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The role played by the French flag in the Indian Ocean slave trade 1860-1900

As noted earlier, British navy officers were keen to overestimate the role of French dhows and make them bear all responsibilities for their inability to suppress the slave trade. British consuls in Zanzibar like Kirk, or Playfair before him and others afterwards, repeatedly pointed out that the French flag ‘threatens to paralyze the operations of our cruisers’.62 Nevertheless, incidents involving the French flag were far from being as numerous as British officials argued. Only an average of one French dhow a year was caught by the Royal Navy while engaged in the slave trade between 1860 and 1900 as it could be established thanks to both British and French archives - as shown in Table 2.5. In the meantime, as we already mentioned in Chapter One, British cruisers ‘captured some 1,000 dhows, liberating approximately 12,000 slaves’ in the Indian Ocean during this period.6’’ We can not only conclude that Navy operations not only ‘freed’ ‘a small fraction of the ... Africans exported out of East Africa in the nineteenth century’, but also that the 40-45 French cases - summarized in Table 2.4 - were not such a significant part of their overall seizures.64 If French dhows had been so crucial to the traffic the number of French dhows caught while engaged in the slave trade should have been greater.

Above all, the fleet of French dhows was, from a practical point of view, too small to carry alone most of the Western Indian Ocean slave trade in rhe second half of the nineteenth century as it is illustrated by the traffic between Zanzibar and Oman around 1900. At rhe rime, it is estimated rhat around 1,000 slaves were annually imported from Zanzibar ro Sur, Oman’s busiest slave trading port.65 We know that 56 dhows from Sur were officially flying the French flag in 1904.66 The average of slaves carried by each dhow was estimated as five to ten per dhow by the Muscat British Consul himself in 18 93.67 If we admit that half of the Suri dhows flying the French flag - a really high proportion compared to the figures

Table 2.4 Estimate of cases of slave trade under the French flag according to French and British consular authorities in Zanzibar, 1858-1903.88

Location

Number of cases

Zanzibar

19

Comoro Islands

10

Mozambique

4

Madagascar

6

La Réunion

1

Oman

3

Total

43

French flag in the Indian Ocean 57 given by most French consuls or the seizures of the British Navy - were engaged in this slave traffic, we can come to the reasonable conclusion that ‘no more’ than 500-600 slaves could, ‘at best’, have been transported every year by French dhows. This estimation is confirmed by the report of Percy Cox, then British Consul in Muscat, stating that over 560 slaves had been brought to Sur under the French flag out of a total of a thousand in the year 1900.68 To embrace this question from a higher standpoint, we must recall that around 347,000 slaves were carried from East Africa to Arabia, Persia, and India throughout the nineteenth century.69 In the 1860s and early 1870s, Abdul Sheriff estimated that 3,000 slaves were annually deported to Arabia.70 At this time - see Table 2.1 - the French fleet sailing through Zanzibar was composed of 60-80 dhows on a total of 400-500. It is unlikely that these dhows carried alone the traffic towards Arabia whereas they just represented one fourth of the whole fleet. All in all, these facts are only interesting because they reflect how the Anglo-French imperial rivalry crystallised on the French flag and the repression of the slave trade in the Indian Ocean. Of course, this argument does not add much to more important issues such as the terrible human consequences of the Middle Passage in the Indian Ocean.71

Nevertheless, French dhows can also help us to a better understanding of the structures, which shaped slave trafficking in the Indian Ocean. For instance, most of the incidents between France and Britain over the French flag, during the second half of the nineteenth century, took place in Zanzibar, the Comoro Islands, and on the west coast of Madagascar; mainly in Nossi-Bé. Towards the end of the period, major incidents also took place in Muscat and Sur as mentioned earlier. Over the 40-45 cases of slave trading under the French flag officially listed in the archives, we can estimate that 19 took place in Zanzibar, six in Madagascar, ten in the Comoro Islands and three in Muscat as seen in Table 2.4. As Zanzibar -with Kilwa its counterpart on the continent- was the busiest slave trade market of the entire Western Indian Ocean, it is logical, that most of these cases are associated with this harbour.72 On the other hand, the Comoros appear to be almost as important as Zanzibar. Two factors can explain these facts. First of all, the Comoros Islands - Mayotte in particular -probably had the most important fleet of French dhows after Zanzibar even no precise records could yet be found for the whole period.73 Secondly, the Comoros Islands were at the heart of an illegal traffic which provided indentured or contracted labourers - engagés in French - for the local plantations as well as for those of Madagascar and la Réunion. In the early 1860s, Rear-Admiral Walker, head of the British naval station in the Indian Ocean, was ordered ‘to ascertain all the facts regarding a report that French vessels were again engaged in exporting negroes as free labourers from the east coast of Africa to the French colonies’. After receiving different reports from various navy officers, he came to the conclusion that ‘a brisk and increasing slave trade’ was ‘carried on under the protection of the French

