Copper Sheathing and the British Slave Trade

24 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2015

See all articles by Peter M. Solar

Peter M. Solar

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) - Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Klas Rönnbäck

University of Gothenburg

Date Written: August 2015

Abstract

British slave traders were early and rapid adopters of the new technique of sheathing ships' hulls with copper. From the 1780s this innovation increased sailing speeds of British slave ships by about a sixth, prolonged the ships' lives by at least a half, and reduced the death rates of slaves on the middle passage by about half. It was, above all, the fall in death rates, and possibly the improved condition of surviving slaves, that made the investment so compelling. Copper sheathing may have paid for itself in a single voyage, even though it was usually good for several. By the 1790s few slave ships, even if making only a single voyage, were uncoppered. These results confirm that copper sheathing was one of the major improvements in shipping productivity before the use of iron and steam in the mid‐nineteenth century.

Suggested Citation

Solar, Peter M. and Rönnbäck, Klas, Copper Sheathing and the British Slave Trade (August 2015). The Economic History Review, Vol. 68, Issue 3, pp. 806-829, 2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2631791 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ehr.12085

Peter M. Solar (Contact Author)

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) - Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences ( email )

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Klas Rönnbäck

University of Gothenburg ( email )

Göteborg

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