Royal Naval Museum


Extracts from CH Binstead's diaries

Binstead describes his first meetings with Africans

Sunday March 2nd, 1823

This morning at 5 o’clock the whole of our boats left the ship consisting in the total of 8 boats in two divisions 10 o’clock we entered the river which in breadth in most parts about one to two miles with many beautiful creeks running up the river in various directions found the sun dreadfully oppressive, finding ourselves quiet unsuccessful we continued all night with our black guide or Pilot pulling up the River after a fagging nights pull we arrived at 2 o’clock on Monday morning at the village of Tequishor a great place for encouraging the slave trade, made every preparation for attacking any vessels or natives should it be requisite.

At half past three pulled very quietly along under the huts quite unobserved all the natives being apparently asleep at this spot we were all sanguine of finding our toils the day before repaid by not less than two or three slave vessels but to our great annoyance and disappointment no vessel whatever was to be found here being as may be supposed.   Really knocked up after a pull of 70 miles we anchored all our boats alongside of each other about one mile from the village or wretched huts, all hands were now glad to lay down which we did but could not long continue so, owing to the dreadful annoyance of mosquitoes and sand flies, who actually had bitten the most of us in such a manner that we were employed scratching ourselves until some the men were perfectly unable to move or see, my face and arms so swelled I was in great pain and misery.

Monday 3rd

At daylight observed many of the inhabitants of Tequishor came down towards us, but took no notice of the, owing to their having last year detained Lieut Stokes as prisoner.  This town is under Portuguese pay and the governor himself is a native of Portugal.  The town is a most wretched hovel consisting of a few black huts and the whole of their existence depends upon that disgraceful traffic of dealing in slaves.

In the afternoon continued up the river in the evening I went on shore with our guide observed many savage natives surround us but with great difficulty could have any interview with them, but owing to our guide he met with one of the Chiefs who informed him that it was the first white man ever seen on our attempting to approach them they made off amongst the bushes all of them well armed with large spears, bows and arrows and completely naked with the exception of a skin round their waists, by the advice of our Guide landed farther off shore and anchored for the night, heard the natives all times of the night making a great noise and burning large fires we are now 190 miles from the entrance of the river.

March 5th

At daylight we again got underwiegh stood up many creeks and endeavoured to get interviews but found them all to run after continuing 12 miles we were desirous of getting hold of some of the native to gain information but our guide assured us that never was a white man seen so far, observing a few bamboo huts in amongst the bushes landed our guide who by speaking the language went in pursuit of the natives and in about ten minutes ten or twelve natives and their chiefs came towards us well armed with spears but with the utmost difficulty they were by our guides persuaded to approach us, they also appeared astonished at the sight a white man I shook several of them by the hand and on observing my pistols around me they were much alarmed found these wild wretched natives in such a state of destitution as to scramble eagerly for the offer of a bullock which we slaughtered at their settlement, gave them some tobacco and rum which they were very thankful – we left them pleased with us and good humoured on our leaving they commenced one of their native dances.

Thursday March 6th

In the evening arrived at Gambia sent our pilot amongst the woods to find the natives, there town being 4 miles inland, our guide had scarcely been way five minutes before he brought down then savage looking natives armed as the whole we have seen, with pears and large shields I landed and shook them by the hand they appeared to be friendly while we had a superior force near us they told our guide that white man no good for always Roast Black Negroes and if we attempted to land at the town the Chief would murder us all, and had we landed without any black man they certainly if they would have fired their bows at us.

Slavers sighted

Saturday 10th May

There can be but little doubt that the rainy season is now getting in, for I never before met with such heavy torrents accompanied with most awful thunder and lightening we are now off the fatal spot the River Congo well known as to its ill effects all the Mids[hipmen] making out there wills in the event of slipping having received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to go away.

Tuesday May 13th

Got out all the boats and sent them away.

Wednesday 14th May

With the remainder of crew got the ship underweigh and stood out to sea fearful of being seen from the shore as if so all vessels having on board slaves would land] at daylight observed the boats board a large Portuguese Brig laying at anchor, she proved to be a slaver from Rio having on board 320 men, women and children and to our great annoyance we could not take her in consequence of being South of the Equator.  I never witnessed a more horrid description than my messmates gave me of the wretched state they were in onboard actually dying 10-12 a day owing to the confinement below all the men are in irons and women under them by a small partition.

[later the] King here [came on board wanting] to know whether we wished to make trade for slave or elephant teeth being informed we only wanted Spanish slave ships they did not appear at all pleased found these wretches who came on board were the principal slave dealers – I conversed with them in English which they spoke, and ascertained the way in which the slaves were got he told me suppose you  'give me musket or coat I give you good slave man or woman'. I learnt from this monster that in the interior there are thousands of small farms to which they send men from here to purchase slaves for cloth, tobacco or Powder and if as they say 'no make trade for sell man we lay in Bush and go at night Catch man woman and child then sell them here to Portuguese'.

In the evening the boats returned having been informed a Spanish vessel was laying at a place called Loango Wednesday being near Loango sent the boats away and stood put to Sea.

Thursday May 15th

Nothing to be seen of our boats or any vessel whatever.

Saturday May 17th

Stood along the coast in pursuit of the boats their provision being expended today on Sunday morning 18th May sent a boat in shore to enquire if they had seen our division of boats found they had followed a Spanish schooner which was here and on seeing our boats had cut and run to sea stood out in the direction we supposed they had taken, at 10 obsd the boats- at 11 they came on board, having chased the schooner 50 miles but owing to the great advantage in sailing could not catch her.  She opened fire on the boats but no one wounded or hurt.  From the heavy musketry and grape kept in our boat there can be little doubt her top was great during the chase many of her crew were observed to be shot from the rigging

Monday 19th May

Sent our boats on shore to Loango and discovered schooner to be Spanish with part of her cargo of slaves on board.

