The Story Of Wales And Slavery At The National Waterfront Museum Swansea

By Sam Page | 01 May 2007
A 1838 poster for a meeting about the abolition of Slavery in the British Empire

Poster for a meeting celebrating the final abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Courtesy NLW Carms

A new exhibition exploring the Welsh involvement in the slave trade, ‘Everywhere in Chains: Wales and Slavery’, has opened at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea to mark the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

The show, which lasts until November 4 2007, examines the contribution that the Welsh made to the 'triangular trade'.

By supplying materials such as iron, woollen cloth and, specifically, copper, Wales found itself in an important place on the Slave Trade map. By 1800 Swansea was the centre of the industry in copper - the material used to make much of the currency as well as the shackles that took the enslaved to the plantations.

The exhibition pulls together a wealth of resources from the National Museum Wales. Goods from all corners of the trade are featured including sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton, which were imported to Wales while copper pans, kettles and bangles were used to buy slaves.

The roots of slavery are also shown to go back much further than the eighteenth century with the display of an Iron-Age four-person neck chain from Llyn Cerrig Bach, Anglesey.

A postcard of slaves cutting sugar cane from 1824

Slaves cutting sugar cane in Jamaica, 1824. Courtesy University of Bangor

The largest source of primary material for the slave trade in the principality is found in the archives. The Slebech Papars at the National Library of Wales and the Pennant Collection at the University of Wales, Bangor, document the management of large sugar plantations in Jamaica in the 18th and 19th Century.

They record the names, births, deaths, runaways and diseases of the slaves as well more traditional commodities such as sugar and rum: a reminder that for some merchants the slaves were merely products of the time.

Also present are personal accounts such as Henry de la Beche’s description of his visit to his Jamaican plantation in the 1820s along with the first ever geological map of the country. Thomas Phillips diary, ‘Journal of a Voyage made in the Hannibal of London 1693-1694’ is also featured and is a valued and detailed record of a trip from London to Africa to Barbados.

He writes: “We mark the slaves we had bought on the breast or shoulder with a hot iron, having the ship's name on it.” 300 of the 690 slaves in the hold died before they reached the Caribbean.

Steph Mastoris, Head of the Museum, said: “The exhibit looks at Wales and slavery, past and present. Concentrating on the supports and opposers, it will also highlight issues such as human rights and fair trade, and explain the legacies of slavery in modern day music and popular culture.”

Special talks and workshops will run throughout, and a condensed travelling version will tour Wales in 2008/09.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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