June 1873 Slave trade treaty between Sultan Zanzibar and Britain

1873 Slave trade treaty Sultan Zanzibar and Britian

Treaty between Her majesty and the Sultan of Zanzibar for the suppression of the slave-trade signed at Zanzibar June 5 1873.

Colophon : Presented to both the houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty Published in 1874.  Published on behalf of the House of Parliament  by  Harrison and sons.

Contents: 6 pages: Title; 2 pages text with articles; Blank page; page with colophon. Image size: 33 by 23 cm.


Slave Trade Treaty Zanzibar 

 Sultan Barghash slavery

Sultan Barghash was in 1875 invited to visit London and the UK by the British Government, the main objective was to (strongly) persuade him to agree to several measures to stop / limit slave traffic in Zanzibar and East Africa. Regarding the visit to London see also our section on his sister Princess Emily Ruete. 

This cartoon in our collection is from Punch Magazine June 26 1875

Details of the slave treaty and link to the Nyangwe massacre

The treaty is signed by:

  • Bargash bin Said (Sultan of Zanzibar)
  • Nasir bin Said bin Abdallah
  • John Kirk (political agent Zanzibar)

The key points of the treaty are:

  • Closure of all public slave-markets in the dominions of the Sultan
  • Stop to the export / traffic of slaves
  • People with an Indian or British passport were not allowed to possess slaves and would be severely punished.
  • The treaty did however not forbid the holding of slaves by Omani / Zanzibari. There was a nearly universal belief among Omani that slavery was approved by the scriptures of their Muslim faith. The book of the Omani princess Bibi Salme Memoirs of an Arabian Princess 1886 / 1888 contains an interesting but controversial chapter specifically on slavery were she explains how she (and Omani in general) looked upon slavery.


One of the triggers for this treaty was Livingstone's account of the horror seen in the African village of Nyangwe which galvanized British authorities to shut the slave market in Zanzibar, a critical hub for East Africa's human traffickers. Adrian Wisnicki of Indiana university claimed in 2011, based on the original manuscript journal of Livingstone, that LivingstoneĀ“s own men may have been involved in the massacre. Scans and transcripts of the manuscript diary have been posted in 2011 to the website of the University of California, Los Angeles.


The book Bevrijding in Oost Afrika (ref 5 page 88) published in Dutch and German,  discusses the treaty in detail  and also mentions  how devastated Sultan Barghash was when the treaty was first presented to him by the consul John Kirk. The English threatened with a complete naval blockade if the Sultan did not accept the treaty. Also a large group of Arabs beleaguered  the palace to ensure the Sultan would not sign the treaty. In the end the Sultan had no choice but to accept the treaty.

  1. Rahir 2668;
  2. Willems 1938;
  3. Oman since 1856 by Robert Landen 1967 page 151;
  4. Memoirs of an Arabian princess by Bibi Salme (Emily Ruete) published in English in 1888 by Ward and Downey in London (German edition two years earlier)
  5. Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost-Afrika in de 19e eeuw, Afrika Museum Berg en Dal, 2003 pages 88-89
  6. Osgood in Notes of Travel or recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar Muscat etc. published in Salem (USA)  1854  page 49: "Prior to the ratification of the last named treaty (1847) not less than  twenty thousand 'images of God cut in ebony" were annually brought to island of Zanzibar for traffic and service, and at the present time the importations will fall but very short of that number. They are brought in small dows or garbs of fifteen or twenty tons burden, in each of which a drove of hundred or more are usually stowed one upon the other, men, children and women in one promiscuous bulk. It often happens that several days are required to effect a passage to the island. Meanwhile, all nourishment being cruelly denied them, many perish before arrival. But shame ! burning shame on the race of uncivilized and untutored man!

           What cares the merchant for that crowded hold!

           The voyage pays if half the slaves are sold

            What boots it in that dungeon of despair

            How many beings gasp and pant for air!

            How many creatures draw infected breath,

            And drag out life, aye, in the midst of death?"

Upon unloading the vessel the bodies of the dead are thrown overboard, to drift about the harbour and on to the beach etc.