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Issue 3 (January 2021):
Reform in the Long-Nineteenth Century
The Bolama Colony and Abolitionary Reform in Captain Beaver’s African Memoranda (1805)
Carol Bolton - Loughborough University
Beaver; Bolama; Sierra Leone; Africa; Colony; Abolition
In 1805, naval officer Captain Philip Beaver (1766-1813) published his African Memoranda: Relative to an Attempt to Establish a British Settlement on the Island of Bulama, on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Year 1792. Beaver’s text provides an absorbing testimony of his efforts to assist British colonisers in establishing their African settlement. Despite the colonial ambitions of this project, the ‘Bulama Association’ members were reformists at heart. Their high-minded intentions in purchasing the island and settling it, were to demonstrate the anti-slavery principle that propagation by ‘free natives’ would bring ‘cultivation and commerce’ to the region and ultimately introduce ‘civilization’ among them. The colonists’ ambitions to benefit the African economy and set a precedent of humanitarian labour for the slave-owning lobby in Britain, led to the extraordinary emigration of 275 men, women, and children in order to put their humanitarian ideals into practice. Within two years, all the colonists had died or returned to Britain, but Beaver asserted that their socio-economic model was successful and that future settlements would benefit from their efforts. This article examines the motives of the Bolama scheme within the context of other colonial projects (for instance in Sierra Leone) to demonstrate how British anti-slavery ideals combined with commercial ambitions to settle land in Africa at the end of the eighteenth century. It contributes to academic investigations into Atlantic history, popular abolitionist movements of the 1790s, and Romantic-period colonial policy, to demonstrate how such collective enterprises sought to expand British influence abroad.
Carol Bolton’s research centres on writing of the Romantic period that represents travel, exploration, and colonialism. She publishes journal articles on these subjects, as well as presenting her research at conferences. Her monograph, Writing the Empire: Robert Southey and Romantic Colonialism was published in 2007, and a modern edition of Robert Southey’s Letters from England in 2016. Her current research project is preparing an edition of ‘Captain Philip Beaver’s African Journal’ for publication with Anthem Press in 2022.
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