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Vintage English
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!

From English Colonial History - Emancipation of slaves

A magnificent experience

The English colonial empire was a magnificent experience for the world. It brought in English to a huge number of nations and geographical areas. Most of them were bound up in feudal language social systems. So that everywhere there was a strange level of hierarchical arrangement in society. Britain also had a solid feudal social system, but it was marvellously different from most of other similar systems, for the communication software was English.

A French revolution in India

This statement may feel a bit trite. However, there is a minor hint to the correctness of this in the fact that one of the spurring points for the French Revolution was the understanding that in England people had a higher individuality than allowable or available under the French feudalism. For example, if Britain had been geographically near to India at that time in history, a similar revolution would have taken place in India.

Liberating the slaves

It is not intended to go into all the aspects of the British Colonial Empire here. In this issue, the focus will be on one major world experience from the British colonialism. It is about the abolishing of slavery in the British Empire.

When talking about slavery, one tends to think only about the slavery of Blacks in the United States of America and other areas connected to it. However, this is a very miniscule view of the term ‘slavery’. In most nations of the ancient world and in some nations of the modern world slavery was and is rampant. However, these nations are not English, and thus the local citizens fail to view it as slavery. Even if they understand the presence of ‘slavery’ in their midst, they sort of find justifications for the same.

The language as the chain

Most of the ancient sultans, kings and emperors of the ancient oriental world had slaves. The mighty architectural structures of India, including Taj Mahal and the grand forts and castles, would have been built using slave labour. Currently a lot of people in India live lives similar to slaves in demeanour. It is not just the caste system that does it, but also the language system, which subdues a common man and promotes a government official or a rich man.

There was terrible slavery in Africa, South American ancient empires, far-east nations, and even in India. I am talking about the statutory slaves. This is apart from the people who were not statutory slave, but enslaved by the social system.

The slave-trade port

The port in Zanzibar was a main place for the loading of African slaves. It was a trade in which many native African groups also had interest, and active participation. One may chance to think of the social communication system in African societies, wherein their own people helped in the enslavement of their brethrens. It is similar to the forced sex (brothel) industry in Bombay.

Spurring the spirits

Many things helped stir up the mood of the local people of Britain against slavery. One was the reports given by David Livingstone about Arab harassment on African slaves. It sort of rejuvenated the sagging spirits of the abolitionist movement.

English dissolving the mental chains

Any man who learns to think in English literally refuses to mentally become a slave. Even if he does accept his statutory station of being a salve, mentally he is much more elevated than a lower level man of say India, who is not legally a slave. The lower level man in India need no chains or whipping to do the biddings of his master, for the words in the feudal language fantastically place him in an unmovable position in society. The language makes him understand his slavish standards and he learns to live with it.

As for a slave who learns English, his station of being a slave is totally contrary to the positioning in English. For in English, there is no subjugating words or expressions. The slave will definitely revolt. His master also will be at a loss to justify his subjugation in English, other than by pointing to the statutory situation in the society. He will have to chain unwilling slaves, and possibly whip him to make him subdued. It is like the military training in oriental nations. The ordinary soldier’s innate right to individuality has to be crushed to make him obedient to the whims and fancies of the officer class.

A very noble thing, indeed!

Everyone knows the history how Abraham Lincoln fought to free slaves from the United States of America. In every sense of the word, it was a wonderful thing. For the white man was fighting to save the Black man from the sting of slavery. It was a noble thing to do. I do not think that such a thing had happened in any other nation of the world. Not in India, not Africa, not in the Far East, Greece, European nations, South America, or in the Arabian nations.

Who wants to liberate a subordinate being?

Moreover, who wants to liberate persons who are socially beneath themselves? I do not think anyone in any feudal language nations would want a subjugated person to improve. It would only cause distress to everyone else, for he or she will come to claim equality in a language, which does not have the concept of equality encrypted in it. The cumulative affect would be that of lower level persons gaining the upper hand in feudal language communication system, which can drive every one of the others literally mad.

These concepts of equality and human rights and such other things are existent only in English and similar language systems.

The wonderful endevour!

Now talking about emancipation from slavery, there is one endeavour that was of far more effect worldwide, than the American one. It was the Queen Victoria’s declaration of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807 in the British Empire. .

Let me quote from the book British Empire and Commonwealth, written by George W.Southgate, B.A.

In 1776, a motion for the abolition of the slave trade was brought forward in the House of Commons. It was not carried, and in 1787 a Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed by William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Zachary Macaulay. Much opposition was offered to the propaganda work of the society by those whose interests would be affected. -----------------------------The planters of the West Indies subscribed large sums of money in order that opposition to the work of the society might be maintained. But humanitarian views at length prevailed, and in 1807, Great Britain passed an Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

An immensity of British money had to be spent on compensating many slave owners. However, it may be seen in history that when Britain decides on a course of action, what follows is not passive endeavour. The British Royal Navy was commanded to crush the slave trade everywhere in the world.

The worldwide effect

Now it may be noted that this act had the effect of freeing slaves in far off nations, including such nations as India. However, this act could only free the legally enslaved persons. The immense number of people who were in shackles due to the slavery imposed by the social system in collaboration with the feudal language system could get no relief from this.

Slavery was a fact all over the world. It is true that Britain also had made use of slaves. However when slavery was banned by Britain, it was not easy to make the other nations follow suit. It would be correct to say that when the main international trade was in slave trade, certain Britain businessmen also had a hand in it. But then, the British nation was the only country in the whole world which had the conscience to see the inhumanity in the issue and used legislation and arms to stop it; even British businessmen were not spared!

Taking up arms

It required that the British navy had to board ships suspected of carrying slaves. Here it must be mentioned that America, the current apostle of human rights stood in sharp opposition to the British endeavours. For, the southern states of America wanted slaves. The French had the traditional mental complex of others seeing servility to Britain, if they conceded anything to them. So, they did no other help in British endeavours, other than lip service The Spanish, Portuguese, and Brazilians were openly taking part in slave trade.

In the efforts to suppress slavery, the Royal Navy did contribute much. The Royal Navy’s history goes back to about a thousand years, when King Alfred fought his first sea battle in 882 AD. The British history has a very unique link with the Royal Navy and to the sea waves. This special connection is visible in a lot many attributes of the Britons.

A squadron in the far seas

A West African Squadron was set up (known as the preventative squadron) to patrol the African coasts. It was a slow start. Ships were not enough. There was the European war and the war with America going on. Still, the British did their best and continued with their predestined divine duty.

Fighting for the enemy!

It may be mentioned in passing that the Africans in America, both enslaved as well as free, had fought alongside the American revolutionaries, in fighting against Britain. Really, there is a paradox in this scenario!

The trials & tribulations!

The work entrusted with the royal navy service men was tough. Most of the time, it was an unhappy and wearisome experience. The ships given to them were also not really fit for the job. Many were old and slow. Moreover, there were not enough. However, the traditional spirit of the English, to be stirred up by noble ideals, fuelled the program despite the terrible odds in far off waters of alien coasts.

The death rate among the seamen was quite high. They died not only in encounters with the slave traders, but also infected with the strange diseases of the African coasts, including malaria and yellow fever. It is doubtless that the men and officers of the Royal Navy took up the cause as a sort of divine volition.

The triumphs!

The news of the capture of slave ships and the liberation of the slaves were reported gloriously in Britain. Now, it must be understood that all these endeavours were essentially to cause British interference in African nations. For, almost all these nations had a ruling class, which was not too much bothered with the comfort and security of the subservient class. Moreover, their enemies and subjugated enemies were all necessarily to be enslaved.

The Britain naturally had to take up action against African leaders who supported slave trade. As per modern International Relations experts, this might be equal to usurping the sovereignty of other nations. Some local kings were even deposed from their station in pursuance of this policy. Many local rulers (around 50) were forced to sign anti-slavery treaties with Britain. Looking back, these incidences may be taken as imperialist actions by shallow historians, who live life in the comfortable circumstances.

The rearguard

Even though, the Royal Navy was doing its duty with divine diligence, back home, it had to face tough times with Britain’s own Home Office, for there were issues of laws and rules to be seen to. Moreover, other European nations were not happy with these actions, which not only put them in the wrong, but also made them seem of a lesser quality.

One of the long terms results of the anti-slavery actions of the Royal Navy was the signing of treaties with the Sultans of Muscat and Zanzibar. This led to the permanent stationing of a Guard Ship off the Zanzibar coast.

The heroes

Many captains, maritime officers, and men became famous through their heroic liberation of people from the clutches of slave trades. Their name could include those of Philip Colomb - the daring officer of the wooden steam sloop 'Dryad, Captain George Sulivan and such. Philip Colomb commanded HMS Dryad in the years 1868 to 1870. He was then in the Persian Gulf region. His job was the suppression of the slave trade, particularly around Zanzibar and Oman. He has written a fascinating account of his experiences in this endeavour in the book: Slave-catching in the Indian Ocean: A record of naval experiences.

The endevours and the dangers

As the Royal Navy tightened its net on the major slave trafficking routes, the slave traders had to wait for a long time for a slave ship to slip through and reach them. Therefore, they kept their captives in shackles in thatched roof shelters (barracoons), in terrible civic conditions. This prompted the British to go into the inland areas, and move up the rivers. They destroyed the barracoons, and freed the slaves. It was no doubt extremely dangerous deeds, that only the extremely brave or the foolhardy would attempt.

