Africa, the arrival of Europeans and the transatlantic slave trade

Beaker, Success to the British fleet

Printed by Sadler & Green, Liverpool, 1775-1790
Overglaze printed on cream-coloured earthenware

Object number 1923.786
Bequeathed by Thomas Greg, 1920

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Beaker, Success to the British fleet

By the end of the 1700s, Britain dominated the transatlantic slave trade, with an average of more than 150 slave ships leaving Liverpool, Bristol and London each year. The Royal Navy was inevitably involved, escorting slave ships down the African coast and fighting major battles for the control of the valuable 'sugar islands' of the West Indies. Individual officers and seamen held differing opinions about slavery; some owned plantations in the Americas, and a small number of officers had personal slaves on board their ships, although this practice was officially forbidden by the Admiralty.

While the 1807 act made the slave trade illegal in Britain and its dominions, there had been little consideration about how best to enforce the legislation. Britain had been at war with France for 14 years, and could only spare two ships to carry out initial anti-slavery patrols. The number of vessels was increased to five in 1811, but further progress was prevented by the outbreak of war with the USA in 1812.

With peace in Europe finally secured from 1815, the navy turned its attention back to the challenge and established the West Coast of Africa Station, known as the 'preventative squadron', which for the next 50 years worked to prevent the illegal trading.

This beaker was made during the late 1770s or 1780s, during which time Britain was engaged in the American War of Independence (1775-1783). The inscription 'Success to the British fleet' probably refers to this conflict, but is also contemporary with the Royal Navy's protection of British interests in the transatlantic trade.

This information was provided by curators from Manchester Art Gallery.