Almost two hundred years after the anti-slavery legislation associated with William Wilberforce, the UK government passed the Modern Slavery Act, acknowledging the fact that slavery had never really gone away. What is different now is that “modern slavery”, is present within the UK itself rather than in far-flung countries where Britons preferred to overlook working conditions. This talk will briefly trace the links between historical forms of slavery and its modern manifestations, and will critically examine claims by the government that the Act is world-leading.
A British-Owned Congo: Roger Casement’s Battle with Slavery in Peru (1910-1914) | Tuesday 1st December
Roger Casement was the twentieth century’s first outstanding humanitarian. Best known for his 1904 chilling report on conditions in King Leopold’s Congo, Casement continued his campaign for human rights in the Putumayo Valley bordering Peru and Colombia, where a rubber company with headquarters in London was abusing and murdering indigenous people on a massive scale – nearly thirty thousand workers had died for a few thousand tons of rubber. Casement’s 1912 Foreign Office published report made for disturbing reading. He was widely celebrated as a hero in his battle to expose widespread abusive labour regimes. In 1916, Casement was hanged on a charge of treason by the British Government.
Speaker: James Walvin, Prof of History Emeritus, University of York
Too often, slavery is seen as an exotic, discreet subject which belongs outside Western culture. This talk takes a different approach, arguing that slavery was pivotal to the way Western Europe emerged over a period of three centuries.
Today, 30 million people around the world are living as slaves, reflecting double standards between the rich and poor countries. In Thailand alone there are 472,000 in slavery prostitution, many having HIV. Slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world, but it still exists. Even within the narrowest definition of slavery, it is likely that there are far more slaves now than there were victims of the Atlantic slave trade. Gillian Kaile will reveal the shocking nature and the dire prospects for this dark inhuman activity which is still practised around the world.
George Hibbert was an early and powerful defender of the slave trade and later slavery. He was a Chairman of the West India Merchants Society, a Member of Parliament between 1806-1812, and Agent for Jamaica between 1812-1832. As early as 1790 he campaigned for the payment of compensation for those whose livelihoods depended on the labour of enslaved people. This talk will explore the different strategies used by Hibbert to delay the ending of slavery, as well as to ensure that the government compensated the slave-owners for their ‘property in people’.
This talk considers the ambiguity that the law faced in the eighteenth century in its struggle with slavery. In this century, several English judges upheld the rights of slave owners to claim property in their “Negroes”, either on the grounds that they were not Christians, or by appealing to the legal concept of jus gentium (law of nations). However, some judges upheld the rights of slaves, arguing that once a slave set foot in England, the slave became free.
First Prime Minister of the London Empire: William Beckford, Jamaican Planter & Lord Mayor of London (1709 – 1770) | Tuesday 13th October
This talk examines the life of William Beckford, twice Lord Mayor of London, and one of the largest slave-owners in the British Empire. In a remarkable political career, he gained fame as a proponent of British liberties, while overseeing a transatlantic family business founded on colonial slavery. The talk will seek to demonstrate how these apparent contradictions highlighted many of the dilemmas Britain faced as a global empire, and helped to spark some of the earliest domestic debates about its future as an imperial power.
This talk will discuss the parts played by freedom and liberty in developing England’s contribution to the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans. It argues that Britain’s relationship with slavery has largely been viewed in terms of Britain’s contribution to the abolition of the trade. It suggests that British identity, British ideas, British institutions did much to develop the trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It examines the political deliberations that surrounded the Royal African Company – a monopolistic trading corporation formed to develop England’s slave trade that would become, by the middle of the eighteenth century, associated with some of the earliest embryonic arguments for the abolition of the slave trade. The lecture will examine the role that Britishness and freedom played in developing the largest forced-intercontinental migration in human history.