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On 5 December 1677 the Royal African Company ship the Arthur set sail from Gravesend bound for Calabar in Nigeria to buy Africans to sell in Barbados. George Hingston, the company’s agent for this voyage kept a journal of the journey. The diary describes the voyage from Gravesend in Kent through the Thames Estuary to the West Coast of Africa via Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands.

The Arthur arrived in New Calabar River in the Niger Delta on 10 February 1678. George Hingston started trading with local African kings to buy Africans for an agreed price of 36 copper bars for men and 30 copper bars for women. Between 12 February and 18 March 1678, when the Arthur left the river, Hingston had bought 348 Africans. The first slave death (of an unnamed African woman) occurred at about 4pm on 3 March; a seaman had already died earlier that same day. A further 18 Africans were to die even before the ship set sail for Barbados on 28 March.

The captives would have experienced great trauma and poor treatment during their capture, in the journey to the coast and subsequent imprisonment in slave traders’ villages and forts prior to being sold and placed on board the Arthur. For many, the inhumane conditions of their captivity on board during the Middle Passage was too much to bear. 83 Africans died in total (almost one quarter of the total bought); including three people who died after the ship arrived in Barbados on 22 May. This transatlantic voyage had taken almost two months.

For the first time this journal (reference T 70/1213)has been digitised and is available for free download.

You can download a free transcription of the journal (PDF, 206kb), kindly prepared by Mike Breward of the University of the West of England. We have also produced a modern translation (PDF, 179kb) to help read and understand the journal, although the language and phrasing has not been changed.

This map of West Africa from the same time period (MPG 1/221) shows many of the locations mentioned in the journal.

Contemporary with the Arthur’s journal is the diary of Jean Barbot (ADM 7/830A and ADM 7/830B), a French explorer who describes the people, language, environment, fauna and flora experienced during his time in West Africa. It is highly illustrative and Hingston and the crew of the Arthur may have witnessed similar scenes to Barbot. Could the scene of Barbot’s interview with the King of Sestro be similar to Hingston’s meeting with the King of New Calabar or with Donus and Bandy?

Other digitised documents on this site can be found within Discovery, and include:

  • Wills of West Indian merchants and planters, part of the PROB 11 series (registered copy wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, responsible for handling affairs of English and Welsh residents living overseas). The wills of the Drax and Forbes families contain information about their Caribbean property, including names and relationships of their slaves;
  • Wills of leading abolitionists, such as Hannah More, John Wesley and Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. We also hold the will of Olaudah Equiano (also known by his slave name, Gustavus Vassa) a celebrated author and abolitionist who was born in Africa and was captured and enslaved as a child. He served with his master in the Royal Navy and later saved enough money to purchase his own freedom. His autobiography played a significant role in highlighting the inhumanity of slavery and the slave trade.
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