West Africa Squadron

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West Africa Squadron
Royal Navy Red Ensign 1801 to 1864.gif
Ensign of the West Africa Squadron
Active1808-1869
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
BranchRoyal Navy Red Ensign 1801 to 1864.gif Royal Navy
TypeNaval Squadron
RolePatrol, Preventative Force
Part ofCape of Good Hope Station
Garrison/HQFreetown, Sierra Leone

The West Africa Squadron also known as the Preventive Squadron or Anti-Slavery Squadron was a naval formation and sea command of the British Royal Navy established in 1808 after Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807. The squadron's initial task was to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa.[1] With a home base at Portsmouth Dockyard,[2] it began with two small ships, the 32-gun fifth-rate frigate Template:Ship and the Cruizer-class brig-sloop Template:Ship. At the height of its operations, the squadron employed a sixth of the Royal Navy fleet and marines. In 1815 the West Africa Squadron became known as the Preventative Squadron. In 1819 the Royal Navy established a permanent West Coast of Africa Station at which point the West Africa Squadron became the chief naval component of that station.[3] The squadron was subordinate to the Cape of Good Hope Station and its commander-in-chief.[4]

History

Painting of HMS Pelorus originally built in 1808. She was a cruizer-class brig-sloop seen here in 1830. She was part of the West Africa Squadron from 1831 to 1837

On 25 March 1807 Britain formally abolished the Slave Trade, prohibiting British subjects from trading in slaves, crewing slave ships, sponsoring slave ships, or fitting out slave ships. The Act also included a clause allowing the seizure of ships without slave cargoes on board but equipped to trade in slaves. In order to enforce this ruling in 1808 the Admiralty dispatched two vessels to police the African Coast. The small British force was empowered, due to the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, to stop any ship bearing the flag of an enemy nation, making suppression activities much easier. Portugal, however, was one of the largest slave trading nations and Britain's ally against France. So in February 1810 under diplomatic pressure, it signed a convention that allowed British ships to police Portuguese shipping, meaning Portugal could only trade in slaves from its own African possessions.

The privateer Dart, a private vessel operating under a letter of marque, chasing slavers to profit from the bounties the British government, made the first captures under the 1810 convention. Dart, and in 1813 another privateer, (Kitty), were the only two vessels to pursue slavers for profit, and thus augment the efforts of the West Africa Squadron. The lack of private initiatives, and their short duration, suggest that they were not profitable.

With the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, Viscount Castlereagh had ensured a declaration against slavery appeared in the text of the Congress of Vienna, committing all signatories to the eventual abolition of the trade. In 1814, France agreed to cease trading, and Spain in 1817 agreed to cease North of the equator, adding to the mandate of the Squadron. Unfortunately, early treaties against slave trading with foreign powers were often very weak and in practice meant that until 1835 the Squadron could seize vessels only if slaves were found on board at the time of capture. This meant the squadron could not interfere with vessels clearly equipped for the trade but without a cargo.[5] Occasionally, slavers being pursued would throw their captives overboard in an attempt to avoid prosecution.[6]

In order to prosecute captured vessels and thereby allow the Navy to claim its prizes, a series of courts were established along the African Coast. In 1807, a Vice Admiralty Court was established in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 1817, several Mixed Commission Courts were established, replacing the Vice Admiralty Court in Freetown. These Mixed Commission Courts had officials from both Britain and foreign powers, with Anglo-Portuguese, Anglo-Spanish, and Anglo-Dutch courts being established in Sierra Leone.

Early efforts to suppress the slave trade were often ineffectual due to a desire to keep on good terms with other European powers. The actions of the West Africa Squadron were "strictly Governed"[7] by the treaties, and officers could be punished for overstepping their authority.

Commodore Sir George Ralph Collier, with the 36-gun HMS Creole as his flagship, was the first Commodore of the West Africa Squadron. On 19 September 1818, the navy sent him to the Gulf of Guinea with the orders: "You are to use every means in your power to prevent a continuance of the traffic in slaves."[8] However, he had only six ships with which to patrol over 5,000 kilometres (3,000 mi) of coast. He served from 1818 to 1819. Commodore Collier was next appointed the first commander of the new West Coast Africa Station until 1821.

In 1819, the Royal Navy created a permanent Naval Station in West Africa at Freetown . This was the capital of the first British colony in West Africa, Sierra Leone at which point the West Africa Squadron as the naval formation of the new station was renamed the Preventative Squadron. Most of the enslaved Africans freed by the squadron chose to settle in Sierra Leone as for fear of otherwise being re-enslaved.[1]

In command

Senior Officer, West Africa Squadron (1808-1819)

Commodore, West Africa Squadron, (1819-1840)

Senior Officer, on the West Coast of Africa (1841-1867)

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Chasing Freedom Information Sheet". Royal Naval Museum. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  2. "From slave trade to humanitarian aid". BBC News. 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  3. Lewis-Jones, Huw (17 February 2011). "BBC - History - British History in depth: The Royal Navy and the Battle to End Slavery". BBC History. BBC. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  4. "LETTERS FROM ADMIRALS ETC. - AFRICA". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. National Archives UK. 1830–1832. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  5. Lloyd (1949), The Navy and the Slave Trade, p. 46.
  6. "Suppressing the trade".
  7. TNA ADM 2/1328 Standing Orders to Commanders-in-Chief 1818-1823. p. 274.
  8. Lloyd, Christopher (1968). The Navy and the Slave Trade. Routledge. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7146-1894-4.

Bibliography

  1. "Chasing Freedom Information Sheet". Royal Naval Museum. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  2. "From slave trade to humanitarian aid". BBC News. 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  3. Lewis-Jones, Huw (17 February 2011). "BBC - History - British History in depth: The Royal Navy and the Battle to End Slavery". BBC History. BBC. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  4. Lloyd (1949), The Navy and the Slave Trade.
  5. Lloyd, Christopher (1968). The Navy and the Slave Trade. Routledge. ISBN 9780714618944.
  6. Lloyd, Christopher (1968). Navy and the Slave Trade. [S.l.]: F. Cass. ISBN 9780714618944.
  7. TNA ADM 2/1328 Standing Orders to Commanders-in-Chief 1818-1823.