Thursday, 11 April 2019

The brass neck of some people

So, slavery is abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834 and the so-called apprenticeship scheme - intended to ensure that the former slave-owners had access and continued control of a supply of labour - collapses in 1838. Your slaveowners have pocketed some £20m as compensation, while the drudges on whom the whole system rested get nothing. And yet what do we find in CO 321/81, a volume of official Colonial Office documents from 50 years later? We find one F. B. Byar writing to the Colonial Office because he is considering instructing his solicitor to bring a case that he is due further compensation for the two slaves he had owned in Barbados. In exquisitely polite terms, Byar wants to know about the compensation payments from 50 years previously. People can, of course, rationalise anything to themselves, but this? The mind reels at the sheer audacity.

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