New database will name 6,500 British investors in slave trade

Database will name 6,500 British investors in slave trade: Academics are compiling new ‘dictionary’ that is set to expose more slavery links with modern firms

  • A Dictionary of British Slave Traders to be compiled by team of British academics
  • Database will feature biographies of investors with links to the slave trade
  • Among them will be the Duke of Chandos and Robert Walpole, Britain’s first PM
  • Greene King and Lloyd’s of London have both apologised for roles in slave trade
  • Organisers say the Black Lives Matter movement made the project more important in highlighting Britain’s involvement in the slave trade

British academics are to create the largest ever database of investors in the slave trade that will highlight ties to modern-day firms.

The Dictionary of British Slave Traders is a project supported by £1 million in government funding using research by British historians and experts.

The database will feature biographies of investors covering a 250-year period, along with shareholders in slave-trading companies.

It will also explore matters such as slave wealth and its financial legacy, in a bid to pressure institutions to act to redress historic wrongs. 

This could mean the exposure of slavery links to several more companies who have not publicised details of their key historical figures involved in the trade.

Firms including Greene King and Lloyd’s of London made public apologies to black communities in the summer after details of the historic dealings in slavery came to light.

British academics are to create the largest ever database of investors in the slave trade that will highlight ties to modern-day firms

According to the team, which consists of academics from the universities of Lancaster and Manchester and University College London (UCL), the dictionary will include more than 6,500 Britons.

Among them there will be smaller or failed investors whose links with the slave trade have not come to light before as previous databases tended to focus on owners of plantations and slaves in the Caribbean.

It will not include all known investors in the South Sea Company, as the team believes that there were other corporations with more important roles in the trade such as the Royal African Company. 

Composer George Frideric Handel’s patron the Duke of Chandos, who poured thousands of pounds into the slaving Royal African Company in the 1720s as one of its directors, will also be included. 


Among the figures included in the database are the Duke of Chandos (left), who poured thousands of pounds into the slaving Royal African Company in the 1720s as one of its directors, and Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister

Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, made £9,000 from Royal African Company stock in the same decade.

Professor William Pettigrew, of the University of Lancaster, told The Times that the Black Lives Matter movement had ‘made it even more important that people have a resource of high-quality information to go to to obtain data about the breadth of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade’.

Several British firms and institutions have come under pressure since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May sparked a revival of BLM protests that reached around the world.

The Bank of England has apologised for what it called the ‘inexcusable connections’ of some past governors and directors to slavery, and said it would remove any portraits of them from display anywhere on its premises.

Pub chain Greene King apologised to black communities for one of its founders, Benjamin Greene, who was a slave owner who went on to own sugar plantations in the West Indies.

The firm’s chief executive Nick Mackenzie said the company would update its website – which does not mention its historical ties to slavery – and apologised for the company’s role in the evil and inhumane practice.

Pub chain Greene King apologised to black communities for one of its founders, Benjamin Greene, who was a slave owner who went on to own sugar plantations in the West Indies. 

Others under pressure include Barclays, who profited from compensation given out at the abolition of slavery, and RBS, which absorbed several banks involved in the slave trade. 

Prof Pettigrew added that the database would complement UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership (LBS) project. 

The LBS project focuses on owners of slaves and plantations, including those who made claims for compensation on the abolition of slavery in British colonies in 1833. 

The members of the new team include Nick Draper of UCL, the originator of the LBS project. 

A spokesman for Lloyd’s of London apologised for the role the company played via the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th Century slave trades, adding that it was an ‘appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own’. Pictured: The Lloyd’s building in London

According to Professor Pettigrew identifying investors rather than plantation owners will give wider results in the net of cases.  

He said that although some investors in the slave trade made fortunes, many others made only one-off investments or came to ruin. 

For example Richard Towne, a tallow chandler who became freelance slave trader in the early 18th century and was hanged after being  caught attempting to flee the country having smuggled 15 tons of tallow. 

The database is expected to be published online and possibly in print in 2024.

Corporations under pressure: The businesses with historic ties to slavery 

Barclays: Merged with the Colonial Bank, whose bosses included people who profited from slavery abolition compensation. 

RBS: Absorbed smaller banks whose bosses were embroiled in the slave trade such as Smith, Payne and Smith bank which enslaved people on Jamaican plants.

Lloyds Bank: Merged with the London and Brazil Bank, whose president was once John White Carter who was compensated for estates in Jamaica.

HSBC: A bank which was later subsumed by HSBC was managed by a trustee of a vast compensation claim, George Pollard.

Lloyds of London: Founder member Simon Fraser owned estates with enslaved people on Dominica and Tobago, which were compensated.

Greene King: Founder Benjamin Greene owned estates on Monsteratt and St Kitts as well as raging against abolition in his newspaper. 

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