Scene on the coast of Africa

This is an engraving of an oil painting, of African traders selling kidnapped people to the crew of a slave ship. Auguste-Francois Biard (1799 – 1882) painted the work in 1840, when slavery was still legal in French colonies. It shows the coastline of Freetown Bay, Sierra Leone, and graphically portrays a West African slave market. The captain of the ship bargains with African caboceers or traders.

One of the crew examines a man’s teeth, while another dealer writes a record of each sale in an account book. A woman already purchased is being branded, and others are forced into ships waiting offshore to take them across the Atlantic Ocean to the plantations of the Caribbean. Biard was only in West Africa briefly and the painting is based on his observations. The image is intended to present a strong indictment against the institution of slavery through the portrayal of various types of slave traders and the miseries inflicted upon slaves. One of Biard’s slavery paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in the same year as Turner showed his ‘Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying, typhoon coming on’. It may have been this one.

Issues: A graphic image with brutality and female nudity

© Hull Museums

Accession reference: © Hull Museums, KINCM:1935.1