Administrative Adjustments needed to be made by the Admiralty, Foreign Office and the Vice Admiralty Courts following the introduction of new Legislation in respect of the Slave Trade since the introduction of the Act 2nd & 3rd Victoria Cap 73


3 Jan 1842

To: A circular letter to all the Judges of the Vice Admiralty Courts requesting returns

With reference to my letter of 11 March 1841 directing that all papers found on board Portuguese vessels or attested copies of them, should, after the condemnation of such vessels, be transmitted to this office together with the findings and sentence &c., to be forwarded to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs - and it being found most essential that the Department should receive regularly, not only the papers above alluded to, but also copies of the proceedings had before the Courts of Vice Admiralty in cases of all vessels which may have been tried on the charge of being engaged in the Slave Trade since the Act 2nd & 3rd Victoria Cap 73 came into operation.

I am commanded by my Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty to signify their direction to you to transmit to this office accordingly, copies of the proceedings had in the cases already so adjudicated, and for the future to transmit copies of the proceedings in each case, so soon as it is concluded, and also to transmit regularly a quarterly return, shewing as far as it is possible the following particulars of each vessel viz :

Her Name.
The Flag under which she was sailing.
The alleged cause of her capture.
Her Class.
Number of her crew.
Name of her master.
Name of her owner.
By whom captured.
Date of Capture.
Place of Capture.
Date of arrival at place of adjudication.
Date of sentence.
The finding and sentence of the Court and the ground on which it was given.
Number of slaves on board, if any, when captured.
Number who reached the port of adjudication.
Number emancipated.
Tonnage of British Admeasurement.
Remarks &c.

And my Lords further desire, that in transmitting to this office any papers relating to the Slave Trade you will accompany with them a letter from yourself under a schedule of the papers so transmitted.

Signed Jn Barrow.


15 Jan 1842

To: Viscount Canning at the Foreign Office

My Lord, with reference to your Lordship's letter of 30 Dec 1841, I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to transmit to you herewith, for the information of the Earl of Aberdeen a copy of a circular letter addressed to the judges of the Vice Admiralty Courts directing them to send copies of the proceedings had in cases already adjudicated of Portuguese vessels condemned for being engaged in the slave trade and to also transmit a quarterly return of the particulars of each vessel.

Signed Sidney Herbert.

Copies of much of the data mentioned above, excluding the papers found on board Portuguese vessels, can be found from in Foreign Office papers available for free download from the National Archives e.g. the following file appears to kick of the process, including the 2 letters mentioned above, although not necessarily in that order : FO 84-437 Admiralty Letters 1842 Jan : and please beware most of the papers are handwritten, so you are seeing copies of the original info.

Interpretation of the Act 2nd & 3rd Victoria Cap 73 when it comes to open boats and how they are being used by Slave Traders.

To: the Right Honourable Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty,

From : Vice-Admiralty Court, St. Helena,

30 Jul 1842

I have the honour to forward to Your Lordships the proceedings of the Vice-Admiralty Court, St. Helena, in 5 cases relating to vessels charged with being engaged in the Slave Trade, adjudicated on the 11th inst., one of these vessels was a brig, the other 4 were open boats.

The brig had been run on shore and deserted by the crew on being chased by HMS Waterwitch, and after being cornered by the captors was destroyed by the captors in consequence of them being unable to get her afloat again. No papers were found on board, but there were 2 Portuguese and 2 American ensigns in the cabin.

This brig having had a slave deck, shackles, and several other articles made evidence by the Statute of the 2nd & 3rd Victoria Chap 73 of being equipped for the Slave Trade, was pronounced being liable to forfeiture at the time of seizure.

The boats, however, which had also been destroyed on account of their inability to make the voyage to St Helena, did not appear to me [ie Mr Wilde V.A.C. Judge], did not appear to have been taken under such circumstances as rendered the capture lawful.

The facts in all the cases were nearly the same and consequently involved the same question of law viz.- whether an open boat manned by a foreigner, laden with provisions for foreign Slave Trade dealers or slave ships is subject under the 4th section of the above Act of Parliament, to seizure & condemnation as a vessel actually employed in the transport of Negroes for the purpose of consigning them to slavery.

The intention of that clause of the Act of Parliament is, as I interpreted it, to afford facilities for the detention of such vessels only as are calculated for the transport of slaves and has no reference or applicability to the case of open boats manifestly not capable of being so employed.

The Articles set forth in the Act, as prima facie proof of the employment are evidently ? contemplated to be for the voyage, either for the restraint, accommodation, or support of the slaves, and consequently lose their force as evidence if proved to be intended for discharge or transshipment. All these boats were so circumstanced. Three of them were laden with provisions for a notorious Spanish Slave Dealer on the Coast. The other with matting, probably for a slave vessel, but the objects for which the cargo was destined, does not in any way, in my apprehension, alter the legal view of the case. The crime proceeded against by the Act, is being supplied for or being actually employed in the transport of Negroes for slavery. That of supplying slave ships or Factories with provisions, or necessaries, is either omitted or not contemplated.

Being of opinion, therefore, that these open boats were really not equipped for the purpose of transporting Negroes, it appeared to me an erroneous construction of the Act to hold them to be liable, as such, merely because they had more provisions or matting than was necessary for the crews as Merchant Vessels.

Having thus stated to your Lordships the ground of my involvement in the above cases, I think it right to add, that another question of difficulty & importance, a question however which under the circumstances, I did not feel myself called upon to express any opinion, attended one of the cases, namely whether a vessel equipped for the slave trade becomes liable to condemnation when taken by a prize to one of HM vessels? [By Ed. I thought any vessel detaining a slave ship had to be provided with the appropriate documentation before she could legally arrest a slave ship, or even walk its decks ? At least that used to be the case when some Commanding Officers started manning ex slave ships with crews circa the late 1820, or more recently in the case of the Fawn, acquired by the Ambassador at Rio de Janeiro 27 May 1840, which I seem to remember had to be supplied with the appropriate papers before she could start detaining slave ships IIRC, and caused all sorts of problems initially. ?

See p 164-> in FO 84-441 Admiralty Letters 1842 Sept-Oct., free download from the National Archives.

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