by Sian Rees - £10.99 Vintage (2010)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781845951177 | ISBN 10: 1845951174
When the abolitionist Granville Sharpe bought land in Sierra Leone to 'repatriate' freed slaves, one former slave living in London foresaw trouble. 'Is it possible,' asked Ottobah Cugoano, biblically, 'that a fountain should send forth both sweet water and bitter?'. Could the slave trade be abolished from West Africa when West Africa was its source? The answer was no.
Sweet Water and Bitter is the extraordinary sequel to Britain's abolition of the slave trade in 1807. The last legal British slave-ship left Africa that year, but other countries and illegal slavers continued to trade. When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, British diplomats negotiated anti-slave-trade treaties and a 'Preventive Squadron' was formed to cruise the West African coast. In six decades, this small fleet liberated 150,000 Africans and lost 17,000 of its own men in doing so. This is the tale of their exciting and arduous campaign. It is also a story of unforeseen consequences...What to do with the freed slaves? How to manipulate international law so that you could board the ships of other nations? How to fight the intense hostility of African leaders to abolition?
In tracing these complex questions, Sian Rees shows how the campaign was linked to British imperial and commercial ambition as well as to philanthropy: the colonising of West Africa was a direct, though unintended result. Above all, however, this is a swashbuckling naval adventure, full of sensational, first-hand accounts of life at sea, of the grim 'barracoons' where slaves are held, of the luxurious compounds of the slave-brokers and the lonely garrisons dotting the coast. Sailors speak of the boredom of patrol, the terror of 'detached service' in small boats upriver, the sudden, violent battles and the horror of seeing, close up, the cruelties of slaving.
Combining flawless research with an intimate and dramatic narrative, this is a voyage that no one will forget.
(Price & availability last checked: November 2018)