UK court archives on African history

The central criminal court in London, the Old Bailey has published court records from 1674-1913 online. The database includes records on the lives of Africans and their descendent’s in London.

The defence of highwayman Joseph Guy in 1767 was that ‘There are a thousand black men in London besides me’. Unsurprisingly, most appear in criminal contexts. Poor Thomas Robinson (‘a Negro Black Boy ‘), for example, was sentenced to death for house-breaking and stealing ‘divers Goods’ in 1724. But others were respectable citizens. John Bardoe was bought as a slave in Lagos by a Genoese sea-captain and, when their ship docked in London in 1859, Bardoe apparently freed himself with the aid of a fellow countryman and began working for another Italian. Bardoe then fell ill and, in a feverish state, assumed he was being recaptured. He first barricaded himself into his room, then made a break for it and stabbed a policeman in a rooftop chase. An interesting story in itself – but the translator at the trial was ‘Miss. M. B. Servano, a native of Yorubah, and educated in England’. There are lots of interesting analytical details there: social networks among Africans in London, the continuation of slavery at sea, perceptions of freedom, and the education of African women. Bardoe was found to have acted in self-defence and judged not guilty.

The publication of the archives on line is probably one of the most exciting additions to the history of Black people in Britain. I did my own search on “Calabar” which revealed this case for what appears to be the murder at sea of a Black servant by a ships Captain.


Thanks to Emeka

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