|Detail from sign at Greenbank House, Clarkston|
William Davenport, Liverpool
William Davenport (1725-1797) was apprenticed to William Whaley Liverpool merchant, becoming a freeman of Liverpool in 1749 trading as a grocer and wine merchant. He later went into partnership with members of the Earle family of Liverpool.
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Davenport immersed himself in business becoming involved in the slave trade. He traded in glass beads from Europe, at that time Venice was an important centre in the production of beads and these were highly prized in trading ventures with the west coast of Africa. Cowrie shells from the Maldives were another important trading commodity, they were used for decoration and as a form of currency in certain parts of Africa. Copper rods and fancy fabrics like silk and chintz were also in great demand. Each trading port had its own particular needs which were eagerly supplied by British merchants in return for slaves.
Davenport was part owner of the slave-ship Dalrymple on which Alexander Allason was master, he also part owned other ships such as the King of Prussia. Many Liverpool merchants were involved in the slave trade either directly or through partnerships with those who were. Old Calabar was an important African port for trade in slaves who would then be packed into ships to be sold in the West Indies for plantation work. There, cargoes of rum, sugar, coffee and indigo would be bought for the return journey to Liverpool and other ports in Britain.
Slaves were shackled and forced into overcrowded hold for the journey to the West Indies. Disease was rife and many tried to commit suicide by jumping overboard. Women and children were held separately from the men, but in equally appalling conditions. However sick slaves did not make for profit and many ships carried surgeons on board to deal with outbreaks of disease.
Here's a description of a slave ship on the Mersey by Ramsay Muir -
"This was the slaver, with its rakish build designed for swift sailing so as to minimize the loss by death among the human cargo during the horrors of the middle passage from West Africa to the West Indies, and with its low 'tween-decks fitted with close-set benches and chains, and its loose chain across the deck, under which the ankle-chains of the slaves were passed when they were brought up for exercise to the music of the whistling lash."
William Davenport was just one of many British merchants involved in the slave trade. Slavery was finally abolished in Britain in 1833.
The Davenport Papers, held by Liverpool Maritime Museum were brought to light in an episode of the BBC's Antiques Road Show in 2001.
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