Brookes slave ship
One of the most enduring images from the evidence is the diagram of the Brookes slave ship, built in Liverpool in the 1780s and named after its owner and builder, James Brookes. On three voyages between 1781 and 1785 the ship carried over 600 enslaved Africans on the middle passage from West Africa to the Caribbean; many died as a result of the terrible conditions on board. One of those called to give evidence before the Privy Council was the ex-surgeon of the Brookes, Thomas Trotter. In 1788, an Act of Parliament was passed which limited the number of slaves that could be carried on a ship according to its tonnage. In the Brookes’s case the maximum number allowed was 454. Thomas Clarkson paid the artist James Phillips to make a drawing of Brookes. The print illustrates that even with 454 slaves packed on board, the overcrowding was still appalling.
This powerful image was one of only two officially approved by the abolitionist movement and it immediately helped to popularize the abolition campaign. Even though the conditions on board were legally acceptable at the time, it shows they were still extremely cruel in practice. Clarkson used this famous illustration called ‘The Print’ which shows the plan section of a slave ship, showing the cramped and unsanitary conditions in his publication, The history of the rise, progress and accomplishment of the abolition of the African slave trade by the British Parliament, 1808 Volume 2, (SROI: 306.362)