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A River Severn Pleasure Boat

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

There were some 2,000 voyages

Made from Bristol for enslavement

In the money hungry eighteenth century,

With the consequent transportation

Of over half a million people

On the Middle Passage from Africa

To the Americas and West Indies.

Merchants pulled the strings behind the rigging,

Filling the holds with brassware, guns and textiles,

Before that so-called Middle Passage,

With the holds now full to the ceiling and sides,

Packed tight and airless with a human cargo,

Until the return Atlantic voyage

With sugar, coffee and tobacco.

Textiles became less important

As the century progressed after Colston’s death,

But isn’t it counter-intuitive,

To imagine that no Stroudwater cloth

Ever went to Africa on those Bristol ships?

Isn’t it counter-intuitive,

To imagine that no Stroudwater cloth

Ever went by turnpike or river down

To the merchants at the docks in Bristol?

Perhaps it went downstream on that sloop,

An eleven ton slip of a thing,

Plying the Severn for sight-seeing,

In the words of the abolitionist,

The meticulous Thomas Clarkson:

‘a pleasure boat for the accommodation

Of only six persons’,

Yet used to transport thirty enslaved persons

On that six-week middle passage,

With less than three feet in headroom,

And just ‘four square feet to sit in’.

Perhaps fragments of soiled Stroudwater cloth

Were left on board that sloop, as it pitched

Through the shark scarlet foam splashed waves

Of the Black Atlantic Archipelago,

On that so-called Middle Passage.

Thirty persons in chains and manacles,

Three feet headroom,

Four square feet to sit in,

For at least six weeks,

With no air to breathe.

Not easy to revolt and take over that sloop.

So, we’ll think of you as we walk the River Severn,

On down to Bristol Docks with our Stroud scarlet cloth.

And tell this history every time we walk the Severn,

As we see a pleasure boat transformed before our eyes.

Written after reading From Wulfstan to Colston –

Severing the sinews of slavery in Bristol

Mark Steeds and Roger Ball Bristol Radical History Group


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