Sir Samuel W. Baker (1821-1893) was a British explorer and naturalist who spent several years in Africa in the mid-1870s, and helped convince the French-educated Khedive Ismail to eliminate the slave trafficking in his Egyptian and Sudan domain. Though the khedive was no doubt involved in the human trafficking which flourished in his land, he allowed Baker a free hand in suppressing local governors’ whose wealth depended greatly on enslaving and selling their own people.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The African Slave Trade
“Sir Samuel W. Baker had been distinguished for his explorations in Central Africa; and his representations of the evil effects produced by the slave trade on a country rich in soil and well-peopled induced the khedive of Egypt to fit out an expedition to put a stop to this nefarious business and give protection to the inhabitants, whom he claimed to be his subjects, from the ravages of slave-traders.
Companies of brigands had been formed that absolutely depopulated the country by driving away those they did not enslave. One of these traders had twenty-five thousand Arabs under pay, engaged in this inhuman traffic. And it was estimated that fifteen thousand of the khedives subjects were engaged in this business. Each trader occupied a special district, and with his band of armed men kept the population in submission. It was estimated that fifty thousand Negroes were annually captured by land pirates.
The khedive determined to put a stop to this, and [in the mid-1870s] organized an expedition for that purpose and put Mr. Baker at the head of it with supreme power, even that over life and death. He knew that there would be more or less fighting, for Soudan, the home of the slave-trader, would be wholly opposed to the attempt to break up their business.
April 20th, just below the junction of the Bahr-Giraffe with the White Nile, the expedition came in sight of one of the governors’ vessels of this district, and, watching it through powerful telescopes, notices suspicious movements on board . . . Baker sent his aide-de-camp to visit the vessels lying near. The result was the discovery of a gang of slaves. Mr. Baker then requested to be shown around the encampment on shore.
To his horror, he found mass of slaves squatted on the ground – many of the women secured by ropes around the neck, and amid the filthy fetid mass, not only children but infants. Altogether, on the boats and on shore were found one hundred and fifty-five slaves.
Though this territory was not within Baker’s jurisdiction, as fixed by the khedive, yet he insisted on the liberation of the slaves. The governor rebelled at first, but finally on being threatened with the wrath of the khedive, yielded; and the naked, astonished crowd of slaves departed with loud discordant yells of rejoicing to their distant homes.
[Another boat of the governor was boarded] and there seemed an awkward smell about the cargo . . . the planks which boarded up the forecastle and the stern were broken down, and there was a mass of humanity exposed, boys, girls and women closely packed like herrings in a barrel, who under threats had remained perfectly silent until thus discovered.”
(Stanley and Livingstone in Africa, J.T. Headley, Spencer Press, 1937, excerpts, pp. 110-111; 120)