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Resource Date: 1787

Number: 1

Record Office: St John's College Library, Cambridge

Record Office Location Number: Folder 1 Doc 1


Clarkson's Diary of Travels in West Country & Wales 25 June 1787 - 25 July 1787. (Scanned p7-8, 11-13, 17-21)

Notes: The extract shows Clarkson's feelings of anticipation and his resolve about the task before him in Bristol. It also shows his feelings about the slave ships and their crews, and the trickery and violence used against the ships' crews to get them to sign up. It also talks of his personal meetings with local dignitaries to get support.

Clarkson's Diary (Travels in the West Country 1787)

... The Country all about was hilly and quite a Champain Country, without Trees - I breakfasted at Chippenham, got on Horseback at 10 o Clock, arrived at Bath 13 miles at 12 o Clock - I dined here. After dinner I walked about the Town and was much charmed with it as well as with the Country about it - I left this City at 6 o Clock & arrived at Bristol 12 miles on at 8 - when I came within a Mile of this City the weather not being quite clear, it appeared to be very bulky. The Bells of some of the Churches were ringing at the Time. These with the other Circumstance was productive of some odd Sensations. I began rather to tremble at the arduous Task of attempting to subvert a Branch of the Trade of this large City, and to encounter an Host of People in it - However I became soon calm and collected, and seemed to gain fresh Spirits from my former Sensations which only confirmed me the more, that I must be doubly diligent, active and persevering in the Cause, which I had undertaken - with these resolutions I entered the City, determining that no Labour should appear too arduous, and no Treatment from the Inhabitants, should they to know my errand, be too horrid to deter me - Thursday - 28th I walked about the City in the Morning to look at the Shipping, the Course of the City, etc. In the Afternoon I went over the Bridge with Mr Chandler to a large Eminence, which commanded the whole City. I think I never saw a Place so closely built. Though this Eminence could not be more than a 1/4 of a mile from the City, and the Day clear, I could not distinguish any Streets, nor even the Shipping between the Houses - from this Hill we walked about a mile and a half to the Hot Wells and St Vincent's Rocks - We were some Time in descending these Rocks to the riverside - I never saw so grand a Prospect on from hence. The Precipice was stupendous. At the last was the River, on the opposite Shore the Rocks rose again to the Same Height. Nothing could be more charming, awful, grand than a fine River navigable by Ships of any rate between these stupendous Rocks which were so high, that a Cart & Horses which were on the Other Side of the River and at the ? of the opposite Rocks, seemed like Rabbits, with a little cart behind them. When we had descended and got the Bottom of these Rocks, the Height again struck me. Some People were at work at the Top & were throwing down Stones, the noise? of which, as they rolled down, was loud, grand, & pleasing crash. Mr Chandler informed that People were always at work at these Rocks, continually blowing them up with Gunpowder, as they made, when properly beaten, the best Lime that could be used? - Large Pieces are blown up at the Time. When they are broken there are particular Veins found, which are taken out & polished. These form what is called the Bristol Stone. - I drank some Water at the Wells & returned & spent the whole Day & slept at my friend Gandys - Monday July 2nd. Walked with Mr Chandler to the floating Dock. There were three Guinea Ships at the same Time, viz the Prince, late the Alexander, the Pilgrim and the Pearl. Mr McTaggart, the Owner of two of them, viz the Prince and Pilgrim, was there. He was looking at the former Vessel, which was then getting in her Anchors - and preparing to leave the Dock to go to Africa - while we were in the Yard, she was hailed up to the first Dock Gates, ready to pass the second the next Tide. We then went up to the Hot Wells, but soon returned - on looking at the top of the Rocks we saw cannon mounted upon them - on our return we met 14 sailing Boats in a line: the first was the Saucy Jack, this Vessel was followed in a regular line by 13 others - they were decorated with Flags - Musick continually played on board two or three of them, and cannon from one of them, as well as from all Parts of the Shore was continually firing - . These Boats were going into the Severn and from thence to Sea, to sail for a Cup of Silver of the Value of about 40 Pounds - Two cups were suspended on the Beam of one of the Vessels - The Shore was lined with People - They certainly made a very pretty Show. The Ships ornamented with Flags, the Music playing, the Guns firing, the Spectators on the Shore etc, all conspired to make a very pleasing Sight - Tuesday, July 3rd In crossing the ferry from Mr Feast's Yard, I saw a Boat painted Africa on her Stern coming to the same Landing Place. On inquiring of the Crew Whether they belonged to the Africa, a Vessel in the Slave Trade, they answered, yes - - I told one of them that I wondered how any seamen would go to Africa, and if he was not afraid - To this he answered in the following Words - - If it is my Lot to die in Africa, why I must, and if it is not, why then I shall not die though I go there. And if it is my Lot to live, why I may as well live there as anywhere else. The Same Person told me that the Brothers, Capt. Howlett, then lying in King Road?, could not get Men - that he was cruel Rascal - that a Party of Men had shipped themselves on board him, but that