Remembering Britain’s Efforts Against Slavery
Every August we celebrate the end of slavery. And rightly so. However, while we have grown accustomed to hearing about the roles by some of our ancestors in bringing an end to slavery, very little is said about Britain’s contributions toward ending the evil trade.
When the British government decided officially in 1807 to end her role in the slave trade, it was not a very popular decision; and it would turn out to be not a very cheap one for her either. During the 1800s, Britain’s Royal Navy was the most powerful in the world and the British used the Royal Navy not only to put an end to the export of slaves from Africa to the West, but also to stop other nations from doing the same.
While most of us would want to think that the African peoples were always the victims, some of the loudest protests against the British move came from the African exporting nations themselves.
Did you know, for instance, that when the British navy was intercepting slave ships from Africa, several African exporting nations actually sent delegations to London to try to convince the British government that its actions were bringing ruin to African economies? Many African governments were protesting “British imperialism” and were demanding that the British stop its anti-slavery campaign in the Atlantic. When that failed, several African slave exporting nations sent delegations to Paris and other European capitals in an effort to get these European powers to influence Britain. Needless to say, those delegations also failed.The cost to the British taxpayer then of her navy’s efforts to get the Africans to end their slave exports and to get those in the west to stop buying them was enormous. When the Royal Navy started the naval campaign in the Atlantic, Britain was at war in Europe, battling France’s Napoleon. Then, when that war was almost over, Britain was again at war with the United States, in 1815. However, these wars did not diminish Britain’s determination to end the slave trade.
The British fleet was busy intercepting Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese and American slaves ships in the Atlantic. By the mid-1800s the British had captured, turned back or sunk several slave ships. They included the “Voladora”, the “Formidable”, and the “Gabriel”. The British also used their superior naval power to force several African kings to outlaw the trade, among them the king of Lagos, deposed in 1851.
So while we remember the roles our ancestors played in putting an end to the slave trade, let us also recall Britain’s persistent efforts.