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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

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on 12 July 2013
This is a really great read. The story of the campaign to end the slave trade based around Zanzibar in the nineteenth century, and the story of the one man who was largely responsible. If you think the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was the end of slavery, think again. There had always been a thriving slave trade throughout Africa long before Europeans arrived; a trade that went back many hundreds of years. Most African cultures were involved in either capturing, selling or keeping slaves, and many were also traded to the Middle East. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the trade on Africa's west coast was largely ended, but it was a different story on the east coast.
This book tells the story of John Kirk, a fascinating man, who became involved after being a part of one of Dr Livingstone's expeditions. He went on to spend a large part of his life in Zanzibar, working as an acting consul most of the time, and details how he worked to reduce the slave trade which was a major part of Zanzibar's economic life.
It is a story of personal endeavour and persistence, of British government indecision and inter-departmental squabbling, and of European misunderstanding of other cultures.
The book is really well written; plenty of research has gone into writing it, but it is eminently readable, and held me interested from beginning to end. The only slight criticism I have is that at times it seemed to me that the author wasn't quite sure if he was writing a standard work of history, or a biography of the main character, John Kirk. For me, the more biographical chapters worked better, but it is really a very small niggle, over what has been a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 31 May 2012
From the first lines of the prologue, in the dying light on Lake Nyasa, Alastair Hazell's story is gripping, and beautifully told. He knows his subject, the unhurried asphyxiation of the slave trade, in sufficient detail to challenge our collectively received wisdoms, and he explores the many resulting complexities with a deep humanity. Above all, he evokes the adventures and hardships, the certainties and uncertainties that the British encountered in East Africa. To the story he brings the smells and sharp shadows - the dangerous flavours - of Zanzibar, and mixes them in with the realpolitik of slavery at the time. And threaded through the story, the detailed and determined Dr Kirk is encouraged gradually onto centre stage, quietly influencing the turns of history for Zanzibar, the British and the Slave Trade. I congratulate Alastair Hazell on this subtle and marking book, and commend it to anyone interested in the region, our history or the troubled story of slavery.
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on 11 March 2012
The author found a fascinating place - Zanzibar in the 19th Century - a fascinating issue (Arab slaving in Africa) and a fascinating central character - Dr Kirk, the British Consul, who played a critical role in ending that slavery. Characters include the Omani Sultans of Zanzibar (and their harems), Tippu Tip (a slaver whose caravans dominated Central Africa), David Livingstone, and an Arab princess who eloped to Europe. Zanzibar was a unique mixture of Arab, African and (later) Indian and European culture, that dominated east Africa and grew rich on slaves and spices.

Hazell brings all of that to life, with a central story around Kirk's decades long but finally successful struggle to end slavery. The book includes analysis - notably of slavery's long history and economic importance in Zanzibar - the atmosphere of Zanzibar - from life in slave market to life among the Europeans - takes in events in Africa, Oman and Britain - and some fascinating characters to give a human dimension. It's neither sensational nor too dry and academic.

I would recommend highly for anyone interested in slavery or colonialism as a well written book on a fascinating topic. And equally highly for anyone visiting Zanzibar who wants to understand its history and culture.
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on 6 September 2012
I bought this book out of curiosity about the role of the British consular service in the emerging colonial development of Africa.
I had just finished reading Mario Vargas Llosa's fictionalised account of another British consular official, namely Sir Roger Casement who was consul to Congo Free State port of Boma in the African Congo in 1903. Sir Roger was feted, is still feted, particularly in Ireland, as a hero, a man, amongst the first to recognise the horrors of colonial exploitation, a friend of the indigenous African, a fearless anti-slaver and a beaming and unique example, particularly in the Consular service, particularly amongst the British, of a concerned and considerate humanitarian, most unlike his other consular colleagues, who are, by implication, mere tools of their Imperial Government's policies.

In the Irish republican context, and indeed in Llosa's book, this humanitarian insight of Sir Roger is attributable to him only because he is Irish. Had he been an English born consular official, or indeed as Kirk was, a Scott's born consular official, then the thrust of the argument advanced on behalf of Sir Roger is that there would not have developed, could not have developed, the insightful consular official, the fearless consular official, the friend of the indigenous consular official or the humanitarian consular official.
I am an admirer of Sir Roger Casement but often think this view of his role as a consular official is somewhat over egged by the Irish. His investigations and his report on atrocities in the Congo were carried out on his Government's instructions and insistence. It was the policy of his government to expose the atrocities of the Belgium King Leopold against the native tribes and Sir Roger was the chosen consular official charged with the investigation of the King's rubber trade. That he carried out his investigation with the utmost dedication and focus and did so in the most arduous and dangerous of conditions are beyond question. It was a magnificent achievement and he well deserved the knighthood which followed.
But I suspected that there are probably many other investigations and reports carried out by other consular officials of equal importance and produced in equally difficult, dangerous and arduous conditions, in Africa and elsewhere, and that are now forgotten and unknown and buried in the archives of the foreign office. There is an argument that what separated Sir Roger's work in the Congo from the work of others, be they consular officials, missionaries or explorers, was his stretched neck. Had they too been hanged for High Treason, then we would probably know a lot more about them. As it is we are invited again and again to view Sir Roger's work in isolation and with all the emotional context and the weight of martyrdom that is Ireland.
Perhaps not the best of motives for picking up Alastair Hazell's story of the Last Slave Market and the role of the British consular in bringing it to an end. But I am so glad that I did.

