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West Indian Squadron

West Africa Squadron

The West Africa Squadron, established in 1808 after the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, was a unit of the Royal Navy that was involved in the suppression of the slave trade in West Africa. The unit was reportedly set up at great expense and patrolled the coast, at its height a sixth of the Royal Navy fleet and Marines were committed to it. With a home base at Portsmouth, It began in 1808 with two small ships, the Solebay and Derwent. The unit was brought under independent command of Commodore Sir George Ralph Collier in 1819 with a naval station created in West Africa. This station was a captured slaving port renamed Freetown by the British and formed the capital of the first British colony in Africa, Sierra Leone. Most of the freed slaves would choose to live in Sierra Leone as they would not have to fear being re-enslaved, a danger in any other part of Africa. From 1821 the squadron used Ascension Island as a supply depot, before being moved to Cape Town in 1832.

As the Royal Navy began interdicting slavers, the slavers responded by abandoning their merchant ships in favour of faster ships, particularly American clippers. At first the Royal Navy was often unable to catch these ships, however with the capture of slaver clippers and new faster ships from Britain the Royal Navy regained the upper hand. One of the most successful ships of the west African squadron was one such captured ship, renamed HMS Black Joke. She successfully caught 11 slavers in one year.

By the 1840s West African Squadron had begun receiving paddle steamers that proved superior in many ways to the sailing ships they replaced. They had no reliance on the wind and their shallow draughts meant they could go up rivers and patrol the shallow shores.

The West Africa Station was considered one of the worst postings due to the high levels of disease, however this did provide the Royal Navy surgeons the experience they would use to effectively fight such diseases.

As the 19th Century wore on the Royal Navy also began interdicting slavery in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean.

The West Africa Squadron was assisted by forces from the United States Navy, starting in 1820 with the USS Cyane. Initially this consisted of a few ships, but was eventually formalised by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 into the Africa Squadron.

The West Africa Squadron was credited with capturing 1,600 slave ships between 1808 and 1860 and freeing 150,000 Africans who were aboard these ships. The United States Navy captured a further 24 ships.

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