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an introduction by Professor Kenneth Morgan, Brunel University

An account of 'Unparalleled cruelty in a Guinea captain' on board a ship for Liverpool, June 1805

Liverpool’s Rise as a Slaving Port

The documents reproduced in this publication relate to the triangular slave trade between Britain, Africa and the Americas during the eighteenth century, the period that saw Liverpool rise from being a small north-western port mainly handling cargoes and ships in the coasting, Irish and European trades to a large port with international trading connections. Liverpool’s growth as a port and commercial centre was particularly associated with the slave trade. After Parliament ended the London-based Royal African Company’s official monopoly in England in 1698, private merchants in London, Bristol and Liverpool entered the slave trade. During the 1720s Liverpool merchants increased their participation in this line of traffic. They advanced further in the 1730s. By the 1740s Liverpool overtook Bristol and London to become the leading British slave-trading port, whether measured by the number of ships dispatched to Africa or the number of slaves carried across the Atlantic Ocean. Liverpool’s dominant position was maintained without any diminution until the British slave trade ended in 1807. Indeed, Liverpool increased its share of slaving voyages emanating from British ports over those next six decades. In the period 1741-50 Liverpool sent out 43 per cent of the ships engaged in the British slave trade. By 1801-7 Liverpool’s share had increased to 79 per cent. Liverpool had invested more than £1 million in the slave trade by 1800. Throughout the entire period of the British slave trade, Liverpool’s ships delivered over 1.1 million slaves to the New World.

Liverpool’s commercial supremacy in the slave trade was based on the expansion of shipping and dock development on Merseyside in the eighteenth century, supported by considerable demographic and manufacturing growth. Locational advantages were also significant, for Liverpool had a unique combination of regional advantages, including access (until 1765) to smuggled merchandise on the Isle of Man, safe shipping routes around the north of Ireland in wartime, and (after 1750) an industrialising hinterland with plenty of textile production suitable for export cargoes to Africa and America. Liverpool also capitalised on the commercial acumen of its merchants, notably their success in forging effective commercial partnerships along the West African coast, especially in the Bight of Biafra, the epicentre of slave supplies to British vessels, and in coordinating payment mechanisms for slave sales with Caribbean agents and London sugar commission houses. Her merchants were also quicker than rivals at other ports to exploit new markets for slaves such as the Ceded Islands after 1763 – Grenada, Tobago, St. Vincent, Dominica – and Cuba, Demerara and Trinidad in the late eighteenth century.

The Liverpool Documents in Context

Original manuscripts relating to the conduct and organisation of the Liverpool slave trade are scattered throughout Britain, the Caribbean and the United States. The National Archives, Kew, naturally includes much relevant information among government departments such as the Treasury, the Colonial Office, the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, the Exchequer and Chancery. Business records and shipping information on the Liverpool slave trade can be found in archives as far apart as Minneapolis and Glasgow. As might be expected, some of the most illuminating surviving material is deposited in Liverpool itself. The three main archives where such documents are found are the Merseyside Maritime Museum; the University of Liverpool Library; and the Liverpool Record Office, which is part of the Liverpool Central Library. This publication covers all of the relevant material now housed at the latter repository. Eleven different types of surviving material are included. They were generated by individual Liverpool merchants or merchant partnerships. The items include correspondence, accounts, invoices, sales records, ships’ logbooks, sailing instructions to the master of a vessel, and contemporary statistics on the slave trade. Each group of items varies in format and range; but all provide essential information for students and researchers wishing to understand the organisation of the Liverpool slave trade.

