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13 Seiten, Note: 1,00
2. Facts and Figures
3. Limitations of the Navy
3.1 Quality and Quantity
3.2 Health Risks and Climate Disasters
4. Tactical Changes of Slave Traders
4.1 New Ways of Shipping
4.2 False Identities
5. The Impact of Diplomacy
6. The Interplay
6.1 Diplomacy and Adaptation
6.2 Navy's Limitation and Adaptation
8. Limitations and Further Research
Once the abolishment campaign started in 1806, the British increasingly engaged in persuading other countries to cease their trade in slaves, and further, by employing naval forces as of 1808 the British actively pursued the implementation of the prohibition laws in West Africa's Atlantic regions. However, thirty years after the Navy had started its counteracting work, by looking at the achievements of the Royal Navy, the British Parliamentary Committees saliently concluded that the suppression had been a failure so far. (). What were the difficulties the British Navy faced and made their activities considered as unsuccessful?
While scholars dealt thoroughly with the Atlantic Slave Trade and its suppression between 1808 and 1867, little attention has been paid to the various limitations and difficulties the Royal Navy had to operate under in the first four decades of its commence. This essay aims to provide an understanding as to why the British Navy had achieved so little initially in suppressing the forced migration of slaves from Africa to the Americas. It will look at a variety of aspects and factors, which seem to play a significant role in exacerbating the Navy's operation until 1850. It will argue that the interplay of these factors is mainly responsible for preventing the Navy from working effectively against the Atlantic Slave Traffic.
For this purpose, the essay will proceed as follows. First, it will give a brief account of the dynamics of the slave traffic and the Navy's seizures by providing descriptive data. In the second step, the paper will turn to the restraints the naval forces were confronted with. Thirdly, it will proceed with the adaptations the slave traders undertook as response to the Navy's increasing control. Fourthly, it will show in what ways diplomacy and international arrangements had an impact on the way the Navy worked. Fifthly, the essay will show how far there was an interaction between various obstructions. After giving a conclusion it will point to other limitations and further research.
Long after the Atlantic Slave Trade was legally condemned by the great powers, it did not cease to be carried on. According to Lloyd's figures, it is estimated that 106.600 slaves were exported in 1815 (Lloyd, 1968, pp. 61-62). After ten years, in 1825 the export rose to 125.000 slaves. Again, in ten years' time until 1835 it reached its peak of 135.000 slaves being exported across the Atlantic. Comparing the number of exports with that of liberated slaves numbers, namely 427 in 1820, 3.122 in 1825, and 6.899 in 1835, (p. 61) the latter looks very little.
According to Eltis' figures (2001), between the years 1826 and 1850, the exports of the major trading countries Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, amounted to 1.644.200 slaves, which bore only a little decrease from the period between 1801 to 1825 with an export of 1.621.000 slaves, (pp. 17-31) even though in the former case there were less traders involved, since Britain, Netherlands, the USA, and Denmark had quit slave trading (p. 36).
Both scholars point out that the figures should be taken with caution due to the lack of accuracy. However, considering that the Slave Trade devolved on much less trading countries, and yet remained almost the same in the number of the exports, both agree that the Slave Trade evolved and had been carried on to a greater extent despite its illegal character. (Eltis, pp. 29-31. Lloyd, pp. 24-25). According to Klein (1999), the British blockades beginning in the 1810s and lasting to the 1850s succeeded in seizing one out of every five slavers in the period of its illegality. (p. 199) Overall, the naval intervention is estimated to have prevented ten percent of the potential slaves from being deported to the Americas. (Klein, p. 199-200).
From the previous section it became clear that the British Navy achieved, relatively speaking, little success. In this section two difficulties will be introduced that affected the way the Navy operated on the Atlantic sea: The technological state of Navy's ships, and the external conditions.
The ships under the use of the British Navy had limitations in their number, speed, and condition. In a report from 1840, Commodore Charles Hotham compares the speed of the slavers' vessels with the speed of the Navy's ships:
"The vessels are of the finest and most beautiful construction; strength and durability are all sacrificed to obtain speed. Our ships, on the contrary, are burthened with guns, provisions and stores, and we are obliged to consider speed as one only of the many requirements of a man-of-war. There is not one sloop on the African station that can compete in sailing with a well-formed slaver." (Hotham cited in Lloyd, 1968, p. 34)
Looking at the number of the ships, it again seemed hard to "blockade (of) dangerous spots with a mere 24 ships." According to Hotham, "it matters little whether we keep our ships inshore, or allow them to cruise, it never could succeed" (Hotham cited in Royal Naval Museum). Lloyd (1968) connects this to the largeness of the area, the slowness of the ships, and the small number of steamers and their coaling facilities. "The slavers moved their slaves from point to point; they noted the presence of British ships, warned their colleagues by a well-organized signaling system, and acted accordingly." (p. 121).
