Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bonhams to Sell Slave Ship Log

Bonhams auction house in London will sell a rare 19th-century slave ship's log on Wednesday as part of an auction of Science & Marine items, CNN reports. The logbook, Lot 170, covers the schooner Juverna's journey from Liverpool to West Africa to Suriname, and then back to Liverpool from July, 1804 to July of the following year. The catalog describes the item as "A hand written, detailed daily logbook, recording winds, courses, weather conditions and general observations on a classic 'Triangular Trade' slaving expedition from England less than two years before the abolition of slavery and in the midst of the Napoleonic War." Pre-sale estimates are £2,000-3,000.

In a lengthy footnote, Bonhams details the ship's journey to Calibar and the Cameroon River, where 110 male and female Africans were loaded for shipment to South America. Nineteen of the captives died on the transatlantic journey; when the ship arrived in Paramaribo, the ship's doctor and nine crewman (of sixteen) deserted. At Paramaribo, the ship was loaded with cotton and coffee for the return trip to Liverpool.

The auction will occur just days before the 200th anniversary of the bicentennial of the abolition of the British slave trade, which occurs on 25 March.

CNN's report notes that some are questioning the sale of this item, saying that it allows the book's current owners to "profit from slavery." Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association suggests that an action could be brought against the owners under the common law practice of 'unjust enrichment'.

Bonhams expert Lionel Willis notes the matter-of-fact nature of the logbook and Capt. Robert Lewis' documentations of the "cargo." "The slaves are the same as the cargo of salt that [Lewis] brings down and the same as the cotton he brings back. It is chilling when you read through the log book the fact that there's no sense of any feeling of the humanity of the people involved."

It is indeed chilling to read this sort of document - I still get goosebumps thinking about an estate list I copied recently which listed the plantation's slaves and then suddenly, without even skipping a line, moved into an inventory of the horses.

Probably the sort of item that ought to have been donated to a museum rather than brought to public auction, really. Hopefully it will go to an institution where it can be examined, researched, and remembered.

[h/t: Shelf:Life]