John Kirk was operating in a slightly earlier period than was Casement. He was consul to Zanzibar from 1873. (Casement was consul to Boma in 1903). Kirk was in place before the great colonial scramble for Africa developed. Casement was there at the height of the colonial scramble.

This astonishing book gives a deep insight into those early imperial years, when the East Coast of Africa came under the jurisdiction of the Government of India rather than the Government of Westminster. Much of the interior was unexplored. Indeed Kirk had first encountered Africa as a botanist with Dr. Livingstone on his earliest explorations into the great unknown continent. His initial appointment to the consular service was several years later, as a medical doctor in Zanzibar. There he toiled for almost twenty years before being appointed as the actual British Consul. Twenty years as a mere functionary, with no powers and no substantial role other than the care of the Europeans stationed in that remote corner of the world.

Zanzibar was a separate sovereign state, controlled by and owned by the Arabs from Oman. The Sultanate of Zanzibar was, in its early days also the Sultan of Muscat. It became an independent Sultanate in 1856. Its riches and wealth grew from the trade in Ivory and Slaves. From the Sultan's palace and harem on the Zanzibar seafront he controlled the slave trade for the whole of the middle east, sending raiding parties into the interior to capture slaves, transporting them to Zanzibar where they were fattened up, sold in the Zanzibar slave market and transported, in Arab dhows, on to the Gulf states, to Egypt, to Persia and to Turkey. It was a trade sanctioned by the Koran and carried on for centuries. It continued long after the abolition of slavery and its forcible shutdown on the West coast of Africa.
There was annoyance and embarrassment in the Westminster Government that this evil trade continued. They were under pressure from the anti - slavery campaigners who were affronted to find that having succeeded in abolishing slavery that it continued, on a massive scale in the Middle East. But by contrast, there was a high degree of indifference in the Indian Government who did not want to interfere in the sovereign rights of states with whom they enjoyed long established treaties and good relationships. And it was India that had jurisdiction. And so it was that the trade continued with the Imperial powers effectively turning a blind eye.
The British Consul to Zanzibar was always an Indian man. Appointed by the Indian Government. The East India Company and the Indian Government were indistinguishable. Kirk was not of the Indians. A mere doctor, who applied for a vacancy, he spent his early years in this godforsaken fever ridden posting, gathering botanical samples for Kew and tending to his duties as a medical doctor. But he also set about gathering information upon the slave trade. He got to know the principal traders, noted the volume of slaves passing through the slave market, the categories of slaves, where possible, their origin, their price, the names of the slavers who went into the interior to harvest the slaves, the financers, the customs men, the dhow captains, the slave routes from the interior to Zanzibar and from Zanzibar to the Arabian Gulf, the seasons of slave trading affected as it was, by monsoons and wind currents along the east African coast. In the end this mere functionary knew more about the slave trade than the slavers themselves. Which meant that Her Majesty's Government, from his reports, knew more about what was going on than any other nation represented by consular staff in Zanzibar, Germany, America, Portugal, Dutch, even the Sultan himself. Kirk saw Consuls come and go. Indian men, appointed by the Indian Government, nominally committed to abolishing the slave trade. He saw bluster, gunships, threats of force, and weak treaties, and yet more bluster. But still the trade continued. When in 1873 he was finally appointed as the British Consul, he found himself, because of his systematic collection of information upon the trade, in a uniquely powerful position. The traders knew him, had known him for over 20 years, as a man without power, a harmless functionary of the consulate staff. He had befriended them and they had disclosed all the secrets of the trade to his meticulous notebooks. Now he set about with grim determination to destroy slavery on the east coast of Africa. He did it by bluff, negotiation, promises, bargains, persuasion. He made slavery, in the eyes of the Arabs, socially unacceptable. He persuaded the Sultan to crush this important source of his wealth and power, to discipline those who continued the trade, to stop the dhows, to close the slave market. And then, when the trade switched to land routes, marching their slave caravans across Africa to the North in order to avoid his energy and determination to wipe it out, he went into the interior, incepting caravans, freeing slaves, fighting slavers, closing down slave staging posts and successfully, almost on his own, defeating and crushing slave trading from the East coast. Not without reason did he become known as the man who ended the East African Slave Trade.

