Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Carlyle, Stephen, Wilberforce Triangle.

Readers of the previous post may have been puzzled by the apparent acceptance by Sir Leslie Stephen of Carlyle’s proposal to force the pumpkin growing freed slaves into useful employment. It all goes back to the Clapham Sect and their founding of the Sierra Leone Company. William Wilberforce and Sir James Stephen, Sir Leslie’s father were leading lights in this venture which became a centre for the ‘retraining’ of recaptured slaves taken from pirates probably supplying the American trade after it was declared illegal by Britain and subject to confiscation on the high seas. However when the captives were delivered to Sierra Leone they were forced either to accept indenture for a fixed term at a cost of 20$ to their ‘employer’ or join the navy or army. Women were given away. No one was paid and only food, shelter and clothing provided. If an ‘apprentice’ ran off he was re-rescued in chains. This they had to suffer for I think fourteen years at first and later after agitation it was down to four.

Given that background Stephen was in no position to chide Carlyle if indeed he might wish to. Though expressed in brutal terms was Carlyle that far from what Wilberforce was obliged to accept in Sierra Leone? A sketch of that tangled history from a source likely to offer a charitable reading:
Sierra Leone Company

A Guardian review of a book on the Clapham Sect by Stephen Tomkins is, guess what, harsher:
wiberforce condoned slavery

William Wilberforce was influenced by the same escape clause which colonizers often offer as an excuse - ‘We are in principle in favour of independence/freedom for X, Y, Z countries but we feel that they are not ready for it yet. Our duty of care does not permit us to simply throw them into an unfamiliar state of freedom. It would lead to chaos.
Later in the same year (1816) he began publicly to denounce slavery itself, though he did not demand immediate emancipation, as "They had always thought the slaves incapable of liberty at present, but hoped that by degrees a change might take place as the natural result of the abolition."

(from Wikipedia Entry on William Wilberforce:wilberforce

No comments: