Log of 'Unity' for a slaving voyage from Liverpool to Holland and then to Calabar, West Africa, 1769 

open page of a old ship's record book, with columns of numbers and notes

This log was kept by Captain Robert Norris and gives a rare insight into life on board a slave ship. It is unusual for log books like this to survive; this one was rescued from a coal shed in Ireland where it had lain hidden for many years.

The log provides valuable detail on the activities of a slaving captain and of life on board his ship, including the deaths of enslaved Africans and insurrections (revolts).  After collecting a cargo of cowrie shells from Helvoetsburg, Holland on 8 August 1769, the ship arrived off the coast of Africa at Cape Coast Castle on 16 November 1769. 

Two days later they arrived at Whydah and after an unexplained gap of two months, they "went up to Abomey, the capital of Dahomey to wait upon the King", being carried part of the way in hammocks. They departed on 28 April 1770, with 227 enslaved Africans on board, and on their arrival at St Thomas (Sáo Tomé), they received a transfer of 200 enslaved Africans from the ship 'Society', bringing the total to 425, with the loss of a male known only as "slave number 8". 

The voyage was eventful. The first revolt occurred on 6 June 1770, with the entry that "the slaves made an Insurrection which was soon quelled with the loss of two woman slaves", and the deaths of three more enslaved women followed. On 22 June it is recorded that "the slaves attempted another Insurrection after the death of a girl slave number 13 lost a man of Captain Henry Fennys purchase who jumped overboard and was drowned. Employed securing the men in chains and gave the women concerned 24 lashes each". Four days later on 26 June, we learn that "a few of the slaves got off their Handcuffs but were detected in Time." 

Several years later Robert Norris, as a captain and merchant of some note, gave testimony before Parliamentary committees investigating the transatlantic slave trade and described his voyage on 'Unity'. The log is now on display in the International Slavery Museum.

For more information on our holdings relating to Liverpool and the transatlantic slave trade see our online information sheet. There is more information about the history of the transatlantic slave trade on the International Slavery Museum website.

Archive reference D/Earle/1/1