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Many of Britain’s elite are the current day beneficiaries of the colossal payouts their ancestors were awarded as compensation when slavery was abolished. In 1833, a staggering 40% of the treasury budget (worth £16.4 billion in today’s money) was given to those thousands of Victorians who had been making a killing from the slave trade. About 1 in 5 wealthy Victorians made all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy. British ships carried 3 million to forced labour in the century up to 1810. Once compensation was agreed upon, as a step in the abolition process, there was a veritable feeding frenzy.
- A John Austin who had 415 slaves received compensation of £20, 511, which is the equivalent of £17 million in today’s money.
- MP James Blair got the equivalent of £65 million for losing his estates in British Guyana.
- The father of PM William Gladstone made £83 million.
- Ancestors of PM David Cameron, Chancellor Douglas Hogg, writers George Orwell and Graham Greene, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, scions of Britain’s oldest banking families and 46,000 others likewise made millions.
This money was spent in such ways as investment in railways and other industries, building country houses, and philanthropy.
The issue has implications for the reparations debate: countries such as Barbados are looking for compensation for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families.
No cash was ever given to the freed slaves to find homes and start new lives.
(i) Randall, David “Britain’s colonial shame: Slave owners given huge payouts after abolition” Independent on Sunday 24/2/2013
(ii) Draper, Dr Nick and team at UCL: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs