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Title: The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (1808) Vol. II
Author: Thomas Clarkson
Release Date: June 3, 2004 [EBook #12507]
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THE HISTORY OF THE RISE, PROGRESS, AND ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE ABOLITION OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE-TRADE BY THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT.
BY THOMAS CLARKSON, M.A.
Continuation from June 1788 to July 1789—Author travels to collect further evidence—great difficulties in obtaining it—forms committees on his tour—Privy council resume the examinations—inspect cabinet of African productions—obliged to leave many of the witnesses in behalf of the abolition unexamined—prepare their report—Labours of the committee in the interim—Proceedings of the planters and others—Report laid on the table of the House of Commons—Introduction of the question, and debate there—twelve propositions deduced from the report and reserved for future discussion—day of discussion arrives—opponents refuse to argue from the report—require new evidence—this granted and introduced—further consideration of the subject deferred to the next session—Renewal of Sir William Dolben's bill—Death and character of Ramsay.
Matters had now become serious. The gauntlet had been thrown down and accepted. The combatants had taken their stations, and the contest was to be renewed, which was to be decided soon on the great theatre of the nation. The committee by the very act of their institution had pronounced the Slave-trade to be criminal. They, on the other hand, who were concerned in it, had denied the charge. It became the one to prove, and the other to refute it, or to fall in the ensuing session.
The committee, in this perilous situation, were anxious to find out such other persons, as might become proper evidences before the privy council. They had hitherto sent there only nine or ten, and they had then only another, whom they could count upon for this purpose, in their view. The proposal of sending persons to Africa, and the West Indies, who might come back and report what they had witnessed, had been already negatived. The question then was, what they were to do. Upon this they deliberated, and the result was an application to me to undertake a journey to different parts of the kingdom for this purpose.
When this determination was made I was at Teston, writing a long letter to the privy council on the ill usage and mortality of the seamen employed in the Slave-trade, which it had been previously agreed should be received as evidence there. I thought it proper, however, before I took my departure, to form a system of questions upon the general subject. These I divided into six tables. The first related to the productions of Africa, and the disposition and manners of the natives. The second, to the methods of reducing them to slavery. The third, to the manner of bringing them to the ships, their value, the medium of exchange, and other circumstances. The fourth, to their transportation. The fifth, to their treatment in the Colonies. The sixth, to the seamen employed in the trade. These tables contained together one hundred and forty-five questions. My idea was that they should be printed on a small sheet of paper, which should be folded up in seven or eight leaves, of the length and breadth of a small almanac, and then be sent in franks to our different correspondents. These, when they had them, might examine persons capable of giving evidence, who might live in their neighbourhoods or fall in their way, and return us their examinations by letter.
The committee having approved and printed the tables of questions, I began my tour. I had selected the southern counties from Kent to Cornwall for it. I had done this, because these included the great stations of the ships of war in ordinary; and as these were all under the superintendence of Sir Charles Middleton, as comptroller of the navy, I could get an introduction to those on board them. Secondly, because sea-faring people, when they retire from a marine life, usually settle in some town or village upon the coast.
Of this tour I shall not give the reader any very particular account. I shall mention only those things which are most worthy of his notice in it. At Poole in Dorsetshire I laid the foundation of a committee, to act in harmony with that of London for the promotion of the cause. Moses Neave, of the respectable society of the Quakers, was the chairman; Thomas Bell, the secretary, and Ellis. B. Metford and the reverend Mr. Davis and others the committee. This was the third committee, which had been instituted in the country for this purpose. That at Bristol, under Mr. Joseph Harford as chairman, and Mr. Lunell as secretary, had been the first. And that at Manchester, under Mr. Thomas Walker as chairman, and Mr. Samuel Jackson as secretary, had been the second.
As Poole was a great place for carrying on the trade to Newfoundland, I determined to examine the assertion of the Earl of Sandwich in the House of Lords, when he said, in the debate on Sir William Dolben's bill, that the Slave-trade was not more fatal to seamen than the Newfoundland and some others. This assertion I knew at the time to be erroneous, as far as my own researches had been concerned: for out of twenty-four vessels, which had sailed out of the port of Bristol in that employ, only two sailors were upon the dead list. In sixty vessels from Poole, I found but four lost. At Dartmouth, where I went afterwards on purpose, I found almost a similar result. On conversing however with Governor Holdsworth, I learnt that the year 1786 had been more fatal than any other in this trade. I learnt that in consequent of extraordinary storms and hurricanes, no less than five sailors had died and twenty-one had been drowned in eighty-three vessels from that port. Upon this statement I determined to look into the muster-rolls of the trade there for two or three years together. I began by accident with the year 1769, and I went on to the end of 1772. About eighty vessels on an average had sailed thence in each of these years. Taking the loss in these years, and compounding it with that in the fatal year, three sailors had been lost, but taking it in these four years by themselves, only two had been lost, in twenty-four vessels so employed. On a comparison with the Slave-trade, the result would be, that two vessels to Africa would destroy more seamen than eighty-three sailing to Newfoundland. There was this difference also to be noted, that the loss in the one trade was generally by the weather or by accident, but in the other by cruel treatment or disease; and that they, who went out in a declining state of health in the one, came home generally recovered, whereas they, who went out robust in the other, came home in a shattered condition.