BBC will telecast a documentary based on Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, which includes ancestors of Prime Minister David Cameron, his wife Samantha, Sherlock Homes actor Benedict Cumberbatch and Hollywood superstar Ben Affleck….reports Asian Lite News
A five-year project by University College London compiles a database showing the names of the 46,000 Britons who owned slaves, mainly in the West Indies, when slavery was abolished in 1833.
What has been largely forgotten is that abolition came at a price. The government of the day took the extraordinary step of compensating the slave owners for loss of their ‘property’, as the slave owners were paid £17bn in today’s money, whilst the slaves received nothing.
For nearly 200 years, the meticulous records that detail this forgotten story have lain in the archives virtually unexamined – until now.
In an exclusive partnership with University College London, historian David Olusoga uncovers Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. Forensically examining the compensation records, he discovers the surprising range of people who owned slaves and the sheer scale of the slavery business.
Receiving the most money in compensation was John Gladstone, the father of prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, who owned nine sugar plantations. He was paid compensation worth £106,769, the modern day equivalent of £80million.
The great-grandfather of novelist George Orwell, Charles Blair was paid a more modest £4,442, equivalent to £3million today.
Also to receive a pay-out was distant relative of Prime Minister David Cameron, General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire. He was given £4,101, the same as £3million today to compensate for the slaves he owned on a sugar plantation in Jamaica.
Meanwhile Mr Cameron’s wife Samantha is descended from 19th Century businessman William Jolliffe, who received £4,000 in compensation for 164 slaves, or around £3.25million in today’s money after owning an estate in St Lucia.
What the records reveal is that the slave owners were not just the super-rich. There were widows, clergymen and shopkeepers; ordinary members of the middle-classes who exploited slave-labour in distant lands. Yet many of them never looked a slave in the eye or experienced the brutal realities of plantation life.
In Barbados, David traces how Britain’s slave economy emerged in the 17th century from just a handful of pioneering plantation owners. As David explores the systemic violence of slavery, in Jamaica he is introduced to some of the brutal tools used to terrorise the slaves and reads from the sadistic diaries of a notorious British slave owner. Elsewhere, on a visit to the spectacularly opulent Harewood House in Yorkshire, he glimpses how the slave owners’ wealth seeped into every corner of Britain.
Finally, amongst the vast slave registers that record all 800,000 men, women and children in British hands at the point of abolition, David counts the tragic human cost of this chapter in our nation’s history.
Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners will be broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday at 9.00pm-10.00pm