Brookes ship

Object info
Unknown maker
Brookes Ship, 1790–1791
Wood, lead, cork and paper

Where to see it
Wilberforce House Museum

Accession number

Purchase a print or image licence
Brookes Ship on Bridgeman Images

About this object

The Brookes Ship is a model of a real ship owned by slave trader Joseph Brooks (1746–1823). Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson commissioned two models of the ship as part of the fight against the slave trade. Used during the anti-slavery campaign, the ship highlights the brutality of the Middle Passage.

Clarkson gave one model to William Wilberforce, who used it during his anti-slavery speeches in Parliament. The other he gave to Comte de Mirabeau, a French statesman, during his visit to Paris in 1789.

The importance of Brookes Ship

If abolitionists were to be successful, their campaign had to win over the hearts and minds of both Parliament and the public. They needed to reach a wide audience with a powerful message. But to do this without mass media, television or radio was no easy feat.

Instead, their message came in the form of the Brookes Ship Model and poster. Based on an actual slave trade ship built in Liverpool, the Brookes Ship highlighted the brutal reality of the slave trade.

The poster and ship model were based on an actual slave ship built in Liverpool in 1780–81. The ship was later mistakenly referred to as the “Brookes”. It was one of nine ships measured for the 1788 Parliament enquiry into the British slave trade. The original ship (built in Liverpool, 1780–81) continued to be a slave ship until 1804.

Detailed description of the model

The Brookes Ship is made of a wooden hull set on four cork feet. The paper diagram of enslaved people laid out on the decks is cut and pasted onto the top of the ship. The ship has wooden partitions with hand-written names for each section: Boys Room, The Mens Room, Cabin / Girls Room, Womens Room. The inner edge has a strip of lead running around the rim and the outer edge has metal rivets. The tin lid has gold painted lettering reading: “Wm. Wilberforce Esqr. to the House of Commons”.