Modern history


The Trial of Pedro José de Zulueta in London for Trading in Slaves

PEDRO JOSÉ DE ZULUETA, son of a successful London merchant, a first cousin (and frequent partner) of the planter and slave merchant Julián Zulueta in Cuba, and an associate of the slave trader Pedro Blanco, was in 1841 charged in London with trading slaves. The accusation was that the previous year he had fitted out and used a ship, the Augusta, for the purpose of trading in slaves. He was tried with Thomas Jennings, who had captained the ship, when it was detained off the notorious river Gallinas, in what is now Liberia. The cargo shipped seemed suspicious—29 hogsheads of tobacco, 60 cases of arms, 1 case of looking glasses, 10 casks of copperware, 134 bales of unidentified merchandise (probably cloths), 1,600 iron pots, and 2,370 kegs of gunpowder—just the sort of cargo used in the slave trade. The prosecution established that the Augusta had in 1839 been known as the Gollupchick, and was sailing under a Russian flag, with Thomas Bernardos as the captain, commanding a crew that was mostly Spanish. Detained by a British naval officer, Captain Hill, the court in Sierra Leone declared that they could not act against a Russian ship—though there was plainly slave equipment aboard; in the judgment of Captain Hill, there were “more water casks than are necessary for an ordinary trading vessel . . . a caboose [kitchen] to hold a very large copper, gratings covered with temporary planks. . . .”

The ship was then sold to Zulueta and Co., at Portsmouth, for £650 and, according to the prosecution, dispatched as the Augusta to the river Gallinas, as part of an arrangement with the well-known firm of merchants of Cádiz and Havana, Pedro Martínez. The agreement was that payment should be made by the firm of Pedro Blanco with his associate Carballo, dealing from Cádiz, in Havana. There was no written specification that the ship was to take on slaves on the river Gallinas but, the prosecution argued, it could have no other purpose than that in that place: the only buildings there were slave barracoons.

The Augusta picked up part of her cargo at Liverpool and part of it at Cádiz. She was detained again by Captain Hill on the high seas off the river Gallinas; he was surprised to see his old prize, the Gollupchick, back on the West African coast in new colors.

The weakness of the prosecution’s case was that there was no sign of “slave equipment” by Canning’s definition on the Augusta when she was detained under that name. But Captain Hill testified that any ship could be turned into a slave ship in a short time. Numerous witnesses were called to prove that the river Gallinas had no other business than slaves so that, if the Augusta were bound for there, the purpose must have been the slave trade. But did Zulueta know that? The prosecution could not prove that he did; and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

In the light of the realization that, on the one hand, there was no trade other than the slave trade on the Gallinas and, on the other, that both Pedro Blanco and Pedro Martínez were major slave merchants (the former was called the largest slave trader in the world by Judge H. W. Macaulay), the verdict must seem rather generous. Zulueta formally told a House of Lords select committee that neither he, his father, nor his grandfather had ever had “any kind of interest of any sort, or derived any emolument or connexion from the slave trade”; and he was believed. Yet Pedro Blanco usually had all his bills in London drawn on Zulueta and Co.; and later evidence (not found in time for the trial) showed that the cargo of the Augusta was destined for three well-known slave merchants on the river: José Pérez Rola, Angel Ximénez, and José Alvarez.

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