No. 454.
Mr. Boker to Mr. Fish.

No. 81.]

Sir: I have the honor to say, in reply to dispatch No. 75, from the Department of State, under date of February 10, 1873, instructing me to make inquiries as to the alleged practice of conveying slaves in British vessels between Tripoli and Malta, and thence to Constantinople, that I have had an interview with the British embassador, Sir Henry Elliot, on that subject, and with the following result:

Sir Henry Elliot admitted that slaves had been carried in British steamers from Tripoli, via Malta, to Constantinople, but that this had been done in spite of the vigilance of the authorities at Malta rather than by their connivance. In all cases where it had been suspected that slaves were on board a vessel, the ship had been searched, and if any slaves had been found they were at once set free. This has always been the practice, though of late the British government has taken the authorities of Malta to task for having relaxed in zeal, and has issued stringent orders that will probably prove effective in suppressing the illegal transportation of slaves. If anything further be needed, further measures will be adopted to meet the case.

The officers of British steamers can hardly be held as greatly culpable for having carried slaves from port to port upon the crowded deck of a Mediterranean steamer. Where people are packed almost solidly together, where third and fourth class passengers take up positions upon embarking from which they scarcely stir until the voyage is over, it is almost impossible to discriminate in the condition of men. When slaves have been brought aboard a ship at Tripoli, they have always been presented as the dealer’s servants, traveling with their master. They never appear with the traditional clout about their loins and a hoe in their hands, but clad for deception in fine clothes that are worn for the occasion; and as they speak no European language, and are always under the jealous eye of their owner, they have neither the [Page 1107] means nor the opportunity to appeal to the ubiquitous British philanthropist. This much may be said by way of apology for the well-founded scandal that, from time to time, slaves have been carried about in British vessels.

Too much praise cannot be given to the Turkish government for the rigorous way in which they have endeavored to suppress the transportation of slaves within Turkish waters. Upon the arrival of every ship that may contain slaves at Constantinople, she is thoroughly searched by the zapties, and every man who is suspected of being held in slavery is at once set at liberty, and provided with papers of manumission. This is sometimes done even against the will of the dependent creatures, who are thus subjected to a new if legal form of slavery, which they in their blindness hold to be worse than their former state.

The foregoing remarks apply only to the rude and coarse slavery of men. As to the more refined and elegant slavery of the harem, that is a luxury in whose suppression no man or law has yet dared to engage. What would be said of even a sturdy British sailor who dared to refuse to transport the harem of a Turk—wife, slaves, eunuchs, and all—it is vain to conjecture. So far that sacred institution voyages as it lists, and in whatever bottoms it may elect, and woe to the presuming giaour who should say it nay! In illustration of the danger of dealing with this very peculiar domestic institution, the following adventure befell Sir Henry Elliot a short time ago: He was informed that, in a certain part of the city, there had been gathered together a number of female Circassian slaves, and that the poor wretches were about to be shipped off to Egypt, torn from their families, homes, affections, &c., much against their wills. Sir Henry was appealed to, in the name of humanity, to prevent the atrocity. Filled with righteous zeal, he sought and found the unfortunate females. The story that had moved him he found to be true to the letter. There were the cowering slaves of our mother’s sex, and they were about to be shipped to Alexandria. So far the case looked perfect for the intervention of the most pugnacious philanthrophy. But what was the account that the gentle oppressed creatures gave of their own feelings and sufferings when thus free to speak in the august presence of the British embassador? Their words were to this effect: “Yes, we are slaves, and we wish to be slaves; and we wish to go to Cairo because we are unhappy at home; and we further wish that Her Britannic Majesty’s embassador would mind his own business!” I need not say that the negotiation ended without so much as the signing of a protocol between the high contracting parties.

The above incident terminated my interview with Sir Henry Elliot on the subject of the transportation of slaves in British ships trading between Tripoli, via Malta, and Constantinople, the substance of which conversation I have endeavored to report faithfully.

I have, &c.,