International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which aims to raise awareness of the atrocities of modern slavery, falls at the start of December. Accordingly, we’ve selected these Slave Ship Fetters as our object of the month.
These wrought iron fetters, which are shackles for the feet, were reputedly worn by slaves on board a slave ship captured by Commander George Kenyon off the west coast of Africa in 1843. However, historic records suggest that the fetters are more likely to have been seized at some point between 1841 and 1843, when Kenyon was serving as a Lieutenant on the ship ‘Madagascar’ under Captain John Foote. During this period, the ‘Madagascar’ captured five slave ships off the coast of west Africa, effecting the release of 1400 black slaves.
George Kenyon was the fourth son of Hon. Thomas Kenyon, of Pradoe, near Shrewsbury. The navel papers of Kenyon (now in Somerset Archive Office) give a most interesting account of the suppression of the slave trade on the African coast between 1842 and 1849. After his time as Lieutenant on the ‘Madagascar’, Kenyon became the Commander of the sloop ‘Cygnet’. Log books for the Cygnet record the arrest of slave ships on 12 December 1848, 26 January 1849, and 22 March 1849.
These fetters were acquired by Shrewsbury Museum in 1921 from members of George Kenyon’s family. Not only do they tell the story of a Shropshire man’s involvement in inhibiting the slave trade, they also serve as a recognisable symbol of historic enslavement. Unfortunately, modern slavery is far more difficult to spot than a set of shackled feet.