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Broadsheet featuring the ballad "The Slave Ship"

Date: 1820 - 1860
Overall: 250 x 260 mm, 0.023 kg
Medium: Woodcut engraving and printed text on paper mounted on card.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Broadsheet
Object No: 00017416
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    A broadsheet featuring the ballad "The Slave Ship". There is also an extract from the speech given by Benjamin Constant to the French Chamber of Deputies on 17 June, 1820. In it he outlines the story of the slave ship LE RODEUR. During a voyage from Bonny, a Nigerian port town located on the Bight of Bonny, Africa in 1819, the entire contingent of slaves and the crew, bar one, contracted the eye disease ophthalmia which resulted in blindness. Although the able sailor was able to bring the ship to shore in Guadeloupe, he later also contracted the disease and many others inflicted never regained their partial or full sight.

    SignificanceBroadsheets were designed as printed ephemera to be published and distributed rapidly. This also meant they were quickly disposed of with many of them not surviving the test of time. The museum's broadsheet collection is therefore a rare and valuable example of how maritime history was communicated to a wide audience, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. They vibrantly illustrate many of the themes and myths surrounding life at sea. Some of them also detail stories about transportation and migration.
    This particular example "The Slave Ship" was used to heighten awareness of the horrors of the continuing slave trade amongst the public and the British navy's ongoing efforts to prevent their transport.
    History"The French Ship LE RODEUR, with a crew of twenty-two men, and
    with one hundred and sixty .. slaves, sailed from Bonny in
    Africa, April 1819. On approaching the line, a terrible malady
    broke out--an obstinate disease of the eyes-contageous and alto-
    gether beyond the resources of medicine. It was aggravated by
    the scarcity of water among the slaves (only half a wine glass full
    per day being allowed to an individual) and by the impurity of the
    air which they breathed.-By the advice of a Physician, they were
    brought up upon deck occasionally; but some of the poor wretches,
    locking themselves in each other's arms, leaped overboard, in the
    hope, which so universally prevails among them, of being swiftly
    transported to their own homes in Africa. To check this, the
    captain ordered several, who were stopped in the attempt to be
    shot or hanged, before their companions. The disease extended
    to the crew; and one after another were smitten with it, until only
    one remained unaffected. Yet even the dreadful condition did
    not preclude calculation; to save the expense of supporting slaves
    rendered unsaleable, and to obtain grounds for a claim against
    the underwriters, Thirty-six of the [slaves], having become Blind
    were thrown into the Sea and Drowned.
    In the midst of their dreadful fears lest the solitary individual,
    whose sight remained unaffected, should also be seized with the
    malady a sail was discovered. It was a Spanish slaver, the LEON,
    The same disease had been there; and, horrible to tell, all the
    crew had become blind. Unable to assist each other, the vessels
    parted. The Spanish Ship has never since been heard of. The
    RODEUR reached Guadaloupe on the 21st of June; the only man
    who escaped the disease and had been enabled to steer the slaver
    into port, cought it three days after his arrival. "
    --Speech of M. Benjamin Constant, in the French Chamber of Deputies,
    June 17th, 1820.

    Henri Constant de Rebecque (1767-1830) was a member of the French Chamber of Commerce from 1819 (deputy for the region of Sarthe). He was an outspoken opponent of slavery and delivered notable speeches on the subject in 1821 and 1822.
    The episode in the ballard aboard the LE RODEUR is believed to have actually occured and "matches a version given in the journal of J.B. Romaigne, a twelve year old boy who sailed as a passenger on this trip".
    (Dr Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature, University of Exeter.) After the passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 the Royal Navy formed the West Africa Squadron to intercept slave traders, seize their ships and free their slaves. The Squadron was based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, from 1819.
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