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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Legacies of the Slave Trade

Profit and loss

The Corn Exchange
Money swapped hands at the Corn Exchange
© Dean Smart
Preparing a ship for a slaving voyage, as opposed to a non-slave trading mission, was no simple feat since it required much higher investment to fit out, provision and crew. For example the hull required special plating to prevent the Toredo Worm, a wood boring worm, whose natural habitat is in warmers waters, from breaching the hull in the two to nine months that it took to buy and load slaves off the coast of Africa, and further time to offload and sell slaves, clean the ship, and reload with other goods in the Americas or West Indies.

However investing in a slaver did not guarantee profit. Mortality was high onboard ship and there was an expectation that perhaps a tenth of the “cargo” and crew might die before reaching the colonies.

Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade peaked between 1730 and 1745, with the city becoming the leading slaving port, and tremendous wealth came back to Bristol.
Africa bust, Corn Exchange
References to the Slave Trade are still visible in Bristol's buildings.
© Dean Smart
But not all voyages were profitable, according to Madge Dresser, writer of Slavery Obscured: The Social History of the Slave Trade in a Provincial Port, as many as third of all voyages failed to yield the high profits the financiers wanted. This made the selection of a good ship’s master essential. The Ship’s Captain had to carefully stock and crew his ship, get it safely to Africa and then skilfully barter with African and Arab slave traders to obtain a good ‘cargo’ to carry to the West Indies.

Words: Dean Smart

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