UK Slave owners received post-abolition reparations which are the equivalent of billions of pounds today. (Google Images)
UK Slave owners received post-abolition reparations which are the equivalent of billions of pounds today. (Google Images)

written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D.

When many people speak of slavery reparations, they debate the merit of whether descendants of slaves should actually receive payouts for the free labor upon which many nations were built including but not limited to the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe. Rarely discussed is the fact that slave owners, many of them wealthy, received reparations for the loss in income they would suffer after the abolition of slavery. Such is the case in Great Britain where the University College of London (UCL) has created a database that compiles the compensation information of slave owners post-abolition.

Sanchez Manning of The Independent (UK) is reporting that United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron’s family were among the wealthy families who received generous reparation payments after abolition that would be worth millions of pounds today.  Manning writes:

The true scale of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade has been laid bare in documents revealing how the country’s wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished.

The previously unseen records show exactly who received what in payouts from the Government when slave ownership was abolished by Britain – much to the potential embarrassment of their descendants. Dr. Nick Draper from University College London (UCL), who has studied the compensation papers, says as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.

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.

Academics from UCL, including Dr. Draper, spent three years pulling together 46,000 records of compensation given to British slave-owners into an internet database launched for public use on Wednesday. Families that benefited from the reparations inhabited all socio-economic levels.

Jill Lawless of the Denver Post reports:

Not all the slave owners were ultra-wealthy. Middle-class Britons up and down the country were paid compensation — evidence, the researchers say, of how far the tentacles of slavery spread through society.

Payouts range from wealthy merchant John Gladstone, father of 19th-century Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, who received more than 100,000 pounds in compensation for hundreds of slaves, to Jane Bayne, a Scottish doctor’s wife who received 84 pounds for 10 slaves on a plantation in Jamaica. Even that modest settlement was more than the annual salary of a skilled worker at the time.

According to the database, about 46,000 people were paid a total of 20 million pounds — the equivalent of 40 percent of all annual government spending at the time — after the freeing of slaves in British colonies in the Caribbean, Mauritius and southern Africa.

It is interesting that many of those who oppose reparations for descendants of slaves now are the same people that benefited socio-economically from free labor then and post-abolition due to the reparations they received. Clearly those in power understand the economic value in the free labor that was performed and the economic challenges they would have faced when the free labor was abolished, hence the desire for reparations for slave owners.  Let’s be clear, the fact that slave owners, some of them wealthy, received reparations post-abolition is at best immoral and at worst a continued heinous crime against humanity. Certainly the descendants of slave owners who continue to profit from slavery should understand how the descendants of slaves, many of whom are economically disenfranchised, continue to suffer from having ancestors who were deprived of wages or reparations. It seems that the modern day descendants of slave owners who continue to benefit from reparations, would comprehend the need to grant the descendants of slaves reparations, particularly since it was their ancestors who actually did the work. I suppose that would be too much like right for a world event that was dead wrong.

Read more at the Independent (UK) or Denver Post.

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  1. If tomorrow owning a car were made illegal, there would be an awful lot of owners, rental companies & manufacturers who would justly demand compensation. People invested a lot of money in slaves & no matter how awful we now see enslavement to be, back then it was legal & therefore they deserved & were legally entitled to compensation.

    This article screams for the response: one cannot punish the child for the sins of the father.

  2. There’s also far to much focus put on the wrongs of the past, which distracts from the wrongs of today. Not least that right now there are over 30 million people in slavery.

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