Following the Act for Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, the Royal Navy was used to supress the Atlantic slave trade. British naval squadrons were set up to patrol the coast of West Africa and the Caribbean looking for illegal slavers. Here at the National Maritime Museum, we have several recently catalogued manuscripts in our collection that give an insight into these anti-slavery patrols.
HMS Sybille, commanded by Commodore Francis Augustus Collier, and its tender HMS Black Joke, commanded by Lieutenant Henry Downes, were involved in the capture of various slave ships. The Black Joke was itself the former slave ship Henriqueta captured by the Royal Navy in September 1827.
LOG/N/41 is a log book of their voyages and records the capture of various slaving ships. A table included in the log indicates that over a period of two years, the Sybille and her tender successfully captured 16 slaving ships with a total of 3970 slaves on board. It also contains several entires relating to the famous action between the Black Joke and the Spanish slave ship El Almirante, wherein the latter vessel was captured following a lengthy pursuit in the Bight of Benin on 1 February 1829.
HSR/Z/37 is a small collection of manuscripts relating to this same action, which gives us some visual references for the ships involed, including a sketch of El Almirante and a watercolour of Black Joke.
Lastly, AGC/B/24 is a letter written in 1830 by Thomas Butter, assistant surgeon on board the Sybille. It details a voyage along the West coast of Africa and mentions the successful capture of two slaving ships, with 706 slaves on board. The letter also discusses the difficulties encountered with the West African climate and the spread of fever amongst the crew. A high number of fatalities is recorded and the dangerous fever forces the ships to head for a cooler climate.
Tara (Archives Assistant)