The British Response to the East African Slave Trade, 1840 – 1890

On 27 September 2019 an audience of around 20 gathered in the Wincanton Memorial Hall for this presentation by Brian Garton.

He introduced us to the life and activities of Captain Sullivan of the Royal Navy whose book “Dhow Chasing in Zanzibar Waters and off the Eastern Coast of Africa” was something of a best seller in the 19th Century. It was both an Adventure Story and a serious influence on public opinion and politicians, and was also remarkable for having some excellent photographs from the very early days of photography.

He touched briefly on the very controversial figure of David Livingstone who, whatever his personal failings, had a huge role in bringing the appalling atrocities of the East African Slave Trade to the attention of the British public, and whose funeral in Westminster Abbey was a major event.

In this context he introduced the audience to “The Bombay Africans” – former slaves, released by the Royal Navy and given security and an education at an African Asylum in India. A number of these played a very important part in helping European explorers and in the settlement for freed slaves that was established in 1874 at Freretown just outside Mombasa, Kenya. There was also an important personal connection here as the training in India was supervised by the Rev. William Salter Price who was the maternal great grandfather of the speaker. When it was decided to rehabilitate some of these former slaves actually in Africa, it was Price who was chosen to set up the Mombasa settlement.

This was a huge undertaking at that time, long before the development of Kenya under British colonial rule. After getting Freretown up and running, Price returned to his parish in Suffolk, but had to be recalled to Africa twice to deal with problems within the settlement. These included serious examples of brutal racist behaviour by some of the other white missionaries and potential attacks from Arab and Swahili slave owners in the area who saw their livelihoods threatened.

The presentation was illustrated by a number of slides including contemporary photographs. At the end the Chairman in thanking the speaker noted that so much of the information was quite new to the members present.