Reclaiming History: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

Slave capture
Slave capture

Yesterday, David Olusoga of BBC Two published a documentary on Britain’s Slave Owners part 1: Profit and Loss. His work was very profound, and was of course very painful, as it dealt with slavery. Here is the synopsis, from BBC Two website:

“In 1834 Britain abolished slavery, a defining and celebrated moment in our national history. 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 Britain’s 46,000 slave owners were paid £17bn in today’s money, whilst the slaves received nothing.
The Transatlantic slave trade
The Transatlantic slave trade

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.

Slaves on board a ship
Slaves on board a ship

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.”

Check out the BBC Two website which has an interactive view of it. I also liked the video link below about some instruments of torture used in Jamaica to punish slaves. I invite you to find this outstanding documentary by David Olusoga. Below is an interview he gave.

9 thoughts on “Reclaiming History: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

  1. This is a brilliant documentary – the shame of slave owning so meticulously documented through their receipt of compensation. So many ugly ironies here. David Olusoga is a fine and humane historian. He shows, too, how the very foundation of Britain’s wealth is based on the cruel exploitation of other people. This fact still resonates today despite the collective forgetting.


  2. Pingback: HISTORY + VIDEO: Reclaiming History: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners | Neo-Griot

  3. Reblogged this on developmenttruths and commented:
    In my opinion those businesses and countries that profited from slavery and are flourishing today should pay reparations and balance power in politics and economics for those nations from which slaves came. It will never be enough, but it’s better than barely acknowledging it, denying it and continuing to benefit from the continued subjugation and disempowerment of those nations.


  4. Esther Ramdeen

    It would be interesting to also see a BBC series on the post-slavery exploitation of ‘indentured labourers’, Britain’s solution to circumventing the Abolition laws. This practice continued the enslaving and transport of peoples from the far corners of the Empire to plantations in the Caribbean, so that the Brtitish upper class could have sugar in their tea.


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