Overview of the Individual Collections

The documents pertaining to David Tuohy are those of an Irishman who spent fourteen years in the African trade, including the captaincy of four slave voyages between 1765 and 1769 and part-ownership of ten Liverpool slave ships from 1772 to 1786. Tuohy married in Liverpool in 1768 and settled there in 1771. After his experience as a captain of slave vessels, he settled down as a merchant on Merseyside. In Gore’s Liverpool Directory for 1781, he is described as a merchant resident at 48 Old Hall Street. His correspondence indicates that he divided his commercial affairs mainly between trade between Liverpool and Ireland, a trade in which he imported beef, butter and tallow, and exported salt, beer and cheese, and the slave trade. He participated in voyages where he could spread his investment among other partners, as in the voyage of the Brig Nancy in 1774 in which he held a one-sixth share (see 380 TUO/4/7). His ventures in the triangular slave trade involved sending ships to the Windward, Ivory and Gold coasts, the Bight of Benin, and especially Angola, and then selling the Africans at Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominica and Grenada. Tuohy had few mercantile contacts on the North American continent apart from in Charleston, South Carolina. He probably died in the late 1780s or early 1790s; the last mention of him in these papers is a letter addressed to him dated September 1788 (see 380 TUO/6/4).

Among references to the slave trade in Tuohy’s correspondence is a letter detailing the current difficulty of selling Africans in Barbados (see 380 TUO/1/18); another one that mentions competition with the French for slaves in Angola (see 380 TUO/2/1); and a further letter explaining the interruptions to the slave trade caused by the beginning of the American War of Independence (see 380 TUO/2/3). The most detailed material on the slave trade in the Tuohy Papers is found in the ships’ papers (see 380 TUO/4/1-13). These usually include an invoice of merchandise shipped to Africa, a list of seamen on board individual ships, the owners’ instructions to the captain, and disbursements on the ship’s cargo and outfit. The letters of instruction comment on the quality, distribution and price of slaves to be purchased for particular cargoes of European goods; the mercantile and island contacts in the Caribbean for the sale of Africans; the clothing, treatment and provisions required for slaves during the Middle Passage; the factors’ commissions on slave sales; the division of shares among the vessels’ owners; terms for payment on slave sales; the seasonal transaction cycles of voyages; and the wages and fees to be paid to the doctor, captain and crew on slaving voyages. Most of the typewritten transcripts (see 380 TUO/5/1-44) are of letters found elsewhere in this collection, but four transcripts (see 380 TUO/6/1-4) are items where the original is no longer extant.

The Case and Southworth records (see 380 MD 33-36) cover the years from 1754 to 1767. They are the surviving commercial manuscripts of a Liverpool merchant firm with a branch house in Kingston, Jamaica. Thomas Case was listed in the Liverpool trade directory for 1766 as a merchant in Water Street. He owned a number of ships, became a member of the African Company of Liverpool, and held shares in eighteen slaving vessels. Two of these ships, the Fortune and the Bee, were vessels where he was the sole owner; the others were co-owned with his brother Clayton and other Liverpool merchants such as William Boats and William Davenport. Thomas Case entered into an insurance brokerage business with William Gregson in 1774. This was dissolved in 1778, however, when bankruptcy proceedings were issued against Case after he fell into financial difficulties. Nicholas Southworth, who managed the Kingston end of the Case & Southworth partnership, had captained three slaving vessels from Liverpool to Africa and the Caribbean in 1746, 1748 and 1752. Southworth was the part owner of several slave vessels in the 1750s and 1760s but he never co-owned vessels with Case. The partnership of Case & Southworth appears to have flourished until the records end in 1767.

The records of Case & Southworth are bound volumes with detailed information on the import of hardware, textiles and provisions from British and Irish merchants via Liverpool to Kingston; the sale of lots of slaves in Kingston; and imports of sugar, rum, pimento and wood at Liverpool. Both ends of the business, at Liverpool and Kingston, acted on commission, but sales were much more valuable at the Jamaican end (largely owing to the slave sales) than on Merseyside. The Liverpool house under Case sold on behalf of far fewer people than the Kingston branch under Southworth. This resulted from the much larger population of the Lancashire port and its hinterland compared with the much smaller white population in Jamaica. The Account Book (see 380 MD 33) and the Journal (see 380 MD 34) include a mass of daily transactions. At first sight these list a bewildering array of sales but they can be collated and analysed to indicate some interesting patterns in consumer behaviour. Some of the detailed accounts of slave sales, giving the purchasers, date of purchase, size of lot sold and prices gained, are duplicated in the two Sales account books (see 380 MD 35-36) but some are not. The Case and Southworth account books are some of the most detailed sales’ records of Africans in the British slave trade available in any British archive.

