Indentured Indian labourers work on plantations. 1855

British Involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Boarding the slave ship
For well over 300 years, European countries forced Africans onto slave ships and transported them across the Atlantic Ocean.
The first European nation to engage in the Transatlantic Slave Trade was Portugal in the mid to late 1400's. Captain John Hawkins made the first known English slaving voyage to Africa, in 1562, in the reign of Elizabeth 1. Hawkins made three such journeys over a period of six years. He captured over 1200 Africans and sold them as goods in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. 
To start with, British traders supplied slaves for the Spanish and Portuguese colonists in America. However, as British settlements in the Caribbean and North America grew, often through wars with European countries such as Holland, Spain and France, British slave traders increasingly supplied British colonies
The exact number of British shipsthat took part in the Slave Trade will probably never be known but, in the 245 years between Hawkins first voyage and the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, merchants in Britain despatched about 10,000 voyages to Africa for slaves, with merchants in other parts of the British Empire perhaps fitting out a further 1,150 voyages.
Historian, Professor David Richardson, has calculated that British ships carried 3.4 million or more enslaved Africans to the Americas. 
Only the Portuguese, who carried on the trade for almost 50 years after Britain had abolished its Slave Trade, carried more enslaved Africans to the Americas than the British (the most recent estimate suggests just over 5 million people).
Estimates, based on records of voyages in the archives of port customs and maritime insurance records, put the total number of African slaves  transported by European traders, to at least 12 million people.
The first record of enslaved Africans being landed in the British colony of Virginia was in 1619. Barbados became the first British settlement in the Caribbean in 1625 and the British took control of Jamaica in 1655.
The establishment of the Royal African Company in 1672 formalised the Slave Trade under a royal charter and gave a monopoly to the port of London. The ports of Bristol and Liverpool, in particular, lobbied to have the charter changed and, in 1698, the monopoly was taken away.
British involvement expanded rapidly in response to the demand for labour to cultivate sugar in Barbados and other British West Indian islands. In the 1660s, the number of slaves taken from Africa in British ships averaged 6,700 per year. By the 1760s, Britain was the foremost European country engaged in the Slave Trade. Of the 80,000 Africans chained and shackled and transported across to the Americas each year, 42,000 were carried by British slave ships.
The profits gained from chattel slavery helped to finance the Industrial Revolution and theCaribbean islands became the hub of the British Empire. The sugar colonies were Britain's most valuable colonies. By the end of the eighteenth century, four million pounds came into Britain from its West Indian plantations, compared with one million from the rest of the world.
Who benefited from the Transatlantic Slave Trade?
In the Transatlantic Slave Trade, triangle ships never sailed empty and some people made enormous profits.  This Slave Trade was the richest part of Britain's trade in the 18th century. James Houston, who worked for a firm of 18th-century slave merchants, wrote, "What a glorious and advantageous trade this is... It is the hinge on which all the trade of this globe moves."
Between 1750 and 1780, about 70% of the government's total income came from taxes on goods from its colonies. The money made on the Transatlantic Slave Trade triangle was vast and poured into Britain and other European countries involved in slavery, changing their landscapes forever. In Britain, those who had made much of their wealth from the trade built fine mansions, established banks such as the Bank of England and funded new industries.
Who profited?
  • British slave ship owners - some voyages made 20-50% profit. Large sums of money were made by ship owners who never left England.
  • British Slave Traders - who bought and sold enslaved Africans.
  • Plantation Owners - who used slave labour to grow their crops. Vast profits could be made by using unpaid workers. Planters often retired to Britain with the profits they made and had grand country houses built for them. Some planters used the money they had made to become MPs. Others invested their profits in new factories and inventions, helping to finance the Industrial Revolution.
  • The factory owners in Britain - who had a market for their goods. Textiles from Yorkshire and Lancashire were bought by slave-captains to barter with. One half of the textiles produced in Manchester were exported to Africa and half to the West Indies. In addition, industrial plants were built to refine the imported raw sugar. Glassware was needed to bottle the rum.
  • West African leaders involved in the trade - who captured people and sold them as slaves to Europeans.
  • The ports - Bristol and Liverpool became major ports through fitting out slave ships and handling the cargoes they brought back. Between 1700 and 1800, Liverpool's population rose from 5000 to 78,000. 
  • Bankers - banks and finance houses grew rich from the fees and interest they earned from merchants who borrowed money for their long voyages. 
  • Ordinary people - the Transatlantic Slave Trade provided many jobs for people back in Britain. Many people worked in factories which sold their goods to West Africa. These goods would then be traded for enslaved Africans. Birmingham had over 4000 gun-makers, with 100,000 guns a year going to slave-traders.
  • Others worked in factories that had been set up with money made from the Slave Trade. Many trades-people bought a share in a slave ship. Slave labour also made goods, such as sugar, more affordable for people living in Britain.
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British Colonial Apprenticeship: Slavery by another name?

From Discovering Bristol "Apprenticeship: slavery by another name?": Slavery had existed for about 200 years in British colonies, such as the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean. The system of slavery was ended in 1838. The campaign which played a part in bringing this about was called ‘Abolition’. Abolition meant that the actual buying and selling of slaves was made illegal. The next stage was for the emancipation of the slaves, to make them free. Slave owners fought hard against the emancipation of their slaves. When the Emancipation Act was finally passed in 1833, it did not automatically give the slaves their freedom. This was because it was felt that the slaves were not used to being independent.

Instead it was thought that they needed help and training to be free men and women. Slaves therefore became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work for low wages under their old masters. Supposedly, they were being trained to be free. Because of the way that this system worked, the end of slavery did not really mean freedom for the slaves. Apprenticeship was seen by many as another form of slavery. True freedom came in 1838, when the apprenticeship system was abolished. But even then, many of the freed slaves had no option but to continue working for their old masters for low wages.

Description: One side of a commemorative medallion, celebrating the abolition of slavery, 1834.Copyright: Copyright BCC Museum; Object ID:0.4259

Several medallions were issued to mark the Emancipation Act of 1834. They all show freed slaves celebrating their new freedom. In fact, the Emancipation Act (or law) of 1834 did not come into effect immediately. The slaves were made apprentices, which many abolitionists considered was simply slavery under a different name.

The Emancipation Act of 1833 came into effect on 1 August 1834. It was the final law to be made in the campaign to end slavery in British territories . The new law freed immediately those slaves under the age of six years old. Older slaves were to be ‘apprenticed’ for up to eight years. Traditionally, an apprentice is someone who is taken on, for four to seven years, by another person to be taught a trade. The apprentice usually receives board and lodging in return for the work they do whilst learning. The term apprenticeship was applied to the stage between slavery and freedom. The idea was that the slaves were ‘learning’ how to be free. They worked as before for their former owner, for three-quarters of their time, and could work for others for the rest of the week and receive a small wage. This period was supposed to get the ex-slaves prepared for their freedom in eight years time at the end of the apprenticeship. The situation was little changed from slavery.

Girls On Cocoa Plantation : Trinidad (British West Indies). Read more:
In the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Bermuda the plantation owners realised that it was cheaper to pay a daily wage than to feed and house their apprentices (ex-slaves). The plantation owners therefore freed their slaves at once.

Fermenting Cocoa: Grenada (British West Indies)

The anti-slavery movement had not quite won the battle to end slavery, as the ex-slaves were not much better off under the new system. A campaign began against ‘apprenticeship’. Petitions, as advertised in this banner, were popular ways of showing support, and attracted the working class as well as the middle-class liberals. This banner would have been hung from a window or balcony to publicise the petition being circulated.

Description: Commemorative medallion for the extinction of colonial slavery, 1834. The inscription reads: ‘This is the work of the Lord, it is marvellous in our eyes’, a quote from the Bible, Psalm 118. Copyright: Copyright BCC Museum. Object ID:O.4119

The campaigners’ pressure finally won. Parliament voted for complete emancipation (freedom without apprenticeship) to take effect from 1 August 1838. 750,000 people were freed. If slaves wanted to, they could work as wage earning employees on the plantations. But the dream of the freed slaves was to own their own land and work for themselves. In Jamaica, many abandoned the plantations in search of their own land to cultivate, taking over waste land in the island. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, where there was no empty land to cultivate, many had no option but to continue working on plantations for their former owner for low wages.(source: Discovering Bristol)

 Indentured Indian labourers to work on

 plantations. I

Slavery in South Africa

Slave ‘sale’ in Africa in 1829 is advertised on the same poster as the sale of rice, books, muslins. Source:
The Atlantic Slave Trade used different routes to the Cape Slave Trade.
Slavery affected the economy of the Cape, as well as the lives of almost everyone living there. Its influence also lasted long after the abolition of slavery in 1838.
In South Africa under Dutch settlement, there was a shortage of labour, especially on the wheat and wine farms. But the VOC did not want to spend its money on the expensive wages that European labourers demanded. Nor could the VOC use the Khoi people as slaves. The Khoi traded with the Dutch, providing cattle for fresh meat.
The Khoi also resisted any attempts to make them change their pastoralist way of life.
The Dutch were already involved in the Atlantic slave trade and had experience in buying and controlling slaves. They thus imported slaves as the cheapest labour option. Slaves were imported from a variety of places, including the east coast of Africa (Mozambique and Madagascar), but the majority came from East Africa and Asia, especially the Indonesian Islands, which were controlled by the Dutch at the time. This explains, for instance, why there is a relatively large number of people of Malaysian descent in the Cape (the so-called Cape Malays).
Initially, all slaves were owned by the VOC, but later farmers themselves could own slaves too. Slaves were used in every sector of the economy. Some of the functions of the slaves included working in the warehouses, workshops and stores of the VOC, as well as in the hospital, in administration, and on farms or as domestic servants in private homes. Some slaves were craftsmen, bringing skills from their home countries to the Cape, while others  were fishermen, hawkers and even auxiliary police. The economy of the Cape depended heavily on slave labour.
The lives of the slaves were harsh, as they worked very long hours under poor conditions. They were often not given enough healthy food and lived in overcrowded and dirty conditions. Slaves had no freedom at all — they were locked up at night, and had to have a pass to leave their place of employment. As they were regarded as possessions, they were unable to marry, and if they had children, the children belonged to the slave’s owner and were also slaves. They also had little chance of education. Women slaves were at risk of being raped by their masters and other slaves.
A traveller, Otto Mentzel, observed that:
"It is not an easy matter to keep the slaves under proper order and control. The condition of slavery has soured their tempers. Most slaves are a sulky, savage and disagreeable crowd
... It would be dangerous to give them the slightest latitude; a tight hold must always be kept on the reins; the taskmaster’s lash is the main stimulus for getting any work out of them." - Source: Mentzel, A Geographical and Topographical Description of the Cape of Good Hope,
Cape Town, 1921
While there were many laws inhibiting the lives and movements of slaves, there were also rules to protect them, for example, female slaves could not be beaten. In theory, slave owners would be punished for treating their slaves badly - for example, if they went so far as to beat them to death - but the laws were often ignored.
The abolition of slavery in South Africa
The Abolition of Slavery Act ended slavery in the Cape officially in 1834. The more than
35 000 slaves that had been imported into South Africa from India, Ceylon, Malaysia and elsewhere were officially freed, although they were still bonded to their old masters for four years through a feudal system of "apprenticeship". For many years wages rose only slightly above the former cost of slave subsistence.
Roster of Arrivals/Indentured Labourers in South Africa who were indentified by their numbers only. Picture source: book titled 'From Cane Fields to Freedom'.
The abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves caused a lot of resentment and opposition from the Cape colonials towards the anti-slavery lobby, as embodied in the London Missionary Society that had put pressure on the British government to take this decision. Even before emancipation, the publicised cases of missionary intervention on behalf of mistreated black workers on farms, sometimes even winning convictions against farmers, made them enemies of the largely Afrikaner farming community in the Cape. Reverends John Philip, Johannes van der Kemp and John Read were the most hated missionaries because of their fight for the rights of oppressed black Cape residents.
In fact, one of the reasons for the Great Trek, which would lead to the migration of many white, Dutch-speaking farmers away from the Cape after 1833, was the abolition of slavery by the British government. The farmers complained that they could not replace the labour of their slaves without losing a great deal of money. Importantly, the abolition of slavery did not change the colonial–feudal "slave–master" relations between black and white. Instead, these slave–master relations imprinted themselves on South Africa’s political, social and economic structures for years to come. Black people were "enslaved" by the oppressive laws of industrialisation, pass regulations, and labour ordinances such as the Masters and Servants Act of 1841, which made it a criminal offence for a worker to break a labour contract. It was only after 1994, and the dawning of democracy in South Africa, that all South Africans were truly emancipated from slavery.
Example of slave-master relations that continued after the 'abolition of slavery': Indentured Labourers.
In Natal following the successful introduction of sugar cane farming in 1855, farmers asked the government to introduce indentured Indian labourers to work on plantations. Indian people were identified as suitable for the work because the British and French had success using them in sugar plantations in Mauritius and Madagascar. Natal was still a British Colony at the time and an office called the Protector of Immigrants was set up, it was a transformation of the Slave Protector's office that existed during years of slavery in the Cape. The functions of the Slave Protector were similar those of the office created to protect indentured labourers. The people coming from India, over whom this contract was established, were not consulted and provisions were not made to ensure their full understanding of the laws and conditions of employment. Instead, they were requested to swear an oath of allegiance to their unknown future employer. Once in Natal they were divided among sugar planters like slaves in an auction. E S Reddy, a well-known Indian scholar has compared indentured labour with slavery (see image above of indentured labourers).

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