A Secret Longing for a Trade in Human Flesh: the Decline of British Slavery and the Making of the Settler Colonies

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Abstract

Focusing upon the achievement of the abolition of British slavery in 1833 has obscured significant continuities between slavery, apprenticeship, and the post-emancipation period, particularly in the new Anglophone settler colonies. During the decade leading up to abolition, domestic unrest intensified the tension between the elite abolitionist movement’s humanitarian concern for Caribbean slaves, and its leaders’ simultaneous implication in the repression of British workers – a corollary of which relegated convicts to the category of unreformable ‘voluntary slaves’. Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s 1829 proposal for colonization entered a longstanding debate about labour discipline that was central both to ameliorative slave reform and to experiments in emigration and settler colonialism, and expressed his ambivalence regarding the benefits of ‘free labour’. In the transition to new labour regimes, systematic colonization translated categories and practices developed in the Caribbean into colonial projects, including raced and classed labour hierarchies targeted to specific climatic zones. As Caribbean slavery ended and settler colonialism began, the new colonies offered a solution to the loss of the ‘trade in human flesh’ by removing dissenters from the British social order, opening up new fields for investment, and creating a disciplined colonial labour force.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalHistory Workshop Journal
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2020

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