Thomas Leyland (c.1752-1827) was a merchant, banker, millionaire and three times Mayor of Liverpool. In 1766 he won a lottery prize of £20,000, which he used to build up his business affairs. He was involved in various trading partnerships. He built up much of his mercantile fortune from participation in the slave trade, and was particularly active in that traffic as well in various other trades in the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Leyland had an interest in sixty-nine slaving voyages from Liverpool. The ships in which he was concerned delivered an estimated 22,365 Africans to the Americas. He was associated with some other important Liverpool merchants but he also linked up with smaller fry. Thus, for example, he was part owner with David Tuohy in the slave ship Kitty in 1789. In 1802 Leyland entered into a banking partnership with Clarke and Roscoe, a firm of Liverpool bankers. After this was dissolved in 1806, he set up his own bank in Liverpool with his nephew Richard Bullin in 1807. Through amalgamations, his banking business later became part of the Midland (now HSBC) Bank. Thomas Leyland left a fortune of £600,000 in 1827, making him one of the wealthiest decedents in Britain at the time. In addition to the records made available here, further documents relating to Leyland’s slave trading and banking career survive in the HSBC archives and among the Dumbell Papers at Liverpool University Library. A good many of Leyland’s ships’ books relating to the slave trade were unfortunately destroyed by bomb damage during the Second World War.

Thomas Leyland’s letterbook, 1786-88, (see 387 MD 47) kept by Captain James Brown when he commanded the Liverpool trading ship Gossypium on a total of eleven voyages between Liverpool and New Orleans between 1844 and 1846 (six from Liverpool to New Orleans and five return voyages to Liverpool); a letter book (see 387 MD 48) containing copies of letters written by Brown himself between 1843 and his death on 23 October 1851, and by his executors; and a collection of accounts connected with the voyages of the Gossypium (see 387 MD 59) is a large bound tome comprising 2,262 business letters in a legible hand on 780 numbered pages. Material on Leyland’s involvement in the Liverpool slave trade can be found among the letters. There are also many examples of dealings in commodities with far-flung business connections in England, Ireland, Scotland France, Spain, Holland, Portugal and the United States. Leyland dealt in various commodities, including wine, salt, barley, tallow, earthenware, cotton, sugar, oranges, bark, coal and rice. More detailed information on Leyland’s involvement in the slave trade is found in the five ships’ account books, covering the period 1793-1811 (see 387 MD 40-44). These volumes follow a set format. They include a letter of instruction to the ship captain; invoices of merchandise shipped; a list of the crew; tradesmen’s notes and disbursements for the cargo and for the outfit; accounts of slave sales and charges on sales; and disbursements made at the point of sale, presented as debit and credit accounts.

John Newton is the best-known captain in the history of the British slave trade. He was the captain of three slaving voyages between 1748 and 1754, and sailed on a further voyage as a mate. He documented his experiences on these voyages in detailed logs. Later in life he became an evangelical minister in the Church of England, renounced his involvement in the slave business, and became a prominent abolitionist who testified against the slave trade before committees of the House of Commons in 1789 and 1790. Newton was a prolific writer on the slave trade and on spiritual matters, and was also the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace.’ His copy letters reproduced in this publication (see 920 MD 409) were written to the Anglican clergyman David Jennings. The letters cover the 1750s, when Newton was still active in the slave trade. They include details on his experiences on board Africa-bound vessels that can be fruitfully dovetailed with his diaries, logs and other writings from the period. The letters to Jennings are particularly interesting in tracing Newton’s growing spiritual awareness as his voyages in the slave trade progressed. They provide a broader view of the implications of involvement in slave trading than one gathers from the purely business orientation of many other sources reproduced here.

