Scots slave owners granted up to £80m each in compensation, research reveals


SCOTTISH slave owners were given up to £80m each in “compensation” when slavery was abolished, new research has revealed.

A recent analysis of records shows that the British Government handed out the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money for “loss of property”.

An Edinburgh man, Sir John Gladstone, received the largest total payout of £105,000 – the equivalent of £80m today.

Sir John Gladstone was awarded £80m for "loss of property"
Sir John Gladstone was awarded £80m for “loss of property”


And the 800,000 slaves who toiled in plantations received nothing.

The research, carried out at the University College London (UCL), explores the circumstances surrounding the Slavery Abolition Act which came into force in 1833.

And it also revealed the unlikely people who used slaves to make money.

Owners range from a widow in Edinburgh to the wealthy merchant father of a future prime minister.

More findings will be revealed in a new two-part BBC 2 series Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, which begins on Wednesday.


It investigates the slave owners who gained from the compensation payments, and how the money was used.

Professor Catherine Hall, who is leading the research team, told the programme: “We were surprised by how many ‘ordinary’ Britons owned enslaved people.

“It’s not just London, it’s not just Bristol, it’s Scotland, it’s Northumberland – it is everywhere and we were astonished at the number of women slave owners that there were.”

Depiction of a slave sale in South America
Depiction of a slave sale in South America


Sir John Gladstone, from Leith in Edinburgh, was among a generation of traders who bought sugar plantations in Guyana, South America.

By 1820, there were over 300 plantations in the colony, being worked by over 100,000 slaves.

The appalling conditions which the slaves endured are revealed in the register for the Wales plantation – one of Gladstone’s properties.

A total of 53 slaves perished in just three years – a mortality rate of 13%.

But when slaves across Guyana launched a rebellion in the summer of 1823, Gladstone claimed they were being treated well.


In a public letter he wrote: “They are supplied with more food than they can consume.

“They are well provided with clothing, suitable for the climate and their situation.

“They have the Sabbath and their other holydays (sic) to dispose of for the purposes of religion, if so inclined.”

Professor Hall said the research was important for the present day to bring a greater understanding of the role of slavery in the nation’s past.

“It is not just the history of white people, not just the history of black people – it is the history of us all,” she said.