Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners to depict legacies of slave-ownership

July 2015

“The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009. Not only did the slaves receive nothing, under another clause of the act they were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters, for a further four years after their supposed liberation. In effect, the enslaved paid part of the bill for their own manumission.”

African captives being taken on board a slave ship. Photograph: Print Collector/Getty

African captives being taken on board a slave ship. Photograph: Print Collector/Getty

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, a documentary looking at the abolition of slavery in Britain and the extraordinary choice by the government of the day to compensate slave owners for their loss of ‘property’, will be broadcast on 15 July on BBC2. The documentary is based on Legacies of British Slave-ownership, the umbrella for two projects tracing the impact of slave-ownership on the formation of modern Britain: the ESRC-funded Legacies of British Slave-ownership project, now complete, and the ESRC and AHRC-funded Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1763-1833, running from 2013-2015.

The project, which is still continuing,  -and has been converted into an online database; a free, publicly available resource,- is led by Professor Catherine Hall and Dr Nick Draper based at University College London. The picture of slave ownership that has emerged from their work is not what anyone was expecting.

“Slave ownership, it appears, was far more common than has previously been presumed. Many of these middle-class slave owners had just a few slaves, possessed no land in the Caribbean and rented their slaves out to landowners, in work gangs. These bit-players were home county vicars, iron manufacturers from the Midlands and lots and lots of widows. About 40% of the slave owners living in the colonies were women. Then, as now, women tended to outlive their husbands and simply inherited human property through their partner’s wills.

The geographic spread of the slave owners who were resident in Britain in 1834 was almost as unexpected as the gender breakdown. Slavery was once thought of as an activity largely limited to the ports from which the ships of the triangular trade set sail; Bristol, London, Liverpool and Glasgow. Yet there were slave owners across the country, from Cornwall to the Orkneys. In proportion to population, the highest rates of slave ownership are found in Scotland.”

Source: The Guardian 

Click here for the Legacies of British Slave Ownership Database.


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