Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mapping Compensation for Slavery

Today I visited the wonderful Museum of London Docklands. The museum's 'London, Sugar and Slavery' exhibition examines the dominant role of  London in the transatlantic slave trade.

Of all the many shocking facts revealed by the exhibition one fact really stuck with me. When the British government abolished slave-ownership in 1833 it decided to award £20 million in compensation. That equates to about £16.5 billion in today's terms. It is impossible to argue that the British government were astonishingly generous in their compensation award.

The shocking fact is, however, that this £20 million was earmarked not for the individuals who were sold, abducted or forced into slavery but for those who profited from this immoral activity. In Victorian Britain many wealthy families owed their fortunes to the slave economy. Thanks to the British government these same families also profited when slavery was finally abolished.

The History Department of University College London has created two maps which really reveal how many Londoner's profited from their disgusting involvement in the slave trade. The UCL's Slaveowners in Fitzrovia and on the Portman Estate includes two maps showing the homes of individuals who received compensation from the abolition of slave-ownership.

Because of Britain's still rigid class system there are of course many wealthy families in Britain today still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery as the wealth generated from the slave-trade and the government's compensation award has been passed down the generations.

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