Drawing of a slaveship

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The Plan and Sections annexed exhibit a slave ship with the slaves stowed. In order to give a representation of the trade against which no complaint of exaggeration could be brought by those concerned in it, the Brooks is here described, a ship well known in the trade, and the first mentioned in the report delivered to the House of Commons last year by Captain Parrey, who was sent to Liverpool by Government to take the dimensions of the ships employed in the African slave trade from that port. The plans and sections are on a scale of 1/8 of an inch to a foot (in the original document).

The number of slaves actually carried on this slave ship from the acoounts given to Captain Parrey by the slave-merchants themselves are as follows:

Men 351
Women 127
Boys 90
Girls 41

This made a total of 609 slaves It must be observed that the men, from whom only insurrections are to be feared, are kept continually in irons, and must be stowed in the room allotted for them, which is of a more secure construction than the rest. In this ship the number of men actually carried was 351, but the number of men stated in the plan is 190 making a difference of 161.

As the ship on this plan would stow 42 women boys and girls in the places here allotted them more than she did carry, supporting that number taken from the mens room and placed in their stead, this will reduce the number of men to 309 in the mens room; of course the room allowed them, instead of being 16 inches as in the plan was in reality only 10 inches each; but if the whole number 351 were stowed in the mens room, they had only 9 inches each to lay in.

The men therefore, instead of lying on their backs, were placed, as is usual, in full ships, on their sides, or on each other. In which last situation they are not unfrequently found dead in the morning.

The longitudinal section shows the manner in which the slaves were placed on all the decks and platforms, which is also further illustrated by the transverse sections by which it appears, that the height between the decks is 5 feet 8 inches, which allowing 2 inches for the platform and its beareres, makes the height between the decks and the platform 2 feet 9 inches; but the beams and their knees, with the darlings, taking 4 inches on an average, this space is unequally divided, and above or under the platforms cannot be estimated at more than 2 feet 7 inches; so that the slaves cannot, when placed either on or under the platform, relieve themselves by sitting up; the very short ones excepted, nor can they except on board the larger vessels. The average of nine vessels measured by Captain Parrey, being mostly large ships, was only 5 feet 2 inches.

It may be expected, from this mode of packing a number of our fellow-creatures, used in their own country to a life of --, and from the anguish of mind their situation must necessarily create, many of them fall sick and die. Instances sometimes occur of horrible mortality. The average is not less than 1/5 or 20 percent. The half deck is sometimes appropriated for a sick berth, but the men slaves are seldom indulged the privilege of being placed there, till there is little hope of recovery. The slaves are never allowed the least bedding, either sick or well; but are stowed on the bare boards, from the friction of which, occasioned by the motion of the ship, and their chains, are frequently much bruised; and in some cases the flesh is rubbed off their shoulders, elbows, and hips.

It may not be improper to add a short account of the mode of securing, airing, and exercising the slaves.

The women and children are not chained, but the men are constantly chained two and two; the right leg of one to the left leg of the other, and their hands are secured in the same manner.

They are brought up on the main deck every day, about eight o'clock, and as each pair ascend, a strong chain, fastened by ring-bolts on the deck, is passed through their shackles; a precaution absolutely necessary to prevent insurrections. In this state, if the weather is favourable, they are permitted to remain about one-third part of the twenty-four hours, and during this interval they are fed, and their apartment below is cleaned; but when the weather is bad, even those indulgencies cannot be granted them, and they are only permitted to come up in small companies, of about ten at a time, to be fed, where after remaining a quarter of an hour, each then is obliged to give place to the next in rotation.

In very bad weather, some are unavoidably brought on deck; there being no other method of getting water, provisions etc. out of the hold, but by removing those slaves who lie on the hatch-ways. The consequence of this violent change from their rooms, which are inconceivably hot, to the wind and rain, is their being attacked with coughs, swellings of the glands of the neck, fevers, and dysenteries; which are communicated by infection to the other slaves, and also to the sailors.

The only exercise of the men-slaves is their being made to jump in their chains; and this by the friends of the trade, is called dancing.

To persons unacquainted with the mode of carrying on this system of trading in human flesh, their Plans and Sections will appear rather a fiction, than a real representation of a slave-ship. They will probably object, that there is no room for stowing cables, and such other utensils and stores as are usually placed between decks. In a full slave ship these articles are either deposited in the hold, or piled upon the upper deck; and from thence, in case of bad weather, or accidents, no small confusion is occasioned. It may be also said, the slaves are placed so very close that there is not room for the surgeon to visit and assist them; the fact is that when the surgeon goes amost them, he picks out his way as well as he can, by stepping between their legs. He frequently finds it to be impossible to afford them that relief which an humane man (and such there are even in this trade) would willingly give them. When attacked with fluxes their situation is scarcely to be described. To give an instance, (as related by an eye-witness) as it serves to convey some idea, though a very faint one, of the sufferings of those unhappy beings whom we wantonly drag from their native country, and doom to perpetual labour and captivity; "Some wet and blowing weather having occasioned the port-holes to be shut, and the grating to be covered, fluxes and fevers among the negroes ensued. While they are in this situation, my profession requiring it, I frequently went down among them, till at length their apartments became so extremely hot, as to be only sufferable for a very short time. But the excessive heat was not the only thing that rendered their situation intolerable. The deck, that is, the floor of their room, was so covered with the blood and mucus which had proceded from them in consequence of the flux, that it resembled a slaughter-house. It is not in the power of the human imagination to picture to itself a situation more dreadful or disgusting. Numbers of the slaves had fainted, they were carried upon deck, where several of them died, and the rest were, with difficulty, restored. It had nearly proved fatal to me also."

Another objection which may be stated, is, that here no room is allowed for the sailors hammocks. In slave ships, while the slaves are on board, the sailors have no other lodging than the bare decks, or (in large ships) the tops. From this exposure, they often are wet for a long time together, the rains in those climates being frequent and extremely heavy. There is in wet weather a tarpawling placed over the gratings; if the sailors to shelter themselves creep under this, they are exposed to the noisome and infectious effluvia which continually exhale from the slaves below.

It appeared from the evidence given by the slave merchants last year before the House of Commons, that the employment of the seamen, viz. boating up the rivers after the negroes, guarding them on board, cleaning the vessel etc. is of a nature offensive and dangerous beyond that of seamen in other services, and that the small-pox, measles, flux, and other contagious disorders are frequent on board these ships.

It is therefore falsely said by the well-wishers to this trade, that the suppression of it will destroy a great surfery for seamen, and annihilate a very considerable source of commercial profit. The Rev. Mr. Clarkson, in his admirable treatise on the Impolicy of the Trade, has proved from the most incontestable authority, that so far from being a nursery, it has been constantly and regularly a grave for our seamen; for that in this traffic only, a greater proportion of men perish in one year, than in all the other trades of Great Britain in two years.

Besides the time spent on the coast to complete their cargos, which sometimes lasts several months, the slaves are from six to eight week on the passage from thence to the West-Indies.

Now let any person reflect on the situation of a number of those devoted people, thus managed and thus crammed together, and he must think it dreadful, even under every favourable circumstance of an humane captain, an able surgeon, fine weather, and a short passage. But when to a long passage are added, inhuman treatment, scanty and bad provisons, and rought weather, their condition is miserable beyond description. So destructive is this traffic in some circumstances, particularly in bad weather, when the slaves are kept below, and the gratings covered with tarpawlings that a schooner, which carried only 140 slaves, meeting with a gale of wind which lasted eighteen hours, no less than 50 slaves perished in that small space of time.

As then the inhumanity of this trade must be universally admitted and lamented, people would do well to consider, that it does not often fall to the lot of individuals, to have an opporunity of performing so important a moral and religious duty, as that of endeavouring to put an end to a practice, which may, without exaggeration, be styled one of the greatest evils at this day existing upont the earth.

London: printed by James Phillips, George-Yard, Lombard-Street MDCCLXXXIX

This page is an interpretation of an article reproduced at the Hull Museum. You can find a link to the PDF here. The original document uses f instead of s in spelling the words, so modern spelling has been used in this recreation to make it more understandable.