The Decks of a Slave Ship, early 19th cent.

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Image Reference

Faits relatifs a la traite des noirs (published by the Société de la morale Chrétienne. Comité pour l'abolition de la traite des noirs; Paris, 1826), fold-out facing title page. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)

Titled simply "Navire Negrier" (Slave Ship), this image gives several perspectives of a slaving vessel, particularly cross-sectional views of the decks holding the enslaved. The image appears in a booklet published by a French society against the slave trade but was derived from the well-known image of the British slave ship, Brookes (see E014; also Wad-1). However, at the left of this illustration, there is a hand-written description of the extraordinarily cramped conditions on the ship, perhaps written by someone who had observed such conditions first-hand. Examining the illustration closely, one can notice that in the male compartments (lower deck right side; middle deck right side), men are shown manacled by the wrists as well as the ankles. The description reads as follows (we loosely translate): "The Negroes are chained two by two, the right leg of one to the left leg of the other. They fill up the hold, the deck, the between decks, as well as the platforms specially built between the decks. The enslaved lay nude on planks, without being able to change their position, and so cramped that sometimes they have to lie on their side. The motion of the vessel chafes their bodies and the irons tear their legs . . . . when they are permitted to come on the top decks for a few moments, a long chain is passed through their irons so that they don't attack the ship's crew or throw themselves into the sea. But when bad weather forces the hatchways to be closed, then the suffering of the Blacks, deprived of air in the hold and the between decks, becomes horrible. The vapors issuing from their bodies seem to come out of a scorching furnace; many among them are brought half dead; or are entirely suffocated on the deck. Insurrections, suicides, depression, the foul smell, the lack of air, and the barbarous treatment they receive combine to increase mortality to a frightening degree. It has been calculated that for 7084 negroes exported under those conditions from Africa, 2053, one out of four, died during the ocean crossing."