Transatlantic slavery was a brutal system which forcibly shipped over twelve million Africans to the Americas and lasted over 300 years. It allowed African men, women and children to be stolen from their homeland, bought and sold as property and used to produce sugar, coffee, cotton and other goods for huge profit in the European and North American markets. This print was made to highlight the inhumane conditions under which enslaved Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean, forced to make the long voyage from West Africa to the Americas, tightly packed into the hold of ships and held in chains.
Over 7000 posters of the plan were printed, both informing and shocking the public, and promoting the campaign for abolition.
A campaign to abolish the transatlantic slave trade only began to gather pace in Britain towards the end of the eighteenth century. As part of the campaign, the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson commissioned this print. It shows enslaved African people packed into the hold of the slave ship Brookes and describes how each person only had a space 40cm wide to lie in and could neither sit up fully nor stand. The print shows 482 figures, but the ship is known to have carried many more. According to its voyage log, in 1787 the Brookes embarked 609 enslaved Africans from what is now Ghana in West Africa, nineteen of whom died during the passage to Jamaica. More than a fifth of these embarked slaves were children.
Over 7000 posters of the plan were printed, both informing and shocking the public, and promoting the campaign for abolition. In 1788 an Act of Parliament limited the number of slaves that could be carried according to the size of the ship. This meant the Brookes could legally carry 454 African captives – a small concession to the appalling overcrowding and conditions.
The trade in enslaved Africans was eventually made illegal in Britain and its colonies in 1807. Slavery was finally abolished in 1833.
Use our Classroom resources to investigate this object further.
- Using objects, artworks and other sources to find out about the past
- Enquiry: Who fought for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and what were some of the tactics they used?
- Enquiry: Innovations and the spread of ideas
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Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.
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This object is in the collection of British Library