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean.

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

HCPP 1860 2749-1 Class B

  • 1858, December 13 (incl
  • 1 in n°62)

Recruitment of free labourers: ‘L’Alexandre’ 300 slaves of both sexes for la Réunion (free labourers) transferred on ‘La Glorieuse’ in Zanzibar

Zanzibar

European sailing vessel

1

1859, November 9 (incl 2 in n°59)

Right of visit: ‘Le Phénix’ (recruitment of indentured labourers) visited by H.M.S. ‘Alecto’

Mana Rock, Gallinas, Liberia

European sailing vessel

1

1859, March 16 (incl 2 in n°62)

Recruitment of free labourers: 2 French ships and 1 French war ship

Kivingia (Zanzibar) European sailing vessel

2

1859, April 4 (incl 3 in n°62)

Recruitment of free labourers: 2 French ships and 1 French war ship TEstafette’

Kilwa (off Zanzibar) European sailing vessel

3

1860, February (incl 74)

Spanish vessel ‘Caridad’ inspected (affaire Mas) and dispatched by the French Consul

Zanzibar

European sailing vessel

HCPP 1861 2823-1 Class B

1860 June 2 (n°55)

‘Ville d’Aigues Morte’ with 565 African immigrants from the Congo

Martinique

European sailing vessel

HCPP 1861 2823 Class A

1860, August 22

One Arab vessel with French colours bound to Nossi-Bé

Madagascar Dhow

4

58 The slave trade in Zanzibar

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

HCPP 1862 2958 Class A

1861, July 26 (incl 1 in n°106)

Dhow with French colours ‘Dzonmoque’ from Mohilla found to Mayotte with 93 slaves

Mohilla, Comoro Islands Dhow

5

1861, June 12 (incl 3 in n°106)

Visit of a dhow with French flag

Johanna, Comoro Islands Dhow

2

1862 2959 Class B

1861, February 28

Suspicion of slave trade: ‘Don Juan’ bound to Cuba

Congo river

European sailing vessel

1861, July 17 (n°84)

‘Antankare’ French schooner bound to Mayotte and Nossi-Bé

Johanna, Comoro Islands European sailing vessel

6

HCPP 1863 3159 Class A

1862, June 22

‘L’Indéfatigable’ from la Réunion visited by ‘Narcissus’

West Coast of Madagascar European sailing vessel

3

HCPP 1863 3160 Class B

1862, September 18 (n°121)

‘Zumonie’ dhow with French colours belonging to M. Boursier, 93 slaves on board visited by H.M.S. ‘Brisk’

Mohilla, Comoro Islands Dhow

7

French flag in the Indian Ocean 59

(Continued)

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Tear and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1862, June 14 (n°133)

‘Marie’ French barque with 282 African emigrants from Loango

Martinique

European sailing vessel

1862, September 5 (n°140)

‘Stella’, ‘Sans Norn’, ‘Renaissance’ African immigrants under Régis contract

Martinique

European sailing vessel

HCPP 1864 3339 Class A

1863, March 6 (incl 2 in n°129)

Slave trade : ‘Fataou Salama’ dhow with French colours bound from Zanzibar visited by H.M.S. ‘Ariel’

Zanzibar Dhow

8

1863, October 10, MAE CADN 748/POA 132

‘Fataou Salama’ suspected of being engaged in the slave trade

Zanzibar Dhow

9

1864 3339-1 Class B

1863, April 26

Dhow with French colours boarded by H.M.S. ‘Ariel’ off Mohilla

Mohilla, Comoro Islands Dhow

4

1863, September 14 (incl 4 in n°82)

