Last of the slavers

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Full length painting of a man in blue trousers, white shirt and hat and carrying a cutlass. He looks very confident

Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

Looking at this masterly portrait, I have to admit a certain liking for Captain Hugh Crow.

He was very much a man of his time and did what he did efficiently and well despite condemnation in his own day and now. Of course he was wrong in his actions and, with all his charm, personified the end of an evil era.

Captain Crow stands wearing his top hat and clutching a cutlass, sporting a billowing white linen shirt and blue trousers with matching necktie – a man at ease in retirement. At his feet are other relics of his prime - a pistol and a megaphone used for enforcing orders on a sailing ship ploughing across the ocean.These are subtle clues to the former occupation of this distinguished-looking man in a finely-observed watercolour portrait painted by A R Burt in 1820. 

Captain Crow was the last of the slavers.

The picture is among exhibits at the International Slavery Museum in the Merseyside Maritime Museum building.

Crow (1765 – 1829) is best known as the captain of Kitty’s Amelia, the last British slave ship cleared for sailing from Liverpool in July 1807 just before the trade was outlawed. Crow was master on six other slaving voyages. On retiring from the sea he wrote his memoirs – an engaging, rare first-hand account. He remained a staunch supporter of the slave trade.

Crow claimed he treated both the crew and enslaved Africans on his ships comparatively well. However, like other ships’ masters, it was in his interests to keep the captives healthy so they would fetch a better price. The voyage of the Kitty’s Amelia was eventful – she caught fire and they also rescued the crew of another ship that had been wrecked.

Another exhibit is the original account book of the Liverpool slave ship Enterprize for a voyage in 1794-5. The accounts reveal that the ship’s carpenter Daniel Small was perhaps considered the most important person on the ship – he was paid £5 10s (£5.50) per month. He could save the wooden ship if she sprang a leak or was damaged. Surprisingly, the captain, William Young, was paid less - £5 a month. However, a captain was entitled to commission on slaves he sold plus one or two privilege slaves he could sell himself. This was probably worth up to an additional £200 per voyage.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).