The Abolition of Slavery in 1883 was another little earner for those who had gone to the Caribbean to make their fortunes in the plantations, which were mainly of tobacco.
Those who got rich out there in this way were able to so only on the back of ‘unfree’ or slave labour.
When slaves were freed in the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, they earned again for their former owners, since government compensation was paid to the colonial owners for the loss of labour they incurred in abolition.
This compensation amounted to a total of £20 million, which was 40% of the entire budget of the government of the day and the equivalent of £2 billion in today’s money.
One man, with 1,383 slaves in plantations across Tobago got £24,964 – the equivalent of £2.5 million in today’s money.
This database, compiled at the University of London in a three year research project, is largely limited to Caribbean plantation owners but it reveals a hitherto unrecognised pattern – showing that far from slave owners being clustered around the major ports associated with slaving, they were scattered across the rural hinterlands of the UK, with the profits from their excursions going to found many of the major estates.
Scottish slave owners amounted to 20% of the overall UK figure, and the database has shown that Argyll families were in the mix.
One was James Cheyne of Lismore and another the Malcolms of Poltalloch in Mid Argyll.
Both of these had been energetic exponents of the clearances, with Cheyne clearing tenants from Lismore across a period from the 1840s to the1850s; and Malcolm clearing those from the village of Arichonan in Knapdale – resisted in famously stirring style.
We have published previously on the Malcolm slave trading in the Jamaican sugar plantations; and in that article referred and linked to an absolutely riveting account of the Arichonan clearance, which anyone would enjoy reading.