This book is an examination of the island of St Helena’s involvement in slave trade abolition. After the establishment of a British Vice-Admiralty court there in 1840, this tiny and remote South Atlantic colony became the hub of naval activity in the region. It served as a base for the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron, and as such became the principal receiving depot for intercepted slave ships and their human cargo. During the middle decades of the nineteenth century over 25,000 ‘recaptive’ or ‘liberated’ Africans were landed at the island. Here, in embryonic refugee camps, these former slaves lived and died, genuine freedom still a distant prospect.
This book provides an account and evaluation of this episode. It begins by charting the political contexts which drew St Helena into the fray of abolition, and considers how its involvement, at times, came to occupy those at the highest levels of British politics. In the main, however, it focuses on St Helena itself, and examines how matters played out on the ground. The study utilises documentary sources (many previously untouched) which tell the stories of those whose lives became bound up in the compass of anti-slavery, far from London and long after the Abolition Act of 1807. It puts the Black experience at the foreground, aiming to bring a voice to a forgotten people, many of whom died in limbo, in a place that was physically and conceptually between freedom and slavery.