In 1799 Parliament had granted a monopoly to a private company to build and operate wharves devoted entirely to the West Indies trade. The company acquired a site on the Isle of Dogs at Limehouse Reach and in 1802, the West India Docks' first year, 374 ships discharged cargoes. For the next five years, some 500 vessels, filled with goods and slaves, sailed annually between Britain, Africa and the Spanish Main, returning home to crowd the wharf. But with the ending of the slave-trade and the decline of sugar, shippers demanded less expensive moorings and after 1821 the monopoly was not renewed.
Image courtesy of The British Library