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Colonial Cases

The George and James [1825]

admiralty - slavery - ship, condemnation of

Vice Admiralty Court, Sierra Leone

17 October 1825

Source: The Morning Chronicle (London, England), 6 December 1842, issue 22791 [1]

No. 1 - Dr. Madden and Mr. Matthew Forster.

To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle.

Sir - Mr. Matthew Forster was pleased to address a letter to the Berwick and Kelso Warder (the former of which town he represents), on the 12th ult. This letter was duly inserted in the Morning Herald , which has taken this soi-disant Liberal under its protection.

I have much to say in answer to Mr. Matthew Forster's letter, which, throughout, is a scandalous libel against me. But, before I proceed to close quarters with that gentleman, it may not be amiss to lay before the public, through your columns, an extract from a parliamentary report of 1826, on the subject of the slave trade, from which they will be enabled to understand what a veteran this gentleman is in such transactions as those in which he has been lately implicated on the coast of Africa.

Before, however, supplying the extract, it may be necessary to state that the "George and James" was captured off Whydah by the Atholl , and was condemned in the Vice Admiralty Court, Sierra Leone, in October, 1825, under 5 Geo. IV. cap. 13, sec. 7. This vessel's charter subsequently became the subject of a correspondence between the British Vice Consul at Bahia and Mr. Canning; and the matter of it, namely, the legality of a British vessel supplying notorious slave-trade ships with goods and stores for their trade, was referred to the King's Advocate, and his opinion was, that the employment of British ships in this way came within the terms of the prohibition. The commissioners, in speaking of this vessel, as belonging to a London house, say "she was well known on the coast as a vessel of theirs." Such was the language of the commissioners, in reference to this case, so late as 1840, when adjudicating in a similar one - "The Guiana." The following is an extract from the Slave-trade Reports, 1826-7:-

"His Majesty's Commissioners to Mr. Secretary Canning.

(Received June 2.)

"Sierra Leone, March 21, 1826.

"Sir - We have had the honour to receive your despatch of the 13th January, with its enclosures, being copies of a correspondence which has passed between yourself and his Majesty's Consul at Bahia, on the subject of charters which had been offered to English vessels, to proceed from that port to places in Africa, north of the line. We return thanks to you sir, for this communication.

"As the name of the brig, 'George and James,' appears in Mr. Consul Pennell's despatch of the 5th of November, 1825, it may not be considered irrelevant to make a few observations regarding this vessel, inasmuch as they will tend to show how just is the view which was taken as to the object of the parties who employed her.

"A person of the name of Dollond , came out to the coast of Africa as master of the George and James, then the property, or said to be so, of Matthew Forster and Co., of London; he proceeded to Whydah, and there sold the vessel to a Mr. Ramsay, who was his first mate. Ramsay takes her to the Brazils, ships the cargo stated in Mr. Consul Pennell's letter, and proceeds back again to Whydah, where a considerable portion of such cargo was distributed to several vessels, which were on that part of the coast, trading for slaves.

"It is supposed that De Souza, the notorious Portuguese slave-trader, who for so many years has resided at Whydah and its vicinity, was the real owner; that he furnished Ramsay with the dollars with which the vessel was purchased, and that in reality, he (Ramsay) was only the nominal owner, placed in command of her by De Souza, to protect his property by giving a false colour to the transaction. Ramsay died shortly after the return from Brazil. The vessel was taken by his Majesty's ship Atholl , at or off Whydah, brought to Sierra Leone, tried under the Consolidated Slave-trade Abolition Act, in the Court of Vice-Admiralty, and condemned under the 4th section of the said act, the 17th day of October, 1825.

"We have the honour to be, &c.,

(Signed) "John Tasker Williams.

"The Right Hon. George Canning, &c., &c., &c."

In connection with this subject there is a report of a recent case that came before the Thames-police office magistrates, which throws some light on the trading on the coast of Africa. In the Times of Tuesday, November 29, a report is given of an application to the Thames police magistrate, Mr. Broderip , on the part of several of the crew of a vessel, called the Emily, in the African trade, belonging to Messrs. Forster and Smith, of London. The claim of the seamen was for wages, withheld on the plea that they had not complied with the articles they had signed.

"It was found," says the report, "that these articles contained a very singular provision. The voyage was stated to be from the port of London to the west coast of Africa, ' there to trade from port to port, from coast to coast, and to exchange masters and ships, if necessary .'"

This singular clause the report characterises as very improperly worded, and not at all in the spirit of the act 5 and 6 Will. IV., cap. 19. The claimants declared they were not aware of the nature of such articles, and consequently had refused to leave the Emily on the coast of Africa. The magistrate said, with such article "the men might have been compelled to go on board another ship at sea, and to trade perpetually all over the world like the Flying Dutchman."

Mr. Symons, the chief clerk, and author of the work, "The Law relating to Merchant Seamen," "was decidedly of opinion the articles were illegal." I am, sir, &c.

R.R. Madden.


[1] This is a letter to a newspaper and thus of dubious accuracy, but its report of the forfeiture for breach of slavery laws is irresistible.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School