Before the reform of the Navy's squadron took place in the 1840s with a slow pace, the ships in use until the 1850s, according to Matson, were "the very worst description of vessels we have in the service." (Matson cited in Lloyd, p. 124) The first ships were so small, "dangerous and unsightly" that they were nicknamed "floating coffins" (Symonds cited in Sharp, 1858, p. 99).
"They had no room to fight their guns; no air between decks, which were only five feet high; extra provisions and stores were piled above hatches; and the fastest of them sailed no more than eight or nine knots." (Symonds cited in Sharp, p. 99).
Turning to external conditions the squadron had to operate under, health risks and the climate conditions affected the operations negatively as well. From a detachment of 108 troops at Gambia in 1825, for instance, only 21 men remained alive. (Bryson, 1847, pp. 255-256). The seamen did not adapt themselves to the new conditions in West Africa, exposed themselves to all dangers of the climate, caught infectious diseases, and did not realize when the diseases came. Once the naval troops went on shore, yellow Fever, Intermittent Fever, Malaria and dysentery afflicted them and caused death among them. The naval surgeon, Alexander Bryson points out that "no vessel can remain more than a week or two at a time at anchor with safety to the health of her crew." (p. 256)
From the 1830s on the Navy started adopting more effective measures and tactics to protect themselves from diseases, but until the 1860s epidemics such as Yellow Fever still broke out at times and constituted high mortality. One officer who survived on a shipboard that in 1842 had lost 123 out of her original 135 seamen describes it as follows: "The men were dying daily, amidst almost incessant rain and frequent tornadoes accompanied with much thunder and lightning; the main deck was crowded with sick, and constantly wet."(Sundiata, 1996, p. 35) The average rate of mortality due to deaths from diseases and accidents on all stations between 1825 and 1845 amounted to 54.4 per 1.000 seamen. (Lewis-Jones, 2011)
Apart from the limitations in naval construction, the health risks, and the climate conditions, described in the previous section, the new strategies and techniques adopted by the slavers prevented the Navy from successfully oppressing the Slave Trade as well.
One way for the slavers to circumvent the blockade was to significantly reduce the time required to purchase and load their slaves at the coast. While previously the slavers usually needed several months for this process of loading and leaving the African Coast, by deploying representatives on the coast and developing full-time facilities the slave ships could be loaded rapidly and leave the coast within days (Klein, 1999, pp. 199-200).
Another way of slavers to prevent being captured was to use new types of trading vessels after 1830. Supply ships that differed in construction from slavers' vessels were now used to carry merchandise from Europe and the United States to Africa. With this in turn they purchased slaves but did not carry them on their return. Some of the traders ready to take risks even used European-and American-built ships to engage in slave trade in the hope of not being investigated, since only trading in humans but not African trading in general was prohibited (p. 200).
Quite a few British slavers reluctant to give up slave trading after the British Empire condemned it as illegal and equaled it to piracy simply changed their identity to Spanish, Brazilian or Portuguese in order not to be held accountable. One has to be aware that until 1851 slave trade to Brazil, for instance, was not illegal, and the promise Spain gave to Britain in 1826 was still considered as ineffective in 1835 (Postma, p. xxi). Philip Drake, a British slave trader tells in his "Revelations of a Slave Smuggler. 1807-57" that he had changed his name to Drax and claims to have exported 72.000 slaves within five years (Drake, 1860, p. 98). On one of his slave trading voyages fire broke out and a nearby British Navy went to the rescue. Even though he was a slave trader, he could not be kept imprisoned because of his Brazilian identity. He describes it as follows: "As plain Philip Drake I should have fared hard on the royal transport and taken the place of one of my own blacks; but as Don Felipe Drax, a Brazilian merchant and passenger on board the lost brig, I was allowed a seat at the cabin table." (Drake, 1860 p. 62).
Furthermore, before 1835 when Spain agreed on a treaty with Britain allowing the Royal Navy to examine suspicious ships, slave traders used Spanish colors and flags as to enjoy the diplomatic immunity (Carlisle, 2012, p. 415). After 1835, however, slave traders now started to camouflage their vessels with Portuguese flags. Palmerstone, who served twice as British Prime Minister, describes the slavers' tactics to the House of Commons as follows: "The ships of Portugal now prowl about the ocean pandering to the crimes of other nations; and when her own ships are not sufficiently numerous for the purpose, her flag is lent as a shield to protect the misdeeds of foreign pirates." (Llyod, p. 47). Additional evidence of how false colors were used can be seen in the journal of Keppel: "We soon overhauled another Spanish slaver, who could not long, judging from the smell, have loaded her cargo. She had a Spanish captain and crew, but sheltered herself under the Portuguese flag." (Keppel, 1837, p. 204).
All these adaptations undertaken by the slave traders to circumvent the naval blockade had indeed the effect of keeping a majority of the slave ships out of the hands of the British in the period of its illegality. The last example of use of false colors indicates already the international character of the slave trade and the discretion it enabled to slave traders. It illustrates how the suppression could not be performed by the mere work of the Royal Navy, but needed additional international arrangements. The next section will show how the dynamics of diplomacy affected the operations of the Navy.
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