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Envoys of abolitionBritish Naval Officers and the Campaign Against the Slave Trade in West Africa$
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Mary Wills

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620788

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620788.001.0001

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Abolition at sea

Abolition at sea

(p.15) 1 Abolition at sea
(p.iii) Envoys of Abolition

Mary Wills

Liverpool University Press

This chapter introduces the work of the West Africa squadron in detaining slave ships at sea by examining the experiences of the naval officers involved in its operation. It explores the development of a British abolitionist presence in Sierra Leone and examines the evolving tactics of naval suppression, including increasing intervention (so-called ‘gunboat diplomacy’) leading to blockade of points of embarkation for slave ships and destruction of slave barracoons. Arguments over tactics contributed to feelings of futility and low morale over operational limitations and the perceived efficacy of naval abolitionist policy. Other daily struggles faced by naval personnel included ill-discipline, an inhospitable climate and the threat of contracting the deadly tropical diseases that led to unprecedented peace-time mortality rates. Officers often perceived financial incentives in the form of prize money and promotion as the only meaningful compensation for these hardships.

Keywords:   Sierra Leone, Royal Navy, West Africa, Intervention, Gunboat diplomacy, Tactics, Diseases, Naval officers

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