The dangers were not only the attack of the slave traders, but also the diseases of Africa and its eerie terrain. Moreover, it was mostly thankless work, for it is doubtful if the descendents of these liberated slaves would acknowledge their obligation to Britain. It is very much probable that they would be unhappy that their forefathers were not taken to America, for then they would have currently been the citizens of the US.

The terrible experiences

Everything that Britain done has been misinterpreted by vested interests. Here also, this had happened even in those days. Even though, slave trade was suppressed, it could not be stopped. For, there were still nations which had not allowed Britain to accost their ships to search for evidences of slave trade. Those ships, which carried the flags of these nations, could not be touched by the Royal Navy. However, the tight blockade that the Royal Navy created in the area made it very hard for any slave trade ship to pass through.

This led to another issue. Slaves were brought to the coastal areas and kept in shackles, awaiting the arrival of a slave trade ship. Sometimes, they never came and the trades simply left the slaves there, with no provisions for living. These persons literally died of starvation and other misery. Those who were criticising the suppression of slave trade used these incidences to say that Britain should immediately stop its activities as it was causing hardship for the slaves. However, the Royal Navy personnel stood by their commitment and argued for the continued effort in the same direction; for they had seen the reality with their own eyes.

Then there was another issue. The slaves were shackled, and hidden in layers of flat beds inside slave ships. When the Royal Navy ships tried to chase these ships, they tired to unburden themselves of the excess weight by throwing out the shackled slaves into the sea. This lightened their weight and they could move fast and escape. At times, sharks accompanied these ships, in the certainty of getting live human meat.

Sometimes, the slave ships did this to avoid the fine imposed by the Royal Navy, if any slaves were found onboard. If any slave was found on a British ship, then also heavy penalty was imposed on it by the Royal Navy.

These slave ships had a terrible rotten smell, which could be felt even kilometres away. Even though, the stench acted as a pointer to the presence of these ships, accosting them was a terrible experience in terms of olfactory factors.

By this time the West African Squadron was disbanded, it had captured more than 500 ships and freed thousands of prospective slaves. The illegalisation of slavery in the United States more or less led to the total decline of slave trade over the seas.

Horrendous experiences!

While on this subject, another minor news may also be related here. There was a young Royal Navy officer by name Cheesman Binstead in one of the ships patrolling the West African Coast. One day, he noticed a lot of sharks gathered in the sea. On enquiring about this, he was informed that some slave ship had thrown their ‘merchandise’ into the sea to escape fine or capture. Cheesman Binstead’s wrote a diary about what all experiences he had when he was on this duty in the West African coast. He writes in his diary about the condition of his own ship filled with liberated slaves:

The ship is now truly miserable, many of our own crew very sick and the decks crowded with black slaves who are dying in all directions and apprehensive - their cases of fever are contagious.’

Problems of differentiating

There were other tragedies also associated with the saving of potential slaves. The Black natives could not differentiate between their saviour and their tormentors. Sometimes, they mistook their British liberators for slave traders; there being a lot of Europeans also in the vicinity, along with the local enslavers.

A tragic incident

One time, he gave chase to a convoy of canoes on the Congo River, seeking enslaved persons. When he came near to one of the canoes, the people inside simply jumped into the water and met a watery grave. They did this because they thought that he and his companions were slave traders. This incident was tragic, but it also points to the sheer terror the local people felt towards the slave traders.

The discomfiture

Another thing was the discomfiture that the naval ratings had to bear. The ships would be filled with the Africans in various states of disease and mental torment. The shipmates would have to put up with them. Contagious disease would infect them also. Many died.

The magnitude

It was a huge task, patrolling around 3000 kilometres of West African coast. It may be mentioned in passing that local people also were recruited in aid of the work. For example, a lot of fishermen from the coasts of Liberia were recruited as support crew or sailors.

The actions

There were many actions at sea, many of which became famous. Certain ships also achieved glory in popular mind. One such famous schooner was Pickle, which achieved fame for capturing the armed slave ship Voladora off the coast of Cuba on 5 June 1829. Other famous ships included HMS Buzzard, which fought with the ‘Formidable’, Electra which caught a Carolina slaver and Acorn which brought down Gabriel.

Now, this is only part of the story. With the passing of the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade by Britain, all British possessions became areas where the slaves could escape to and become free. In this connection, it may be remembered that Canada on the north of the United States became a haven for the slaves, who could manage to escape and reach there.

A true life story

Below is an excerpt from Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman written by Bradford, Sarah H. (Sarah Hopkins). It is a true life story detailing a scene of slaves escaping from the US to Canada.

The fugitives were on the bottom of the wagons, the bricklayers on the seats, still singing and shouting; and so they passed by the guards, who were entirely unsuspicious of the nature of the load the wagons contained, or of the amount of property thus escaping their hands. And so they made their way to New York. When they entered the anti-slavery office there, Joe was recognized at once by the description in the advertisement.

