UCL’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership lists approximately 61,000 British figures said to have owned, or been associated with, slavery businesses.
Local historian Doug Ford said that the number of Jersey links on the site did not come as a surprise to him, given the number of people who retired to the Island from colonial services. He added that more needed to be done to publicise the history of Islanders and their links to the slave trade.
‘The immediate reaction will no doubt be, it should be taught in schools – this, of course, ignores the point that most history involves adults and their motivations, while the school target audience, by its very nature, is children,’ said Mr Ford.
‘In 2006, I wrote an article in the Heritage magazine entitled “A respectable trade or against Human Dignity?”, which was probably the first time anything had been written about Jersey’s involvement in the slave trade. The following year Jersey Heritage staged an exhibition commemorating the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade at Elizabeth Castle called The Shackles of Memory – Les Anneaux de la Mémoire. The information has been there but there was no willingness to engage in the subject.’
Mr Ford said that while the database was a step in the right direction, it was only a fraction of the picture.
‘It does not give any evidence for people who invested in the trade. In the second half of the 18th century, successful slaving voyages would make around 10% return on an investment.’ He added that those on the list with an association did not necessarily live in Jersey for long.
‘Caroline Atkinson Swaby of St Saviour only lived here for about nine months in 1850/51 before returning to London. The database does not show her husband, John Murray, as having an association with the Island and yet he claimed for 209 slaves in British Guiana, Grenada, and Jamaica.
‘I have found evidence of five voyages carrying just over 1,600 slaves between 1660 and 1800 with a direct connection to the Island; even if we multiply this by a factor of ten to account for missing evidence, I think it fair to say that Jersey was not deeply involved in the direct African slave trade.
‘However, some Islanders did move to the new world to set up plantations and become slave owners. Island merchants were involved in the supply of goods to the slave-owning economies and equally involved in the carrying of plantation produce back to Britain.
‘These initiatives are good starting points to explore the subject further but it would be laziness to just accept everything they seem to show without trying to bring the different strands together and explore more.’