by Liku Zelleke
The topic of slavery and the remuneration of the descendants of slaves has been a highly controversial one. Those that are against reparations make a stand based on the fact that they should not be made to pay for the sins of their fathers. That, probably, had been a good leg to stand on. At least, that is, until it has been found that the British government had paid slave-owners compensations for their “losses” when it had abolished slavery.
Previously unseen documents have been found revealing how Britain’s wealthiest families had received monetary compensations after slavery had been abolished. The records, to the embarrassment of the descendants of the slavers, show exactly how much was paid and to whom. In some cases the amount of payments would have been the equivalent of billions of pounds in today’s world.
According to Dr Nick Draper from University College London, as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave trade. In fact, there are wealthy families today who are enjoying the proceeds gained indirectly from slavery.
Dr Draper said that “there was a feeding frenzy around the compensation”; as an example, one John Austin, who owned 415 slaves was paid £ 20,511 – a sum equivalent to around £ 17 million today.
Many received much more.
Among those whose forefathers were listed in the documents are those of Prime Minister David Cameron, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, the banking family of Barings and the Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen’s cousin.
The study that spanned over three years and involved 46,000 records of compensation given to the British slave-owners will be put into a database and made available online.
Dr Draper added that the information in the database can be used by those in the “reparations debate”. Barbados is one of the countries that are calling for former colonial powers to make amends for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families.