The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his wife, Samantha Cameron, are direct descendants of families who did not only own slaves but were heavily compensated for the “losses” incurred as a result of the abolition of slave trade in 1833, according to a yet to be aired BBC documentary presented by a Nigerian historian, David Olusoga.
According to a report published in the Independent, a five year project by University College London has compiled the identities of 46,000 Britons who owned slaves, mainly in the West Indies, on the day that slavery was abolished.
Apart from the British Prime Minister and his wife Samantha, ironically, “12-years-a-slave” actor, Benedict Cumberbach, Oscar winner, Ben Affleck and author George Orwell are also some of the high profile ancestors of the slave owners revealed in the files.
Records from the Slave Compensation Commission show that some 800,000 Africans were freed upon abolition after being kept as legal property.
Upon their liberation the Commission paid out the modern equivalent of £17 billion in compensation to the UK’s tens of thousands of owners – the largest government pay-out since the 2009 bank bailout.
The colossal sum represented 40 per cent of government expenditure in 1834.
Researchers from UCL led by Professor Catherine Hall and Dr Nick Draper have published the files into an online database which is available for the general public to access and search for the names of all those who received compensation.
John Gladstone, the father of prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, who owned nine sugar plantations, received the most money in compensation being paid £106,769 or the equivalent of £80 million today.
The great-grandfather of novelist George Orwell, Charles Blair, received £4,442 or the modern day figure of £3 million in compensation.
It is now thought that 10 per cent of Britons who died in the 18th century benefited from slavery and that up to 15 per cent of the British elite were connected to the trade.
The BBC documentary named Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, reveals that slave ownership was not just reserved for Briton’s wealthy gentry however.
The two part programme, presented by David Olusoga shows that middle-class families with occupations ranging from home country vicars to iron manufacturers also had a stake in the trade.
Other surprises included the discovery that 40 per cent of slave owners living in the colonies were found to be women who had inherited what was then regarded as human property through their partner’s wills.
Rather than being restricted to the UK’s major ports slave owners were also found to reside throughout the country, with Scotland containing the highest rates of slave ownership in proportion to the population.