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"Opposing the Slavers: The Royal Navy’s Campaign of ...." Topic

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18th Century
19th Century

436 hits since 2 Jan 2019
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2019 12:12 p.m. PST


"Much is known about Britain's role in the Atlantic slave trade during the eighteenth century but few are aware of the sustained campaign against slaving conducted by the Royal Navy after the passing of the Slave Trade Abolition Act of 1807. Peter Grindal provides the definitive account of this little known yet important part of the British, European and American history. Drawing on original sources to provide a comprehensive and engaging narrative of the naval operations against slavers of all nations¯in particular Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil, he describes how illegal traders sought to evade treaty obligations, reveals the obduracy of the USA that prolonged the slave trade, and shows how, despite inadequate resources, the Royal navy's sixty–year campaign forced slavers to expend ever greater sums top conduct their business and confront the losses inflicted by capture and condemnation. A work that will transform our understanding of the Royal Navy's campaign against the Atlantic slave trade."
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Bozkashi Jones02 Jan 2019 6:30 p.m. PST

Though not an excuse for a vile trade, I am proud that when we abolished slavery we took it seriously.

The exploits of HMS Black Joke – a captured slaver commissioned into the Royal Navy on anti-slavery patrols (with many former slaves in her crew) – makes fascinating reading (the name of the ship surely arising from a British sense of ironic humour?!)

In two years she was instrumental in the capture of 11 slave ships and freed over 2,000 slaves. She also bested a 14 gun sloop, despite only having one pivot gun herself.



Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2019 6:54 p.m. PST

So, slavery is bad, but Royal Navy impressment is fine?

"The last law was passed in 1835, in which the power to impress was reaffirmed. This limited the length of service of a pressed man to five years, and added the provision that a man could not be pressed twice. Although Britain abandoned the practice of impressment in 1815, impressment remained legal until the early 1900s, and the various laws authorising impressment have never been repealed".



Be careful, when walking on, near the docks in the UK, even today, apparently.

Bozkashi Jones02 Jan 2019 7:32 p.m. PST

"So, slavery is bad, but Royal Navy impressment is fine?"

Did I say that? No; it's a false dichotomy.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2019 6:25 a.m. PST

Was impressment really any different to conscription?

Choctaw03 Jan 2019 10:55 a.m. PST

I think it was different than conscription. It necessitated the illegal stopping of foreign flagged ships on the high seas and forcibly removing foreign nationals at gunpoint and placing them in servitude. Yep, it's a bit different. It's closer to piracy than conscription.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2019 12:35 p.m. PST

Well at least it was equal-opportunity piracy…

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2019 1:44 p.m. PST

According to the law (and it was comments on the law of impressment which are linked to), foreign sailors should not have been taken.
The issue was down to what constituted 'foreign' – in the eyes of the Navy it was taking British sailors, not allowing for them having become US citizens. This was of course an issue leading to the War of 1812. The Navy undoubtedly took actions which were of doubtful legality, if that. However, the point is that the law – which was complained about in the above post – did not allow it.

However, the vast majority of impressed sailors were taken in Britain, and other nations including the USA did the same to their own citizens to crew their own ships.

And, incidentally, it would seem that the US navy was also capable of impressing foreign nationals, as discussed in the article in the US archives. link
The actions are merely a difference in scale, not in legality.

My comparison about the resemblance to conscription is because a person could be ordered to join the armed services of a nation with little or no choice. Other countries impressed their nationals into the army far more than the navy, because they needed more men on land than sea. They just called it conscription instead.

Impressment was kept on the books because of the fear that another large war might require a sudden increase in the size of the RN. Other countries not only kept conscription on their statutes, but continued to do so for most of the last two hundred years.

As Bozkashi Jones points out, bringing up impressment in a review of the RN's actions against slavery is misleading.

Impressment may not have been ideal, but does that mean that attempting to stop slave trading was therefore an act without worth?

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