A history of Liverpool as a trading port

Liverpool in the 18th and 19th century was a busy trading port but, with Britain the second largest slave trading nation, research has focused on that trade.

Now Victoria historian Dr Steve Behrendt is putting this research in the context of Liverpool’s wider social, maritime and economic history in an online database project funded initially by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund, 2010–2013.

An existing Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which Dr Behrendt helped to create from 1995 to 2008, lists 5,000 slave voyages originating in Liverpool. But little is known about other voyages originating in the city and, says Dr Behrendt, the question historians are always asking is, “How important was the slave trade to Liverpool?”

To answer this question, Dr Behrendt and Dr Robert Hurley, a recent PhD graduate in History from Victoria, are creating a database that will place Liverpool’s slaving voyages alongside other voyages originating in Liverpool—including whaling trips to Greenland or the South Seas, and voyages to Brazil to collect cotton, to the Baltic for timber and to Ireland for meat and butter. Dr Behrendt’s project looks at Liverpool from 1700 until 1850, and will examine the impact that the 1808 abolition of the slave trade had on the local economy.

The end result of the project will be a fully searchable, open-access online database that can provide results and data from the project to students, scholars and the general public. The database will be searchable by vessel, voyage, crew member and cargo and will include a lot of additional information—such as baptisms, marriages, and wills—on Liverpool residents, many of whom were linked to maritime trade. The project has created a prototype online database www.liverpoolmaritime.org, to which will be added more genealogical and maritime information.

Liverpool is the best documented eighteenth century British port, with Dr Behrendt having access to ship registers, parish records, newspapers, crew lists and customs records. He has made two research trips to British archives during the initial project but is also finding an increasing amount of valuable information online.

“It’s amazing how much information is being digitised and going online,” he says.

Dr Behrendt’s most recent book, The Diary of Antera Duke, has its own Liverpool connection. Antera, an African merchant operating out of Old Calabar in what is now Nigeria, shipped enslaved Africans on Liverpool ships to British North America and the West Indies in exchange for cotton textiles, armaments, hardware, beads and alcohol.

Success to the James
The Arctic whaler James, French built, seized by British privateers in 1781, and a Liverpool-Greenland whaler, 1800-1821.