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REMINISCENCES OF A CRUISE ON THE WESTERN COAST OF AFRICA,
DURING the month of November, 183—, I those who had previously been on the coast, was serving as midshipman on board his said, it could not be a slaver, for slavers always Majesty's ten-gun brig, the , then on her keep a look-out man at the masthead, and passage from the river Gambia to Sierra Leone; generally see the cruisers as soon as they are when off the Rio Pongo, the wind became very seen themselves, and then make the best of light, in fact, almost a calm.
their way off. His Majesty's brig was never at any time a The schooner still approached fast; at last good sailer; she had originally been built for the look-out man at the masthead called out, blockading in the North Sea, during the late that he now could see the hull, and also that war; her draught of water was very light, the stranger was sweeping towards us—this thus enabling her to cruise near the shore, accounted for the rapid approach. All hopes which, on the western coast of Africa, is a of promotion and prize-money were now at an great advantage.
end; no slaver, the commander said, would thus She was commanded by a lieutenant, throw himself in the way of a man-of-war; it with a complement of sixty officers and men; must be some vessel in distress. the commander, who had long served on the I had now an excellent view of the stranger coast of Africa bitterly lamented her dull from the masthead, with a powerful telescope sailing, for he was well aware of the fast of the commander's; her snow-white canvas, sailing qualities of the greater part of the large sails, and low, black hull, with the rapid slavers; however, he promised us the chance movement of the sweeps on the smooth, glassof a capture, with the aid of the boats, should like surface of the sea, were all distinctly it fall calm off the entrances of the three visible. The schooner being now in sight from rivers we were then near;-viz., the Rio the deck, and still nearing us, the commander Grande, Rio Nunez, and the Rio Pongo, all ordered the master to take a boat, and see noted as the resort of slavers.
what was required. The whale-boat, a very While in the latitude of the last named fast-pulling one, was accordingly selected ; river, and just off the shoals to the westward moreover, from being painted white, it would of it, the wind entirely left us, and the sea not be noticed so easily as the others which became like a vast mirror; suddenly the look were black. The master left with eight men, out man at the masthead called out, “ Sail well armed, and pulled in the direction of the right ahead.” It being my watch, I was or- | schooner, now not more than three miles disdered up to see what I could make of the tant, still sweeping towards us, the weather strange sail, with a telescope. After a long calm as before. Everything on board was look, in which most of the officers joined, we ready for hoisting out the pinnace-men all came to the conclusion that she was a fore prepared at a moment's notice. The schooner, topsail schooner, with only her upper sails which could now be plainly seen, was a beauvisible above the horizon, evidently becalmed tiful vessel, with a very low, black hull, painted like ourselves; from her position she appeared with a thin, white streak; her deck appeared to have either lately left the Rio Pongo, or was crowded with men. The whale-boat rapidly about to enter it. It being one o'clock, and neared her, when suddenly the schooner, about the crew at dinner, nothing was done until two miles distant, altered her course, and comtheir meal was over, when the boats, arms, and menced sweeping away in the opposite direcprovisions were prepared, and the men told off tion, at the same time firing guns at the whalefor the cutting-out expedition, should the boat. From the first manœuvre and wreath stranger prove suspicious and the weather of smoke seen on board the schooner, all had remain calm. At last, it struck the officers been excitement with us; the pinnace was imfrom the masthead that the schooner appeared mediately hoisted out, and hastened to the to near us; she was standing towards the brig, assistance of the whale-boat, the schooner but as far as the eye could reach, not a ripple opening her fire on both boats, and sweeping appeared on the horizon.
away towards the shoals at the entrance of the The schooner still neared us, until her hull
Rio Pongo. was visible from the masthead. Various were It was approaching sunset; there being the conjectures now amongst the officers and little or no twilight in the tropics --and as men as to what the strange vessel could be; I there were indications of a light air from the
westward, which would favour the schooner, The light air having freshened into a breeze without making much impression on our dull from the westward, the schooner, now our prize, sailing brig, the chances of success were was steered towards his Majesty's brig. very much against us. In the meantime the The master and one of my messmates were chase continued; the boats at first rapidly wounded, not seriously, seven of our men badly, gaining on the schooner, and the latter firing and four slightly. The first care was to colwith greater precision at them.
