The Church and Bank of England have apologised over their historic links to slavery through high-ranking figures at the institutions in the 19th century.
In a landmark move, the central bank acknowledged its role in the kidnapping and transportation of thousands of people for the first time, lamenting the ‘unacceptable part of English history’ and saying it will remove images of governors and directors involved in the ‘inexcusable’ trade.
Amid mounting pressure on British institutions, the Bank said it was reviewing artwork in its London headquarters. The move came as several of the UK’s largest companies issued apologies and promised to make reparations after their historical links to slavery were laid bare.
The Church of England has also apologised for historic links to slavery through vicars and bishops who benefited from the barbaric practice. The Church said it was a ‘source of shame’ that clergymen, churches and a bishop may have benefited from a compensation plan that paid plantation owners when slavery was abolished.
A University College London database revealed that almost 100 Church of England clergymen had benefited from slavery, while six governors and four directors at the Bank were reported as beneficiaries or claimants of compensation, The Telegraph reports.
Church clergymen had been involved in claims that would be the equivalent of £46 million in today’s money, research of the database shows, with the construction of 32 churches linked to claimants.
Those churches include Barnstaple’s Holy Trinity, which was built at an expense of almost £10,000, paid for nearly entirely by the Rev James Scott, according to British History Online. Scott had been the primary beneficiary of payouts worth more than £100,000 of today’s money for his father’s Jamaica plantations.
In a landmark move, the central bank acknowledged its role in the kidnapping and transportation of thousands of people for the first time, lamenting the ‘unacceptable part of English history’ and saying it will remove images of governors and directors involved in the ‘inexcusable’ trade
Barclays (Canary Wharf HQ, right), RBS, HSBC (Canary Wharf HQ, left) and Lloyds are among Britain’s biggest high street lenders who are being urged to contribute to projects which help the plights of minorities whose forefathers were enslaved
RBS headquarters in Edinburgh, left, and Lloyd’s of London insurers City officer, right. Both have been revealed to have historic links to slavery
The Rt Rev Henry Philpotts, a former bishop of Exeter, had been named as executor of three claims for three Jamaican plantations worth more than £1.5 million on today’s money – though researchers had said there was no evidence that Bishop Philpotts had owned slaves personally.
The cash had been paid to individual members of the clergy, not to the Church itself, which had campaigned to abolish slavery in the early 19th century. It also apologised for historic cases in 2006.
A Church of England spokesman said: ‘We are unfamiliar with this data, but slavery and exploitation have no place in society. While we recognise the leading role clergy and active members of the Church of England played in securing the abolition of slavery, it is a source of shame that others within the Church actively perpetrated slavery and profited from it.’
The City of London’s past has come under the microscope after the Black Lives Matter protests sparked a debate about how Britain should recognise its slave-trading past.
Many directors and governors involved after the Bank’s creation in 1694 had made their fortunes from the slave trade. As well as financing so-called adventurers who were involved in the brutal exploitation of people, the bank financially underpinned British wars in the 18th century to protect the slave colonies.
At one stage, Sir Humphry Morice, a governor of the Bank between 1727 and 1729, owned more slave vessels than anybody else in the country.
The Bank of England said yesterday: ‘The 18th and 19th-century slave trade was an unacceptable part of English history.
‘As an institution, the Bank of England was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former governors and directors and apologises for them.’
Insurance giant Lloyd’s of London and the pub group Greene King said yesterday they would give substantial financial support to black and ethnic minority charities.
Benjamin Greene, who founded the pub chain in 1799, was a leading proponent of slavery, and managed several sugar plantations in the West Indies.
Royal Bank of Scotland has set up an internal task force to address racial inequality amid mounting pressure on big business to confront historic ties to the slave trade.
In a statement RBS claims it has spent the last 15 years looking into its own history, which stretches back some 300 years. The banking giant said it had a ‘responsibility,’ to address the ‘important and painful’ elements of its past.
