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The Bombardment of Algiers, 1816

Derek Severn describes how the assault secured the release of many slaves and much ransom money but Barbary pirates remained a menace until the French annexation.

The ending of the Napoleonic Wars brought about a decisive change in Britain’s attitude to the Barbary States. For more than two centuries its policy had depended upon expediency, since British naval and commercial shipping had no reliable source of supplies in the ports of the Catholic countries, Spain, France and Italy. It was convenient, therefore, to ignore both piracy and slavery for the sake of the food and water that were to be had on the North African coast; and Britain had maintained a consul in Algiers since the latter part of the seventeenth century.

The war against Napoleon had increased this need; victory removed it, and, when the British Government under Castlereagh set out to abolish slavery, it was obliged to satisfy its allies that its humanitarian concern extended to white slaves as well as black.

Of these unfortunate whites there were some thousands in the Barbary States, taken prisoner in the course of the piracy which not only supplied the place of commerce in the lives of the Turks but had become their way of life. The Turks, who were for the most part of Greek extraction, had no inclination to work: there were slaves to do that for them, and no commercial shipping was safe unless its protecting Power had reached an accommodation, by treaty or otherwise, with the Barbarians. Holland, Sweden, Denmark and the United States all bought immunity for their ships by making annual payments in the form of guns, small arms and naval stores.

The British Government did not wish to attack, though it knew that fighting might break out. Instead, it ordered the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Vice-Admiral Lord Exmouth, to ‘conclude certain treaties with the Barbary States’.

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