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Church Commissioners to set aside £100 million to compensate for slave-trade links

10 January 2023

© Lambeth Palace Library 2023

Pages of the 1723 “Letter from the Unknown Slave” (FP XVII ff.167–8)

Pages of the 1723 “Letter from the Unknown Slave” (FP XVII ff.167–8)

THE Church Commissioners are to create an “impact investment fund” worth £100 million to mitigate long-term consequences of their fund’s connection with the transatlantic slave trade, it was announced on Tuesday.

Profits from the new fund will be used overseas to provide grants to “address some of the past wrongs” of the Church of England’s links to the slave trade through Queen Anne’s Bounty, the early 18th-century fund set up to support poor Anglican clergy.

The initiatives were announced at the same time as the publication of the Commissioners’ full and final report on links between the Bounty — which was merged into the rest of the Church of England’s endowment in 1948 — and transatlantic chattel slavery.

On Wednesday, the Anglican Minority Ethnic Network (AMEN) commended the “painstaking and noble task undertaken by the Church Commissioners”, saying that “if the Church of England follows through on these conclusions, then the whole Church will be set free.

“However, that is a big if in the light of the Church’s acknowledged failure to implement action on racial justice so far,” the statement from AMEN said.

An interim report, released last June, found that the Bounty had benefited from donations from people involved in the slave trade, including Edward Colston, as well as through its investments in the South Sea Company (News, 16 June 2022).

On Monday, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, deputy chair of the Commissioners, said that the new fund would be built up over nine years, and would seek to be invested in such a way as to “make a difference for the better in countries and communities where the legacy of slavery is still very present”.

A new body will be formed to help oversee the new fund, membership of which will be “largely drawn from people from the global South”, Dr Walker said. As with the Commissioners’ other funds, actual investment decisions would be made by investment managers, he said.

Grants made with the profits from the fund are to be directed to projects working to address the “after-effects of slavery”, Dr Walker said. He referred to educational projects as an example.

“Education was quite deliberately suppressed in many of the places where slavery was operating,” he said. “Some of that educational deficit still exists to this day; so that might be an area where grant-making would be appropriate.”

The investment and grant-making activities would likely have a “strong focus” on West Africa and the West Indies, Dr Walker said. The Commissioners had made a deliberate decision not to use the term “reparations”, however, as the initiatives did not seek to compensate individuals, but were rather about “healing” and “making amends for the past”.

Seeking to provide reparations, in a narrow sense, would be a “much less effective way of spending the money”, Dr Walker said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury reiterated the Church Commissioners’ apologies for historic links to slavery. “It is now time to take action to address our shameful past,” he said in a statement. He acknowledged that “it is hard to do this at a time when resources in many parishes are so stretched,” but that “by acting rightly we open ourselves to the blessing of God.”

Dr Walker also spoke about the “theological message” underlying the research and the Church’s response: “We are all God’s children made in God’s own image.

“For people whose heritage includes slavery in its background, for the Church to be doing this, I hope that will be a sign . . . that you are just as much beloved in God’s sight, as precious in God’s eyes, as much a sister or a brother in Christ, as anybody else.”

In a press release announcing the initiatives, Dr Walker said that the Commissioners “recognise this investment comes at a time when there are significant financial challenges for many people and churches, and when the Church has commitments to address other wrongs from our past.

“We remain fully committed to our work to support the mission and ministry of the Church of England, and we believe that this research and our planned response will help us to do so today and into the future.”

He later elaborated: “When you’ve got a large fund, and you’re trying to spend it well and wisely, then you cover a range of bases, and this is one of them. There’s always people who say you should spend all your money on this, or you should spend all your money on that. That’s what we’re trying to get as a balanced approach.”

In a foreword to the report, Dr Walker and the First Church Estates Commissioner, Alan Smith, write: “Justice, in this case racial justice, must be part of, not distinct from, biblical theology and, hence, the Church Commissioners’ work.”

Dr Walker and Mr Smith express the hope that the Church Commissioners can “set an example of moral leadership, rigorous scholarship and meaningful action that other organisations committed to a better, fairer future could also follow”.


ONE of the Church Commissioners’ chief responsibilities is to manage the Church’s endowment funds, of which Queen Anne’s Bounty was a founding part. The report confirms that there are two main links between the Bounty and transatlantic chattel slavery: through investment in the South Sea Company, and via donations from individuals whose sources of wealth were connected to the slave trade.

The report explains that the South Sea Company’s main commercial activity between 1714 and 1739 was transatlantic slavery, involving both the purchasing and transportation of enslaved people. The report states that “investors in the South Sea Company would have known that it was trading in enslaved people.”

The company ceased its slave-trading activities in 1739, but continued to exist until 1853. The report finds that, from 1723 until 1777, Bounty funds not used to purchase land or pay running costs were invested “almost exclusively” in South Sea Company annuities.

© Lambeth Palace Library 2023Pages of the 1723 “Letter from the Unknown Slave” (FP XVII ff.167–8)

Analysis found that value of these holdings in 1739, when the South Sea Company ceased trading in enslaved people, was about £204,000. There are different methods by which to calculate an equivalent value, but a multiplier of average wages give a comparison figure of £443 million in today’s money.

Donations from individual benefactors made up about 14 per cent of the income from the Bounty in the 18th century. The report notes that “many of the individual benefactors were, or may have been, linked to translatlantic chattel slavery”.

Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, was one of the benefactors to the fund. In 2020, a statue of Colston was pulled down by activists in Bristol and thrown into the harbour. The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, said afterwards that the city should “repent of the evils of our slave trading past” (News, 8 June 2020).

Ledgers showing the investments of the Bounty in the archives at Lambeth Palace will form part of a new exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library, which runs from 12 January until 31 March. The exhibition will also contain a letter written by an enslaved person in 1723 and addressed to the “Archbishop of London” (pictured above).

Dr Walker said that he was shocked to read letters written by slaves in the West Indies to church leaders in the UK, appealing for permission to be baptised and for education, rights that were being denied to them by slave owners who did not want to recognise their humanity.

The recently retired Bishop of Birmingham, Bishop David Urquhart, and Jay Greene, another member of the sub-group, write in another foreword to the report: “Just as the research project was inspired by the truth of the Bible, we knew the research needed to be grounded in financial facts.”

Bishop Urquhart chaired the sub-group of the Commissioners’ Board of Governors that was convened to oversee the investigation into links with the slave trade.

The process began in 2019. The auditing firm Grant Thornton was commissioned to analyse historical documents, and additional research and context was provided by the historians Professor Arthur Burns and Dr Helen Paul, both of whom contributed to the report, which can be read in full on the Church of England website.

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