- Museum number
- Object: Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship
Anti slave-trade broadside with three cross-sections and four plans of a slave ship (based on the 'Brooks' or 'Brookes' of Liverpool) showing how African slaves were transported across the Atlantic in etching and aquatint, and on the right letterpress in two columns giving a description with reference to the numbering of the diagrams on the left side of the sheet of the dimension of the ship, the number of slaves actually carried according to the testimony of Captain Parry (609 in total), the different space given to men, women, boys and girls, how the slaves are distributed and the discrepancy between the admitted numbers of slaves carried and the actual one (with hand written corrections to several of the numbers), the inhuman space and conditions of the stowage, the chaining of the male slaves, the regime of exercise (the so-called 'dancing'), the disposition of storage and the housing of the crew caused by the overcrowding and the ill effects that has on the sailors, the length of the voyage across the Atlantic to the West Indies (six to eight weeks), the high rates of mortality among the slaves, and concluding with a denouncement of the inhumanity of the trade ('one of the greatest evils at this day existing upon the earth'). 1789
Etching, engraving, aquatint and letterpress
- Production date
Height: 484 millimetres
Width: 617 millimetres (sheet)
- Curator's comments
- Watermark Strasburg bend and lily.
This is one of several prints showing plans and sections of the slave ship "Brookes" of Liverpool. A model of the ship was used by William Wilberforce in the House of Commons to demonstrate conditions on the Middle Passage. The woodcut was first produced in 1786 to illustrate various works by Thomas Clarkson, and was then distributed separately by abolitionists. This print so impressed Mirabeau in Paris that he had a wooden model (51 x 12 cm) made from it which survives in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal; this model was included in the exhibition "Images de la Révolution aux Antilles" at Fort Saint Charles in 1989, organised by the Société d'Histoire de la Guadeloupe, Basse Terre, illustrated as cat. no. 11. See Cheryl Finley, "Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon" (Princeton University Press, 2017) and Tim Barringer, Gillian Forrester, and Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz, "Art and emancipation in Jamaica : Isaac Mendes Belisario and his worlds," (Yale BAC, 2007), p. 299.
The ship used as the model for this print was built in 1781 and operated until 1804 as a slaver, being first registered by Lloyds as the 'Brook' and then the 'Brooks' owned by J. Brooks, though it changed hands at least twice thereafter. It was one of nine slavers measured (as described in the text on the right) by a Captain Parrey RN in the course of an enquiry on the subject, probably Anthony Parrey who died in 1789. The ship is also often mistakenly referred to as the 'Brookes' from an early date, mirroring the variant spelling of the family of its first owner Joseph Brooks junior whose ancestors in Liverpool can be traced back to the 16th century.
The printing of this famous and much copied anti-slavery image is documented in the minutes of the London Committee of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade of July 28 1789: '1,700 Descriptions of a Slave Ship with copper plate; 7,000 ditto with wood cuts'. This is a rare example of the engraved broadside. The BM also has an impression of a woodcut version of this image: see 2000,0521.31/ PPA13562. The woodcut differs from this broadside in the arrangement of the representations of the ship, dividing them more coherently between cross-sections and plans. Such differences indicate the popularity and wide circulation of the print in slightly different forms, as can be seen from comparing the British Library impression of the broadside (1881.d.8 (46) that has the slave ship in woodcut but with the text below. The National Martime Museum has another variant engraved version with the letterpress in four columns below (ZBA2745).
Related works in the British Museum include a jug (BEP 1994,0718.2/ MCT16665) printed with 'Success to the Brooks, Capt. Nobel', refering to a former captain of the Brooks, and dated 1793, which most likely was ordered in support of the slave trade. The contemporary American printmaker Willie Cole used the lower plan in this broadside as an inspiration for his monumental 1997 print , 'Stowage', printed from a metal ironing board (BM impression 2016,7038.2/ PPA449525). It was also the source for 'La Bouche du Roi' installation by the Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé which the BM acquired in 2006 (Af2006,20.1-405; EAF83587-EAF169408).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2020 Sept - 2022 Feb, BM, Enlightenment Gallery, Sloane display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number