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The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (citation 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) was an 1833 Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire (with the notable exceptions "of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company," the "Island of Ceylonmarker," and "the Island of Saint Helena.")

The Act was repealed in 1998 as part of a wider rationalisation of English statute law, but later anti-slavery legislation remains in-force.


Britain had outlawed the slave trade with the Slave Trade Act in 1807, with penalties of £100 per slave levied on British captains found importing slaves. However, this did not stop the British slave trade: if slave ships were in danger of being captured by the Royal Navy, captains were known to have ordered the slaves to be thrown into the sea to reduce the fines they had to pay. According to the 1844 McMulloch's Commercial Dictionary; "America abolished the slave trade at the same time as England" (but not the internal slave trade in US until 1869). "But not withstanding what had been done, further measures were soon discovered to be necessary. The Portuguese continued to carry on the trade to a greater extent than ever; and British subjects did not hesitate, under cover of their flags, to become partners in their adventures."

The next step, then, was to make slavery illegal. In 1823 the first Anti-Slavery Society was formed in Britain, with members including Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Henry Brougham, Thomas Fowell Buxton, Elizabeth Heyrick, Mary Lloyd, Jane Smeal, Elizabeth Pease and Anne Knight.

They prevailed ten years later with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. A successor organisation to the Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1839, committed to worldwide abolition. Its official name was The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. This continues today as Anti-Slavery International.

Main points of the Act

Slavery was officially abolished in most of the British Empire on 1 August 1834. In practical terms, however, only slaves below the age of six were freed as all slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices". Apprentices would continue to serve their former owners for a period of time after the abolition of slavery, though the length of time they served depended on which of the three classes of apprentice they were.

The first class of apprentices were former slaves who "in their State of Slavery were usually employed in Agriculture, or in the Manufacture of Colonial Produce or otherwise, upon Lands belonging to their Owners". The second class of apprentices were former slaves who "in their State of Slavery were usually employed in Agriculture, or in the Manufacture of Colonial Produce or otherwise, upon Lands not belonging to their Owners". The third class of apprentices was composed of all former slaves "not included within either of the Two preceding Classes". Apprentices within the third class were released from their apprenticeships on 1 August 1838. The remaining apprentices within the first and second classes were released from their apprenticeships on 1 August 1840.

The Act also included the right of compensation for slave-owners who would be losing their property. The amount of money to be spent on the compensation claims was set at "the Sum of Twenty Millions Pounds Sterling".. Under the terms of the Act the British government raised £20 million to pay out in compensation for the loss of the slaves as business assets to the registered owners of the freed slaves. The names listed in the returns for slave compensation show that ownership was spread over many hundreds of British families, many of them of high social standing. For example, Henry Phillpotts (the then Bishop of Exeter), in a partnership with three business colleagues, received £12,700 for 665 slaves. The majority of men and women who were awarded compensation under the 1833 Abolition Act are listed in a Parliamentary Return, entitled Slavery Abolition Act, which is an account of all sums of money awarded by the Commissioners of Slave Compensation in the Parliamentary Papers 1837-8 Vol. 48.

In all, the government paid out £20 million over 40,000 separate awards, which was equivalent to 40% of the government's total annual expenditure.

As a notable exception to the rest of the British Empire, the Act did not "extend to any of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylonmarker, or to the Island of Saint Helena."

On 1 August 1834, an unarmed group of mainly elderly Negroes being addressed by the Governor at Government House in Port of Spainmarker, Trinidadmarker, about the new laws, began chanting: "Pas de six ans. Point de six ans" ("Not six years. No six years"), drowning out the voice of the Governor. Peaceful protests continued until a resolution to abolish apprenticeship was passed and de facto freedom was achieved. Full emancipation for all was legally granted ahead of schedule on 1 August 1838, making Trinidad the first British colony with slaves to completely abolish slavery.


The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was repealed in its entirety under the Statute Law Act 1998. However, this repeal has not made slavery legal again, as sections of the Slave Trade Act 1824, Slave Trade Act 1843 and Slave Trade Act 1873 are still in force.

See also


  1. The United States actually abolished the importation of slaves in 1808, the earliest time permitted by Article Five of the United States Constitution. Full text of the act.
  2. Slavery and abolition
  3. British Parliamentary Papers, session 1837-38 (215), volume XLVIII. The manuscript returns and indexes to the claims are held by The National Archives.
  4. Dryden, John. 1992 "Pas de Six Ans!" In: Seven Slaves & Slavery: Trinidad 1777 - 1838, by Anthony de Verteuil, Port of Spain, pp. 371-379.

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