Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners is a 2015 two part BBC documentary which looks at the history of slavery by the British, the eventual abolition of slavery in Britain, and the extraordinary decision by the British government at the time to financially compensate slave owners for the loss of their slaves whilst the slaves were given nothing.
When slavery was abolished in 1834 a 10-man government committee was tasked with distributing a huge fund to around 46,000 slave owners from across the British empire, the fund was worth the equivalent of £17 billion in today’s money. For this documentary historian David Olusoga studies the records of these payments to discover the range of people who owned slaves, from individuals to major corporations who owned plantations.
In the first episode Olusoga explores the beginnings of the British slave trade and examines the types of individuals and businesses who owned slaves, the slave started with a few pioneering plantation owners in the 17th century. He visits Jamaica and Barbados to learn what life may have been like for slaves in the British Empire.
In the second episode Olusoga investigates what happened to the wealth generated by the slave system and related compensation payout and reveals the names of several well-known modern day institutions which have roots in the historic slave trade, he ultimately determines that the countries debt to the slave trade is far greater than previously believed.