© Matthew Crampton 2016

‘Matthew Crampton has taken a fresh look at the worlds of slavery and emigration.

He’s unearthed some fascinating stories and, crucially, added folk song to let us hear from those whose voices are usually silenced.

Songs give such a distinct perspective on history - and this book gives us an elegant, vital insight into human suffering and survival.’

Cerys Matthews

How can history help us understand today’s refugee crisis?

This rich, timely book gives voice to emigrants, slaves, convicts and other human cargo from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Its striking mix of story and folk song sets these past voices beside testimony from today – so shedding new light on a defining disaster of our time. Read some great reviews.

Read the book. See the show.

The 90 minute Human Cargo show blends story and song to look deep into the experience of migration. Each performance includes local stories from the Parallel Lives project and, where possible, partnership with local refugee support groups. More details.

‘Beautiful, powerful, poignant and informative’

Ilyaz Hajat, The Refugee Council, on the show

Stories that need telling

Today, smartphones can take us right into migrant boats. But how do we put a face on those trafficked or transported in the past? And how might their experience help us attend to those today in terrified transit?

Human Cargo includes personal testimony from those within the emigrant boats, the convict ships and the slave vessels.

You can read Olaudah Equiano’s rare description of the Middle Passage from a slave’s perspective; Peter Williamson’s account of being kidnapped as a child in Aberdeen and sold into servitude in colonial America; James M’Lean’s life as an American sailor pressed into the Royal Navy; and Robert Whyte’s passage on an Irish coffin ship.

You’ll hear from Scottish families cleared to make way for sheep, petty criminals transported to Australia, Pacific islanders enslaved for Asian plantations, Welsh emigrants to Patagonia, and many more.

Folk songs give voice to the silent

Only the rich or lettered leave record of their lives. But what of the masses? To hear their voices, Human Cargo turns to traditional folk songs - the anonymous and authentic record of popular feeling.

The lyrics of 25 folk songs appear within the book; some well-known, many obscure. Each song is a survivor, because people kept choosing to sing it. Together, they provide distinct windows into collective experience.

Modern testimony too

Alongside the old story and songs, the book features snapshots of human cargo in the 21st century - words from people trafficked, transported, enslaved or impressed in modern times. In their similarity to the past, for cruelty remains constant, they help bring that past alive.

HC Final Book Cover - Front - lowres.jpg


Stories and Songs of Emigration, Slavery and Transportation

Matthew Crampton

Published by Muddler Books

Paperback, 168 pages

50 illustrations




Read extracts from the book

25 song lyrics including:

Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

The Press Gang

The Slave Ship Ballad

All Around My Hat

Dean Cadalan Samhach

Jim Jones at Botany Bay

Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire

Carrying Nelson Home

The Flying Cloud

Matroos Af-Scheyt

The Bristol Bridegroom

Mr Tapscott

The White Cockade

Listen to Matthew talking to Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music.