they had all left him on Sunday Morning - I cannot describe my feeling in seeing these poor Fellows belonging to the Africa. They were seven in Number - all of them young, about 22 or 23, and very robust - They were all Seamen; and I think the finest Fellows I ever beheld - I am sure no one can describe my feelings when I considered that some of these were devoted, and whatever might be their spirits now, would never see their native Home more. I considered also, how much the Glory of the British Flag was diminished by the Destruction of such noble fellows, who appeared so strong, robust, & hardy, and at the same Time so spirited as to enable us to bid Defiance to the marine of our Enemies the French - Thursday 5th - rode to Mr Bonvilles in Company with John Lury & Robert Lawson - The Downs were beautiful & .... ... went on board the Prince. The People were then busy - The Mate conducted us into their Cabin and invited us to dine: having dined we declined it - but drank some Grogg - The People on board were poor, palefaced, meagre looking Wretches - we were told that the Ship was not half manned - We left her, and went on board the Africa - The Crew of this Vessel, which was fully manned, consisted of as fine Seamen, as could possibly be collected - We drank some Grogg on board this Vessel -. Mr Sheriff, a very humane, good sort of man, was one of the Mates of the Ship, but, though he had been to Sea all his Life, had never yet been a voyage to the Coast - - This Mr Sheriff, on account of some misrepresentation of him to Captain Wright was then preparing to leave the Ship. - He sent his Chest to Bristol by the Africa's Boat, but took his Passage with Us in ours - This man was so beloved by the Seamen on board, that they all came to the Ship's Side, when he left it, pulled off their Hats, and wished him his Health - - We then proceeded again to the Prince, where we drank Tea, after which, we sailed with a fine Wind into the River - I had some Conversation with Mr Sheriff - He informed me that the Men on board the Africa had signed their Articles, but that they had never seen what they signed - He says that he himself also had signed without seeing them, though he did not like it, but as an Officer, did not object, thinking it might be a bad Example in him to set - however there was one of the Men, who refused to sign, unless he saw them - Being denied this, he immediately left the Vessel, and went on board the Prince - Dr Gardiner of the Pilgrim, confirmed this afterwards at Supper, and said that 5 or 7 Men, had left the Pilgrim a day or two before, (but not from the same Cause) and that they had absolutely forced themselves into the Boat & went away - In sailing up the river, we came to the Rocks and landed ?, Mr Harford, Falconbridge, Harding, & Myself, to ascend one of the high rocks - it was so excessively steep, that we were obliged to rest four different Times before we could gain the Summit - when we were up, Mr Harford showed us the remains of a Roman Encampment with a regular Vallum & Fossa? - We then descended the Hill, which was not rocky, by another Way, but here the Descent was so great, that we were a long Time in getting down it. & not without some Danger - at length we reached our Boat and went to Bristol - Wednesday 18th - 9 o'Clock at night - On hearing that Mr Thomas, Surgeon Mate of the Alfred, had been most cruelly treated by Capt Robe, and was then ill in Bed - I went to see him in Company with a Seaman of the Same Ship - I found him ill in Bed. He said that he had been most excessively ill-treated by Capt Robe & the 1st Mate, but that he forgave them. His Thighs were wrapped up in Flannel - The Poor Man was delirious. He asked me if I was a Gentleman - if I was a Lawyer, etc - He seemed much agitated & frightened and repeatedly asked me if I was come with an Intent to take Captain Robe's Part. I answered no, that I was come to take his & punish Captain Robe - However he did not comprehend me, and was manifestly in a disordered State. This young man leaped three times overboard to drown himself, in consequence of the Cruelty committed, and to avoid it for the future, but was taken up - The last time he leaped overboard, a Shark was within a yard of him, when he was taken up - Friday 20th Got on horseback at six o'Clock, rode to cross in Somersetshire. The Country is extremely beautiful, variegated by Hills & Valleys. About 12 or 13 miles from Bristol. There is a beautiful View on the right hand of the Bristol Channel & the Glamorganshire Hills - But the Day was rainy, and the Prospect in some measure prevented. I was almost wet through. Arrived at Cross which is 18 miles in two Hours & (10)? at 8 o Clock. Got on Horseback at eleven - arrived at Bridgewater, which is 18 miles, a little after one - It rained a great Part of the Time. - The Country from Cross to Bridgewater is a low, flat, marshy Country - Dined at Bridgewater - In the Evening waited upon Alderman Sealy, and the Mayor Mr Crandon, who told me he had disposed of my Summaries to the Gentlemen of the Corporation; that he would call an Hall in a Fortnight for the Purpose, and that he had little Doubt of succeeding; at the same Time, he would endeavour to recommend the same Conduct to the Towns People in order that the Town of Bridgewater might be wholly unanimous - ...
Source Files:
By Permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College Cambridge
38.5 KB File
Manuscript Diary p6-7
1.06 MB Image
Manuscript Diary p10-11
1018.5 KB Image
Manuscript Diary p12-13
1021.9 KB Image
Manuscript Diary p16-17
1.09 MB Image
Manuscript Diary p18-19
1011.1 KB Image
Manuscript Diary p20-21
944.7 KB Image

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