Friday June 14th

Off the Old Calabar River in the afternoon manned and armed all our boats at 3 we left the ship myself in command of the 2nd barge 18 men pulled our 15 miles up when to our annoyance ascertained we were in the wrong river, made the best of our way out again the old Calabar at midnight got undewiegh for the Calabar and continued pulling and sailing all night, observed many large canoes one of which I went in chase of on my coming up with her the whole the crew jumped overboard and I fear from the distance off shore they have met a watery grave, these poor wretches were fearful we were going to make slaves of them.

Successful actions

Monday June 16th

Lieut. Clarkson in his boat and mine went in pursuit of slave schooner having got a pilot after pulling up creeks and river 50 miles saw a schooner when we observed every soul jump overboard and make for the shore saw one or two with a little infant sink to rise no more.  At 2 o’clock the boat I was in got first alongside on my boarding we found every soul had left she proved to be a Slave vessel and part of her cargo up at the town ready for embarking got the schooner underweigh and on Tuesday June 17th anchored her with our boats.  Got all her slaves on board in number 60 most of them all children from 7 to 10 years old.  Tuesady June 17th with the schooner and also boats, proceeded to join the ship in the evening came on a strong breeze with a heavy swell and sea on passed the entrance of the River anchored for the night came on a heavy tornado with torrents of rain employed the whole night bailing water from rain out of my boat.

Wednesday 18th June

Got underweigh the weather state very bad I feel myself completely fagged from last nights work stood out 20 miles and could not find the ship anchored for the night when it came out Heavy rains and sea my boat taking much water in employed all night keeping her free.  I never experienced such heavy rain in all my life.

Saturday evening, June 21st

Ship got underweigh with prize schooner in company and ran towards the Cameroons.

Thursday July 3rd 

All the boats proceeded over the difficult channel leading to New Calabar at 3:30 we observed schooner which had fired on our boats laying there anchored off the town sent a flag of truce into to know whether they would give us up the schooner and slaves – if not we should land and burn the town, seeing us so determined the King immediately consented to our terms and was much alarmed. the schooner hoisted French colours but she was Spaniard, found the crew had abandoned her.  Made the king of Calabar put a few slaves on board prior to our boats going alongside which slaves being found would condemn the vessel, this being done took possession of her a fine vessel of 160 tons and all ready for sea brought her out and anchored for the night.

Friday July 4th

Sent on shore to the King here and demanded all the slaves which he had belonging to the schooner but found some difficulty in getting them, anchored off the town and threatened to blow it down if the slaves were not immediately sent off  this so alarmed the poor wretches that our request was complied with and in less than two hours 181 slaves were brought off most of them women and children from 3 to 15 years old. 

I wasn’t at the whole proceedings and could not but feel for the poor creatures, to see them torn from their relations and forced on board to see Father and Mother fighting for their children was enough to draw pity from the coldest heart to hear these cries and lamentations were such I never again hope to see.

Death, Disease and Desparation 

Wednesday July 9th

The ship is now truly miserable upwards of 200 naked slaves lying about most of the sick and also several bad cases of fever amongst our own crew and the Officers and men on half allowance of bad provisions.

Sunday July 13th

At daylight left Fernando Po many large whales and sharks about us the later is owing to the number of poor fellows that have lately been thrown overboard – the ship is now truly miserable many of our own crew very sick and the decks crowded with black slaves who are dying in all directions and apprehensive their cases of fever maybe contagious – at night heavy rains with squalls attended with thunder and lightening.

Friday July 18th

Male slave jumped overboard and was drowned.

Saturday 19th

Departed this life Mr Richd. McCormick Midshipman a most amiable young man beloved by all his messmates.  I much feel the loss of so worthy a fellow we were great friends and always on service stationed to the same boat he died of the African Fever which and attacked him while him and myself were away in the boats up the Old Calabar at 8:30 inclosed his body sowed up in a cott ready to commit to the Deep.  Died two slaves of dysentery.

Sunday July 20th

At daylight gloomy weather attended the last remains of poor McCormick with all the Mids, took him out 2 miles in a boat and buried him at sea.

Sunday July 25th

Sick list daily increasing and slaves lying around us in all directions our allowance is only one meal a day being on quarter of allowance No cocoa or sugar in the ship our breakfast consists of bad oatmeal

Departed this life J Pope Seaman a fine active young man his complaint was the fever which he had been ill of only a few days.

Saturday August 16th

In the evening I was taken unwell with a headache attended also with Opthalonia.

Sunday 17th

Found my eyes much worse the surgeon took two pound of Blood from me and applied Blisters to my head.

Thursday 22nd

Got out of bed being much better but eyes yet bad.

August 30th

No arrival yet or news from England and to add to our miseries the Commodore intends giving a cruise so that we shall be deprived of news or letter for perhaps some time.  Died one of our seamen, committed his body to the deep.

My mind very uneasy not hearing from home and the miserable prospects before me combined with this wretched station, our mess now consists of 6 members having when we left 27 this reduction has taken place owing to Deaths and Promotions. 

Our loss since leaving England has been more in comparison than any vessel excepting the fatal fever of the Bann.

There are more extracts from Binstead's diaries in the Chasing Freedom exhibition. For information about visiting click here.


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