On Friday 30th March and Saturday 31st March 2012, I attended the Neale Lecture and Colloquium in British History on ‘Emancipation, Slave Ownership and the Remaking of the British Imperial World’.
The colloquium aimed to present the findings of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project and engage with current work exploring the importance of slavery and slave-ownership in the re-making of the British imperial world after abolition in 1833.
The colloquium began with an introduction to the LBS project, which has been investigating what happened to the 20 million pounds of compensation money paid to British slave owners after 1833, and gave an introduction to the online Legacies of British Slave-ownership Encyclopaedia which will be ready in Summer 2012. The database will contain the identity of all slave-owners in the British Caribbean at the time transatlantic enslavement ended. It is interested that 45% of people on the database are women.
The conference was attended by academics from around the world and it was noted by the few members of the Black community in attendance that there was a lack of academics or teachers from the Black community attending the conference. I met the lovely Dr. Heather Cateau from the University of West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Claudia Marquis from University of Auckland and Dr. Artwell Cain from the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and Its Legacy in Amsterdam.
At the conference, I finally got to meet one of our Facebook friends Kevin Buckle who I had communicated with regarding the contributions of people with disabilities to World History and making Black History accessible to all. Kevin is deaf and he had two interpreters Jacqui and Ezra, who worked very at the conference. I have the upmost respect for BSL interpreters following this conference as the speakers were talking so fast and they had to interpret all the information for Kevin. Ezra and I had a good conversation over lunch about BSL, African Identity and Nigeria.
The conference was very informative as it shows that Britain still benefits from the enslavement of Africans to this day. During 1830-1870, the enslavement of Africans had an impact on the formation from modern Britain as the economy of Britain changed to a corporate economy. Governors of the Bank of England owned two plantations in Grenada and at least 20-25% were either former owners or sons of owners of enslaved Africans. Owners who profited from the trade in enslaved Africans invested their profits in railway contracts during the railway boom.
The conference spoke about the 20 million pounds of compensation money paid to British slave owners after 1833. Rothschild founder, Nathan Mayer Rothschild used slaves as collateral in a bank deal with a slave owner and James William Freshfield, founding partner of Freshfields, acted as a trustee in deals involving Caribbean plantations. Rothschild organised the government loan used to compensate owners in the 1830s. The £20 million compensation package, which was used to persuade owners to finally end slavery, was equal to 40 per cent of state expenditure at the time. Africans did not receive any payments, were ridiculed and thought not fit for freedom.
I found out during the 1820-1830s, former West Indian plantation owners moved to Australia and enslaved the Aborigines there. This is a rarely spoken about part of history which I will investigate further.
After emancipation, the system of indentured servitude starts in India as an alternative source of labour. Indians suffered the same conditions as Africans under chattel slavery as it took 4-5 weeks to travel by ship from Calcutta to the Caribbean (Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam).
Dr Verene Shephard from the University of West Indies and Vijay Teelock from (University of Mauritius) gave good presentations on ‘Reparation, Restitution and the Historian’. The reparation movement in Mauritius has moved at a fast pace due to political will and financial backing.
I was overjoyed that I had the opportunity to meet Verene Shepherd as she is an inspiration to me as a historian and I am aware of her work as I have over 6 of her books in my collection. She is a lovely lady, very approachable and humorous. I asked her to sign my Women in Caribbean History book and also gave her a copy of ‘The Great and Mighty Wall’ children’s book as a gift from Black History Studies.