Diary reveals reality of African slave trade

On 13 July 1823, a young Royal Navy officer called Cheesman Binstead noticed a large number of sharks in the water as his ship patrolled in the seas off west Africa. His superiors left him in no doubt about the cause. To avoid a fine, an intercepted slave ship had thrown its human cargo into the waves and the jaws of the predators.

Amid the barbarity of a trade that brought 11 million Africans to the New World in chains, what Midshipman Binstead witnessed was not rare. But what was unusual was that he wrote it down as part of an account of the reality of transatlantic slavery and attempts to bring it to a halt.

This week, the diary kept by Binstead for two years while serving on the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron, charged with intercepting slave ships, goes on display for the first time since it was written. It forms part of a new exhibition at the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth to mark the abolition of the slave trade by Britain in 1807.

Binstead was serving on the HMS Owen Glendower between 1823 and 1824. The vessels in the squadron were empowered to impose a fine of £100 for every slave found on a British ship.

Describing the aftermath of one such encounter, Binstead wrote: "Many large whales and sharks about us, the latter is owing to the number of poor fellows that have lately been thrown overboard. The ship is now truly miserable, many of our own crew very sick and the decks crowded with black slaves who are dying in all directions and apprehensive - their cases of fever are contagious."

A month earlier, Binstead had learned of the fear caused by the slave trade among Africans when he gave chase to a convoy of canoes on the Congo river as the British sailors looked for enslaved tribesmen. He wrote: "Observed many large canoes, one of which I went in chase of. On my coming up with her, the whole crew jumped overboard and I fear they met a watery grave. These poor wretches were fearful we were going to make slaves of them."

The diaries were donated to the museum by Binstead's great-great-granddaughter, 78-year-old Rosa Lee, whose mother discovered them after the Second World War. Ms Lee, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, said: "I'm so glad I kept the diaries and they are of interest and that they have found their natural home."

Some historians have argued that the West Africa Squadron, established a year after the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, was as important as the campaigners led by William Wilberforce in bringing slavery to an end. Others point out that the squadron's anti-slavery role was twinned with the task of establishing British influence in West Africa and dominating maritime trade routes. The squadron was tasked with patrolling the 3,000 miles of the west African coast, blockading ports and giving chase to slave vessels.

Binstead described the "wretched state" in which slaves were discovered and the privations of his shipmates as they succumbed to diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. More than 1,500 naval ratings lost their lives over the next 60 years while serving in the squadron.

Initially, the unit was limited to intercepting only British slave ships but London eventually signed a host of bilateral arrangements, sub-contracting the Royal Navy to target slavers from all other countries.

The exhibition, Chasing Freedom: The Royal Navy and the Suppression of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, opens at the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on Saturday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
football
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?