lect the crew of the slaver, several of whom After sunset, a light air enabled the shooner remained on deck badly wounded; those who to get away a little from the boats; but our were in the forepart refused to come on deck, men pulled away, cheering each other. It it was not until one had been wounded with a soon became quite dark; two men were seri- bayonet that they came up; they seemed a ously wounded in the pinnace, the schooner | very villanous set of ruffians. keeping up an incessant fire of great guns and But where was the captain ? at last he was musketry. The brig showed her position by found in his berth in the cabin, under two occasionally burning blue lights and firing mattresses, entreating for quarter as our men rockets, and the effect of the firing from the dragged him from his hiding-place; he had schooner and boats, in the dark, was very sin urged his crew until our men boarded; it was gular to those on board the brig. The boats he who attempted to fire the last gun, which, now began to near the schooner, when the in the hurry, from the cartridge not being bows of the pinnace were pierced by three pricked, missed fire, then he had rushed below grape shot, and one of our best men, an old and hid himself. Had that gun gone off, the quarter-master, shot through both thighs; the pinnace's fate would have soon been decided, whale-boat now pulled for the larboard side of for it was pointed right into the boat. the schooner, and the pinnace for the star Upon being questioned, the captain, a Porboard, the marines picking off the crew of the tuguese, said, his vessel had left the Rio Pongo schooner, when they became visible by the the evening before, that he was bound for the flashes of their musketry. Both boats now got island of Boa Vista, one of the Cape Verd close to the schooner, the shouts of the captain, Islands, with 180 slaves, which were to be urging his crew for a last effort, could be shipped on board a large vessel bound to the plainly heard; and just as the pinnace got Brazils, and after delivering the first cargo, he alongside, three more of our men were laid in was to return to the river for another; his the bottom of the boat, seriously, but not mor crew consisted of fifty-six men besides the tally wounded, and on the whale-boat touch officers, they were chiefly Spaniards and Poring the other side, a marine was shot through tuguese; upon being asked why he swept his the arm; as the men jumped up from the boats, vessel towards us, he said, he thought we were a gun, that was pointed into the pinnace, one of the outward-bound English merchant missed fire, this was the last shot attempted to vessels going to Sierra Leone for a cargo of be fired from the schooner; the resistance of timber, and that he wanted to purchase an the crew was of short duration, they were soon anchor and cable; he had no idea we were a overpowered, our men being exasperated by man-of-war, until he saw the boat pulling tothe long pull and the sight of their wounded wards him. There is no doubt, from what was messmates. A Frenchman, who had steered afterwards found in the vessel, that he comthe vessel during the chase, made a most des mitted piracy as well as slave dealing, whenperate resistance; he had been twice shot be ever chance favoured him, and had he found fore the boats boarded, and was not over us a trading vessel, ours would not have been powered until he had shown himself worthy an enviable position. of a better cause; he never left his station During the struggle on the schooner's deck, until he fell covered with wounds.
a Spaniard, who had jumped overboard, swam Several of the crew jumped overboard, the to the pinnace—which, with the whale-boat, slaves below made a dreadful noise ; one of the was fastened to the schooner's stern, and concrew who had been cut down, fell across the tained all our wounded men who were unable grating of the slave-room, his blood dropping to get up the vessel's side-his life was spared on the slaves below, roused them to madness. by the old quarter-master. A painful thing The crew were soon driven off the upper deck, happened at the same time: a seaman, who many had thrown themselves into the sea, and | had never seen a slaver, hearing the dreadful were drowned, the remainder hid themselves | noise below, fired into the woman slave-room, below in the forepart of the vessel, sentries and wounded a poor young woman with an were immediately placed over the hatchways. ! infant at her breast, fortunately not a very
severe wound. At eight o'clock, p.m., the schooner was alongside the brig, three hearty cheers were exchanged; the commander had been very anxious about the boats after the firing ceased, as it was a very dark night, and nothing could be seen of either schooner or boats. The wounded men and the schooner's crew were now brought on board the brig, the boats were hoisted in, and both vessels made sail for Sierra Leone, the schooner with a temporary prize crew on board for the night.