In a statement today the bank, which claims to have opened up its archives to historians, said it is setting up a taskforce to tackle racial inequality, saying: ‘We have a strong multi-cultural network across the bank and have recently set up a taskforce led by our BAME colleagues which will look at what more we can do as a bank and this includes looking at making contributions to BAME groups.’
Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds are also among Britain’s biggest high street lenders who are being urged to contribute to BAME causes.
Corporations under pressure: The businesses with historic ties to slavery
Barclays: Merged with the Colonial Bank, whose bosses included people who profited from slavery abolition compensation.
RBS: Absorbed smaller banks whose bosses were embroiled in the slave trade such as Smith, Payne and Smith bank which enslaved people on Jamaican plants.
Lloyds Bank: Merged with the London and Brazil Bank, whose president was once John White Carter who was compensated for estates in Jamaica.
HSBC: A bank which was later subsumed by HSBC was managed by a trustee of a vast compensation claim, George Pollard.
Lloyd’s of London: Founder member Simon Fraser owned estates with enslaved people on Dominica and Tobago, which were compensated.
Greene King: Founder Benjamin Greene owned estates on Monsteratt and St Kitts as well as raging against abolition in his newspaper.
The banks have acknowledged the more painful parts of their history and committed to tackling racism and injustices. But the companies, which are worth billions, are being urged to go further and make financial donations for their links to slavery.
Layla Moran MP, a challenger for the Liberal Democrat leadership, fronted calls for the banks to pay out and said she would be writing to City bosses.
Pressure on the banks to make donations has been cranked up after global insurance firm Lloyd’s of London and pub chain Greene King pledged to make contributions after their founders were revealed as slave-owners.
Since Black Lives Matter protesters tore down the statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston earlier this month, companies have been probed for their own links to slave trade in the Empire.
It has seen anti-racism raid a University College London database which archives compensation claims made by slave owners upon the abolition of slavery in 1833.
The records have dredged up links with well-known corporations, some of whom’s founders have been named.
Ms Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, told the Telegraph: ‘No one can change the past – but these businesses can step up now and help to build a better, more inclusive future.’
RBS absorbed smaller banks whose bosses were embroiled in the slave trade, which reflects the bank’s own research into its history in 2009.
A lender to slave-owners Smith, Payne & Smith bank owned an estate in Jamaica between 1789 to 1798 and enslaved people on plants in Jamaica as well as acting as mortgagees on an estate in British Guiana.
The bank said it has set up a taskforce to do more to tackle slavery, building on existing efforts to reflect on its past.
In the statement today the bank said: ‘As an organisation with a history stretching back more than 300 years, these important and painful issues have a place in our history.
‘We recognise our responsibility to engage with that.
‘Over the past 15 years RBS Group has been aware of these issues and has looked into its past links with slavery very extensively and thoroughly, using both its own archives and the growing body of research materials available externally to understand and document the connections.
‘Black Lives Matter is having a profound impact on us as an organisation, with colleagues right across the bank driving a frank and open discussion about the challenges faced by the BAME community and how we can get better as a business.
‘Championing the potential of BAME employees and customers is a priority for us but we also know that too often there are extra barriers faced by people from BAME backgrounds. We know we have a substantial role to play in tackling these inequalities.
‘We have a strong multi-cultural network across the bank and have recently set up a taskforce led by our BAME colleagues which will look at what more we can do as a bank and this includes looking at making contributions to BAME groups.’
Lloyds Banking Group has come under scrutiny for its links with the London and Brazil Bank, with which it merged in 1923.
The president of the London and Brazil Bank was John White Cater, who the UCL records show was compensated for estates on Jamaica, including the Washington and Hibernia estate where 57 people were enslaved.
The bank said much has changed in its 300-year history, and claimed to ‘stand against racism, slavery and discrimination in all its forms’.
A spokesperson said: ‘Like any institution that is so interwoven with our country’s history, we must acknowledge and learn from our past. Today we strive to create a fully inclusive environment for all of our colleagues, customers and communities, one that is truly representative of modern day Britain.’
Barclays merged in 1912 with the Colonial Bank, whose top executives were listed as claimants or beneficiaries by UCL.
The bank said it now strives to foster a ‘culture of inclusiveness, equality and diversity’ for customers and employees.
HSBC traces its links through George Pollard, who managed London Joint Stock Bank which later merged with Midland Bank and then HSBC.
Pollard was a trustee in a compensation claim for an estate in Nevis. HSBC declined MailOnline’s request to comment.
Greene King was founded in 1799 by Benjamin Greene – who was one of 47,000 people who benefited from a policy of compensating slave owners when Britain abolished slavery in 1833.
Greene King founder Benjamin Greene (left) benefited from a policy of compensating slave owners when Britain abolished slavery in 1833. Founder subscriber member of Lloyd’s of London, Simon Fraser, also benefited. Lloyd’s Subscription Room (right) is seen in an engraving in 1809
Benjamin Greene: The 19th Century brewer who held 231 slaves
Greene King traces its links to slavery to its founder, Benjamin Greene, who records show held at least 231 on Caribbean islands.
Born in 1780 in Northamptonshire, Greene moved to Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, where in 1806 he founded what would become the UK’s largest brewery.
He inherited plantations in the West Indies from Sir Patrick Blake, 2nd Baronet, upon his death.
In 1828, he bought the Bury and Suffolk Herald, at a time when the campaign to abolish slavery was being debated.
In his role as a newspaper proprietor, Greene used the pages of the broadsheet to ferociously oppose abolition.
According to his Oxford biography, he campaigned with ‘enormous vigour into representing the interests of the West Indian slave proprietors at a critical juncture of their affairs.’
His opposition to abolition saw him become a figure of controversy in Suffolk, and in 1837 he moved to London where he founded Benjamin Greene & Son – West Indian ship merchants – with his son in Russell Square.
Despite Greene’s protestations, MPs passed the Slavery Abolition Bill in 1833, on the condition that slave-owners were compensated for freeing their slaves.
Records archived by UCL show Greene claimed the modern equivalent of £500,000 for 231 slaves in the West Indies.
The claim forms show Greene received:
January 23, 1836 – £2,672 for 156 slaves on St Kitts
February 27, 1836 – £1,262 for 69 slaves on St Kitts
February 29, 1836 – £98 for six slaves on Monsterrat
He received the equivalent of £500,000 in today’s money after giving up his claim to three West Indies plantations.
The UCL database also revealed that founder subscriber member of Lloyd’s of London, Simon Fraser, gave up an estate in Dominica for the equivalent of £400,000 in today’s currency.
A spokesman apologised for the role the company played by the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th Century slave trades, adding that it was an ‘appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own’.
They committed to giving financial support to ‘charities and organisations promoting opportunity and inclusion for Black and Minority Ethnic groups’.
Lloyd’s added that they would review ‘organisational artefacts’ to make sure they are ‘explicitly non-racist’.
Greene King’s chief executive Nick Mackenzie said the company would update its website – which does not mention its historical ties to slavery – and apologised for the company’s role in the evil and inhumane practice.
He said: ‘It is inexcusable that one of our founders profited from slavery and argued against its abolition in the 1800s.
‘We don’t have all the answers, so that is why we are taking time to listen and learn from all the voices, including our team members and charity partners as we strengthen our diversity and inclusion work.’
Mr Mackenzie said Greene King would make a ‘substantial investment to benefit the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community and support our race diversity in the business as we increase our focus on targeted work in this area.’
Beer historian Martyn Cornell told MailOnline: ‘The facts about Benjamin Greene and slavery have been in the public domain for 37 years, since a well-researched history of Greene King was published by Professor Richard Wilson of the University of East Anglia.
‘So Greene King has had almost four decades to deal with this. But it’s good to see firms finally facing up to the murkier aspects of their past, rather than ignoring those unpalatable facts, and it’s good that firms wish to do something to make up for what we now recognise as the crimes of our ancestors.’
The revelations come after the UN’s human rights chief urged countries to confront the legacy of slavery and colonialism and make amends for ‘centuries of violence and discrimination’ through reparations.