The Robert Bostock letterbooks, covering the period 1779-92, include much business correspondence on the slave trade (see 387 MD 54-55). Bostock was both a ship captain and a merchant. He was captain and first owner on three Liverpool slaving voyages, in 1769, 1770 and 1786. He was the first owner of fourteen other Liverpool slaving voyages between 1787 and 1793, and took shares in twelve other slaving voyages from the Mersey. In Africa Bostock traded with the Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Windward Coast and the Bight of Biafra. He delivered slaves to Antigua, St. Kitts, Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica. His letters include instructions to ship captains about the conduct and destinations of their African voyages; advice on the purchase of slaves and commodities in Africa; requests to London merchant houses for financial guarantees for payment of slave sales; the average prices for which captains should sell slaves in different Caribbean islands; and communications with factors and agents about economic conditions in the Caribbean. Bostock’s letterbooks are especially useful for their abundant evidence of contemporary prices paid for slaves in the West Indies. One detailed sales’ list of slaves at Antigua for September 1784 is included in his first letterbook (see 387 MD 54, fols. 16-18).

Several smaller items among these microfilms include interesting additional details on the Liverpool slave trade. The sailing instructions of 16 October 1700 for the captain and supercargo (i.e. travelling agent) of the ship Blessing is the first business letter that survives on Liverpool’s transatlantic slaving (see 920 NOR 2/179). Deposited in the Norris Papers, it offers advice on the loading of provisions at Kinsale, Ireland, and the purchase of slaves on either the Gold Coast or at Whydah, in the Bight of Benin. The slaves were to be sold in the West Indies. The instructions state the preferred options of the ships’ owners about which Caribbean island market would produce the best sales. John Tomlinson’s Account Current with John Knight (see 380 MD 127) covers shares in slave vessels between 1757 and 1777. Tomlinson was the first owner of thirty Liverpool slaving voyages that disembarked some 5,900 slaves to markets in North America and the Caribbean. Though little contemporary material has survived about Knight, he was a major Liverpool slave trader with an interest in 111 voyages over thirty years (1744-74) that delivered over 26,000 Africans to America. All save one of Tomlinson’s slave trading voyages were made in partnership with Knight.

The logs kept on board H.M.S. Agamemnon, the Count du Nord and the Madampookata, with related papers (see 387 MD 62/1) include daily entries about the progress of these slaving vessels. These records were apparently kept by Thomas Dixon, and are all in one volume. The descriptive entries are particularly interesting when the ships were based on the West African coast. Details of the course of the ships, their latitude and longitude, and remarks on provisioning, stores, watering, painting and cleaning are also provided. The log of H.M.S. Agamemnon covers the period 1 October 1782-10 June 1783. The remarks for the Count du Nord extend from 29 September 1783 to 10 June 1784. The descriptions on board the Madampookata cover the period 29 March 1785 to 22 January 1786. The log of the brig Ranger concerns a slave voyage from Liverpool to Lisbon, Anamaboe and Jamaica in 1789-90 (see 387 MD 56). The account of the sale of slaves from the brig Mars deals with a slave auction at Savannah, Georgia in January and February 1804 on behalf of the Liverpool merchants McIver, McVicar and McCorquodale (see MD 97).

The pages filmed from volume 10 of the Holt & Gregson Papers (see 942 HOL 10) comprise important contemporary statistics on the Liverpool slave trade and material relating to the abolitionist movement. For the most part, these are separately compiled contemporary documents that were gathered together in this volume. The most significant documents on the Liverpool slave trade found here are: an account of the ships, cargoes and capital employed in the African slave trade from Liverpool on 3 March 1790 (fols. 367-9, 445); a calculation of the loss that might be sustained by and at Liverpool should an abolition take place (fols. 371-3, 443); the number of men who have been discharged by the different masters and tradesmen of Liverpool previously employed in the African slave trade and now out of work (fols. 375-7, 447); Mr. Tarleton’s calculation of the trade of Liverpool to Africa and the West Indies and of the ships employed therein, 1787 (fol. 419); letters relating to abolitionism (fols. 429-431, 433, 437-439); a list of the vessels which sailed from Liverpool to Africa in the period January 1786-January 1787 (fol. 473, 477); and a list of the vessels sailing from Liverpool for Africa from 1 January 1787 (fol. 481).

