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Vast scale of British slave ownership revealed

46,000 Britons were slave owners on the day that slavery was abolished in 1833 and all received a share of a £17 billion compensation payout from the Government

Alexandra Sims
Monday 13 July 2015 17:41 BST
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Thousands of modern-day Briton’s are related to owners who received huge sums in compensation when the trade was abolished
Thousands of modern-day Briton’s are related to owners who received huge sums in compensation when the trade was abolished (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The shocking scale of British slave ownership has been revealed in scores of official records which have found that thousands of modern-day Britons are related to owners who received huge sums in compensation when the trade was abolished.

A five-year project by University College London has compiled the identities of 46,000 Britons who owned slaves, mainly in the West Indies, on the day slavery was abolished in 1833.

David Cameron, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Affleck and George Orwell are just some of the high profile descendants of the slave owners revealed in the files.

Records from the Slave Compensation Commission show that some 800,000 Africans were freed upon abolition after being kept as legal property.

A cartoon lampooning British Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley over his objection to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Upon their liberation the Commission paid out the modern equivalent of £17 billion in compensation to the UK’s tens of thousands of owners – the largest government pay-out prior to the bailout of the banks in 2009.

The colossal sum represented 40 per cent of government expenditure in 1834.

Researchers from UCL led by Professor Catherine Hall and Dr Nick Draper have published the files into an online database which is available for the general public to access and search for the names of all those who received compensation.

Both David and Samantha Cameron have ancestors who recieved money from the billions paid to slave owners in compensation (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

John Gladstone, the father of prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, who owned nine sugar plantations, received the most money in compensation being paid £106,769 or the equivalent of £80 million today.

The great-grandfather of novelist George Orwell, Charles Blair, received £4,442 or the modern day figure of £3 million in compensation.

It is now thought that 10 per cent of Britons who died in the 18th century benefited from slavery and that up to 15 per cent of the British elite were connected to the trade.

A new BBC documentary named Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, reveals that slave ownership was not just reserved for Briton’s wealthy gentry however.

Shackles which were used to tether slaves (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The two part programme, presented by historian David Olugsoga shows that middle-class families with occupations ranging from home country vicars to iron manufacturers also had a stake in the trade.

Other surprises included the discovery that 40 per cent of slave owners living in the colonies were found to be women who had inherited what was then regarded as human property through their partner’s wills.

Rather than being restricted to the UK’s major ports slave owners were also found to reside throughout the country, with Scotland containing the highest rates of slave ownership in proportion to the population.

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