The Caboceer’s Stool

In 1829 John Beecroft, born in Sleights in 1790, became master of works in Fernando Po, an island in the Gulf of Guinea nominally belonging to Spain.

Here the British were establishing a base from which to act against the slave trade, which had been officially abolished in the British Empire in 1807.

The British withdrew in 1833 but Beecroft stayed and was appointed by the Spanish as Governor of Fernando Po in 1843, and Consul of the Bights of Benin and Biafra by the British in 1849.

He held these positions until his death in 1854, during which time he explored the interior using steam vessels to travel up the Niger and Benin rivers.

A major player in the slave trade in this area was King Gezo of Dahomey, who became wealthy from the trade. Beecroft worked tirelessly to persuade the king to stop the trade and to transfer the economy to palm oil. Although Beecroft was unsuccessful in doing this, he earned the King’s respect and as a result was given this stool, among other gifts.

Ellen Beecroft received a pension in recognition of her husband’s contribution to the suppression of the slave trade and advancement of British interests, and when she died in 1872 the collection came to Whitby Museum, along with a portrait of her husband in his uniform as British consul.

The stool belonged to a caboceer, or headman, of a village, the name being derived from the Portuguese cabociero. The seat of this beautifully carved wooden stool is covered with a coloured leather cushion.

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Capt John Beecroft