A remarkable history of the slave trade

Slave canoe of the 1840s

Slave canoe drawing from The Illustrated London News, 1849; image reference EO22, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. In West Africa, these canoes were the main vehicles for transporting slaves from the coast to transatlantic vessels. According to The Illustrated London News, the canoes could carry 200 slaves, and were said to be 40ft long, 12ft 7-8ft deep


Intheboatshed.net regular Ed Bachmann has drawn my attention to the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database website, and the recently published prize-winning book Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The database provided the basis for the atlas in which historians David Eltis and David Richardson have created a comprehensive, 350-year history of kidnapping and coercion featuring nearly 200 maps.

Between 1501 and 1867, the transatlantic slave trade claimed an estimated 12.5 million Africans and involved almost every country with an Atlantic coastline. The extraordinary online Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database includes records of nearly 35,000 slaving voyages, or about 80 per cent of all such voyages ever made. The maps show which nations participated in the trade, where the ships involved were outfitted, where the captives boarded ship, and where they were landed in the Americas, details the experiences of the transatlantic voyages and the eventual abolition of the traffic.

There are also illustrations and contemporary literary selections, including poems, letters, and diary entries that reveal the human story underlying the trade.

If you don’t buy the book, you can read Professor Eltis’s long essay on the website: A Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on the website.

Thanks for the tipoff Ed!


The astonishing steamer-to-windjammer story of the SS Great Britain

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Thomas Patterson’s lovely tumble-home iron hull

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The life-size model of the propeller-lifting frame at the SS Great Britain museum; a replica of the original screw (photo by Mike Peel taken from the Wikipedia)

My great pal Jim Van Den Bos recently took a trip to Bristol with his son, and took time out to visit one of the city’s most important historical attractions, and has kindly written us a report. Thanks Jim!

‘One of the joys of having an outboard instead of an inboard motor on a sailing boat is the ability to lift the propeller clear of the water when underway, thus reducing drag… but what about devices fitted to inboard motors to do the same thing?

‘Surprisingly, the first ever big ship fitted with a screw propeller could also do just that: take a bow SS Great Britain.

‘She was also the first ocean-going ship to have an iron hull and, when launched in 1843, was the largest vessel afloat. So large, projects leader and engineer Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel, that you had to demolish the dry dock walls to get her out. Ooops!

‘On a visit to the excellent SS Great Britain Museum at Bristol Harbour, the visitor begins to realise that this wonderful ship is a monument to innovation as much as invention.

‘Although she was originally conceived as a paddle steamer, IKB hastily changed the design in 1840 to accommodate a screw propeller after seeing the success of the screw on another ship, the Archimedes, when it visited Bristol.

‘The original concept of the SS Great Britain was that she should be a sail-assisted steam ship large enough to carry passengers to New York, along with the coal necessary to steam them there. Her six masts were configured by Thomas Guppy to use the extra assistance of the wind when possible, but by 1852, more efficient steam engined ships were plying the Atlantic Route, and her new owners Gibbs Bright & Co, set about reducing the original six masts to four, and adding larger square-rigged sails for a new passenger route down to Australia.

‘She couldn’t carry enough coal to steam her all the way to Australia, but the steam-powered screw could give her the edge when the wind wasn’t blowing or in the wrong direction – so now instead of being a sail-assisted steamer she became a steam-assisted sailing clipper. In line with her new purpose, in 1857 a huge lifting frame, the height of the hull, was added to enable the propeller to be lifted inboard, so that there was no drag as the canvas aloft carried her along.

‘Inside the SS Great Britain Museum at Bristol, there’s a life-size winch-powered model that enables the visitor to stow the propeller inside the hull.

‘After many years on the England-Australia Route, carrying among many others the first All-England Cricket Team to tour the Antipodes, SS Great Britain’s remit changed again. The engine was completely removed to make more room for cargo, and she became a windjammer, with three extended masts, sailing from Wales to San Francisco and back.

‘The secret of her adaptability has to be her iron hull, designed by Thomas Patterson. But the greatest test for the hull was yet to come: badly damaged off Cape Horn in 1886, she was then anchored off the Falkland Islands and began a new life as a floating warehouse, which continued for the next 47 years.

‘When she became unsafe to use, she was taken out and beached in Sparrow Cove, and left to the mercy of the waves.

‘Amazingly, however, the ship continued to survive – her iron plates were even scavenged to repair the HMS Exeter after the naval cruiser was damaged in the Battle of the River Plate during World War II. Then in 1969 Ewan Corlett began an epic salvage operation that saw the rusted but unbroken hull brought back halfway around the world to Bristol and restored to her former glory in the dry dock where the SS Great Britain was originally built.

‘Fifty years ago most people probably looked at those early Victorian steamers sporting sails and funnels and thought of them as a quaint half–way stop on the road to progress. Today with global warming and sky-high fuel costs, with their hybrid, adaptable approach to design and construction they seem to know more about progress than we do.’

Spirit of Mystery crew set sail for Australia – but without their underpants

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The crew of the Mounts Bay lugger Spirit Mystery
wave as they set sail for Australia – presumably
before the underpants crisis hit home

West Country sailor and adventurer Pete Goss and the crew of Spirit of Mystery have begun their epic voyage to Australia via the Atlantic and Southern Oceans. Taking advantage of a change in the wind, they slipped lines on Monday evening, waved goodbye to the gathered crowd and set sail after a series of strong westerlies, the wind finally swung around to the north west, giving the little wooden lugger a push on the long journey south and into the Bay of Biscay.

Satellite tracking will allow the rest of us to monitor their progress via Pete’s website at http://petegoss.com.

The news today, however, is that their friend and PR guru Stuart Elford has distributed a news release announcing that the sailing heroes left their most of their underpants in a launderette in Newlyn before they commenced their voyage to Australia via Cape Town.

Flying enthusiast Elford had hoped to drop packs of replacement undergarments to the little ship from his private aeroplane, but has apparently been defeated by the strong winds and poor visibility.

‘By the time the weather clears they will be out of range of light aircraft from the UK,’ he said.

In any case, it’s unclear whether it would be right to use modern technology to deliver a large consignment of underpants to the crew. ‘The crew of the original Mystery would not have had this sort of support, so perhaps it is fitting that we didn’t make the air-drop,’ he added.

So there we have it. Captain Goss and fearless crew of commandos are going down under without their underwear. Thank God they’re British!

I only hope the Sheilas of Australia will throng the dockside for the Mystery’s eventual arrival and show their appreciation by slinging a few pairs of Marks & Spencer’s best across to the blushing and only slightly forgetful crew.

Underpants or not and even in poor weather, at this time of year I’m prepared to bet many of intheboatshed.net’s UK-based readers will wish they were also sailing south towards the sun. For their sake, I trust this is the worst thing that goes wrong.

I’ve got a bundle of close-up photos taken when we dropped in at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall to share some time, so look out for that if you’re interested in the Spirit of Mystery.

Follow the link for earlier posts on Pete Goss and the Spirit of Mystery.

Spirit of Mystery in less inclement weather – and presumably
better supplied with underwear

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