As part of the creation of our exhibition ‘Slavery & the Bank’, Michael Anson (Bank of England Archive) and Dr Michael Bennett (Lecturer in Early Modern British History, University of Sheffield) researched ledgers documenting the compensation of slave owners following the abolition of slavery. This research has been published as an academic paper and is freely available below.
About the paper
On 28 August 1833 Parliament passed legislation that abolished slavery in the British Empire, more than 800,000 enslaved Africans.
As part of the compromise that helped to secure abolition, the British government agreed a generous compensation package of £20 million to slave-owners for the loss of their ‘property’. The Bank of England administered the payment of slavery compensation on behalf of the British government.
Using records held in the Bank’s Archive, we produced a data set of 13,500 unique transactions. It details who received the £3.4 million of compensation that was awarded as government stock (3.5% Reduced Annuities). We shed new light on the compensation process by using this data set to analyse who actually held the Reduced Annuities in the books of the Bank of England, and for how long.
Slave-owners were the main beneficiaries of compensation, but our analysis shows that others also gained by acting as intermediaries. These agents sought to profit from the business opportunity arising from compensation in the mid-1830s. They did this by helping slave-owners collect compensation awards and charging commission fees for their services.
The results show that just 10 individual account names of agents had over 8,000 transactions totalling £2.2 million. The largest agents were partners in London banks and merchant firms that had pre-existing commercial ties to the colonies. These banks and firms received compensation in Reduced Annuities (Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius, and the Virgin Islands).
Our analysis also shows that this stock was quickly sold, meaning that compensation awards made in Reduced Annuities were soon converted into cash. By 1844, almost none of the £3.4 million in compensation was still held as Reduced Annuities by those to whom it had been awarded, or by those who had collected it.
All of this provides further evidence for the strong links between financial institutions in the City of London, the capital generated through the transatlantic slavery economy, and the compensation process during the 1830s.