Hidden Connections: The Triangle
On average ten per cent of slaves died on the voyage at sea
The slave trading voyage was ‘triangular’ in that the ships sailed from Britain to West Africa laden down with manufactured goods such as firearms, gunpowder, alcohol, beads, mirrors, knives, metals etc, items which the African slave traders did not possess and which were exchanged for slaves who had been captured in tribal wars or simply kidnapped from their villages especially for the trade. These slaves were held in captivity at the coast by the African slavemasters until a slavetrader came along to bargain for them.
When a full cargo of slaves had been acquired the ships sailed on to the New World, a voyage known as the ‘Middle Passage’. The slaves were then sold and the proceeds used to buy new cargoes of sugar, cotton, indigo, rice, tobacco or molasses which were brought back to Britain where they spawned industries of their own and helped fuel the Industrial Revolution.
On being sold the slaves were loaded onto the ships shackled together in wretched conditions and packed into spaces too small to allow them to turn, with barely enough food, drink and air to keep them alive. It has been estimated that on average ten percent of slaves died on the voyage and that if conditions at sea were particularly bad the figure could rise to 30 percent.
Work as slaves on the colonial plantations in the West Indies, where sugar was the principal crop, and on the plantations in the southern states of America, was so strenuous and labour intensive, and the regime so brutal that many died. Therefore there was always a market for new workers which continued to fuel the trade, made vast fortunes for some and gave the British economy an extra source of capital.
The slave ship Brookes, built in Liverpool to carry 600 slaves
(From Thomas Clarkson, Parliamentary History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, London 1808)
This diagram was reproduced by the abolitionists to show the horrifying efficiency of the slave trade.
Map of the World, JW Norris, 1833-1841