Legacies of British Slave Ownership
Colonial slavery shaped modern Britain and its legacies remain today, on this page we look at the chilling and revealing records of the Slave Compensation Commission, which make for uncomfortable reading.
In 1833 Parliament finally abolished slavery in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. The trade in enslaved peoples from Africa to the British colonies had been made illegal in 1807, but it had taken another 26 years for existing slaves to be freed. To combat illicit transportation following the 1807 act many of the British Colonies began keeping registers of slaves who had been so-called ‘lawfully enslaved’. In 1819 the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves was established in London and copies of the slave registers kept by the colonies were sent to this office. Registration generally occurred once every three years and the registers continue through to 1834 when slavery was officially abolished. Freedom came at a price: in place of slavery a system of bonded labour was introduced. But what of the slave owners? – they were granted £20 million in compensation (paid for by British taxpayers), for their loss of ‘assets’.
This compensation was administered by the Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, appointed by Parliament to determine who should receive what amount of compensation, and on what basis. The Office carefully documented all claims made and all monies disbursed. Each claim was checked in the relevant colonies and if validated, the owner received compensation. The amounts were fixed according to the classification of each enslaved individual – their gender, age, type of work and level of skill – and the level of productivity, and therefore profitability, of the different islands and territories. The average value of a slave, for example, in British Guiana (now Guyana), was judged to be considerably higher than that in Jamaica.
Not all slave owners were wealthy. They included ordinary men, women and widows, for whom it was simply a financial transaction. Until 1882, upon marriage, a woman’s possessions and property legally belonged to her husband and only upon his death might she have any financial independence. As a result, and after living with their own discrimination and constraint, many women found themselves as widows inheriting their husbands’ shares in a plantation and its enslaved people.
This process created an extraordinary set of records now publicly accessible at The National Archives, Kew, comprising registers and records establishing each compensation claim (TNA ref T71). Dating from 1812 to 1851, the registers are indexed by name of the owner or plantation and include the proceedings of the assistant commissioners who were sent to the several colonies, valuers’ returns, registers of claims with indexes, original claims and certificates, counter-claims, adjudications in contested cases, certificates for compensation and lists of awards, commissioners’ hearing notes and minutes, and accounts. The compensation records also provide us with a unique snapshot of slave owners in Britain, as well as the Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. Images and indexes to most of the 663 slave registers are now available on Ancestry (the registers are included under Census & Electoral Rolls entitled Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1813-1834) and they record not only the claimants but also the men, women and children that owners claimed as their ‘property’, along with the monetary values that were assigned to them.
An ambitious project establishing a database of information extracted from the compensation records was undertaken at the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London, in 2009 and is now in its third phase, see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/. The database has identified thousands of estates and owners, back to 1763, and has initiated a wealth of research, with accompanying maps, sources list, research guidance, blogs and newsletters.
Surrey slave ownersMany Surrey slave owners feature in the database. A basic search, using the term ‘Surrey’ as the residence of an owner, reveals 275 individuals (based upon the old Surrey county boundaries). These include: The Rt Hon Henry Goulburn, MP (1784-1856), of Betchworth, near Dorking, Edward Long (1734-1813), of Coombe House, Kingston, author of The History of Jamaica (1774), James Scarlett MP (1769-1844), barrister, who was made 1st Baron Abinger in 1835, the Onslow family, John Ivat Briscoe (1791-1870), Lord of the Manor of Epsom, the Williams and Lambert families both of Thames Ditton, and Charles Nicholas Pallmer of Norbiton Place (1771-1848), politician. Pallmer’s nephew, Thomas John Parker, of Canbury House, Kingston, actually resided at his plantation at St Andrew’s, Jamaica, with over 1,000 enslaved people. Some Surrey plantation owners did not own slaves by the time the Commission was established, and hence they do not appear in the database. This is the case for the Godwin Austen family of Shalford and the More-Molyneux family of Loseley Park. Surrey History Centre holds records for all these individuals and their families, ranging from lists of enslaved people owned, to records of managing the plantations, or the transfer of estates through marriage settlements and wills.
Henry Goulburn’s estate was named Amity Hall, situated in the parish of Vere, Jamaica. The compensation claim awarded to him for Amity Hall in 1832 was £4,866 19s 11d. The estate’s produce was listed as livestock only but had formerly been rum, sugar, and molasses. In 1832, the number of enslaved claimed for was 237 but had been higher (TNA ref T71/858; see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/21529). Goulburn never visited the estate and relied upon his attorney Thomas Samson, with whom he had a troublesome relationship. Goulburn argued with Samson over the humanitarian treatment of the enslaved and Samson earned a poor reputation for cruelty towards them. A valuation of Henry Goulburn’s ‘sundry slaves’ dated 16 May 1816, shows Margaret Williams Samson and her seven children, the property of Amity Hall Estate, at Vere, Jamaica (SHC ref 304/J/Box7(6)). Click here to see a pdf ( ) transcript of the valuation.
The family are valued at £800 and are most probably Samson’s own mistress and his biological children. Accompanying the valuation is a bond, of 20 May 1818, whereby Thomas Samson is to pay £5 per annum to Margaret and her children for their lives following their manumission by Henry Goulburn, who also bound himself to pay a similar sum. The Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission returns of June 1817, for Goulburn’s estate, show Margaret’s children, John age 19 and Charles, age 16, as being her second and third born, both described as ‘mulatto’, meaning of mixed white and Black parentage. More about Henry Goulburn’s Jamaican estate can be seen at https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/surrey/henry-goulburn/
Charles Nicholas Pallmer, MP for Surrey, was a member of the West India Committee formed to press the government for ameliorationist measures for the Crown colonies and to resist moves towards emancipation. He had owned the extensive Rose Hill estate in Clarendon, Jamaica, but had enormous personal debts and was declared bankrupt in 1831. A conveyance of property in Jamaica, from George William Ricketts to Francis Love Beckford Snr. and Charles Nicholas Pallmer, records assets at the New Canaan Plantation and Sugar Works, Co. Cornwall, Jamaica. At first glance, the deed, dated 18 April 1832, looks like an ordinary deed. It records the parties involved in the transaction, with a schedule of estate assets. However, just as an ordinary deed might list livestock, this chilling document records enslaved working on the New Canaan Plantation. Each of them is named, along with their age, sex and colour as registered by the Registrar of Colonial Slaves, between 1817 and 1829 (SHC ref G111/44/BOX1-2).
