BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK: England
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 06:58 GMT
Slave trade revealed in historic papers
Map showing slave trade route
The papers detail Liverpool and Africa's shared history
Documents giving an insight on the slave trade have been purchased by the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

"The Davenport Papers" relate to transatlantic slavery in 18th Century Liverpool.

It is hoped the collection will help give further information about the city's history and its relationship with Africa.

The papers, dating from the 1750s, were bought from a Cheshire family who found them in a chest in a barn 50 years ago.

Transatlantic slavery gallery
The Liverpool museum has a 'slavery gallery'

The Maritime Museum was notified of their existence after they were shown to an expert from the BBC television programme Antiques Roadshow.

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave the museum 25, 000 for the purchase of the documents.

They take the name "Davenport" from the Liverpool family business to which the correspondence is addressed.

It will take a year for curators to catalogue the 12 leather bound volumes, and 13 bundles of letters.

'Chilling insight'

Museum spokesman, Stephen Guy, said the acquisition will provide scholars with the "nuts and bolts" of the slave trade.

There are letters from tradesmen who were on the voyages, sent back to Liverpool from African ports, telling of negotiations with tribes.

Other papers, written by clerks in Liverpool counting houses, document the numbers, sexes and ages of slaves.

Mr Guy said: "The details illustrate very well how slaves were not seen as people, but as commodities.

"Another chilling insight is that sailors were obviously expected to die during the voyages.

New information

"Upon leaving Liverpool, a special column was already allocated on the ships' papers to record mariners' deaths.

"We've also discovered how a particular African tribe acted as mariners themselves.

"These were free men, not slaves, who were taken on ships' crews to replace the sailors who had died."

Curators currently studying the papers have also noted that the relatives of African chieftains were used as 'hostages', being held on ships until deals were completed.

"We are finding out new things about the slave trade industry all the time," said Mr Guy.

"It was much more sophisticated than previously thought. This will greatly increase our knowledge."

Click here to go to Liverpool
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Africa
Focus on the slave trade
03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK challenged over slavery
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more England stories