Significance for Research

These various records on the Liverpool slave trade can be used in numerous ways. They are obviously vital for the study of individual Liverpool slaving merchants. They provide important contemporary material on trade practices on the West African coast, the conduct of slave sales, trends in prices for sales of slaves, details on the networks of credit and trust with agents and factors in the Caribbean, the difficulties encountered by shipping engaged in the ‘triangular trade,’ the motives and commercial outlook of captains and merchants in the slave trade, the types of goods needed for cargoes sent to Africa to barter for slaves, and the accounts that were drawn up for slaving voyages. The ships’ logbooks at the Liverpool Record Office are complemented by similar sources, sometimes for the same ships, held at the University of Liverpool Library. Altogether, the sources filmed here are essential source items for the investigation of one of the most notorious trades with which Liverpool was associated.

Bibliographical Note

Information about the growth of the eighteenth-century shipping, trade and port of Liverpool is available in C. Northcote Parkinson, The rise of the port of Liverpool (1952) and F.E. Hyde, Liverpool and the Mersey: an economic history of a port, 1700-1970 (1971). A pioneering modern collection of essays on the Liverpool slave trade is Roger Anstey and P.E.H. Hair, eds., Liverpool, the African slave trade, and abolition (1976; enlarged edn., 1989). A recent successor is David Richardson, Suzanne Schwarz, and Anthony Tibbles, eds., Liverpool and transatlantic slavery (2007). The original sources available on the Liverpool slave trade are outlined in F.E. Sanderson, ‘Liverpool and the slave trade: a guide to sources,’ Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 124 (1973). The most comprehensive statistics on the Liverpool slave trade are in David Eltis, Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and Herbert S. Klein, The Trans-Atlantic slave trade: a database on CD-ROM (1999). The manuscripts of the Liverpool slave merchant William Davenport held at Keele University Library have already been published in the same BRRAM series as the present collection, as have the American materials from both the above-mentioned Tarleton papers and the Holt-Gregson papers. The eighteenth-century Liverpool trading community is described in Sheryllynne Haggerty, The British-Atlantic trading community 1760-1810: men, women, and the distribution of goods (2006).

Several individual merchants and voyages represented in this publication have received attention from historians. Notes on Thomas Leyland’s career and extracts from some of his manuscripts are available in Gomer Williams, History of the Liverpool privateers and letters of marque with an account of the Liverpool slave trade (1897). Material on his life is also included in John Hughes, Liverpool banks and bankers (1906) and W.F. Crick and J.E. Wadsworth, A hundred years of joint stock banking, 4th edn. (1964). For the Bostock letterbook, see J.H. Hodson, ‘The Letter book of Robert Bostock, a merchant in the Liverpool slave trade, 1789-1792,’ The Liverpool bulletin, 3 (1953). See also Vera M. Johnson, ‘Sidelights on the Liverpool slave trade,’ The Mariner’s Mirror, 38 (1952). John Newton’s period as a slave ship captain is detailed in Bernard Martin and Mark Spurrell, eds., Journal of a slave trader, 1750-1754 (1962). Newton’s relationship to transatlantic slaving has also been the focus of two recent studies: Marcus Rediker, The slave ship: a human history (2007) and James Walvin, The trader, the owner, the slave (2007). Comments on the log of the brig Ranger are found in Averil Mackenzie-Grieve, The last years of the English slave trade, 1750-1807 (1941).


My thanks to David Stoker, Manager of the Liverpool Record Office and Local Studies at the Liverpool Central Library, for checking the material to be filmed and supplying me with copies of in-house typescript descriptions of these records. I have drawn upon these descriptions in writing my introduction, and have also gleaned detailed information on Liverpool’s slave merchants from items listed in the bibliography.


To cite this resource:

Morgan, K. (2008) Records relating to the slave trade from the Liverpool Record Office: an introduction, Last updated: 29 September 2008.


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(Supplement to the Records relating to the slave trade in the Liverpool Record Office collection)

an introduction by John Rowe, University of Liverpool


The James Brown papers remained in the possession of the Brown family until they were presented to the Liverpool City Libraries by K.A. Brown Esq. on 23 February 1942.

