Muddler Books – ISBN 978-0-9561361-2-1 – Softback 164 pp
Human trafficking is never far from the news these days, whether it’s young women from eastern Europe being brought to the west and forced into prostitution; immigrants fleeced by people smugglers before being trapped by gang-masters or refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and dying in the attempt. Behind all the stories is the profit motive but I for one have never linked today’s news to the slave trade, the press gangs and forced emigration of the past. Matthew Crampton’s book makes that link.
The book is divided into two parts. Firstly, Matthew examines slavery, kidnapping into indentured servitude, military recruitment by whatever means and transportation and secondly, he discusses the stories of those emigrants who volunteered to go, often lured by false promises and whose fates were frequently no better than those of the slaves who preceded them.
Initially, I found Matthew’s short punchy chapters and rapidly changing time-frames a little irritating but once I’d got into the pattern and the rhythm of Human Cargo everything fell into place. Although most of the book is taken up with historical accounts, old illustrations and folk song texts, its focus is very much in the present and the modern reports which parallel the historical text show that very little has changed since the 17th century. Modern villains may not be the rich traders in Liverpool or Bristol nor the greedy landowners clearing the Scottish highlands and the west of Ireland for their own purposes; nor yet governments (as far as we know) but the stories are the same.
Human Cargo is well laid out with facsimile broadsides and posters tempting the unwary and is an easy read. It is a primer rather than an academic treatise but the sources of the various narratives are properly documented as are the song texts and Matthew doesn’t restrict himself to English sources which is refreshing. It will prick your conscience and raise your awareness and then point you in the direction of further reading and for that it achieves its purpose admirably.
Author’s website: www.matthewcrampton.com
To give you a flavour of the book, you can have a listen to a previous live concert performance by the “The London Lubbers” which used excerpts from “Human Cargo” via the soundcloud link below: