Description of a slave ship, c.1788

This is a print showing how Africans were packed into the slave ship Brookes, with text recording the dimensions and amount of space available. It was commissioned by Thomas Clarkson from the abolitionist publisher James Phillips in 1788, and the Committee of the Abolition of Slavery used it to inform and shock the public. Each person only had a space 16 inches (40 cm) wide to lie in and they could neither sit up fully nor stand.

Over 7000 posters of the plan were printed and distributed to promote the abolition campaign. The ship Brookes was built in Liverpool in the 1780s and carried over 600 enslaved Africans on two Atlantic crossings in 1783. The print actually shows only 482 people but overcrowding was common. Enslaved men, women, and children were packed into the hold for the six-to-eight week journey. The Brookes image was used to campaign to limit the number of enslaved Africans on board. An Act of Parliament in 1788, the Dolben Act, limited the number of slaves that could be carried according to the ship’s tonnage. This meant the Brookes could then only carry 454 African captives.

© Hull Museums

Accession reference: Hull Museums KINCM: 1973.73