Description of the material

The James Brown papers consist of a private log book (see 387 MD 47) kept by Captain James Brown when he commanded the Liverpool trading ship Gossypium on a total of eleven voyages between Liverpool and New Orleans between 1844 and 1846 (six from Liverpool to New Orleans and five return voyages to Liverpool); a letter book (see 387 MD 48) containing copies of letters written by Brown himself between 1843 and his death on 23 October 1851, and by his executors; and a collection of accounts connected with the voyages of the Gossypium (see 387 MD 49) and other ships in which Brown had some financial interest. Little is known of Brown himself save what can be gleaned or surmised from these papers; the highlight of his seafaring career seems to have been the violent hurricane he and the Gossypium survived in the Gulf of Mexico in October 1844.

Brown was trading between Liverpool and New Orleans at a period of rapid expansion both in cotton growing in the Southern States and in the Lancashire textile industry. His outward freights were mostly salt, but it was not always easy to find remunerative markets for it. Nor, in the mid-1840s, was cotton all that profitable a freight; glut production years or heavy consignments down the Mississippi might mean a demand for shipping but low prices for the commodity itself; furthermore American shipping was increasingly competing for cargo in these years. Occasional speculative cargoes of copper and tinplate did not find such ready buyers in America as anticipated while, in the other direction, cotton cargoes were occasionally supplemented with consignments of Indian corn and flour. The profits to ship-owners were most variable, even erratic, and it is not altogether surprising to find the Gossypium engaged in a later voyage to Quebec, from whence she returned to Liverpool in the then record-breaking time of twenty days in October 1847. Later still, no longer under Brown's command though he still retained a 23/64th share in her, the Gossypium made a run on from New Orleans to the guano islands off the coast of Peru and still later was trading to Bombay.

Brown acquired his share of the Gossypium in August 1846, for the sum of £1,042 3s 9d, her tonnage in the bill of sale from John Croft being given as 745 and 45/100ths. First registered in Liverpool in July 1839, she had been built at Brandy Cove, New Brunswick, the previous year; and five years later Brown purchased 8/64ths of another vessel built probably in the same New Brunswick yard in 1836; this was the Alexander Grant, a larger vessel than the Gossypium), being registered in Liverpool in 1838 at nearly 690 tons; she was also employed on the New Orleans run from Liverpool. Brown also seems to have had an interest in the barque Ellen, which between September 1851 and June 1852 made a round voyage from Liverpool to the Caribbean coasts of Central America. The papers kept by Brown and his executors contain a number of accounts for the various voyages, including provision and chandlery accounts, bills for sails and other ship equipment, wages paid, pilotage and harbour dues and the like which shed considerable light on the costings of Liverpool trans-Atlantic trading voyages at the time.

Brown's 'private' log book might interest latter-day yachtsmen in their planning of sailing voyages across the Atlantic, although the amount of 'dirty' weather he recorded might be rather deterring. Despite her record-making voyage from Quebec in 1847, the Gossypium's average time between Liverpool and New Orleans was 52 days, her swiftest voyage taking 32 days and the longest 65; the average of five returning voyages was 41.5 days, although one trip was completed in 34 days while two took just 46 days each.

Besides routine notes of weather and sailing conditions Brown's log book gives some inkling of the monotony of long sailing-ship voyages when the crew had to be found painting and minor repair jobs to wile away the time, though this was preferable to the stress of storm and hurricane when the ship at best was 'labouring' in heavy seas, at worst in peril of loosing all sails, rigging, even of foundering. Sighting another ship was an event to be noted down, especially when it was a famous vessel like the Great Western or when, a week out of Liverpool on 15 September 1845:

Captain Smith of the barque Bangalore, an old schoolfellow of mine whom I had not seen for 14 years came on board the Gossypium being 5 months in his voyage from the East Indies. Short of Provisions and Bread, Supplied him with both and other small stores. And very happy to meet him well.

