • by a determined encouragement of free labour, we may make the trade not worth pursuing. We must take the liberty to say, that we have no great opinion of this free labour' system. The directors themselves must be the first to acknowledge that the public are not, up to this hour, in possession of proof that the experiment has anywhere been carried to a successful issue. We all know, indeed, that such an experiment, on a large scale, and under proper superintendance, is now in progress within the territories of Sierra Leone; and if it should be found to answer there,—that is to say, if the emancipated negroes, when duly ins structed by persons from the West Indies, will submit to the labour that is required in the cultivation of sugar-for it is this article ir: particular, that requires constant and severe labour, and it is this only which constitutes the value of our West Indian Islands then, unquestionably, will the gradual abolition of West Indian slavery be divested of those gloomy forebodings with which it is at present contemplated by many of the best informed and the most liberal-minded of our planters.
Without waiting for the result of this experiment,-for it must require years to determine that-and, if that be successful, ageslong and busy ages—to establish the new system in the West Indian islands and on the continent of America, we conceive that an effectual and immediate check might be given to the slave-trade by the adoption of a measure-which would at least, we are fully convinced, render it' not worth pursuing. It is but too evident that our cruizers capture but a very few even of those slave-ships which, if fallen in with, they are legally authorized to seize. There are so many avenues left open on the extensive coast in which the dealers can assemble their victims, that it would require half the navy to close the whole of them. Commodore Bullen states that he rarely visited a port, in which he did not find these wretched beings lying in chains ready to be embarked, as soon as an opportunity should occur; when once a cargo is thus assembled, it requires only about six hours to put on board 400 or 500 slaves; the traders therefore watch the moment that any cruizers leave the part of the coast where the negroes are thus ready to be shipped, slip out of the river, and, when once clear of the land, there is little chance of their voyage being interrupted.
If then we are still to keep up, however disheartening it may hitherto have been, the police establishment of the world for the suppression of the slave-trade, the plan, which indeed we have more than once suggested, and in the propriety of which we are borne out by every officer, without exception, who has visited the spot, is to make the island of Fernando Po the principal station on the coast of Africa; to remove thither the Mixed Commission now resident at Sierra Leone; to have two or three steam-boats of light draught of water, properly armed, to run up the nume
rous rivers that fall into the bights of Biafra and Benin; to sweep their banks of all the traffickers in slaves, and to protect the legitimate trader of all nations, who is at present coptinúally exposed in these regions to insult in his person, and robbery of his property. From this quarter of the coast, we reckon that at least two-thirds of the slaves annually carried away from Africa, are shipped. The remaining third of the traffic, from the more northerly parts of the coast, might, in like manner, be effectually checked, by two other steam-boats, whose rendezvous might be either at Sierra Leone, or the Gambia, or both. The French have already two steam-boats to navigate the Senegal; and we should find them equally useful, even in a mercantile point of view, on the Gambia.
It is of the utmost importance that the slave-ships captured in the Bight of Benin should be brought in for adjudication as speedily as possible. The horrible state in which the poor wretches are found admits of no delay in liberating them from their dungeons of disease and death. The passage to Sierra Leone is from five to twelve weeks, and is frequently attended with great mortality. We will mention but one instance, in the present year. The Seguenda Rosalia, captured by the Athol, lost in her passage up to Sierra Leone eighty-two slaves, all of which, except ten or twelve, died of absolute starvation, the ship being eleven weeks on her passage. Such was their miserable condition that, for upwards of three weeks, their daily subsistence was a handful of farinha and black beans, with half a pint of water, which was served out by spoonfuls. Nothing of this kind could happen on our plan. A day or two at the most, from any situation in the two bights, would be sufficient to carry them to Fernando Po, where they might be employed in cutting down timber, preparing billets of wood for the steam-vessels, and clearing the ground for cultivation. In the present state of this island, the savage natives produce the finest yams perhaps in the world, and appear to possess abundance of fowls. A refreshing breeze constantly blows over the island from the Atlantic; it has plenty of good anchorage in more places than one, and abundance of clear running water; and it is so situated, as to overlook and command the whole Bight of Biafra and the numerous rivers that fall into it.
Thus might this beautiful but hitherto neglected island become the rendezvous of our merchant shipping employed in the African trade, and from hence might the rudiments of civilization be carried into the very heart of Africa. At present our merchants engaged in lawful commerce have no safe depôt for their goods ; they are obliged to keep them on board ship till disposed of, and are therefore at the mercy of the native dealers; but this fine