The British Slave Ship "Brookes," 1789

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This record was last updated on 06 Jul 2016

Image Reference

Broadside collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (Portfolio 282-43 [Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-44000]; also, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library.

"Stowage of the British Slave Ship 'Brookes' under the Regulated Slave Trade, Act of 1788." Probably the most iconic image of the Atlantic slave trade, it shows each deck and cross-sections of decks and "tight packing" of captives. After the 1788 Regulation Act (the Dolben act), which specified how Africans were to be transported across the Atlantic, the Brookes (also spelled Brooks) was allowed to carry 454 captives, the legal limit and the approximate number shown in this illustration. However, in four earlier voyages (1781-86), she carried from 609 to 740 enslaved Africans; thus, crowding in the decks was much worse than shown here. For example, in her 1782 voyage with 609 Africans, there were 351 men, 127 women, 90 boys, and 41 girls crammed into its decks (thanks to David Eltis for this information). The illustration shown here also appears in Carl B. Wadstrom (An Essay on Colonization, particularly applied to the Western coast of Africa [London, 1794, 1795], as a fold-out in the pocket attached to the cover. Wadstrom includes a very lengthy and detailed description of the Brookes, and notes that the "proprietors [of the engraving] favoured him with the original plate" (see image Wad-1 on this website). This illustration of the Brookes, or sections of it, was often reprinted in other contemporary sources dealing with the slave trade, as well as in more modern secondary works. Its most famous reproduction is in Thomas Clarkson's celebrated abolitionist work, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (London, 1808), vol. 2, between pp. 110 and 111; (Philadelphia, 1808), vol. 2, between pp. 90 and 91 (the space calculations that Clarkson reports are from a House of Commons report in 1789). Also published as a separate engraving by Willian Kneass (Philadelphia, 1808; see Library Company of Philadelphia). An excellent and readable account of the history of this image and the role it played in the British abolitionist movement is in Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking 2007), pp. 308-342.