Slave Trade Documents From Parliamentary Archives Go Online

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 23 May 2007
detail of a photo of a scroll of parchment with the words 'an act' written on it

The 1807 Act itself, written on parchment and well preserved after all these years. © Parliamentary Archives

A new website has been launched by the Parliamentary Archives that uses original source material interwoven with narrative from expert historians to tell the story of Parliament’s complex relationship with the British slave trade.

Parliament and the British Slave Trade 1600 – 1807, www.parliament.uk/slavetrade was produced by 24 Hour Museum and provides access to one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed, the 1807 Act to Abolish the British Slave Trade. It also explores Parliament’s role in shaping the transatlantic slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries.

frontispage of a book showing an illustration of a man in eighteenth century dress and the words 'Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa an African' written below it

Frontispiece of Olaudah Equiano's autobiography, which helped swell support for abolition. © from private collection

The site captures the passionate debates and battles for ideas that raged throughout this period and visitors are invited to explore the evidence, on both sides of the slave trade debate, gathered by Parliament during this time.

“This website underlines our commitment to make archival resources available to the widest possible audience using the latest developments in web technology,” said David Prior, Assistant Clerk of the Records at the Parliamentary Archives.

“People will be able to examine documents we have relating to Parliament’s relationship with the slave trade and send us their reaction to them.”

a photograph of a smiling woman

Baroness Lola Young has already added her comments to the website. © 24 Hour Museum

One of the first visitors to respond to the material was Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey who added her comment to the website by writing: “Some of the objects and images make me feel very emotional, especially the original items.”

Digitised objects on the site include Clarkson’s chest, a box full of artefacts put together by anti-slave campaigner Thomas Clarkson, which helped to illustrate how Europeans could enjoy a mutually beneficial trade relationship with Africa without the need of the slave trade.

Excerpts from the first edition of the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, an African writer whose experiences as a slave prompted him to become involved in the British abolition movement, are also included together with fully searchable transcriptions of petitions (both for and against slavery) from Manchester in 1806.

detail of an old handwritten document with several marks made on the lower half of it

Detail from a letter in support of the Governor of Cape Coast Castle from 1749, showing enslaved Africans' marks on the page. © Parliamentary Archives

The public campaign that brought about the Act to abolish the British slave trade was one of the first and most successful public campaigns in history, and the new site looks at this movement in detail.

Large scale petitioning of parliament took place and several of the petitions have been digitised allowing them to be explored in detail so that visitors can search for ancestors.

The site has also been designed with learning in mind. Teachers will find ideas for lessons (Key Stage 3 and 4) and plenty of historical source material, as well as a community area for creating interactive lesson resources.

photo of a wooden case with many trays and compartments, some opened to reveal seeds and other commodities

Thomas Clarkson's 'African Box', containing his collection of specimens supporting his arguments for mutually beneficial trade with Africa. © Wisbech and Fenland Museum

“This website brings archival material directly into the classroom and enables users to examine it in detail,” explained Anra Kennedy, Head of Learning at 24 Hour Museum and Project Manager of the website build.

“It also gives teachers and students the opportunity to contribute their views, artwork, research and writing. Our aim is that over the coming year we will build upon this archive to include a snapshot of people’s opinions and responses to these momentous events 200 years on.”

Much of the material on the website, including the 1807 Act, are also exhibits in The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People – a free exhibition currently running in Westminster Hall May 23 to September 23 2007.

detail from an old handwritten accounts ledger

Detail from an account of the sales of enslaved Africans at Jamaica, c1713, showing the huge profits the slavers made. © Parliamentary Archives

The Parliamentary Archives has custody of the archives of both Houses of Parliament, which date from 1497. These records are made available to the public for research, life long learning and leisure.

For more information visit the Parliamentary Archives pages at www.parliament.uk/archives or consult the online catalogue at www.portcullis.parliament.uk

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