He was not hung for High Treason. Songs about him were never written. He was knighted and Sir John Kirk, Scotsman, British Consul to Zanzibar, retired. He lived until 1922 and died peacefully, and forgotten, in his family home in Sevenoaks, Kent.
I suspect that in the archives of the Foreign Office amongst the terrible tales of Imperial colonisation, that there are more stories similar to this. Sir Roger Casement's story is but one of them. Both are heroes.
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on 4 July 2011
First rate. This is above all a beautifully written, thoroughly researched and wholly absorbing story - but it also gives a fresh perspective on a fascinating part of our colonial history. We have prided ourselves on the enlightened abolition of slavery; on the selflessness and sacrifice of our missionaries; and on the quality and disinterestedness of our foreign policy and overseas administration. The truth is somewhat different: we tolerated and even connived in the continuation of slavery on the East African coast long after it had been "abolished"; we lionised men like Livingstone, whose character, on examination, proves to be less than heroic; we let bureaucracy suppress initiative and narrow interests prevent change. John Kirk,the focal point of this book, was a man of quiet principle, diplomatic skill, commitment and energy, whose part in closing down the East African slave trade puts him alongside the "great names" of the Victorian era. Alastair Hazell captures the essence of colonial Africa from the clash of cultures to the smell of Zanzibar. Thoroughly enjoyable.
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on 12 August 2013
Alastair Hazell's carefully researched book is an overdue correction to the history of a pivotal period in the history of east and central Africa - the second half of the nineteenth century when slavery was abolished and European powers came to exert control. The author's project is to write John Kirk's role back into the centre of this story, and his high regard for his subject runs through the book. To western readers, this is a period still remembered through the unreliable accounts of Dr David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, whose own mythologising writings served their own egos and colonialist patrons. This is a book to cheer anyone who feels the loudest voices don't always have the most interesting things to say; Kirk's behind the scenes role as a diligent scientist and later a neglected British consul in the backwater of Zanzibar is a humbling example of hard-won respect and trust built over decades.

There are some niggles - the earlier sections on Kirk's expeditions with Livingstone (who comes across as a self-absorbed bully) are over-long given that this is background to Kirk's direct efforts to suppress the Arabs' slave trading. In contrast, the moment of his success seems compressed (bizarrely, the fact of Zanzibar becoming a British protectorate - locking out slavery and leading to its present status within Tanzania - is relegated to a footnote). To UK readers in particular, the heedless interchanging of "British" and "English" is grating, and all the more perplexing as Kirk himself was a Scot.

Hazell's book achieves its aim of rebalancing our understanding of the period; Kirk was a true diplomat whose world can bring insights to the the Arab peoples' current relations with the outside world and to the formation of today's concept of universal human rights.
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on 10 May 2013
The research that went into this book was meticulous and prodigious, and the story it tells about African-based slavery is a courageous one, considering the politically correct assumption in recent times that the horrors of the trade were perpetrated only by Europeans supplying slaves to other Europeans, mainly in North America and the Caribbean. This book dispels the myth, peddled by far too many people in universities and elsewhere, that slave-trading by non-Europeans (Africans and Middle Easterners) for the Arab market was minor and somehow benign. Alastair Hazell has completed the picture, without sparing the British politicians and civil servants who took too long to support the acting British Consul, John Kirk, and others who wanted to end the trade.

Hazell is an excellent writer. He has recreated Kirk as real person of great tenacity, complete with the foibles and flaws that characterise any human being. Many other characters, especially the Zanzibari leaders, are presented with insight, sensitivity and richness.
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on 15 January 2014
I was always impressed from a young age of the honour of great men like Livingstone and Bartle Frere, Alastair Hazell has clearly shown in a delightfully easy book to read that along with most of the British political elite they were as good at burying bad news in the 19th Century as they are now.
This book on slavery takes one through at a pleasant pace all the horrors and intrigues when Zanzibar was at its height carrying the slaves and the ivory out. It is clear that ivory was more important than people.
Such careful research in my experience leads many authors of history books (both national and local) into a turgid style. This has been avoided almost throughout.
Mr Hazell is to be praised on compressing so much research into a readable book well resaerched.
Recommendation is a buy.
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on 11 November 2014
This pacey and well researched history of a less well known aspect of the African slave trade is written in a punchy style which maintains the reader's interest. Hazell disects the anatomy of this abhorent practice exposing the way in which slavery diseased the culture of entire societies. He is objective and direct about Britain's role in allowing the trade to persist in spite of changes in domestic law generations earlier. He brings towering figures from the Victorian age of Empire to life by sharing intimate details that he has uncovered through research. Hazell has an enthusiasm for his topic and for Africa that leaps out from the page. In an age where we are witnessing the resurgence of slavery in some societies, this book is a timely reminder of the horrors of this morally repugnant practice.
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on 3 April 2014
This book is the life story of Dr.Sir John Kirk (1832-1922) explorer,botanist,doctor, diplomat and a graduate of Edinburgh University.
After accompanying Livingstone on his second Zambezi expedition (1857-63) he became British consul in Zanzibar.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire with acts of 1807 and 1833 but it continued in Zanzibar till 1873 mainly at the instigation of the East India Company. Black Africans in their thousands from large areas of mainland Africa were brought to the slave market in Zanzibar and sold to be transported to the Middle East,America and Asia.
It was Kirks work as consul (1857-87) that finally saw the end of African slavery in 1873.
A very well written and documented book.
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