Waterwitch Memorial

In my review of the Jamestown Museum I draw my reader’s attention to a very informative exhibition on St Helena’s role in the the abolition of slavery and the liberation of thousands who would have otherwise ended up as slaves.

In 1807 Britain abolished its slave trade and the following year established the West Africa Squadron to patrol the South Atlantic in search of illegal slaving operations. Originally based in Sierra Leone, in 1840 St Helena became the base for the West Africa Squadron and the seat of a Vice Admiralty Court established to bring to judgement masters and crews of intercepted slaving ships.

Between 1840 and 1872 around 425 ships were brought to St Helena by the West Africa Squadron and tried before the Vice Admiralty Court. It is estimated that around 25,000 enslaved persons were landed on St Helena though up to a third died – with the majority buried in mass graves at Rupert’s on the Island. Intercepted vessels were destroyed while their human cargoes (the survivors) were rehabilitated and freed, with many choosing to stay on St Helena.

The best known of the West Africa Squadron ships (and the first to bring a slaver ship to St Helena) was Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch which captured and brought to account 43 slaving vessels.

While the efforts of West Africa Squadron were extremely commendable and resulted in the freedom of tens of thousands of people who would have otherwise ended up as slaves its work was incredibly dangerous and many crew members of the patrol vessels lost their lives in the process of liberating others.

Waterwitch Memorial

This memorial to lost shipmates of Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch stands in the Castle Gardens, Jamestown – the inscription which tells of the ship’s losses reads thus:

“This Column was erected by the Commander, Officers and Crew of her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch to the memory of their shipmates who died while serving on the coast of Africa A.D. 1839-1843. The greater number died while absent in captured slave vessels. Their remains were either left in different parts of Africa or given to the sea, their graves alike undistinguished.
This Island is selected for the record because three lie buried here and because the deceased as well as their surviving comrades, ever met the warmest welcome from its inhabitants.”

This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to St Helena.  I suggest you continue with my next entry – Jamestown War Memorial and the RFA Darkdale – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my St Helena Introduction entry.


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