HMS Black Joke (1827)

The third HMS Black Joke was probably built in Baltimore in 1824, becoming the Brazilian slave ship Henriquetta.[2] The Royal Navy captured her in September 1827 and purchased her into the service. The Navy re-named her Black Joke, after an English song of the same name, and assigned her to the West Africa Squadron (or Preventive Squadron). Her role was to chase down slave ships, and over her five-year career she freed many hundreds of slaves. The Navy deliberately burnt her in May 1832 because her timbers had rotted to the point that she was no longer fit for active service.

HMS Black Joke firing on El Almirante by Nicholas Matthews Condy
FateCaptured by the Royal Navy in 1827
United Kingdom
NameHMS Black Joke
NamesakeBlack Joke (bawdy song)
AcquiredCaptured 1827
DecommissionedMay 1832
FateBurnt on orders from London
General characteristics
Class and typeBaltimore clipper
Tons burthenApprox. 260 ton (bm)
Length90 ft 10 in (27.7 m)[1]
Beam26 ft 7 in (8.1 m)[1]
Sail planBrig
Complement34 sailors & 5 marines
ArmamentOne pivot-mounted 18-pounder gun
Service record
Part of: West Africa Squadron
  • 1827–1828 Lt. W. Turner
  • 1828–1829 Lt. Henry Downes
  • 1829–1832 Lt. William Ramsay

Henriquetta – slaver

Built as a Baltimore clipper (possibly as the vessel Griffen[1]), Henriquetta (also Henri Quatre) was a brig designed to be fast. Brazilian owners purchased her in 1825,[1] and she worked for a slave dealer at Bahia, making £80,000 (approximately £6,990,000 in 2021, when adjusted for inflation), by running 3,040 slaves across to Brazil in six voyages over a period of three years.[3][4]

HMS Sybille captured her on 6 September 1827.[5] Commodore Francis Collier of Sybille wrote to the Admiralty noting that at the time of her capture Henriquetta was 257 tons, mounted three guns and had a crew of 38 men. She had 569 enslaved Africans on board "and had landed at Bahia 3,360 slaves in the last two years".[6]

She was sold at auction in Sierra Leone on 5 January 1828, for £330 (approximately £30,000 in 2021).[4][lower-alpha 1]

Black Joke – slaver catcher

The Navy took her into service as a tender to Sybille, under the command of Lieutenant William Turner of Sybille. During her service with the Navy, Black Joke's crew included an assistant surgeon, three midshipmen, thirty seamen and five marines as well as a number of Liberian Kroomen for use on detached boat service. Her armament consisted of one long 18-pounder on a pivot mount.[lower-alpha 2]

On 5 January 1828 she sailed with Sybille and the 20-gun post ship Esk. On 12 January she captured the Spanish schooner Gertrudes (or Gertrudis), which carried 155 slaves.[8][lower-alpha 3] Gertrudes had outrun the other two British warships, but not Black Joke.

On 2 April a Spanish 14-gun brig fired on Black Joke as she approached the brig. After two hours of exchanging shots, and after suffering several casualties, the brig hoisted a flag of truce. She turned out to be the Providentia, of 14 guns and a crew of 80 men. She had fired on the Black Joke as Providentia's captain had been warned that a Colombian privateer answering to the same description as Black Joke was in the area. Turner therefore released her. Black Joke suffered no casualties; Providentia had numerous of her crew killed and wounded.[8]

On 1 May 1828 Black Joke fought the large and well-armed pirate Presidenté from Buenos Aires. After two hours of action, and following the death of their captain and two others, as well as the wounding of a number more, the crew of the Presidenté sought a truce. (Black Joke sustained one killed and a number wounded.) The crew of Presidenté underwent an examination before being committed for trial on charges of piracy. Many of her crew appeared to be British or have anglicized names, and they were sent back to England for trial. The next day Black Joke retook the Portuguese vessel Hosse, which Presidenté had taken as a prize. Presidente was lost at sea on her way to Sierra Leone but Black Joke earned salvage money for Hosse.[8][lower-alpha 4]

On 16 May, Black Joke captured Vengador.[9] She had a crew of 45 men and eight guns but offered no resistance. She carried 645 slaves, the most ever captured on a single ship.[8][lower-alpha 5]

On 14 September Black Joke was in company with Primrose when Primrose captured the Zephirina or Zephorina.[10] Zephorina was carrying 218 slaves.[lower-alpha 6]

On 14 November Turner received promotion to commander. He turned over command of Black Joke to Lieutenant Henry Downes of Sybille. In November of the same year Black Joke was forced to leave the coast of Bioko (Fernando Po), due to fever on board.

HMS Black Joke and prizes (clockwise from top left) Spanish brig Providentia, Brazilian brig Vengador, Buenos Ayrean privateer Presidente, brigantine El Hassey, Spanish brig El Almirante and brigantine Marianna.

