Britain’s Colonial Shame: Slave-owners Given Huge Payouts after Abolition

slave-getty

In “Britain’s Colonial Shame: Slave-owners Given Huge Payouts after Abolition” (The Independent, 24 February 2013) David Randall focuses on how Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy. He underlines that as a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them, including David Cameron’s ancestors and those of writers Graham Greene, George Orwell, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Randall bases his arguments on Dr. Nick Draper’s three-year research project, which brought about the publication of the Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership. The information about the compensations these families received, he reminds us, sheds new light on the ongoing debate on reparations in the Caribbean [see previous post Sir Hilary Beckles Calls for Reparation for Slavery]. The database is available starting tomorrow at: ucl.ac.uk/lbs.

Dr Draper said: “There was a feeding frenzy around the compensation.” A John Austin, for instance, owned 415 slaves, and got compensation of £20,511, a sum worth nearly £17m today. And there were many who received far more. Academics from UCL, led by Dr Draper, spent three years drawing together 46,000 records of compensation given to British slave-owners into an internet database to be launched for public use on Wednesday. But he emphasised that the claims set to be unveiled were not just from rich families but included many “very ordinary men and women” and covered the entire spectrum of society. Dr Draper added that the database’s findings may have implications for the “reparations debate”. Barbados is currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families.

Among those revealed to have benefited from slavery are ancestors of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. [. . .]

The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their “property” when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833. This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury’s annual spending budget and, in today’s terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn. A total of £10m went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa, while the other half went to absentee owners living in Britain. The biggest single payout went to James Blair (no relation to Orwell), an MP who had homes in Marylebone, central London, and Scotland. He was awarded £83,530, the equivalent of £65m today, for 1,598 slaves he owned on the plantation he had inherited in British Guyana. But this amount was dwarfed by the amount paid to John Gladstone, the father of 19th-century prime minister William Gladstone. He received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. His son, who served as prime minister four times during his 60-year career, was heavily involved in his father’s claim.

Mr Cameron, too, is revealed to have slave owners in his family background on his father’s side. The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Mr Cameron’s first cousin six times removed. Sir James, who was the son of one of Mr Cameron’s great-grand-uncle’s, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.

Another illustrious political family that it appears still carries the name of a major slave owner is the Hogg dynasty, which includes the former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg. They are the descendants of Charles McGarel, a merchant who made a fortune from slave ownership. Between 1835 and 1837 he received £129,464, about £101m in today’s terms, for the 2,489 slaves he owned. McGarel later went on to bring his younger brother-in-law Quintin Hogg into his hugely successful sugar firm, which still used indentured labour on plantations in British Guyana established under slavery. [. . .]

Dr Draper said: “Seeing the names of the slave-owners repeated in 20th‑century family naming practices is a very stark reminder about where those families saw their origins being from. In this case I’m thinking about the Hogg family. To have two Lord Chancellors in Britain in the 20th century bearing the name of a slave-owner from British Guiana, who went penniless to British Guyana, came back a very wealthy man and contributed to the formation of this political dynasty, which incorporated his name into their children in recognition – it seems to me to be an illuminating story and a potent example.”

[. . .] Another demonstration of the extent to which slavery links stretch into modern Britain is Evelyn Bazalgette, the uncle of one of the giants of Victorian engineering, Sir Joseph Bazalgette and ancestor of Arts Council boss Sir Peter Bazalgette. He was paid £7,352 (£5.7m in today’s money) for 420 slaves from two estates in Jamaica. Sir Peter said yesterday: “It had always been rumoured that his father had some interests in the Caribbean and I suspect Evelyn inherited that. So I heard rumours but this confirms it, and guess it’s the sort of thing wealthy people on the make did in the 1800s. He could have put his money elsewhere but regrettably he put it in the Caribbean.”

For full article, see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-colonial-shame-slaveowners-given-huge-payouts-after-abolition-8508358.html

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