"Well," said Mr. Oliver Johnson, "I am glad to see the man whose head is worth fifteen hundred dollars."

At this, Joe's heart sank. If the advertisement had got to New York {See map}, that place which it had taken them so many days and nights to reach, he thought he was in danger still. "And how far is it now to Canada?" he asked. When told how many miles, for they were to come through New York State, and cross the Suspension Bridge, he was ready to give up.

"From dat time Joe was silent," said Harriet; "he sang no more, he talked no more; he sat wid his head on his hand, and nobody could 'muse him or make him take any interest in anyting."

They passed along in safety, and at length found themselves in the cars, approaching Suspension Bridge. The rest were very joyous and happy, but Joe sat silent and sad. Their fellow-passengers all seemed interested in and for them, and listened with tears, as Harriet and all their party lifted up their voices and sang:

I'm on my way to Canada,

That cold and dreary land;

The sad effects of slavery,

I can't no longer stand.

I've served my master all my days,

Widout a dime's reward;

And now I'm forced to run away,

To flee the lash abroad.

Farewell, ole master, don't think hard of me,

I'll travel on to Canada, where all the slaves are free.

The hounds are baying on my track,

Ole master comes behind.

Resolved that he will bring me back,

Before I cross de line;

I'm now embarked for yonder shore,

There a man's a man by law;

The iron horse will bear me o'er,

To shake de lion's paw.

Oh, righteous Father, wilt thou not pity me,

And aid me on to Canada where all the slaves are free.

Oh, I heard Queen Victoria say,

That if we would forsake

Our native land of slavery,

And come across the lake;

That she was standin' on de shore,

Wid arms extended wide,

To give us all a peaceful home

Beyond de rolling tide.

Farewell, ole master, etc.

The cars began to cross the bridge. Harriet was very anxious to have her companions see the Falls. William, Peter, and Eliza came eagerly to look at the wonderful sight; but Joe sat still, with his head upon his hand.

"Joe, come look at de Falls! Joe, you fool you, come see de Falls! its your last chance."

But Joe sat still and never raised his head. At length Harriet knew by the rise in the center of the bridge, and the descent on the other side, that they had crossed "the line." She sprang across to Joe's seat, shook him with all her might, and shouted, "Joe, you've shook de lion's paw!" Joe did not know what she meant. "Joe, you're free!" shouted Harriet. Then Joe's head went up, he raised his hands on high, and his face, streaming with tears, to heaven, and broke out in loud and thrilling tones:

"Glory to God and Jesus too,

One more soul is safe!

Oh, go and carry de news,

One more soul got safe."

"Joe, come and look at de Falls!" called Harriet.

"Glory to God and Jesus too,

One more soul got safe."

was all the answer. The cars stopped on the other side. Joe's feet were the first to touch British soil, after those of the conductor.

There is more to British emancipation of slaves.

The patrolling Royal Navy

The book Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria written by Kyra E. Hicks is the true story of Martha Ann, who is 12 years old, when her Papa finally purchases her freedom from slavery and moves the family from Tennessee to Liberia {see map; move mouse here}. On Market Days, Martha Ann watches the British navy patrolling the Liberian coast to stop slave catchers from kidnapping family and friends and forcing them back into slavery.

Martha Ann decides to thank Queen Victoria in person for sending the navy. But first, she has to save money for the voyage, find a suitable gift for the queen, and withstand the ridicule of those who learn of her impossible dream to meet the Queen of England. Her knowledge of Queen Victoria comes from reading a Liberian Newspaper. Source

Back to disintegration

What Britain did for the Black slaves of America is commendable. However, what have the Blacks states in the Africa done to themselves? They still require an encasing English environment, otherwise the same old self-destructive tendencies will continue. Remember, the people there participated in selling their brethren to the outsiders in the early centuries. No outsider can creep inside and steal them, unless there is disintegration inside their own social systems.

Apart from that, a word about Obama. He is truly a wonderful personality. However, he is not a descendant of the slaves of America. His father is from Africa and his mother is from America, possibly with English ancestors. In his rhetoric, he mentioned the fight his fellow American’s and his forefathers had with their enemy, and liberated their nation and made it free and independent. The enemy is obviously Britain!

Well, it is good rhetoric, but not correct. See the above writings on British endeavours for the emancipation of Black Slaves in America.

Book profile



Author: Somerset Maugham

The Story

Folk songs:

On the banks of Allen Water,

On the banks of Clyde

Excerpt: Magnus in The Apple Cart

English Colonial History:

Emancipation of slaves

Scientist: Sir. Isaac Newton

Geo discoverers: Captain James Cook

Film: The bridge on River Kwai

Actress: Vivien Leigh

Battle: Jameson Raid

Incidence: Nelson’s death



Popular songs: Jingle Bells

Place: Rocks of Gibraltar

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