Ghanja Dhow ‘Baroongo’ belonging to subjects of the British State of Kutch flying French colours and register obtained at Nossi-Bé

Zanzibar Dhow

5

HCPP 1865 3503 Class A

1863, November 17 (n°132)

Recruitment of free labourers: schooner carrying the French flag

Banana point, mouth of Congo river

European sailing vessel

60 The slave trade in Zanzibar

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1865 3503-1 Class B

1864, March 16 (n°62)

'Pondichéry of Marseille’ brigantine captured by the Spanish steamer of war ‘Neptuno’ with 682 slaves on board having no papers but showing French colours

Havana

European sailing vessel

1864, March 24 (n°63/ n°95)

'Dukeyikeh’ Arab vessel belonging to Saed Bin Thani of Soor with French register and French colours shipped a cargo of nearly 300 slaves

Kilwa (Zanzibar) to Maculla, Maidha near Bunder Broom

Dhow

11

1864, March 30 (n°64)

‘Cicerón’ one the several steamer purchased by Don Juilan de Zulueta, a notorious slave dealer in Havana.‘Cicerón’ hoisted English and French colours to avoid visit from French and British ships of war. In ballast at Marseilles

Marseilles

European steam vessel

1864, October, 6 (incl 1-5 in n°92)

Abuse of the right of visit by H.M.S. ‘Ariel’ on ‘Noussoura’ French dhow from Mayotte mastered by Bakary Matsindé

Kissimayouou (Mayotte), Mohilla (Comoro), Kilwa (Zanzibar)

Dhow

6

1863, October 6, MAE CADN 748/POA 132

Abuse of the right of visit H.M.S. ‘Ariel’ on French dhow ‘Noufsoura’

Idem

7

French flag in the Indian Ocean

(Continued)

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Tear and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1864, April 26 (n°102)

Dhow leaving

60 slaves on shore with French papers visited by Governor of Kilwa

Kilwa (Zanzibar) Dhow

12

HCPP 1866 3635 1 Class B

1865, February 27 (incl 1 in n°50)

Abuse of the right of visit on 'Jean et Camille’

Little Popo (African west coast, Bight of Benin) European sailing vessel

8

HCPP 1867-1868 4000 1 Class B

1866, June 2 (incl 1 in n°56)

'Messager de Nossi-Bé’ denounced by Consul Pakenham in Madagascar as engaged in the slave trade from Mahanoro to la Réunion

Mahanoro, Madagascar European vessel

13

HCPP 1867 3816 Class A

1865, September 26 (n°77)

'Lord Byron’ French dhow boarded by H.M.S. ‘Vigilant’

Island of Sumbat (Zanzibar) Dhow

9

HCPP 1870 C 141 Class B

62 The slave trade in Zanzibar

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1869, May 23 (incl 1 in n°l)

SEE ALSO 1871 C 340 №41

‘Salama’ Arab dhow belonging to M Rabuad frères, Roux de Fraissinet and Cie, drowned by H.M.S. ‘Dryad’ and cargo confiscated

Nossi-Bé (Madagascar) Dhow

14

10

1870, June 5 (incl in n°70)

Suspicion of slave trade on five Arab dhows with French colours and papers

Majunga, Comoro Islands Dhow

19

HCPP 1872 C.657 Class B

1871, March 23 (n°66) and (n°5)

French Dhow ‘Grimaldi’ boarded a slave from the Zanzibar dhow ‘Salamater’ when spotted by H.M.S. ‘Columbine’

Cape Delgado

(Mozambique)

Dhow

20

HCPP 1873 C867-I Class B

1872, December 31 (incl in n°5)

Bughala dhow under French colours landed slaves in Makulla near Muscat owned by Abdulla bin Salim el Khemenz

Makulla near Muscat Dhow

21

1873, February 12, MAE CADC, 143 CP4, 196

French Dhows abusively (?) boarded by H.M.S. ‘Daphne’

Bouya near Zanzibar Dhow

11

HCCP 1875 C 1168

1874, February 7 (n°25)

A French dhow failing to show her colours to H.M.S. ‘Daphne’

Off Cape Boilion Dhow

12

French flag in the Indian Ocean

(Continued)

