In 2015, the BBC in Britain screened Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, a 2-part documentary series, presented by David Olusoga. The series won a BAFTA TV award in the ‘Specialist Factual’ category in 2016. The documentary was produced in conjunction with the team at University College London who created the Legacies of British Slave Ownership database. This database has been very useful in my own research, and I’ll write more about it in another post.
Britain abolished slavery in 1834—’abolition’ as it’s called, is an event which is celebrated as a defining moment in Britain’s history, and rightly so. But abolition came at a price. The government of the day introduced a compensation scheme – not for the slaves, but for the slave-owners who lost ‘property’ (i.e. their slaves, who they counted as assets). The compensation scheme paid out £17 billion in today’s money to 46,000 slave owners. The slaves received nothing. The British bureaucracy responsible for the compensation scheme kept meticulous records, which are today held in The National Archives in London.
The TV series uses the records of the compensation scheme as a starting point to examine the development of slavery in the British world. Olusoga travels to Barbados and to the counties of Britain, exploring the human and financial impact of slavery. The series is well-researched, and provides an excellent overview of Britain’s links with slavery, particularly as it drew to a close in the nineteenth century. The research of the UCL academics featured in the programme, and Olusoga’s work translating this history for the screen is so important—Britain’s slave-owners and their enslaved Africans are so often forgotten in the rush to congratulate the abolitionists and emancipationists in Britain’s past.
Although the documentary aired in 2015, it is still possible to download both episodes from the BBC for a very small fee. Follow this link: Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners Video Download.
This is a link to the programme page for the documentary, which has more information and links to other useful resources.