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Slave Compensation Not Too Late

Slave Compensation Not Too Late

By Yvonne Ridley

 Calls to compensate the descendants of Britain's vile slave trade are always dismissed by Establishment figures as being too impractical but there are families in the UK who are still benefitting today from the slave economy.

 Furthermore, the British taxpayer just completed paying off government debts in 2015 accrued when the country's wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished. This should be of interest especially to America's black population, most of whom are descendant from former slaves and not immigrants.

As many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy and while some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution others bought or built magnificent homes bestowing a grand lifestyle handed down through generations.

The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their "property" when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. This amounted to 40 per cent of the UK government's annual budget which, in today's terms works out at around £17 billion pounds.

So £10m went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa while the other  chunk went to absentee owners living in Britain. The biggest single payout went to MP James Blair who had homes in Marylebone, central London, and Scotland. He was awarded £83,530, the equivalent of £65m today, for the 1,598 slaves he owned on the plantation he had inherited in British Guyana.

And while you let that sink in, consider this payout. John Gladstone, the father of 19th-century prime minister William Gladstone pocketed £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. His son, who served as prime minister four times during his 60-year career, was heavily involved in his father's claim.

So some of you might be saying "so what, it was a long time ago". That may be the case but Britain has just paid off the final part of the shameful debt as recently as 2015. This means those of us who pay taxes in the UK have contributed towards the huge sums borrowed by the British Government back in 1833. Ironically, this means that descendants of slaves – who never got any compensation – will almost certainly have numbered among those forced to pay towards the compensation to slave-owners.

So great was the £20 million pay off the Government agreed in 1833 to reimburse the rich owners of slaves, that it took the nation ie. the taxpayer a staggering 182 years to pay off the massive debt.

The huge windfall turned slave owners into the equivalent of multi-millionaires overnight and their generations have benefitted down the years while, even today, the descendants of slaves are still struggling to make ends meet. This puts a new light, I believe, on their calls for claims for reparation and compensation.

So don't tell me or anyone else it matters not or it's too late or not realistic. It took Britain 182 years to pay off the entire compensation awarded to slave owners - the real crime is that the slaves and their descendants have - so far - not received a single penny.

If it costs billons more today to compensate the descendants of African and Caribbean slaves then it must be done. It is the right thing to do as well as apologise and ask for forgiveness. And those at the head of the queue asking for forgiveness should be the descendants of those who were at the head of the queue when huge payouts in compensation were given to those who grew fat and prosperous on this vile, trade in human beings.


 -Sister Yvonne Ridley is an author and journalist living in the UK. Her latest books is called TORTURE: Does it work? Interrogation issues and effectiveness in the Global War on Terror. You can order a copy here: 


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