Addressing an urgent debate on racism and police brutality at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet called on countries to examine their pasts and to strive to better understand the scope of continuing ‘systemic discrimination’.
She pointed to the ‘gratuitous brutality’ on display in the killing of George Floyd, 46, who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Greene King HQ Abbot House in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Greene King was founded in 1799 by Benjamin Greene, who was one of 47,000 people who benefited from a policy of compensating slave owners when Britain abolished slavery in 1833
The Lloyd’s founder member whose Dominica estate held 162 slaves
Lloyds of London insurance market traces its links to slavery in one of its 79 founder subscribers, Simon Fraser.
Born in 1727, Fraser was a merchant in London and owned estates on Dominica and Tobago.
During the abolition of slavery these estates were compensated for almost £400,000 in today’s money.
The UCL slavery database records Fraser as owning the Castle Bruce estate in Dominica from 1773.
Fraser died in 1810, when the estate passed to the next owners, who on January 23, 1836 were handed £3,317 for 162 slaves.
Fraser is also listed as the co-owner of Sion Hill estate on Tobago.
And he is linked to another estate in British Guiana.
The archives also list Fraser as a director of the East India Company, which shipped enslaved Africans around the globe.
This symbol of ‘systemic racism… has become emblematic of the excessive use of disproportionate force by law enforcement, against people of African descent, against people of colour, and against indigenous peoples and racial and ethnic minorities in many countries across the globe,’ she said.
‘Behind today’s racial violence, systemic racism and discriminatory policing lies the failure to acknowledge and confront the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism,’ she said.
She stressed the need to ‘make amends for centuries of violence and discrimination, including through formal apologies, truth-telling processes, and reparations in various forms.’
Yesterday’s urgent council debate was called in response to Mr Floyd’s killing. His death was caught on amateur video, sparking worldwide demands to address systemic racism in the US and around the world.
African countries are calling for the council to ask Bachelet and other UN rights experts to investigate racism and policy brutality in the US, but potential support for their draft resolution is unclear.
Those in favour of slavery reparations argue that financial compensation should be made to the descendants of slaves for past injustices and continuing inequality, although this concept remains only hypothetical.
The most prominent demands for reparations have been made in the US and Britain.
What are slave reparations and who is in favour of them?
Those in favour of slavery reparations argue that financial compensation should be made to the descendants of slaves for past injustices and continuing inequality.
The concept remains only hypothetical and the most prominent demands for reparations have been made in the US and Britain. Demands for reparations are largely on behalf of Africans who were enslaved and trafficked to the Americas and West Indies during the transatlantic slave trade.
African-American lawyer and activist Randall Robinson stated in 1999 that America’s history of race riots, lynching, and institutional discrimination have ‘resulted in $1.4 trillion in losses for African Americans’.
In the US, only one major bill demanding slavery reparations has been proposed.
Former Democratic Representative John Conyers Jr. unsuccessfully proposed the ‘Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act’ every year from 1989 until his resignation in 2017.
His bill recommends that a special commission be formed to investigate the ‘impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of our nation’.
In 2019, a AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll found that 29 per cent of Americans say the government should pay cash reparations, and there was divided opinion among people of different ethnic backgrounds.
Just 15 per cent of white participants supported the idea of the US government paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved black people. Meanwhile 75 per cent of black participants were in favour of the idea, while 44 per cent of Hispanics were in favour.
In the UK, the Slave Compensation Act of 1837 saw substantial money paid by the government to former slave owners, but nothing to the newly liberated people.
In 2004, the British government refused a demand from a coalition of the Rastafari movement and the Berber Moors to pay 72.5 billion pounds to resettle 500,000 Jamaican Rastafarians in Africa. The UK government justified its decision by saying it could not be held accountable for wrongs in past centuries.
In 2006, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair made an apology for Britain’s role in the African slavery trade, but it was denounced by African rights activists as ’empty rhetoric’.
In 2007, the then-Mayor of London Ken Livingstone pointed to the city’s financial district as he apologised for London’s role in the slave trade, saying: ‘You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery.’