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Tear and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1874, September 21 (n°76, №88)

A French dhow ‘Fath El Kheir’ boarded by H.M.S. ‘Glasgow’. 5 children slaves found on board French Consul sent back the dhow to Mayotte

OffTumbat island (northwest coast of Zanzibar)

Dhow

22

1876 C 1588

1875, April 29 (n°67)

Capture of a French Dhow ‘Fatal Kheir’ by H.M.S. ‘Flying Fish’ handed over to authorities at Mayotte

Dhow

23

HCPP 1877 Cl 829

1876, March 11 (n°367 see n°139,143)

French vessel engaged in the slave trade between Mozambique, Madagascar and la Réunion ‘Etienne St Lawrence’ boarded by H.M.S. ‘Thetis’

Tullear, Mozambique coast Dhow

24

1876, May 18 (n°297)

A dhow under the French flag owned by Seyd Akil of Dufar, a large vessel coming from Madagascar took slaves at Pemba and registered them as passengers before the French Consul in Zanzibar

Zanzibar Dhow

25

1876, November 13 (n°359)

The French Consul sends the owner of a dhow under French colours to prison as he established that he was engaged in the slave trade but the man is released by the Sultan

Zanzibar Dhow

26

64 The slave trade in Zanzibar

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1876, February 21 (n°52)

French schooner ‘Africa’ discovered by French authorities at Nossi-Bé, Madagascar; sent to la Réunion to be prosecuted

Nossi-Bé, Madagascar Dhow

27

HCPP 1880 IC.2720]

1879, September 29 (n°67, 77,117)

A dhow flying French colours destroyed by H.M.S. ‘Spartan’ after being seized while landing slaves from Mayotte

Nos Fali, Madagascar Dhow

28

13

HCPP 1881 C3052

  • 1880, August 17 (n°293) see also n°287 in
  • 1882 C3160

Seizure of a French dhow, Djamila (captain Hamadi Bin Maaroof) with 94 slaves on board by the Sultan of Zanzibar

Zanzibar harbour Dhow

29

HCPP 1882 C3160

1881 August 26 (n°201, 213,297)

Two French dhows, one called saint Yusuf, illegally boarded and searched by H.M.S. ‘Ruby’. Procedures not respected

Lindi Harbour Dhow

14

(Continued)

French flag in the Indian Ocean

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Tear and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1881 December 4 (n°237)

Captain Brownrigg killed while boarding a dhow flying the French flag. British authorities asked for temporary right of search. French authorities refused

Pemba island Dhow

30

HCPP 1883 C3547

1883,

January 5 (n°195)

A schooner under British colours, ‘Gazelle’, seized by H.M.S. ‘Harrier’ with slaves at Johanna. Vessel owned by a French planter, M. Caltaux from la Réunion, married to a British subject

Johanna, Comoro Islands European sailing vessel

31

1888 C5428

1886, November 18 (n°112)

Schooners ‘Town of Liverpool’ from Mauritius flying the British flag and ‘Venus’ and ‘Bretagne’ from la Réunion flying the French flag (French owners and chartered in la Réunion)

Madagascar and la Réunion European sailing vessel

33

1887, June 30 (n°144)

French vessel ‘Félicité’ arrived at la Réunion with 15 slaves from Madagascar

La Réunion

European sailing vessel

34

1887, March 27 (incl 2 in n°47)

Dhow ‘Arakan’ flying French colours. Paper produced in orders. Boarded by H.M.S. ‘Reindeer’

Zanzibar Dhow

15

HCPP 1888 C.5578

66 The slave trade in Zanzibar

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1887, December 7 (incl 1 in n°4)

Dhow ‘M’saperi’ captain Rachidi M’souri from Mayotte complained that H.M.S. ‘Garnet’ boarded and detained his vessel without any reason

Kwale, off Zanzibar Dhow

16

1888, October 28, MAE CADN 748/POA 132

Arab dhow flying French colours boarded by H.M.S. ‘Algérine’ 170 slaves found on board

Mozambique Dhow

35

1893, July 4, MAE CADN 748/POA 132 see also MAE CADN 748POA 111, 180CP COM 46, 267)

