The collection of slavery compensation, 1835-43

Staff working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 25 November 2022

Staff Working Paper No. 1,006 

By Michael Anson and Michael D. Bennett

On 28 August 1833 Parliament passed legislation that abolished slavery within the British Empire, emancipating 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, a data set of 13,500 unique transactions has been produced which details the collection of £3.4 million of compensation awarded in the form of government stock (3.5% Reduced Annuities). We shed new light on the compensation process by deploying this data set to analyse who actually held the Reduced Annuities in the books of the Bank of England, and for how long the stock was kept. While slave-owners were the main beneficiaries of the compensation process, our analysis shows that there were also other groups who gained through their roles as intermediaries. These agents sought to profit from the business opportunity presented by the moment of compensation in the mid-1830s by facilitating the collection of compensation awards on behalf of slave-owners and charging commission fees for their services. The results show that just 10 individual account names 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 that 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 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.

The collection of slavery compensation, 1835–43

Transcription of the Slave Compensation Account and Litigated Slave Compensation Account