As a doctoral student (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) working collaboratively with the NMM and the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull I have been researching the Museum's collections relating to my project 'Anti-slavery and the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean, 1860-90: Race, Empire and Identity'. Alongside material in the Michael Graham-Stewart slavery collection, my time spent researching manuscripts in the Caird Library has proved to be particularly fruitful. With the benefit of time that a PhD brings, and certainly a bit of luck, I have been fortunate enough to discover some manuscripts previously unrecognised in terms of their connection to the Royal Navy's anti-slavery activities. These include letters and journals created by naval officers serving on anti-slavery patrols off East Africa during the 1870s and 1880s.
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Illustrated log of HMS Garnet East Indies Station compiled by Tristan Dannreuther between 23 August 1887 and 6 July 1889
One of the most interesting examples are the 100 or so letters written by teenage Midshipman Tristan Dannreuther to his mother during a three-year-long anti-slavery commission on the East Indies Station on board HMS Garnet during the late 1880s. Alongside other items within the Dannreuther collection, the letters provide a fascinatingly unofficial version of events and activities: the informal strategies devised by the crews working on anti-slavery patrols, the leisure-time spent ashore, and the relationships forged whilst carrying out this very unique work. Writing first as a fifteen year-old, Dannreuther's macho competitiveness and naive excitement in 'chasing' and 'capturing' slave dhows is palpable. His encounters with a myriad of people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, both on board ship and ashore, highlights the truly multi-cultural nature of the Indian Ocean slave trade. His portrayal of these experiences reveals a spectrum of explicit and implicit racial perceptions, and of ideas of 'Britishness' during this phase of increasingly aggressive European imperialism.
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Cruising in search of slave dhows off the coast of Africa. The Graphic, 20 October 1888
The Royal Navy's suppression of the so-called 'Arab' slave trade during the run-up to the European 'Scramble for Africa' bought issues of race, anti-slavery and national responsibility into sharp focus both at home and abroad. The richness of the private accounts found in the Caird Library lies in the incredibly personal insights offered into the attitudes, values and experiences of the men who confronted slavery and the slave trade on a daily basis. These are especially valuable in providing a layer of historical evidence which complements the official records of suppression.
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Cargo of newly released slaves on board HMS London, circa 1880