That particular day had begun rather badly for Brown laconically remarked 'John - seaman, struck the cook, cutting his eye badly.' This was one of the three cases of such troubles during the thirteen voyages. A month after leaving the Mersey, the log for 7 March 1845 noted that the 'First and Second mates had a quarrel that ended in a knock-down, when they separated afterwards yet better friends.' These incidents apparently passed off without any retributive discipline; but while lying off Jamaica six days from New Orleans and forty-six days out of Liverpool on 21 October 1845, Brown recorded that he had gone into the hold and:

found three sacks of salt cut by some malicious person; from all the information that could be obtained had every reason to suspect Fletcher, formerly steward, as being guilty. Put him in irons he showing some resistance.

This last entry might indicate the martinet captain, as might the laconic record that no fewer than nine of his crew deserted on reaching New Orleans after an eight-week passage on 3 November 1845. Brown, too, seems to have been unlucky with his ship's stewards, for he added a postscript to a letter sent from New Orleans on 20 April 1846 to John Croft advising him to stop the steward's monthly pay since 'he has been making rather free with the Ale and Porter and I think it is likely that he will leave.' Neither the log-book nor the letters to co-owners of other business connections, however, provide much evidence on which to form a judgement on Brown. Two isolated snatches of verse crammed in the log which included the lines:

Hail beaut[e]ous morn. Thy cheering light
Has chased the dark, tempest[u]ous night,
The dim o'ershadowing gloom is gone
The blast has ceased their dismal moan
Hushed is the storm, the winds have ceased
The sun bleaks forth, from clouds released,
To guild the sweet enchanting scene.

after a storm on 17 July 1846, would not indicate the possession of wide literary knowledge or talents. Most of the business letters deal with the disposal and acquisition of cargoes in New Orleans. Among them, however, the correspondence of Brown and, later, his executors, with the New Brunswick attorney, D. Robertson of St Johns, has special interest in that it records that Brown owned a 'farm' in New Brunswick which was rented to an unsatisfactory tenant, Crookshaw, who sold the timber and generally racked the property. It may be surmised that Brown's interest in the property arose from the dependence of Merseyside mercantile traders and seafarers on North American timber for shipbuilding at this time.

Brown's New Brunswick farm, however, can only have represented a small proportion of his personal estate and since he was willing to dispose of it for £200 it is a fair surmise that he invested in this less than a seventh of the money he did in shipping. A hint of financial stringency might be conveyed in the correspondence about additional insurance for the Gossypium when she sailed from New Orleans to the Peruvian coast for the guano cargo in 1848, but for many the most intriguing item in the correspondence associated with that voyage was the postscript written by Brown's partner, Leftwich, in a letter of instructions to the captain, John Lowther, with early Victorian double and treble italicising:

do not allow any smuggling and attend to your Pumps strictly. Hoist your signals in passing different ships and be particular in writing us at all and every opportunity, and then without fail and when you write give all particulars of your movements as it is much more satisfactory than a short and brief letter.

On the voyage the inventory of the Gossypium included a dozen muskets but no other armament. Trouble and danger had also been apprehended in June 1846 from privateering depredations on the outbreak of war between Mexico and the United States.

Brown's seafaring days apparently ended with his return from New Orleans in the summer of 1848, but he retained his financial interest in the Gossypium and the Alexander Grant till his death. As there is no indication that he acquired an interest in the barque Ellen before her voyage to the Caribbean in September 1851, one might surmise that he was gradually building up his position as a Liverpool ship-owner and might have attained greater prominence in Liverpool commercial circles but for his premature death at the age of forty-four, apparently from pneumonia following a cold, in the autumn of 1851. There is no reason to suppose that failing health or physical disability led to his retirement from active seafaring four years previously, although in a letter to John Croft from New Orleans on 18 May 1848 he had briefly mentioned that he had been, suffering from his 'old complaint' of a pain in the side. Had he lived longer it is likely that he would have attained prominence as a ship-owner; it seems probable, however, that his family retained an interest in Merseyside shipping, for along with these papers there are two bills of sale (see 387 MD 52) of shares in the sailing ship Candida to which James Brown, in all likelihood one of the four children of the master of the Gossypium, was a party, as purchaser in 1876 and vendor in 1898.


To cite this resource:

Rowe, J. (1972) The papers of James Brown in the Liverpool Central Library: an introduction, Last updated: 27 January 2010.