Exhibition & Screening Reveals Manx Role In Slave Trade

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 09 March 2007
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a manuscript letter with scrolled writing

Extract from a letter written to a Liverpool slave ship captain in 1762, instructing him to call at the Isle of Man for barter cargo en route for Africa. © MNH

Manx National Heritage is marking the 200th anniversary of the Act to abolish the transatlantic slave trade with the screening of a new documentary about the Island’s connection with the trade and a fascinating archive exhibition.

The annual film night at the Manx Museum on Friday March 23 2007 is devoted to the first public screening of a new DVD entitled ‘Manx Slave Traders’ which has been produced by Frances Wilkins, a social historian with extensive knowledge of eighteenth century Manx history.

The film night coincides with a weekend of commemorative events across the British Isles to mark the passing of abolition legislation through the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

an engraving of a sailing ship at sea

The slave ship Ceres which was commanded by Manxman Captain Hugh Crow. © MNH

With a running time of one hour the film provides an opportunity to consider the role of Manx mariners and merchants in various aspects of the eighteenth century transatlantic slave trade, in particular the Island’s close links with the slave trading community in the port of Liverpool.

“Manx National Heritage is indebted to Frances Wilkins for supporting this project from its beginning, providing specialist knowledge about the subject as well as about material held off Island,” said Wendy Thirkettle, an archivist at the Manx National Heritage Library.

“Together with Frances, we hope that the film night and display will provide meaningful resources for many visitors to the Manx Museum including researchers, school groups and visitors with a general interest”.

a manuscript inventory detailing the names of slaves and their worth in pounds sterling

The beginning of a 1773 inventory of slaves on the Blewfields plantation, Central America. © MNH

The Manx Slave Traders DVD draws on manuscript sources to illustrate its themes as well as recent filming around the Isle of Man. It dovetails neatly with the display of facsimile and original archives which is available now for viewing during 2007 and 2008.

Taking an extract from the memoirs of contemporary sea captain, Hugh Crow, as its title, “Necessary Evil” brings together the stories of individual Manx merchants, mariners and émigrés for the first time using primary sources from both on and off island.

“These records include inventories for the plantation which name the slaves and give other personal details, including the value placed on each slave’s head,” explained Wendy. “As such, they give us a snapshot of the plantation at a given point in time and enable us to learn something about these enslaved men, women and children."

an inventory revealing the names, age or condition of slaves together with their monetary value

The Blewfields plantation inventory brings home the shocking reality of slavery. © MNH

Manuscripts have come from as far away as America with significant sources coming to light relatively late in the day. One such example is a copy of the logbook of a Manx slave ship captain, George Cannon, which captures in great detail the conditions on board two of his slaving voyages in the late 1790s, and the health of the slaves he was transporting.

“As an archivist, I have found preparing this display to be a stimulating and engrossing project,” added Wendy. “We wanted to give visitors the opportunity to view and reflect on some of the available written sources for Manx involvement in the slave trade. Deliberately there are no neat endings or assessments in the closing comments: we have left it for each individual to draw their own conclusions.”

The film night on March 23 begins at 7.30 pm. Doors open at 7.00pm and admission is free.

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