By Mike Kaye
Last updated 2011-02-17
The abolitionists were accomplished at disseminating the printed word, but only around half of the British population was literate. It was therefore essential that the movement used other ways to get its message across.
One such way was an image showing a cross-section of the slave ship 'Brookes' packed with 482 enslaved people (as shown above). In 1789, the abolitionists printed 7,000 posters of the ship and distributed them across the country. This picture remains one of the most enduring images associated with the slave trade.
The arts were also a good way of reaching different audiences. Anti-slavery poems from William Cowper, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth proved popular, and some, like Cowper's 'The Negro's Complaint', were even set to music.
Actors, cartoonists and artists like JMW Turner and William Blake also provided visual representations of slavery that reached audiences in ways the written word could not.
These tools were important because they engaged people on an emotional level. They evoked sympathy and horror and did not rely on individuals taking part in debates or analysing statistical information.
The use of imagery and the arts remains just as relevant today as it was in the 1780s, even if the means of reaching a mass audience are very different. For example, awareness of the issue of people trafficking has been boosted by TV dramas like 'The Bill' and 'Sex Traffic', or in films like 'Lilya 4 Ever' and 'Ghosts'.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.