The senior mate, myself, and ten men were ordered to be ready to go on board the schooner at daylight, to navigate her to Sierra Leone; the senior mate was selected from having served on the coast of Africa before, he had also taken two prizes to Sierra Leone from the Bight of Benin. The poor young woman was the first attended to by the doctor; she bore the probing and dressing of her wound without a murmur-everything was done to make her comfortable. The prisoners were all placed on the after part of the quarter-deck, with sentries to guard them, except the wounded, who were all taken below, and attended to with our own men; two of them—the second mate, a Spaniard, and the Frenchman, mentioned before were so dreadfully wounded, that the doctor had no hopes of their living through the night. I went to my hammock exhausted with the excitement of the day, but sleep was out of the question ; beneath my hammock, on a mattress, was stretched the powerful frame of the Frenchman, he must have been upwards of six feet high, and stout in proportion, but was so disfigured as hardly to look like a human being, entreating every one that came near to give him a loaded pistol, or to put an end to his sufferings; everything that could possibly be done to relieve him was tried. I was obliged to go on deck again, for having lately left school in France, every word he uttered was painfully intelligible to me.
At daylight, the schooner was close-to on our lee quarter, with hardly any sail set, and then with difficulty keeping her station, although we had all sail set. I thought her the most beautiful vessel I had ever seen, her masts raked very much, and she appeared to cut the water without throwing any ripple from her bows, the hull was very low, and the sides smooth and rounded. I afterwards found that many of the slavers on the coast of Africa were precisely the same style of vessel, chiefly built in America, and differing very little, except in the rig and interior arrangements, from the transatlantic yacht which has lately put so many of ours to the blush. The commander
now came on deck, ordered sail to be shortened, and the brig hove-to; the prize crew were ordered up, a boat was lowered, and the prizemaster having received his orders, we left for the schooner. On our arrival, the officers and men who had been in charge during the night, returned to the brig, when the Portuguese captain, the steward, and the cook of the slaver were sent to accompany us; sail was then made, and both vessels in company shaped their courses for Sierra Leone. The captain remained sitting abaft, in sullen silence, the cook cheerfully commenced preparing the slaves' morning meal, and the steward coffee for us; our men were busily employed in cleaning the decks, and removing the traces of the last evening's work.
The schooner on deck was a beautiful vessel, | her width was very great near the centre, and gradually tapered away to a very sharp bow, giving her, on looking down from the masthead on her deck, the form of a wedge; she was armed with a long brass twenty-fourpounder, on a sweep, between the foremast and mainmast; it could be pointed in almost any | direction, and was a well-finished piece of ord
nance; there was also a twenty-four-pounder carronade, which could be transported from side to side, it was still loaded, and on the charge being drawn, was found to contain, besides grape shot, two bagsful of rusty nails; the cartridge had not been pricked in the hurry, and being made of stouter material than is generally used, the gun missed fire, and saved the pinnace's crew; there was a complete set of small arms, cutlasses, and boarding pikes, all in good order.
The slaves' breakfast being now ready, the iron bars were removed from the hatchways, and they all came on deck; they were counted, and made to sit in circles of ten—the women and girls on the quarter-deck, and the men and boys before the mainmast- there were seventy of the former, and one hundred and ten of the latter, all in a complete state of nudity, except five of the best-looking women, who wore flaming-coloured scarfs round their waists, and from the place they selected on the quarter-deck, appeared to have been favourites of the captain and his officers. In the meantime the boiled rice was placed in tin pans, one in the centre of each circle, none daring to commence eating until the signal was given, which was done when all had been served ; they appeared a fine, healthy, and muscular set of slaves, having suffered very little from confinement; they had only been shipped two days, and none of the men were put in irons-,
as is the case in most slavers --- the captain, have interfered with the working of the probably, thinking that the strength of his vessel. crew was sufficient protection ; moreover, the The same daily routine was followed with slaves were always sent below after their the slaves; my messmate, the prize-master, meals, except a few of the most intelligent from his previous knowledge, having managed who were kept to work on deck, and attend everything so well that we had very little to their fellow-captives.
