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Slavery Abolition Act 1833

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Title: Slavery Abolition Act 1833  
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Subject: William Wilberforce, Joseph Jackson Fuller, Abolitionism, History of Jamaica, Slave Trade Act 1807
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Slavery Abolition Act 1833

Slavery Abolition Act 1833
Long title An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves.
Citation 3 & 4 Will.4 c.73
Royal Assent 28 August 1833
Commencement 1 August 1834
1 December 1834 (Cape of Good Hope)
1 February 1835 (Mauritius)
Repealed 19 November 1998
Other legislation
Repealed by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1998
Relates to Slave Trade Act 1807, Slave Trade Act 1824, Slave Trade Act 1843, Slave Trade Act 1873
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (citation 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) was an 1833 Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire (with the exceptions "of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company," the "Island of Ceylon," and "the Island of Saint Helena"; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843). The Act was repealed in 1998 as part of a wider rationalization of English statute law, but later anti-slavery legislation remains in force.


  • Background 1
  • The Act 2
  • Repeal 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


In 1772, Lord Mansfield's judgement in the Somersett's Case emancipated a slave in England, which helped launch the movement to abolish slavery.[1] The case ruled that slavery was unsupported by law in England and no authority could be exercised on slaves entering English or Scottish soil.[2] In 1785, English poet William Cowper wrote:

We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein.[3]

By 1783, an anti-slavery movement to abolish the slave trade throughout the Empire had begun among the British public.

In 1808, Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which outlawed the slave trade, but not slavery itself. The Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa. It did suppress the slave trade, but did not stop it entirely. It is possible that, when slave ships were in danger of being captured by the Royal Navy, some captains may have ordered the slaves to be thrown into the sea to reduce the fines they had to pay. Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans. They resettled many in Jamaica and the Bahamas.[4][5]

illustration from the book: The Black Man's Lament, or, how to make sugar by Amelia Opie. (London, 1826)

In 1823, the Anti-Slavery Society was founded. Members included Joseph Sturge, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Henry Brougham, Thomas Fowell Buxton, Elizabeth Heyrick, Mary Lloyd, Jane Smeal, Elizabeth Pease, and Anne Knight.[6] William Wilberforce had prior written in his diary in 1787 that his great purpose in life was to suppress the slave trade before waging a 20-year fight on the industry.[7]

Protector of Slaves Office (Trinidad), Richard Bridgens, 1838.

During the Christmas holiday of 1831, a large-scale slave revolt in Jamaica, known as the Samuel Sharpe. The rebellion was suppressed by the militia of the Jamaican plantocracy and the British garrison ten days later in early 1832. Because of the loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries. The results of these inquiries contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

A successor organisation to the Anti-Slavery Society was formed in London in 1839, the Anti-Slavery International.[9]

The Act

The Act had its third reading in the House of Commons on 26 July 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died.[10] It received the Royal Assent a month later, on 28 August, and came into force the following year, on 1 August 1834. In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies. Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices", and their servitude was abolished in two stages: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840. The Act specifically excluded "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena."; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843. [11]

The Act provided for 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".[12] Under the terms of the Act, the British government raised £20 million (£69.93 billion in 2013 pounds)[13] 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,[14] many of them of high social standing. For example, Henry Phillpotts (then the Bishop of Exeter), with three others (as trustees and executors of the will of John Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley), was paid £12,700 for 665 slaves in the West Indies,[15] whilst Henry Lascelles, 2nd Earl of Harewood received £26,309 for 2,554 slaves on 6 plantations.[16] 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 moneys awarded by the Commissioners of Slave Compensation in the Parliamentary Papers 1837–8 Vol. 48.[17]

In all, the government paid out over 2 separate awards. The £20 million fund was 40% of the government's total annual expenditure. In the Cape Colony, where farmers had loans estimated at a total £400,000 (£1.4 billion in 2013 pounds)[13] secured against their slaves, the Dutch-language newspaper De Zuid-Afrikaan first campaigned against abolition and then for a compensation package to enable farmers to pay their debts.[18]

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 Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena."[11] Slavery was abolished in India by the Indian Slavery Act of 1843.

