The Brooks slave ship drawing

Contributed by Bristol Museum

Drawing of slave ship 'Brooks'. © Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

The slave ship Brooks was first drawn and published in an abolitionist broadside by William Elford and the Plymouth chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in November 1788. It was published in Bristol the following year and would be redrawn and republished many times in Britain and America in the years that followed. It came to epitomize the cruelties of the trade in enslaved Africans of the 18th and 19th centuries and the struggle to abolish that trade.
The Brooks itself was an actual people-carrying slave ship, one of 26 surveyed in Liverpool, under instructions received from the prime minister, William Pitt, by Captain Parrey of the Royal Navy. It is possible that Pitt himself leaked Parrey's findings to the Plymouth and London abolitionist committees. The Brooks was chosen as an example by the abolitionists because it was the first ship on Parrey's list, well-known in the trade and typical of this type of vessel.
The Plymouth committee 's broadside utilised a cut-away diagram of the interior of the Brooks at the top and the image that would become another iconic abolitionist image: a slave in chains, hands raised, asking, "Am I not a Man and a Brother?".

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