Horrifically, the enslaved were classified by their ethnicity and their monetary value reflected this. Some are listed as African or ‘negro’ (being of Black African origin), ‘mulatto’ (mixed race of white and African parentage), ‘creole’ (mixed race of Jamaican and African parentage), ‘sambo’ (mixed race of three-quarters African heritage, or the child of ‘negro’ and ‘mulatto’ parentage), ‘quadroon’ or ‘quateron’ (mixed race of one quarter African, with three quarters European ancestry).
Although often given names from classical antiquity or literature, some enslaved retained a single African forename which changed when they were purchased or sold on. Slave surnames are usually that of the plantation attorney, or owner. In this deed, an enslaved person’s informal and formal name is given, for example ‘Peggy alias Mary Ricketts’. In the ‘Remarks’ column the enslaved mother is also recorded, for example ‘Jean’ and ‘Lizzy’ appear to be the quadroon creole twins, aged 1⅓, of ‘Susanna alias Mary Simpson’.
Pallmer, a politician, owned Norbiton Place, a mansion with 300 acres in Kingston. His signature and seal can be seen at the bottom of the document. Under the compensation scheme he was awarded compensation as the trustee of estates belonging to his nephew, Thomas J Parker, and as mortgagee of an estate in St Andrew, Jamaica. However, because of Pallmer’s debts, he saw very little of the £4920 12s 7d paid for the emancipation of the 253 enslaved. Thomas J Parker’s compensation was totalled at a staggering £16,000 for 880 slaves (see TNA ref T71/959, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/24785).
The Williams family of Weston Green, Thames Ditton, possessed the Claremont, St Clare and Monteros estates on the island of Antigua, inhabited by just under 400 enslaved people. In 1834, Rowland Edward Williams was awarded compensation amounting to £4495 8s 23d for the enslaved people there (see TNA ref T71/877, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/1266).
The Lambert family, also of Weston Green, Thames Ditton, had distinguished naval and military connections. Vice Admiral Robert Stuart Lambert (1772-1836), owned the Winchester estate in St Thomas-in-the-East, Jamaica, and was awarded £5125 15s 3d as compensation when his 275 enslaved people were emancipated in 1834 (see TNA refs T71/1200 and T71/867, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/21853).
Surrey’s slave owners not only included men but also a surprising number of women, just under a fifth, in fact. Some were married, others were spinsters or widows, not all were landed and upper class, and some had simply inherited their ‘asset’ through the death of a husband, relative, or as part of a marriage settlement. The database reveals that the numbers of enslaved owned by these women ranged from one to hundreds, with the compensation awarded being a few pounds or several thousand. Ann Hinds, for example, a widow who lived in Westcott, Dorking, owned just 13 enslaved people on two small estates in Barbados (see TNA ref T71/553, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/3042). Her compensation was just under £260, paltry in comparison to the £3000 35s 18d that Isabella Dobinson of Egham Lodge, Egham, received in 1835, for her 154 enslaved people on Jamaican estates in (see TNA ref T71/ https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146630395).
Not all claimants were successful. Dame Mary Nagle was an unsuccessful counterclaimant of compensation for ownership of slaves on the Boarded Hall estate, Barbados, as an annuitant of her late husband, John Lucie Blackman, a West India merchant. Their son, George, who later became a baronet and director of the Bank of England, inherited the estate, and owned The Durdans in Epsom. Dame Mary died in May 1836 and is buried at East Molesey church where there is a monumental inscription for her (see TNA ref T71/898, see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/-368685485).
A thought-provoking legacy
One intriguing, controversial, but vitally important feature of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database is the linking of slave-owning people and their monies to political, cultural, physical and commercial legacies in the UK and across the globe. A Surrey example of this is the Onslow family, which owned the Whitehall estates in St Ann and St Thomas-in-the-East, Jamaica, and features heavily in the database as having both a political and physical legacy. As Members of Parliament, not only did they contribute to political decisions of the day which affected the longevity of slavery but as plantation owners they also profited financially, which contributed to the stately homes they built and still exist today. Particularly noted in the database is Thomas Lord Onslow (1679-1740), MP for Gatton, Chichester, Bletchingley and Surrey, who married the Jamaican heiress, Elizabeth Knight, in 1708, and with whose fortune he built Clandon Park (see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146648873).
You can discover more about Surrey and slavery on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/surrey/
Read the Surrey Historic Environment Record (HER) blog which discusses buildings in Surrey and their links to the slave trade, and the approach taken by the HER to improve data and interpretation.
For The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database at UCL see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
Records of the Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, The National Archives Ref. T71/-, see http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C13808. For the guide to the slave registers, the Slave Compensation Commission, and researching slave owners see http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/slavery-or-slave-owners/ with online records available on Ancestry (the registers are included under Census & Electoral Rolls entitled Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1813-1834).
For an overview of slave owners in Surrey, see our Exploring Surrey’s Past website https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/surrey/slave-plantations/
For links to a variety of Surrey slavery case studies, see https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/surrey/
For the story of Surrey’s abolitionists see https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/abolitionists/