It’s interesting to compare this report on the British government’s compensation scheme for former slaveholders with the way the ‘plantocracy’ has often been treated in accounts of British history: as vulgar arrivistes intent only on spending their ill-gotten gains, thereby guaranteeing their status as essentially marginal, dead end figures. What this tends to conceal is that firstly a lot of them came back from the colonies to establish enduring commercial and political dynasties, and that secondly the amount of absentee ownership, including by some very noble figures indeed. There must have been a hell of a lot of insider dealing in slaves going on in the months before the payoffs came down the tube.
All of which also casts the whole process of abolition in a different perspective: less a matter of moral force and more a matter of show us the money. Hardly a surprise, I guess.I also note with interest the comnnection between slaveholding and my own amla mater, the former PCL, whose student magazine used to be called McGarel. It was the first place I got anything published.