The British Business of Slavery, a series of talks at Conway Hall, Autumn 2015

Conway Hall Ethical Society presents a series of talks,  curated by Deborah Lavin, on British involvement in slavery,  from the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans to the UK Modern Slavery Act.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015, 7:00 pm
Freedom’s Debt, the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade (1672 – 1752)

Speaker: Dr William Pettigrew, University of Kent, and also currently running a Leverhulme Trust project examining England’s 17th century international trading corporations
Freedom’s Debt will discuss the parts played by ideas of freedom and liberty in developing England’s contribution to the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans. It also argues that Britain’s relationship with slavery has largely been viewed in terms of Britain’s contribution to the abolition of the trade. It suggests that British identity, British ideas, British institutions did much to develop the trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It examines the political deliberations that surrounded the Royal African Company – a monopolistic trading corporation formed to develop England’s slave trade that would become, by the middle of the eighteenth century, associated with some of the earliest embryonic arguments for the abolition of the slave trade. The lecture will examine the role that Britishness and freedom played in developing the largest forced-intercontinental migration in human history

Tuesday 13th October, 7:00 pm
First Prime Minister of the London Empire: William Beckford, Jamaican Planter & Lord Mayor of London (1709 – 1770)
Speaker: Dr Perry Gauci, Vivian Green Fellow in Eighteenth-Century History at Lincoln College, Oxford
The First Prime Minister of the London Empire examines the life of William Beckford, twice Lord Mayor of London, and one of the largest slave-owners in the British Empire. In a remarkable political career, he gained fame as a proponent of British liberties, while overseeing a transatlantic family business founded on colonial slavery. The talk will seek to demonstrate how these contradictions highlighted many of the dilemmas Britain faced as a global empire, and helped to spark some of the earliest domestic debates about its future as an imperial power.

Tuesday 20th October, 7:00
The Law’s Ambiguous Struggle with Slavery
Speaker,  Prof Satvinder Juss, King’s College London and Barrister at Law.
Previously a Human Rights Fellow at Harvard Law School and a member of the Slavery Working Group at the Centre for Social Justice (2013),  which advised on the  Modern Slavery Act 2015.
The Law’s Ambiguous Struggle with Slavery considers the ambiguity that the law faced in the eighteenth century in its struggle with slavery. In this century, several English judges upheld the rights of slave owners to claim property in their “Negroes”, either on the grounds that they were not Christians, or by appealing to the legal concept of jus gentium (law of nations). However, some judges upheld the rights of slaves, arguing that once a slave set foot in England, the slave became free.  Also new light is thrown on the perennial controversy  surrounding the case of James Somersett (1772) and the role of Lord Mansfield in the change to the common law regarding slavery within Britain.

Tuesday 27th October, 7:00 pm
George Hibbert M.P. (1757-1837) and the Defence of British Slavery
Speaker, Dr Katie Donington, awarded a PhD in History (2013) from University College London (for research into the Hibbert family( Co-author of The Legacies of British Slave-ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain
George Hibbert was an early and powerful defender of the slave trade and later slavery. He was a Chairman of the West India Merchants Society, a Member of Parliament between 1806-1812, and Agent for Jamaica between 1812-1832. His family had been involved with the business of slavery for generations. As early as 1790 he campaigned for the payment of compensation for those whose livelihoods depended on the labour of enslaved people. This talk will look at the different strategies used by Hibbert to delay the ending of slavery, as well as to ensure that the government compensated the slave-owners for their ‘property in people’.

Tuesday 3rd November, 7:00 pm
The Unfortunate Colonel Despard: “Governor of Belize”, Anti-racist, Democrat, Executed as a Traitor 1803
Speaker: Mike Jay, author and historian
Colonel Edward Despard was executed in London in 1803 as a terrorist and traitor. However, the seeds of his radicalism were sown on the other side of the world, during his military service in the Caribbean. A patriotic war hero who fought alongside Nelson, he fell from favour with the British government after he was appointed governor of Belize and allocated equal shares of land to black and white settlers. Recalled to Britain, he shocked London society with his mixed race marriage, and his pursuit of racial equality and political rights steered him towards the revolutionary underground.

Tuesday 24th November, 7:00 pm
Slavery and the Shaping of Britis
h Culture
Speaker:  James Walvin, Professor of History Emeritus, University of York.
The past forty years have yielded an astonishingly rich and varied archive and historiography about slavery. Much less impressive however has been the efforts to locate slavery as an integral feature of Western cultural life itself. Too often, slavery is seen as an exotic, discreet subject which belongs outside Western culture. This talk takes a different approach, arguing that slavery was pivotal to the way Western Europe emerged over a period of three centuries.

Tuesday 1st December, 7:00 pm
A British-Owned Congo: Roger Casement’s Battle with Slavery in Peru (1910-1914)
Speaker: Professor Jordan Goodman (presently affiliated as an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, at UCL).
Roger Casement was the twentieth century’s first outstanding humanitarian. Best known for his 1904 chilling report on conditions in King Leopold’s Congo, Casement continued his campaign for human rights in the Putumayo Valley bordering Peru and Colombia, where a rubber company with headquarters in London was abusing and murdering indigenous people on a massive scale – nearly thirty thousand workers had died for a few thousand tons of rubber. Casement’s 1912 Foreign Office published report made for disturbing reading. He was widely celebrated as a hero in his battle to expose widespread abusive labour regimes. In 1916, Casement was hanged on a charge of treason by the British Government.

Additional Talk: Friday 4th December at 7.OO
Slavery isn’t History: The Argument for Reparations
Speaker: Dr Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International
For further  information about Anti Slavery International’s campaigns and for details of membership:

Tuesday 8th December @ 7:00 pm
Identifying Unfinished Business: The UK Modern Slavery Act (2015)
Speaker: Gary Craig, Professor of Community Development and Social Justice at Durham University, and Emeritus Professor of Social Justice at the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University Hull.
Almost two hundred years after the anti-slavery legislation associated with William Wilberforce, the UK government passed the Modern Slavery Act, acknowledging the fact that slavery had never really gone away. What is different now is that “modern slavery”, is present within the UK itself rather than in far-flung countries where Britons preferred to overlook working conditions. This talk will briefly trace the links between historical forms of slavery and its modern manifestations, and will critically examine claims by the government that the Act is world-leading.

Q and A after each talk

The Brockway Room
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL

For further information and tickets:

Supported by the Socialist History Society:

Camden New Journal, 1 October 2015