Packet ships and slavery

We are often asked what role the Falmouth Packet Service played in slavery.

At one level, the Packet Service was simply a government-run postal service collecting and delivering mail, dispatches and occasionally bullion to and from the Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsular and the New World. Of course, anything to do with the New World had the potential to involve slavery of some sort since much of the business of the Americas – and especially around the Caribbean – involved some level of slavery.

One of the most interesting insights is to read the first-hand account of young James Williamson, the Packet surgeon who kept a detailed journal of his voyages in the 1830s. His views change markedly from an apology for it in 1829 to outright condemnation by 1833. In the latter stages, he is more concerned with how slavery will be abolished and the possible impact on the former slaves (whose commitment to hard work he appears to doubt).

You can follow the development of his views with his specific comments on slaves and slavery at:

His language, and attitude to non-Europeans, throughout is or course unacceptable by today’s standards.