36 NAVY NEWS, JUNE 2007
● Slaves browse a copy of The Bystander journal in an early 20th
century public relations shot (above). These pictures were sent back to
the paper by the captain of the ship
● A slave is freed of his shackles by a sailor on board HMS Sphinx in the
fi rst years of the 20th century (left)
T IS 200 years since
44-gun fifth rate HMS Sybille.
the Royal Navy
As a lieutenant he took
became involved in the
command of Black Joke, which in
January 1829 took a close interest
suppression of seaborne The Royal Navy and the Suppression of in the Spanish slaver El Almirante
the Transatlantic Slave Trade
But tales of derring-do on
Unnerved by the attention of
the high seas are by no means
the RN, the Spanish brig loaded
confined to dusty Admiralty
slaves and sailed for Havana, but
Black Joke took up the chase.
records, as a group of visitors
When the wind dropped Black
to the Royal Naval Museum in
Joke switched to sweeps (oars),
Portsmouth can attest.
bringing her within gunshot of her
For these people are descendants
larger prey. ● A slave trader, fl anked by Royal Marines, on board HMS Sphinx off the coast of Zanzibar
of sailors who endured the misery
Black Joke had only two guns to
of a commission off Africa, and
call on, a long 18pdr and a 12pdr
was the petty officer cox’n of wounded, the Dhow came to bleeding profusely, nevertheless
many of them heard the stories
carronade, while El Almirante
Turquoise’s pinnace, which had a the wind, was taken aback and fought gallantly to the end when he
directly from those involved.
was almost half as big again and
crew of ten led by Lt Fegen. foundered in about two fathoms fell exhausted from loss of blood.
Sam Chidwick’s father Joseph
mounted two broadsides of five
The pinnace had anchored of water close to the beach. “He is already known in the
was an able seaman in survey
18pdrs and two long 9pdrs.
overnight on May 29 1887 at the “Seeing a number of men Ship as one of the best and
ship HMS Sphinx at the turn
Fine handling by Downes, and
bottleneck of Fundu Gap, and the swimming to the shore trying to trustworthy POs.”
of the last century, patrolling off
good fortune – the breeze died at
following morning the look-out escape, I pushed on to try and Cdr Pegler said he was 38 when
Zanzibar, and was on watch in
crucial moments, giving Black Joke
spotted a dhow sailing through. cut them off. Most of them were his grandfather died in 1958, so
the middle of the night when a
a decisive advantage – brought
As it headed towards the pinnace drowned, a few reaching the shore. he was familiar with his exploits
floating object caught his eye.
victory over the Spanish brig.
Lt Fegen sent out a dinghy to “Most of the surviving Slaves off Zanzibar.
The ship investigated, and
Fifteen of the 80-strong crew
ensure she was a lawful trader. were standing on the Dhow “He told me about being shot
rescued a number of escaped
of El Almirante died, including
But the dhow changed course keeping their heads above water.” and about the incident, and he
African slaves, chained together
all the officers, and 13 were
and headed for the pinnace, Returning to the dhow, Fegen passed on, via my mother, the
and clinging to a spar.
wounded, while one of Black
opening fire on the dinghy. saved 53 slaves, though a further flag of the dhow and all the other
The Africans had their chains
Joke’s complement of 57 died and
As the two vessels collided, men 15 had drowned by this time. documents at the time.
removed, then Sphinx sent a party
a further five were wounded.
on the dhow fired into the pinnace The slaves said ten of the 13 “He was in other actions at the
of Royal Marines ashore to seek have been donated to the RN
A search of the ship revealed
then drew swords for boarding. Arabs on board had been killed, time as well.
out the slavers. Museum by Mr Chidwick, a
466 slaves, who were virtually
But Fegen and his six men as had many of the crew. “In a way it had a bearing on
Mr Chidwick said his father former Merchant Navy man, and
unscathed by the 80-minute action,
– three, including Russell, were Fegen, who received a 13-inch my choice of career – both my
recalled how disgusted he and his niece Carol Osborn.
and they were landed ashore.
still in the dinghy – drove them sword wound to his right arm in grandfathers were in the Navy so I
his shipmates were by the slave One of the most celebrated
A third major contribution
back, two sustaining injuries. the hand-to-hand fighting, was didn’t have much option, did I?”
trade through the Persian Gulf vessels of the day was HMS Black
to the archive came from Cdr
Fegen steered the pinnace clear proud of his men.
In addition to the new archival
station, and there were plenty of Joke, a former slave ship bought
John Pegler, whose grandfather
to provide cover for the dinghy “The conduct of my crew in
material, the Chasing Freedom – the
references to the “poor fellows”. by RN officers and converted to
Frederick Russell served in
then recovered the smaller boat. action was most courageous and
Royal Navy and the Suppression
“He was very proud of what he hunt down slavers.
corvette HMS Turquoise at
“Having taken the Dinghy, I daring in spite of the inferiority
of the Transatlantic Slave Trade
had done down there, and said She was involved in a 31-hour
Zanzibar, off the coast of modern-
bore in chase, the Dhow being by of numbers, and the heavy fire
exhibition features the Binstead
the officers were very good to the cat-and-mouse duel with El
day Tanzania in East Africa.
this time in full flight,” Fegen said poured into them,” he reported.
Diaries, donated by the great great
slaves and looked after them,” said Almirante, and Cdr Lee Grey has
At that time ship’s boats were in his official report. “They drove the Arabs back
granddaughter of Midshipman
Mr Chidwick. provided the RN Museum with
sent out on scouting and slave- “Keeping a continuous fire on with great gallantry.
Cheesman Henry Binstead,
“The captain used to send the manuscripts of Cdr Henry
trade suppression patrols in the the Dhow from Rifles, I mounted “It is difficult for me to mention
who kept extensive diaries of his
pictures to a journal called The Downes, including details of the
estuaries and river mouths under the 9pdr, but before I could bring one without mentioning all. My
service on the West Coast of Africa
Bystander, and one of the pictures daily log and ship’s actions.
the command of junior officers. it into action, the steersman of Coxswain F.J. Russell, though
he took shows the slaves dressed Cdr Downes was Cdr Grey’s
On one such occasion Russell the Dhow being either shot or wounded early in the action and
The exhibition runs at the
in Western clothes reading a copy great great uncle, and served on museum until January 3 2008.
of the paper.” the West Africa station between
Images: The Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
A number of those pictures 1826 and 1829, initially in the org for further details.
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