Gold Guinea CoinBank of England Museum
Slavery & the Bank is an exhibition by the Bank of England Museum which looks at the ways in which the Bank’s history intersected with transatlantic slavery.
For over 300 years, the slave trade tore more than 12 million African people from their homes and families.
Slave trading was the central business of British companies like the South Sea Company and Royal African Company. The Bank was not involved in this way, but it was linked via its role in the wider financial system. Individuals involved with the Bank were also linked to slavery.
Scroll on to explore five key moments from our exhibition shown through objects on display. For the full story, visit our exhibition.
Does gold contain traces of slavery?
The golden Guinea coin is named after the West African Guinea coast, which was the centre of the English slave trade. It is also made from African gold, which was transported to London by the Royal African Company.
Gold Guinea CoinBank of England Museum
If you look closely, you can see an elephant and castle symbol under the monarch’s portrait. This is the mark of the Royal African Company who, as well as trading in gold, were heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade. They transported human lives in exchange for goods.
Along with the name and material of this coin, the elephant and castle symbol shows how traces of the slave trade circulated in British daily life.
How do you take your tea?
In the 1800s, tea from the East Indies, sweetened by sugar from the Caribbean, was consumed on a daily basis by large numbers of the British population, across all classes. But sugar was ultimately produced on plantations that relied on slave labour.
Sugar Spoon (1743-1744) by Abraham PortalBank of England Museum
The Bank of England also had a craving for sugar. Luxury silverware was used to serve coffee and tea sweetened with sugar at formal dinners.
This sugar spoon is inscribed with ‘Bank of England’ on the back, showing it was used in the Bank’s formal rooms, known as Parlours.
How would the UK look different without the slave trade?
While London and Bristol were initially Britain’s key slave-trading ports, Liverpool began to dominate the trade by 1740 and continued to do so until it was abolished in 1807.
This print shows how Liverpool’s docks developed in this period.
The South West Prospect of Liverpool (1728) by Samuel BuckBank of England Museum
There were 5,300 voyages from Liverpool to Africa between 1695 and 1807, compared to 3,100 from London and 2,200 from Bristol.
Involvement in slavery and the slave trade made people very rich. This income was often invested by those individuals in their local area.
In Liverpool some of this wealth went into the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and The Bluecoat Chambers, a charity school built in 1717.
Was compensation needed to end slavery?
Slavery was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833, after decades of fighting for abolition. In the end, it was secured by the promise to pay slave owners for the loss of their ‘property’, a process known as compensation.
Dividend Warrant for 3.5% Barbados Reduced Annuities (1836)Bank of England Museum
This form is known as a dividend warrant. It was used by former slave owners to collect dividends on their compensation awards twice a year from the National Debt Office, through the Bank of England.
With forms like this one, former slave owners would have received payments in the form of 3.5% reduced annuities. The formerly enslaved, however, received nothing. There has since been a persistent call for reparations for the descendants of the enslaved.
Bacolet and Chemin Plantations
In the 1770s, two plantations in Grenada, and their enslaved workforce, were offered to the Bank as security on a loan made to a business called Alexander & Sons. The business soon went bankrupt, giving the Bank a stake in the plantations by default.
Bacolet and Chemin Inventory (1788)Bank of England Museum
The Bank later became sole owners of the plantations in order to sell them in 1790-91. Recent research has uncovered a series of documents in the Bank’s archive relating to the sale of the Grenada plantations.
The most impactful document found was this inventory of the Grenada plantations taken in 1788. It lists the names and perceived value of each of the 599 enslaved men, women and children who were forced to work there.
These lists serve as a powerful reminder of the people at the heart of this history.
We hope these five objects help start a conversation about the link between slavery and the economy.
To explore all of the objects, please visit our exhibition, which is a snapshot of the research done so far into the Bank’s links with transatlantic slavery.
Slavery & the Bank is an exhibition produced by the Bank of England Museum.
All images © Bank of England Museum except where stated.
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