Royal Naval Museum

 

Heroes of the Squadron

George Collier

NAME

Sir George Ralph Collier

LIVED

1774 - 1824

POSITION

He was the first Commodore of the West Africa Squadron, 1818 - 1821.

WHEN DID HE JOIN THE SQUADRON?

Collier was the first Naval officer to be put in charge of the Squadron.  On September 19th 1818, he was sent to the Gulf of Guinea to protect trade in the area, to visit forts and factories and to search for slavers.  He was told: “You are to use every means in your power to prevent a continuance of the traffic in slaves.”  Collier was given just six ships to complete his task.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT HIM:

Like the men in his command, Collier saw firsthand the horrific sufferings of enslaved Africans.  In 1821 he saw slaves throwing themselves overboard during the capture of a slave ship. He later wrote in his report that the enslaved Africans were “linked in shackles by the leg in pairs, some of them bound with cords; and several had their arms so lacerated by the tightness that the flesh was completely eaten through.”

In the early years of the Squadron, the six ships given to Collier were expected to patrol over 3,000 miles of the West African coast to suppress the horrific trade in slaves. By comparison, the squadron of ships preventing Napoleon’s escape from exile on St Helena at the time, was twice the size of the West Africa Squadron. In addition, the ships employed on the coast of West Africa were too slow to compete with the speedy vessels of the slavers.  Until 1835, the Squadron was only allowed to stop slave-ships that had slaves actually on board, even if it was obvious from their equipment that they intended to trade in slaves.

Collier’s job on the station was an enormous and uphill task and he faced a large amount of pressure to reduce the number of foreign ships engaged in the trade.  Perhaps as a result of this, Collier committed suicide in March 1824. 

WHAT IS HE BEST REMEMBERED FOR?

Collier is best remembered for beginning the work of the Squadron, under the most impossible conditions.  The Royal Naval Biographies describe him as follows:

“No officer of his standing in the service was more generally known or higher in estimation, as a brave, experienced and clever seaman…No British sailor was ever more anxious to fight the enemies of his country.”

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