When Britain put an end to slavery throughout its empire in 1833, the country set up a Slave Compensation Commission to process claims. About 46,000 claims were paid, amounting to around £20 million, or the equivalent of £17 billion (more than $23 billion USD) in today's currency.
But this money (which had come from British taxpayers) didn’t go to the people who had been enslaved. Instead, it was paid to Britain’s slave owners for the “loss of human property.” Previously unseen records made public in 2013 detailed who received money in return for their slaves, much to the embarrassment of many wealthy families across the UK.
Slavery and its legacy in Britain:
- Slavery was a major source of wealth in the British Empire. Those who made money from it were not only slave owners, but also investors who transported Africans to enslavement. British ships carried about three million to an agonizing life of forced labor.
- Researcher Nick Draper of University College London said as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy. "There was a feeding frenzy around the compensation,” he said.
- Those who benefitted from slavery included ancestors of Prime Minister David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.