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Clergy gained compensation equivalent to £46 million today, at abolition of slavery

26 June 2020


Nineteenth-century estate-workers in Jamaica

Nineteenth-century estate-workers in Jamaica

ALMOST 100 clergy in the Church of England received financial compensation when slavery was finally abolished in the 1830s, research by University College London (UCL) has found.

Historians at the university searched a database of the claimants under the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, and identified 96 Anglican priests. These received compensation in total equivalent to £46 million today.

The Bishop of Exeter at that time, Henry Philipotts, was the executor of claims for three plantations in Jamaica which held 665 slaves. The claims for which he was registered amounted to £1.5 million. A paper by Peter Wingfield-Digby on the UCL website explains that the Bishop was one of the executors for the plantation-owner William John Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley, and the estate passed to a 16-year-old cousin of the peer. Although there is no evidence that the Bishop himself owned slaves, his brother Thomas did, and this “may well explain the Bishop’s failure to speak out on the issue of slavery”.

To pass the Abolition of Slavery Bill, the Government put aside £20 million to compensate slave-owners. The equivalent of £110 billion today, the sum amounted to about five per cent of the UK’s annual GDP.

The UCL researchers believe that as many as one in five of Victorian Britain’s wealthy had connections to slavery.

Shortly before the bicentenary in 2006 of Act abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire, the General Synod offered an apology for the Church of England’s part in slavery (News, 17 February 2006). Speakers in the debate noted that, while numerous clergy profited from slave plantations, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (now part of USPG) owned slaves in Barbados, who were branded with the word “Society”.

A C of E statement said: “Slavery and exploitation have no place in society. While we recognise the leading role clergy and active members of the Church of England played in securing the abolition of slavery, it is a source of shame that others within the Church actively perpetrated slavery and profited from it.

“We reiterate our commitments to support every effort by the Church and other agencies to oppose human trafficking and all other manifestations of slavery across the world.”

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