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Shining a light on Manx connections with the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Archives 12 March 2007

Letter Extract 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trade in slaves by British vessels. Manx National Heritage is marking this significant bicentenary in two complementary ways. The annual film night at the Manx Museum on Friday 23 March 2007 is devoted to the first public screening of a new DVD entitled ‘Manx Slave Traders’ which has been produced by Frances Wilkins, a social historian with extensive knowledge of eighteenth century Manx history. In addition, a new display of archives in the Lower Folk Life Gallery of the Manx Museum, Douglas explores Manx connections with the transatlantic slave trade during the period 1718 to 1807.

The film night on 23 March coincides with a weekend of commemorative events across the British Isles to mark the passing of abolition legislation through the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. The screening of this hour long film provides an opportunity to consider the role of Manx mariners and merchants in various aspects of the eighteenth century transatlantic slave trade, in particular, the Island’s close links with the slave trading community in the port of Liverpool.

The slave ship CeresThe Manx Slave Traders DVD draws on manuscript sources to illustrate its themes as well as recent filming around the Isle of Man. It dovetails neatly with the display of facsimile and original archives which is available now for viewing during 2007 and 2008. Taking an extract from the memoirs of contemporary sea captain Hugh Crow as its title, ‘A Necessary Evil’ brings together the stories of individual Manx merchants, mariners and émigrés for the first time using primary sources from both on and off island.

Manuscripts have come from as far away as America with significant sources coming to light relatively late in the day. One such example is a copy of the logbook of a Manx slave ship captain George Cannon which captures in great detail the conditions on board two of his slaving voyages in the late 1790s and the health of the slaves he was transporting.

Slaves InventoryAssistance from other repositories has been very useful, providing varied and fascinating manuscripts to display, yet it is a bundle of documents in the Manx National Heritage Library which proved a revelation. Detailed correspondence and legal papers from the early 1770s survive to tell the story of a Manx owned plantation at Blewfields in present day Nicaragua.

Wendy Thirkettle, an archivist at the Manx National Heritage Library explains:

“These records include inventories for the plantation which name the slaves and give other personal details including the value placed on each slave’s head. As such they give us a snapshot of the plantation at a given point in time and enable us to learn something about these enslaved men, women and children”.

Wendy continues:

“As an archivist, I have found preparing this display to be a stimulating and engrossing project. We wanted to give visitors the opportunity to view and reflect on some of the available written sources for Manx involvement in the slave trade. Deliberately there are no neat endings or assessments in the closing comments: we have left it for each individual to draw their own conclusions”.
“Manx National Heritage is indebted to Frances Wilkins for supporting this project from its beginning, providing specialist knowledge about the subject as well as about material held off Island. Together with Frances, we hope that the film night and display will provide meaningful resources for many visitors to the Manx Museum including researchers, school groups and visitors with a general interest”.

The film night on 23 March begins at 7.30 pm. Doors open at 7.00pm and admission is free.

The Manx Museum is part of the award winning Story of Mann and is open all year from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. Admission is free.

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