Dhow ‘Fath El Kheir’ arrested by H.M.S. ‘Philomel’ with 77 slaves on board

(acquittal at la Réunion, 18 Octobre 1893

Zanzibar Harbour Dhow

36

1896, September, Brunet-Millon, Charles. Boutriers de la Mer des Indes, 235 et MAE CADC, 180 CP COM 44/P 191,77-83, 88-92, 95-124

Dhows ‘Salama’ and ‘Saad’ arrested by H.M.S. ‘Sphinx’ for being engaged in the slave trade and conducted to Muscat to be handled to the French Consul : 170 slaves freed including 40 children under the age of 12 years old

Muscat Dhow

38

French flag teared down by Royal Navy officers before entering Muscat harbour.

French flag in the Indian Ocean

(Continued) OS

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Tear and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1897, September, MAE CADN 748/POA 132 / 180 CP COM 44,197

'Fath El Rahman’ dhow flying French colours abusively arrested for being engaged in the slave trade

Mombasa Dhow

17

1897, August, MAE CADC, 180 CP COM 44/P 191,181-185

‘Majunga’ French dhow arbitrarily visited by British authorities

Pemba

Dhow

18

1898, June, MAE CADC, 180 CP COM 45/P 191,86-94, 224, 228 (Judgement)

Dhows ‘Majunga’ and ‘Selama’, owner and captain, Selim ben Seif arrested in Pemba by British authorities for transporting seven slaves. British authorities refused to handle him to French authorities contesting his status as French protégés

Pemba

Dhow

40

1899, May 4, MAE

CADN 748POA 111

French dhow also named 'Fath El Kheir” condemned at la Réunion for being involved in the slave trade

Zanzibar Dhow

41

1900, April 27, MAE CADC 180 CP COM 46, 73

French ‘Diriki’, Z 45, arrested with three (children) slaves

Zanzibar Dhow

42

68 The slave trade in Zanzibar

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1900, September 3, MAE CADC 180 CP COM 46,113

French dhow 'Fath el Kheir’, M10, seized and sold for being engaged in the slave trade by the Portuguese Navy

Langa, Mozambique Dhow

43

1902, September, Charles Brunet-Millon, Boutriers de la Mer des Indes, 264-265

French dhow owner and French protégé Djouma Ben Mbarak arrested in Zanzibar

Zanzibar Dhow

1902, March, Charles Brunet-Millon, Boutriers de la Mer des Indes, 294

A French dhow 'Fath el Keir’ sank in Dubai after a collision with a Muscat Dhow

Dubai Dhow

1903, April, Charles Brunet-Millon, Boutriers de la Mer des Indes, 296

Five French protégés arrested in on their Badan dhow by H.M.S. 'Perseus’ near Ras Abou Daoud and sent to prison by Captain Cox for breaking quarantine

Sur, Persian Gulf Dhow

19

1907, March, 180 CP COM 47,184

French dhow ‘Kadra’, seized by the 'Aréthuse’ for being engaged in the arms trade and taken to the French Consul in Muscat

Ras Hafoun, Somalia Dhow

1909, February, 180 CP COM 47, 223

French dhow 'Zaher’ previously known as 'Marseille’, arms on board abusively seized by the Italian Navy

Ras Hanouf, Somalia Dhow

French flag in the Indian Ocean 69

(Continued)

Table 2.5 Slave trade cases involving French dhows in parallel with cases of the Royal Navy abuse of the right of visit on French dhows between 1858 and 1914 in the Western Indian Ocean. (Continued)

Year and archives references

Name of the boat and nature of the incident

Place and type of vessel

Slave trade cases (only cases in the Indian Ocean are numbered)

Abuse of the right of visit cases

1911, July, 180 CP COM 47,244

French dhow ‘Mo^affa’ abusively visited by the British Navy

Persian Gulf Dhow

20

1914, October, MAE CP COM 47, 293

French dhow ‘Selamti’ forced to pay a bribe (extortion case? ) by the Sultan of Ras Korei