In January 1829 Black Joke saw a Spanish brig as the Spaniard loaded slaves and set sail for Havana. Black Joke chased the Spaniard for 31 hours and on 1 February, when the wind dropped, resorted to sweeps to bring herself within gunshot of her prey. El Almirante mounted a total of 14 guns (ten Gover's 18-pounder cannon and four long 9-pounders) and had a crew of 80 men.[lower-alpha 7] Black Joke was almost half the size of El Almirante and mounted two guns. Good ship-handling, the discipline of the Royal Navy gun crew, and light winds gave Lieutenant Downes the advantage. In 80 minutes he defeated and captured the slaver, which suffered 15 dead, including the captain and the first and second mates, and a further 13 wounded, while Black Joke suffered six wounded, two of whom died later.[13] El Almirante held 466 slaves, who were later landed.[14][lower-alpha 8]

On 6 March Black Joke captured the 2-gun brigantine Carolina, which carried 420 slaves.[9][lower-alpha 9] After this capture Downes was invalided home because of illness, and received a promotion to Commander on his return in recognition of the capture of El Almirante. He had freed a total of 875 slaves.[8]

Black Joke then came under the command of Lieutenant E.J. Parrey. On 11 October he captured the Christina (or Cristina), a Spanish schooner of three guns and 24 crew members. She was carrying 354 slaves.[8][lower-alpha 10] Lieutenant William Coyde replaced Parrey, and on 1 April 1830 captured the Spanish brigantine Manzanares of three guns and 34 crew. Manzanares was carrying 354 slaves.[8][lower-alpha 11]

Later that month Black Joke was in refit in Sierra Leone. Coyde's replacement in Black Joke was Lieutenant William Ramsay.[8]

On 9 November she captured Dos Amigos, a Baltimore schooner with a crew of 34 and armed with a single carronade; Dos Amigos had 567 African captives aboard, but may have relanded them before her capture.[8] The Admiralty put Dos Amigos up for auction where the commodore of the British Anti-Slavery Squadron, Jonathan Hayes, bought her and named her Fair Rosamond. In December Black Joke was cruising in the Bight of Benin with Medina.

On 21 or 22 February 1831 Black Joke captured a slaver with 300 slaves on board. This was probably the Spanish schooner Primeira. At the time Black Joke was acting as a tender to Dryad,[16][lower-alpha 12] and was under the temporary command of W L Castle.[8]

HM Brig, Black Joke engaging the Spanish slave brig Maranerito in the Bay of Biafra, 26 April 1831, by George Philip Reinagle

In a famous action on 25 or 26 April 1831, Black Joke was again under Ramsey's command when she captured the Marinerito.[18] Black Joke captured the much larger and more heavily armed Spanish slaver off the island of Bioko. At one point, 15-year-old Midshipman Hinde had to bring Black Joke back alongside Marinerito to rescue the boarding party, including Ramsey, which had become stranded on the Spanish slaver's deck. His rescue effort cost Hinde a bite from an angry parrot.[19] Marinerito had 15 of her crew killed; Black Joke lost one man killed and four wounded, one of whom was Ramsey. Of the 496 slaves on Marinerito, 26 were found to have died and 107 were in so weakened a state that they were landed on Bioko, where more than half subsequently died. The remainder were taken to freedom in Sierra Leone.[lower-alpha 13]

In September, in company with Fair Rosamond, Black Joke chased two Spanish slavers into the Bonny River. Lieutenant Ramsey, reported that "during the chase they were seen to throw their slaves overboard, by twos shackled together by the ankles, and left in this manner to sink or swim." Fair Rosamond captured the Spanish vessels, Regulo and Rapido, on 10 September and took them to Sierra Leone, where the Admiralty Court condemned them. Black Joke freed 39 slaves, for which a half bounty was paid to the captain and crew. A further bounty was paid for the 29 slaves who died between the capture and the condemnation of the Regulo.[21][lower-alpha 14]

Ramsey received promotion to the rank of commander for the capture of Marinerito and handed over command to Lieutenant H V Huntley.[8] On 15 February 1832, Black Joke captured Spanish schooner Frasquita, alias Centilla, which was armed with two guns and had a crew of 31 men. Frasquitta yielded bounty money for the 290 slaves on board her.[8][lower-alpha 15]

In all, between November 1830 and March 1832, Black Joke and Fair Rosamond accounted for 11 out of the squadron's take of 13 slavers.


A survey held on the Black Joke in 1832 stated that her timbers were rotten, and that "she is not, in our opinion, a vessel calculated fit for H.M. Service." There were discussions about further use of Black Joke, including use as a government vessel for Sierra Leone. She was due to be transferred to the governor when the rear admiral changed his mind and ordered that Black Joke be destroyed. She was burnt on 3 May 1832[25] and her stores sold. The surveyors attached examples of her timber; all that now remains of the famous slave-chaser is an envelope filled with brown dust in The National Archives. In 1958 "a small quantity of the 'testings' of the timber of Black Joke were sent to Lagos for exhibition in the museum there".[26]

When the Royal Navy ordered that Black Joke be burned, Peter Leonard, surgeon of HMS Dryad, wrote that she was the ship "which has done more towards putting an end to the vile traffic in slaves than all the ships of the station put together."[27][28]


  1. For captured slave ships in this time, bounty money was based on the number of slaves freed, not on the value of the ship, which became government property. A first-class share of the bounty money, i.e., the amount accruing to Collier, was £1946 13s 10½d; a sixth-class share, that of an ordinary seaman, was worth £5 9s 11¼d.[7]
  2. Some accounts give her two guns, but do not specify their type.
  3. A first-class share of the bounty money was worth £393 4s 8½d; a sixth-class share was worth £1 9s 9¾d.[7]
  4. A first-class share of the bounty money was worth £337 17s 10½d; a sixth-class share was worth £1 7s 5¼d.[7]
  5. A first-class share of the bounty money was worth £1496 12s 5d; a sixth-class share was worth £5 16s 1½d.[7]
  6. A first-class share of the bounty money was worth £647 9s 3d; a sixth-class share was worth £3 12s 6d.[11]
  7. John Gover designed a new type of gun-carriage in the late 1790s or early 1800s that enabled the guns to be handled by smaller gun crews and the guns to be stored alongside the rails rather than perpendicular to them.[12]
  8. A first-class share of the bounty money was worth £1014 5d; a sixth-class share was worth £3 15s 5¾d.[7]
  9. A first-class share of the bounty money was worth £893 3s 6d; a sixth-class share was worth £3 9s 2¼d.[7]
  10. A first class share of the bounty money was worth £696 7d; a sixth-class share was worth £2 12s 2d.[15]
  11. A first class share of the bounty money was worth £815 5s 11d; a sixth-class share was worth £2 19s 11d.[15]
  12. A first-class share, which would have accrued to the captain of Dryad, was worth £369 2s 6d. A second first-class share, which would probably have accrued to Ramsey, was worth £184 11s 3d; a sixth-class share was worth £1 3s 6¾d.[17]
  13. A first-class share was worth £533 8s 9d; a sixth-class share was worth £1 18s 6¾d.[20]
  14. A first-class share was worth £383 8s 1d; a sixth-class share was worth £1 8s 6d.[22] Later it was discovered that nine men had been left off the prize list for the capture of Potosi (by Fair Rosamond), and Rapido and Regulo, and the holders of sixth-class shares were obliged to return 1s 0¾d for distribution to these men.[23] However, a prize court reinstated a half-bounty for 29 slaves who had died prior to the Regulo's condemnation. A captain's share was £13 10s, a commander's share was £6 5s, and a sixth-class share was 11½d.[24]
  15. A first-class share was worth £303 3s 6d; a sixth-class share was worth £1 1s 9¾d.[23]


  1. Footner (1998), p. 155.
  2. "Slave ships and Squadron Vessels". Royal Naval Museum. Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  3. Villiers (1955).
  4. Tinnie (2008).
  5. Log of HMS Sybille held by The National Archives, archival reference ADM 51/3466
  6. Correspondence from Collier to the Admiralty, 12 December 1827, held at The National Archives, archival reference ADM 1/1682.
  7. "No. 18689". The London Gazette. 11 June 1830. pp. 1166–1167.
  8. "Life and Adventures of the Black Joke, recently deceased at Sierra Leone" (1832) United service magazine vol.10.
  9. "HMS Black Joke at the Naval Database website". Retrieved 9 January 2011.
  10. "No. 18788". The London Gazette. 29 March 1831. p. 597.
  11. "No. 18791". The London Gazette. 8 April 1831. p. 672.
  12. de Tousard (1809), pp. 357–362.
  13. "No. 18568". The London Gazette. 17 April 1829. p. 710.
  14. "Navy News, June 2007". Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  15. "No. 18830". The London Gazette. 29 July 1831. pp. 1539–1540.
  16. "No. 18922". The London Gazette. 30 March 1832. p. 715.
  17. "No. 18932". The London Gazette. 1 May 1832. p. 966.
  18. "No. 18933". The London Gazette. 4 May 1832. p. 992.
  19. Sullivan (2020), p. 177.
  20. "No. 18935". The London Gazette. 11 May 1832. p. 1053.
  21. "No. 19119". The London Gazette. 14 January 1834. p. 82.
  22. "No. 18975". The London Gazette. 11 September 1832. pp. 2061–2062.
  23. "No. 18993". The London Gazette. 9 November 1832. pp. 2477–2478.
  24. "No. 19119". The London Gazette. 14 January 1834. pp. 82–83.
  25. Correspondence between the governor, the Colonial Secretary and the Board of Admiralty held by The National Archives, reference ADM 1/4249
  26. The National Archives reference ADM 1/74
  27. Lloyd, Christopher (1968) The Navy and the Slave Trade: The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century.(Routledge). ISBN 0-7146-1894-2
  28. Leonard (1833), p.171-2.


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