Maritime Art

Cape Coast Castle, West Africa

By J. Barrow, John Hill, and G. Webster

A drawing of Cape Coast Castle in West Africa, attributed to three artists, J. Barrow, John Hill, and G. Webster, and a companion piece to a drawing also purchased by the Society for Nautical Research for the collections of the National Maritime Museum, of Christianborg Castle, also in West Africa.

Like Christianborg, Cape Coast Castle was another castle in Ghana, built to protect European interests in the slaving industry. It was initially a Portuguese trading post, set up in 1555 but then exchanged hands and came under Swedish control just under a century later in 1653. The castle came under Danish control in 1657 and it changed hands again to the Dutch and then back to Swedes. In 1664 it was captured by the British and remained a key strategic and symbolic part of the British empire until 1957. The castle was converted to include large dungeons which could hold as many as 1000 slaves before being transferred to the ships that would take them across the Atlantic.

The Society for Nautical Research has published numerous articles on the history of slavery…

‘Eminent Service’: War, Slavery and the Politics of Public Recognition in the British Caribbean and the Cape of Good Hope c. 1782–1807  explores the fascinating history of gift-exchange in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The presentation of gifts to successful naval officers in recognition of their achievements provides insights into the political and commercial priorities of those who made the presentations. Many of these ‘objects of esteem’ are in the National Maritime Museum. They provide important insight into the social and economic context and the motives of the donors, particularly true in the Caribbean colonies in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when events such as Admiral Rodney’s victory at the Saints (1782) and Admiral Duckworth’s at San Domingo (1807), were rewarded with money and gifts of swords and plate by the political and commercial elites on the islands concerned.  These gifts were also in recognition of the economic interests at stake, particularly those of the ‘slave-owning plantocracy’.

Sidelights on the Liverpool Slave Trade 1789 – 1807 gives details of the costs associated with running slavers, their cargoes on each leg of the triangular voyage, and of the slave markets. It follows particularly the fortunes of a small shipowner, who operated three small slavers, one in exceptionally poor condition. The paper describes one slave trading voyage, and an eye-witness account of the conditions under which slaves lived and worked in Brazil and Demarara. Appendices give details of the ownership, salaries and accounts of typical slave ships.

In a Good Cause: an Episode in the Slave Trade  offers an account of the kidnap of a woman and her child in West Africa in 1840 and their rescue by Captain the Hon. Joseph Denman, commander of HMS Wanderer who was also instrumental in abolishing the slave trade in Gallinas and destroying 8 slave holding depots. He was later sued by the Spanish slavers and the author gives a summary of the court case held on 14th February 1848.


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