Ras Korei, Persian Gulf Dhow

TOTAL NUMBER OF CASES

43

20

The slave trade in Zanzibar

French flag in the Indian Ocean 71 flag’.74 He based his conclusion on a report sent to him by Captain De Horsey written in July 1861. The navy officer denounced that ‘negroes ... are constantly being imported to Mayotte ... [and] not called slaves but engagés’.75 Twenty-three years later, Kirk in Zanzibar denounced ‘a large slave trade from the Portuguese possessions to the French colonies in Madagascar and the Comoro islands’ when ‘a large dhow’ under French colours ‘fully loaded up at Kisanga with slaves ... sailed for Nossi-Bé’.76

The testimonials quoted earlier are emblematic of the new system of servitude - indentured labour - which partly replaced the European slave trade in the Western Indian Ocean after the abolition of slavery in British and French colonies.77 The cases mentioned earlier prove that an illegal system of recruitment existed to supply French colonies in the Indian Ocean, mainly the Comoro Islands, Madagascar, and la Réunion. In her study of indentured labour in Madagascar, Jehanne-Emmanuelle Monnier demonstrated that ‘the official end of recruitment in Africa [1859] did not end exactions against Africans engagés’.78 She showed that ‘illegal convoys’ persisted in the second half of the century mainly towards Mayotte or Nossi-Bé.79 Sidi Ainouddine has also proven that in the Comoros Islands ‘the recruitment of slaves continued until 1904’ when slavery was finally abolished by the French governor in Ngazigja.80 In most cases, illegal recruitment of slaves as engagés was carried out with the complicity of some French officials on the spot as well as local chiefs. Richard B. Allen pointed out that this new form of servitude led to a flow of illegal slave trade between East Africa, Madagascar, and the Mascarenes throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. It is estimated that around 50,000 engagés were deprived of their freedom by French slavers.81 As mentioned earlier, the French government had set up a Naval Station in the Indian Ocean. Commanders of this squadron had the duty to put an end to these illegal practices.82 Nevertheless, the French naval squadron achieved very little in the Indian Ocean. Only 22 vessels were seized between 1858 and 1889 around Madagascar, the Comoros, la Réunion, and Zanzibar.83 Further research should, however, be conducted to see if other data cannot be found and investigate the reasons behind what seems a great failure. In the Atlantic for comparison, the French squadron seized 99 vessels and freed 8,000 slaves between 1815 and 1832.84

Apart from the supply of indentured labourers, the French flag was also involved in the Malagasy slave trade. In the 1870s, Gwyn Campbell points that ‘between 6,000 and 10,000 slaves’ were annually imported into the island.85 This was at the heights of the traffic just before the Sultan of Zanzibar signed in 1873, under the threat of a naval blockade, a new treaty with Britain forbidding the slave trade within his dominions as we will see in Chapter Five.86 Again it is hard to believe that the French flag alone played a central role in the traffic considering the seize of the fleet. As for Muscat in the 1900s, the number of French dhows was, however, too small to be able to carry the whole traffic. With a fleet of around 100 vessels - see

Table 1.1 in Chapter One - French dhows could ‘just’ have handled half of the Malagasy slave trade.87

All these guess-estimates which have been drawn from new archival data help us to draw a more nuanced picture of the role played by French dhows in the Western Indian Ocean slave trade throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. If they played a relatively significant role in illegal slave trade there, they were far from being responsible for the whole traffic as British colonial officials often argued at the time. Besides, French dhows also highlight some important features of the Indian Ocean slave trade and reveal the importance of indentured labour in French colonies as well. Finally, as we will see in the following chapter, French dhows are a good entry into the understanding of British anti-slavery discourse since they became one of the great focus points of authorities and public opinion. In contrast with Britain’s ‘noble crusade’, they embodied the evils of human trafficking concealed under a European flag. This made the interference of British naval power more legitimate even if their lawfulness could be questioned. Indeed, as we will now see, dhows stressed the limits imposed by international law and the sovereignty of states to humanitarian operations against the slave trade at sea.

Acknowledgements

Parts of this chapter were published in an earlier form in ‘Le blocus de Zanzibar 1888-1889: entre “intervention d’humanité”, colonisation et droit international.’ Outre-Mers, no. 402-403 (2019): 107-126, and ‘The French Flag in Zanzibar Waters 1860s-1900s: Abolition and Imperial Rivalry in the Western Indian Ocean.’ The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, (2020) DOI: 10.1080/03086534.2020.1783115.

 
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