trouble. Nothing particular transpired until At a later period, I witnessed much misery the morning of the fourth day, when we saw in captured slavers, from the negroes being the high land of Sierra Leone; having a fine sickly, and on the vessels being first taken, the breeze from the westward, we rapidly neared greater part of the men were shackled two and the land; we were ordered to keep astern of two by the legs, in some instances, a living to the brig, and it was only by almost taking in a dead man. After the slaves had finished all sail that we could keep our station. On their meal, half were sent below, and the re- looking for the schooner's colours, to hoist, we mainder allowed to stop on deck, which was found English, French, Spanish, and American a great boon to the poor creatures, for so closely ensigns, besides the Portuguese, which we packed were they on the lower deck, that it hoisted, as the captain's papers were of that must have been awful; there was not room nation, although he used the other flags when for a full-grown person to sit upright without it suited his convenience. touching the beams. The prize-master and It being the fine season, everything looked myself lived as comfortably as could be ex- cheerful as we approached the anchorage; the pected under such circumstances, taking our red soil here and there covered with masses of meals and sleeping on deck, which was far large trees, looked very picturesque, and the preferable to the close cabin; the captain houses, surrounded by large verandahs, had a messed with us, but was not allowed to hold pleasing effect. We were soon at anchor off any communication with either his men or the the town, and visited by boats filled with slaves. In looking over the contents of the sable washerwomen, dressed in the European lockers in the cabin, we found English cheeses, style, with gay, many-coloured handkerchiefs bottled porter, pickles, and various articles tied round their heads, which set off to advanthat looked very much as if they had lately tage their black, shining faces and snow-white come out of an English merchant vessel; there teeth, all chattering together, soliciting our was a good stock of champagne, claret, and custom, and offering pine apples, bananas, preserves, the coops on deck were full of oranges, guavas, and other choice fruit for poultry, showing that the Portuguese captain sale; one of them, a fat jovial personage, after and his officers were fond of good living, and selling us some fruit, amused us by calling out, to all of which we did ample justice, In one “I say, you small white officer, what for you of the lockers was a quantity of loose powder, no make de ladies dress : I 'spose dem clothes which was immediately thrown overboard, the all packed for de wash." This was a common steward, a Spaniard, who could speak a little joke of her's, for she was a liberated African, French, told me, that during the chase, the and had arrived at Sierra Leone, some years captain kept him and the cook in the cabin before, in the same light-marching order, but filling cartridges; the locker was filled with | by means of a happy disposition and industriloose powder from the magazine under the ous habits, in selling fruit and washing clothes, cabin. It is a mercy that, during the scuffle, had secured a competency for herself. Washthe cabin was not fired into, otherwise all ing here is a profitable trade, as so much white would have been blown up. In the afternoon, clothing is worn, and the charge, when I was the slaves had another meal, and the half that there, was three shillings a dozen. The officers had been on the lower deck in the morning of the Mixed Commission Court now came on were allowed to remain on deck, the others board, to examine the documents and the vessel; being sent below. During our dinner, the the Liberated African Department authorities children used to come and sit on the deck, at also came to make preparations for the landing a respectful distance, eagerly watching every of the slaves, which took place after their dinmouthful that we took, and when we had ner. They appeared to leave the schooner finished, the steward would divide the re- with regret, many of them kissing our hands mainder between them, not forgetting some as they went over the side into the boats sent of the ladies. In the evening, the slaves for them: they were taken to a large building had their last meal, and then were all sent fitted for their reception by the Liberated below, as their being on deck at night would African Department, clothing was given to