West Coast of Africa Station

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West Coast of Africa Station
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
CountryUnited Kingdom
AllegianceBritish Empire
BranchRoyal Navy
Part ofCape of Good Hope Station (1831-1841)
Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station (1857-1865)
East Indies & Cape of Good Hope Station (1865-1867)
Garrison/HQFreetown, Sierra Leone

The West Coast of Africa Station was established a permanent naval command in 1819 at Freetown, Sierra Leone, its main formation was the West Africa Squadron. The station then became a subcommand of the Cape of Good Hope Station in 1831. In 1841 it was reestablished in Sierra Leone once again as a separate command until in 1857 when once again it became subordinate command to the Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station until 1865 when that station was abolished due to change in area of command. It then became subordinate to the East Indies & Cape of Good Hope Station until 1867 when it was abolished.


In 1819, the Royal Navy created a naval station in West Africa at Freetown. This was the capital of the first British colony in West Africa, Sierra Leone. Most of the enslaved Africans freed by the squadron chose to settle in Sierra Leone as for fear of otherwise being re-enslaved. From 1821, the squadron also used Ascension Island as a supply depot,[1] before this moved to Cape Town in 1832.[2] The station became subcommand of the Cape of Good Hope Station in 1831 due to a change in area of command.

As the Royal Navy began intercepting slave ships, the slavers responded by adopting faster ships, particularly Baltimore clippers. At first, the Royal Navy was often unable to catch these ships. However, when the Royal Navy started to use captured slaver clippers and new faster ships from Britain the Royal Navy regained the upper hand. One of the most successful ships of the West Africa Squadron was one such captured ship, renamed Template:Ship. She successfully caught 11 slavers in one year. In 1841 the station was reactivated in Sierra Leone once again as a separate command.

By the 1840s, the West Africa Squadron had begun receiving paddle steamers such as Template:Ship, which proved superior in many ways to the sailing ships they replaced. The steamers were independent of the wind and their shallow draughts meant they could patrol the shallow shores and rivers. In the middle of the 19th century, there were around 25 vessels and 2,000 personnel with a further 1,000 local sailors involved in the effort.[3]

In 1841 the station became an independent command once again. The Royal Navy considered the West Africa Station one of the worst postings due to the high levels of tropical disease. This did however provide Royal Navy surgeons with the experience they would use to effectively fight such diseases, but at a huge cost in lives. In 1857 the station became part of new and larger Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station under the superintendence of a Rear-Admiral based in Cape Town.

Britain pressed other nations into treaties to give the Royal Navy the right to search their ships for slaves.[4][5] As the 19th century wore on, the Royal Navy also began interdicting slave trading in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean.

The United States Navy assisted the West Africa Squadron, starting in 1820 with Template:Ship, which the US had captured from the Royal Navy in 1815. Initially the US contribution consisted of a few ships, but eventually the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 formalised the US contribution into the Africa Squadron.[6][7]

In 1865, following another change in area of command the Cape of Good Hope and West Africa Station was renamed as the East Indies & Cape of Good Hope Station until 1867 when this command as a subordinate naval station of the former was abolished.[8]

Seventy five years after later in 1942 during World War Two the Royal Navy reestablished a West Africa Station as an independent command in Freetown, Sierra Leone under the Flag Officer, West Africa until 1945.

In command

Commodore, West Coast of Africa, (1819-1841)

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

Components of Station

At various times it encompassed naval formations and other ships not attached to other fleets. In addition to shore establishments including, barracks, dockyards, depots, hospitals, refitting and re-supply bases, naval bases or victualling yards. Those components that were part of this station are shown below.


Unit From To Ref
West Africa Squadron 1819 1867

Naval Establishments

Facility From To Ref
Ascension Dockyard 1819 1867


  1. "Green Mountain". Peter Davis. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  2. "West Africa". Peter Davis. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  3. Lewis-Jones, Huw, "The Royal Navy and the Battle to End Slavery", BBC History, 17 February 2011..
  4. Falola, Toyin; Warnock, Amanda (2007). Encyclopedia of the middle passage. Greenwood Press. pp. xxi, xxxiii–xxxiv. ISBN 9780313334801.
  5. "The legal and diplomatic background to the seizure of foreign vessels by the Royal Navy". Peter Davis.
  6. Falola, Toyin; Amanda Warnock (2007). Encyclopedia of the Middle Passage. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-313-33480-1.
  7. Lovejoy, Paul E. (2000). Transformations in slavery. Cambridge University Press. p. 292. ISBN 978-0-521-78430-6.
  8. "West Africa Squadron". William Loney. Retrieved 15 January 2020.