J.M.W. Turner was inspired to paint ‘The Slave Ship’ in 1840 after reading The History and Abolition of the Slave Trade by Thomas Clarkson. In 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong had ordered 133 slaves to be thrown overboard so that insurance payments could be collected. This event probably inspired Turner to create his landscape and to choose to coincide its exhibition with a meeting of the British Anti-Slavery Society.
The latest find relates to my earlier investigation into the early life of the 19th century scientist Henry Carter FRS, and specifically into the question of his education. Who paid for it? And why? And how come his benefactor, Budleigh resident John Campbell was such a wealthy man?
Of course John Campbell was not the only wealthy Devon resident whose past we look on today as tainted by a criminal disregard of human rights. The county has had something of a bad press in recent years with regard to its involvement in the early slave trade. Plymouth City Council refused in 1994 to provide funds for celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir John Hawkins; the Elizabethan seafarer knighted by Queen Elizabeth I is of course notorious for his pioneering of African slaving expeditions. The coat of arms seen above, granted to him in 1565, even includes ‘a demi-Moor proper bound captive’.
As recently as 2013, Lympstone resident Graham Martin, Chairman of the Exeter branch of Anti-Slavery International, wrote in a letter published by the Express & Echo newspaper to protest that Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, in its staging of the ‘West Country to World’s End exhibition’, had failed to mention the involvement of Hawkins and his second cousin Sir Francis Drake in the Elizabethan slave trade.
I did think at the time that a display of RAMM’s slave chains, one of its lesser known artefacts, would have been a useful tool to educate visitors to the exhibition, including the children that Graham Martin had seen.
So it’s heartening to know that many Devon people later became noted for their support for slavery’s abolition. As Dr Todd Gray recently pointed out, following the tragic destruction of the Royal Clarence Hotel last October, this celebrated Exeter building became ‘the place to be’ in the 18th and 19th centuries: ‘it was where the anti-slavery people met in the 1700s and 1800s; this is where they planned abolition.’
Above: The marble statue of Lord Rolle by Edward Bowring Stephens, in the entrance hall of Bicton House
Above: Portrait of General Simcoe by George Theodore Berthon
General John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806) on the other hand was an abolitionist who can’t be accused of such financial motivation.
The blue plaque outside his Budleigh Salterton summer residence on Fore Street Hill rightly notes that during his administration of Upper Canada between 1791 and 1796 he ‘put in motion arrangements for the abolition of slavery many years before British legislation was enacted’.
Above: The gold medal struck to mark the successful laying of the 1858 transatlantic telegraph cable
HMS Rattlesnake, painted in 1853 by Sir Oswald Walters Brierly, was in the same class as HMS Ranger on which Preedy served
Image credit: National Maritime museum, London
He entered the Navy on 12 November 1828 as a volunteer on board HMS Ranger, a 28-gun frigate. Under its captain, William Walpole, he sailed from Portsmouth on 3 January 1829, heading for Jamaica.
When Ranger was sold in 1832, Preedy followed Captain Walpole on HMS Pallas, again sailing for the West Indies on 20 January that year.
The former slave ship HMS Black Joke (left) fires on the Spanish ship El Almirante before capturing her, January 1829 Painting by Nicholas Matthews Condy
Image credit: Royal Naval Museum
Above: A plan of the slave ship Brookes, showing how 454 slaves were accommodated on board. This same ship had reportedly carried as many as 609 people. Image published by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Britain itself had already outlawed the Atlantic slave trade, making it illegal for our ships to transport slaves and the Royal Navy had established a West Africa Squadron to enforce the ban. The British government had consequently negotiated treaties with other countries to give the Royal Navy the right to intercept and search their ships for slaves.
A notable exception, it seems, was the United States, which refused such permission. The 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves had technically abolished the intercontinental slave trade in the United States but the ban was not widely enforced and many of the slave ships which escaped the blockade were destined for the southern United States.
A talk under the same title is being given by Fairlynch Museum Chairman Trevor Waddington on Sunday 9 April, in County Hall, Topsham Road, Exeter. The talk is part of the Devon-Newfoundland Heritage Forum being organised by the Devonshire Association and the Devon Family History Society (DFHS) from 3-16 April 2017.