On 1 August 1834, an unarmed group of mainly elderly people being addressed by the Governor at Government House in Port of Spain, Trinidad, 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.[19]

It is believed that after 1833 clandestine slave-trading continued within the British Empire; in 1854 Nathaniel Isaacs, owner of the island of Matakong off the coast of Sierra Leone was accused of slave-trading by the governor of Sierra Leone, Sir Arthur Kennedy. Papers relating to the charges were lost when the Forerunner was wrecked off Madeira in October 1854. In the absence of the papers, the English courts refused to proceed with the prosecution.[20]

In Australia, blackbirding and the holding of indigenous workers' pay "in trust" continued, in some instances into the 1970s.[21][22]


The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was repealed in its entirety by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1998.[23][24] The repeal has not made slavery legal again, with sections of the Slave Trade Act 1824, Slave Trade Act 1843 and Slave Trade Act 1873 continuing in force. In its place the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates into British Law Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits the holding of persons as slaves.[25][26][27][28]

See also


  1. ^ Peter P. Inks, John R. Michigan, R. Owen Williams (2007) Encyclopedia of antislavery and abolition', p. 643. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007 ' ' Blumrosen, Alfred W. and Ruth G., Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, Sourcebooks, 2005--~~~~
  2. ^ (1827) 2 Hag Adm 94.
  3. ^ Rhodes, Nick (2003). William Cowper: Selected Poems. p.84. Routledge, 2003
  4. ^ "Chasing Freedom Information Sheet". Royal Naval Museum. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  5. ^ "Chasing Freedom Exhibition: the Royal Navy and the Suppression of the Transatlantic Slave Trade". Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  6. ^ Slavery and abolition. Oxford University Press
  7. ^ William Wilberforce: A Man for All Seasons. CBN
  8. ^ Sharman, Anne-Marie (1993), ed., Anti-Slavery Reporter vol 13 no 8. P. 35, London: Anti-Slavery International
  9. ^ Anti-Slavery International UNESCO. Retrieved 2011-10-12
  10. ^ "Slavery Abolition Act 1833; Section XII". 1833-08-28. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  11. ^ a b "Slavery Abolition Act 1833; Section LXIV". 1833-08-28. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  12. ^ "Slavery Abolition Act 1833; Section XXIV". 1833-08-28. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  13. ^ a b "Economy Cost as a relative percentage share of the economy in 1833". Measuring Worth. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  14. ^ British Parliamentary Papers, session 1837–38 (215), volume XLVIII. The manuscript returns and indexes to the claims are held by The National Archives.
  15. ^ "Rt. Hon. Rev. Henry Phillpotts". UCL, Legacies of British slave-ownership. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  16. ^ "Henry Lascelles, 2nd Earl of Harewood". UCL, Legacies of British slave-ownership. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  17. ^ UCL - Researching Slave-owners
  18. ^ Dooling, Wayne (2007). Slavery, emancipation and colonial rule in South Africa. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. pp. 98–100.  
  19. ^ Dryden, John. 1992 "Pas de Six Ans!" In: Seven Slaves & Slavery: Trinidad 1777–1838, by Anthony de Verteuil, Port of Spain, pp. 371–379.
  20. ^ Louis Herrman (December 1974). "Nathaniel Isaacs" (PDF). Natalia (Pietermartizburg: The Natal Society Foundation) (4): 19–22. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  21. ^ "Stolen Wages Reparation Scheme WA". Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Government of Western Australia. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  22. ^ Korff, Jens. "Stolen Wages". Creative Spirits. Creative Spirits. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  23. ^ "Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1998". 1998-11-19. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  24. ^ "Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (repealed 19.11.1998) (c.73)". Retrieved 2009-06-19. 
  25. ^ "Slave Trade Act 1824". 1824-06-24. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  26. ^ "Slave Trade Act 1843". 1843-08-24. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  27. ^ "Slave Trade Act 1873". 1873-08-05. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  28. ^ "Human Rights Act 1998". 1998-09-11. Retrieved 2010-09-07. 

Further reading

  • Drescher, Seymour. Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (2009)
  • Hinks, Peter, and John McKivigan, eds. Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition (2 vol. 2006)
  • Huzzey, Richard. Freedom Burning: Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain. (Cornell University Press, 2012) 303pp.
  • Washington, Jon-Michael. "Ending the Slave Trade and Slavery in the British Empire: An Explanatory Case Study Utilizing Qualitative Methodology and Stratification and Class Theories." (2012 NCUR) (2013). online

External links

  • Text of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833
  • Legacies of British slave-ownership is a database of the Parliamentary return of people who made claims for compensation under this act
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