Dhow chasing on the East Coast of Africa.

The slave-trade is, however, still carried on to a lamentable extent on the east coast of Africa, to supply the Arabian and Persian markets, and has been the chief cause of all the depopulating wars which have taken place on that side of Africa, reducing whole districts inhabited  by an industrious people into howling deserts. A squadron, consisting entirely of steamers, has now for some years been stationed on that coast for its suppression.

Though not sanctioned by the Portuguese government, their officials in their possessions at the mouth of the Zambesi and other places along the coast have taken an active part in the trade, as have also the French, who, though they do not call their captives slaves, equally encourage the slave-dealers and internal warfare, by purchasing the blacks taken in battle and carrying them off under the name of apprentices to their possessions in the Southern ocean. The service on this coast, though less unhealthy, provided the crews do not sleep on shore, is often severe in the extreme, the boats being sent away for considerable periods to watch for slaving-dhows as they sail along the coast. These dhows are large, swift-sailing craft, commanded and manned by Arabs, savage fellows, who frequently fight desperately when attacked by the boats. With a strong breeze they often manage to elude even steamers. When hard-pressed, with a full cargo of slaves on board, they will run their vessels through the surf on shore in the hopes of carrying off some of their unfortunate captives who may escape from the wreck, being very indifferent about those who may be drowned. The Arabs themselves generally manage to get on shore, though sometimes the whole of their black cargo is sacrificed.

From the following account by an eye-witness some of the lesser horrors of the slave-trade on the east coast may be conceived. It exhibits, also, the spirit in which our gallant officers and seamen carry on the duty imposed on them.

Her Majesty’s steamer Vulture, Commander Cay, was, in 1874, cruising off Madagascar, when, it being almost calm, a dhow was seen standing for the port of Majunga. Although she had every appearance of an honest trader, a boat was sent to board her, carrying one of the officers and an interpreter, with directions to hail the Vulture should any slaves be found. All was suspense till the cry came from the dhow of “She’s a slaver, sir!” Three hearty cheers were given by the Vulture’s crew. “How many has she on board?” asked the captain. “Two hundred, sir,” was the answer. A hawser was soon passed on board the slaver, and she was hauled alongside. Then began the sickening task of transferring the poor captives from the dhow to the ship. The British seamen behaved nobly; even the regular grumblers forgot their complaints and came forward to assist in transporting the weak and helpless creatures from their prison. So cramped and emaciated were they that many had to be carried in the arms of the men. Tenderly and carefully did these strong, rough fellows bear their helpless burdens, notwithstanding the filth which had accumulated on them during their long imprisonment in the pestilential hold. Now and then a baby appeared, and was eagerly lifted on board by the men. There were seven, and as the little ones were borne along they opened their eyes with wonderment. One baby had been born on board the dhow, and another had lost its mother during the fatal voyage. Those who had suffered most were children whose ages ranged from three to seven years. They had been evidently unable to hold their own against the stronger ones in the scramble for food which had taken place at feeding time; the stronger thrived, while the weaker starved. Of the hapless cargo thirty were at death’s door, and thirty others little more than skeletons. Many of the unhappy beings had scarcely tasted food during their imprisonment in the dhow. In  they poured, a living stream, until the ship’s decks were covered with a black mass of human beings of all ages, including women so old that it was difficult to understand what object those dealers in human flesh could have had in shipping such worthless articles for the slave-market. At last the stream stopped. “They’re all out of the dhow, sir,” exclaimed the seamen who remained on board the vessel. “Have another look and make quite sure,” answered the commander. Well it was that they did so, for in a dark corner of the hold, buried all but the head in the sand which the dhow carried for ballast, lay a poor old woman. She was dug out and borne on board.

In the meantime the Arabs came on board the Vulture, but these, having suffered no privations, were able to walk, and as they came over the side the ship’s corporal and corporal of marines stripped them to search for arms or money. Nothing being found, they had their clothes returned, and were marched on to the poop and placed under a sentry’s charge to wait till they could be turned over to the tender mercies of the Sultan of Zanzibar—a fate they dread very much. There were two women on board who seemed past hope of recovery; the one who was dug out of the sand, and another with an infant at her back, in which way these people carry their children. The greater portion were suffering dreadfully. Forty-one men, 59 women, and 137 children were taken out of the dhow from between her decks, where they had been packed, unable to move during the whole voyage. The young and good-looking women, who were the most profitable portion of the cargo, appeared to have been well fed, while the men and boys had been starved. The first care was to remove the filth with which they were covered. Those able to bear it were passed under the steam hose, the few rags they had on being taken away as they entered the stream, and as they passed out dry coverings were wrapped round them, contributed by the officers and seamen, such as shirts, towels, sheets, flannels, etcetera. The weaker ones were washed in warm water with soap. Nothing could exceed the gentleness with which the hardy tars handled these poor creatures. By the time they had all been washed the food was ready, and they were made to sit down in circles of from twelve to twenty. Large bowls of boiled rice and beans were placed in the centre of each group; this was the signal for the most dreadful din; each fearing his or her neighbour would get a larger share, crammed the food into their mouths, fighting, squalling, crying, and shouting being carried on all the time until the dishes were empty. It showed what must have been the state of things in the dhow, where there was no room to portion them off, neither would the lazy Arab disturb himself to see justice done to each. The sick were cared for by the doctor and his attentive sick-bay man, assisted by all the officers. Preserved milk, port wine, brandy and water, and preserved fowl were pressed upon these suffering ones, who were almost too far gone to care for anything, except to be allowed to die in peace. The difficulty was to berth them; it was impossible to let them go below, their filthy habits making it necessary that they should remain on the upper-deck, where plenty of water could be used for washing down. They were accordingly made to lie close to each other, when sails were covered over them and screens were hung round, while the awning was stretched over the top of all. Sleep was out of the question, even for the weary seamen; the groans and cries were most heartrending. The doctor and his assistant were up all night attending to the poor captives. At Majunga calico was purchased to clothe them. In the morning they went through the same cleansing process as the night before, when the warm sun, and decks washed down, made things look more cheerful. The dhow having been burnt, the Vulture stood away for the Seychelles. Cold nights told upon the exhausted frames of the poor captives, fifteen of whom passed away in spite of every care before the ship had completed half her voyage to the Seychelles. Happily the weather remained remarkably fine. Altogether seventeen deaths occurred among the slaves during the twelve days they were on board before the ship reached her destination. Six of these were children. The two women most despaired of were landed in a much improved state.

Frequently the slaving-dhows captured are in a far more horrible state than in the instance above given. The Arabs have been known to murder and throw into the sea every slave on board, in the hopes of preserving their vessel when they have seen no chance of escape. Very often half the slaves die on the voyage between the coast of Africa and the Persian Gulf. Probably, for every slave captured ten human lives have been lost, either in the attack on their native villages or on the journey to the coast, or by the attempts made to land them through the surf when chased by men-of-war, or by starvation and sickness on board. Still, as long as the Arabs have any hopes of making the voyage profitable, they will pursue the traffic, and the only way to put a stop to the horrible system is by making the chances of capture so great that they will be compelled to abandon it in despair. This can most effectually be done by keeping a large squadron of fast steamers, well supplied with boats, under zealous and active officers, with orders to board and thoroughly examine every dhow they can fall in with, and not to allow one to pass which has the slightest indication of being destined for the slave-trade.

British ships of war, mostly steamers, now traverse the whole of the Pacific, one of the chief services in which they are engaged being the prevention of the kidnapping system which has been carried on to a great extent to supply the Fiji Islands and Queensland with labourers. Nothing could be more abominable than the system which has been pursued. Small-armed vessels have been fitted out, and have, by fraud or violence, got the natives of different islands to come on board, when, shutting them down under hatches, they have carried them off and disposed of them, though nominally as free labourers, yet in reality as slaves. By the efforts of the naval officers engaged in the service, the practice has nearly, if not entirely, been suppressed.

These satisfactory results have not been produced without the sacrifice of the lives of many gallant officers and seamen, the destruction of the health of many more, and by a large expenditure of money. The question to be asked is, “Will England be content, when contemplating all that she has done, that slavery and the accursed slave-trade shall exist in any part of the world where she by means of her navy has the power to put it down?” We are confident that from every part of the British dominions the answer will be, “No! at every cost we will continue the noble work we have commenced, and not rest while a single nation dares to assert her right to enslave our fellow-men.”

We hold it as one of the most glorious privileges which England possesses that a slave once setting foot on British soil or reaching the deck of a British man-of-war is a slave no longer, and must not be delivered up to the man who calls himself his owner while an English soldier or sailor remains alive to defend him, or a plank of the ship in which he has sought refuge still floats above the surface. More, we would say that should the fugitive slave place his hand on the gunwale of the smallest boat above which the flag of England flies, protection should be afforded him, even though his pursuers were at his heels. Let other nations know that England denies that one man can justly enslave his fellow—acknowledges not the right of ownership in slaves, but is resolved to strike off the fetters from the captive wherever he can be reached, whether on shore or afloat. But her task is only yet partly accomplished—she has still a great and glorious work before her, and to enable the officers of our ships to perform their duty as they would wish to do it, they must be hampered by no vexatious restrictions, or be allowed to feel that they are liable to heavy fines or censure should they overstep the strict line of their orders. Let them rather be assured that the nation fully understands the difficulties with which they have to contend, and will afford them support should they err in exhibiting their zeal in the repression of the evil traffic. The west coast still requires watching; each harbour on the east coast from which slaves are shipped must be blockaded, till every Arab dhow manned by a slave-trading crew is captured and destroyed. Our fleet of gunboats could not be more usefully employed than in such an undertaking, and in a few years, or months even, under active officers, they would render slave-trading too precarious a pursuit to be followed.