The Rio Pongo Crisis of 1820 and the Search for a Strategy for the Anti-Slavery Squadron off West Africa
This article focuses upon the conundrums faced in 1820 by an officer of the Anti-Slavery Squadron and by a slave trader resident upon the African coast, neither of whom was certain of the rules of engagement or what might be expected from the other. In this case, forces allied with the slave trader fired upon and captured a pinnace belonging to HM Gun-brig Thistle, torturing and killing most of its crew. The squadron’s officers and colonial officials at Freetown responded by sending a joint Royal Navy and Royal Africa Corps expedition to retrieve survivors of the crew and punish those responsible for the initial attack. A lack of adequate and long-term instructions from London and misunderstandings among participants on the African coast at the moment were the principal causes of this incident, which became complicated enough for it to be discussed in Parliament. The article also reviews the actions of a particular officer and their consequences with respect to evolving squadron policy.