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National Maritime Museum
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The Atlantic Worlds gallery looks at the complexity of the histories linking Africa, the Americas and Europe.

Following voyages of exploration across the Atlantic in the 1490s, Europeans began settling in increasing numbers in the Americas. For Indigenous Americans this was an invasion, and huge numbers of people died as a result of disease and conflict. Many Indigenous people in the Americas and the Caribbean were forced to work in brutal conditions in plantations developed on land occupied by Europeans.

Sir John Hawkins, 1532-95
Sir John Hawkins
BHC2755 • Oil Paintings
Hawkins was the first English slave trader. He made four voyages to Sierra Leone between 1564 and 1569, taking a total of 1200 Africans across the Atlantic.

With larger tracts of land under cultivation and more natural resources like forests and precious metals to be exploited, demand for labour rapidly increased beyond the level that could be found locally.

Soon, enslaved Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic to toil as unfree labour on plantations, in mines, clearing forests and numerous other tasks to sustain the colonial economy and supply Europe with products like sugar, tobacco and cotton. Multiple European powers were involved in this system of transatlantic slavery.

Bust of Jean-Jacques Dessalines
Jean-Jacques Dessalines
ZBA2482 • Sculpture
Dessalines was born a slave in French St Domingue (Haiti) on 20 September 1758. In 1791 he became part of the freedom movement that led to the abolition of slavery in Haiti in 1793

Between 1669 and 1807 Britain was responsible for the transportation of almost 3.5 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean.

There was opposition to the cruelty of the trade from people of the African diaspora and a growing number of British people. In 1807, The Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was eventually passed in Britain. However, the passing of this act did not bring about an immediate end to the trade, which was continued by other nations, or freedom for those living in enslavement. Slavery in the British empire was finally made illegal in 1833 and ended formally in 1838. Those who had owned the enslaved received compensation from the government. Those that were enslaved but now granted their freedom received nothing.

Billy Waters
Billy Waters
ZBA2427 • Oil Paintings
Billy Waters was born in America during the War of Independence. He was a seaman in the Royal Navy and lost his leg as a result of falling from the topsail yard of the 'Ganymede' in 1812.

The transatlantic slave trade changed communities and cultures around the Atlantic Ocean, and its legacy is still felt throughout the world. The museum hosts an annual commemoration on 23 August as part of the UNESCO International Slavery Remembrance Day.

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Work in progress

This gallery no longer reflects the approaches or ambitions of the National Maritime Museum. It opened in 2007, the 200th anniversary of the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire. However, the legacies of transatlantic slavery are noticeably absent and Black voices are not well represented in the space.

Changing this is a work in progress.

As part of International Slavery Remembrance Day, the National Maritime Museum invited five young people to interrogate the Atlantic Worlds gallery and create a one-day intervention.

One of the key elements of the project was to interrogate the story told in the gallery, and question whether the space reflects the experiences of those impacted by colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.

The young people produced a range of creative pieces responding to the content and themes of the space, from poems to podcasts.

This intervention is part of a step to widen the perspectives contained within Atlantic Worlds.

Find out more about the intervention

Explore the creative responses


Work in focus

LIQUID CARBON by contemporary artist Deanio X

This is a digitised collage of drawings and water paintings. It explores the resilience and resourcefulness of the African diaspora in response to the colonising project of the British Empire.

The composite artwork builds upon motifs of blood, culture and memory to evoke a chaotic scene of resistance in the Atlantic Ocean's Middle Passage, and contemplates how the ripples of history return to meet us in the future.

The artwork is by Deanio X of BLKBRD Collective. BLKBRD Collective is a team of multidisciplinary artists who create artworks reflecting the traditionally underrepresented legacies of migrant cultures in the UK.

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