Guyana: Descendants of British slave owner issue apology in the wake of reparations demand

Francis Akhalbey August 28, 2023
John Gladstone owned thousands of slaves in Guyana -- Photo Credit: British Library

John Gladstone owned thousands of slaves in Guyana as he plied his trade as a Scottish sugar and coffee planter in the 19th century. On Friday, his descendants rendered an apology to the Caribbean nation for his sins and labeled slavery as a crime against humanity with damaging consequences, The Associated Press reported.

The former plantation owner’s relatives traveled to the Caribbean nation to render the apology before an audience at the University of Guyana. Their apology also came after the country’s president, Irfaan Ali, demanded reparations and rebuked descendants of European slave traders.

“It is with deep shame and regret that we acknowledge our ancestors’ involvement in this crime and with heartfelt sincerity, we apologize to the descendants of the enslaved in Guyana,” Charles Gladstone, a descendant of the former plantation owner, told the audience. “In doing so, we acknowledge slavery’s continuing impact on the daily lives of many.”

In an effort to make amends, Gladstone also said his family would establish a fund for several projects in the Caribbean nation as a way of creating a “meaningful and long-term relationship between our family and the people of Guyana.”

“In writing this heartfelt apology, we also acknowledge Sir John Gladstone’s role in bringing indentured laborers to Guyana, and apologize for the clear and manifold injustices of this,” he added.

As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, slavery was abolished by Britain in 1807 through the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. However, the dark practice persisted in British colonies until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 brought an end to it.

But per the act, slave owners were given financial compensation for losing people they had enslaved as they were deemed as their “property”, Express reported. And to ensure the slave owners were duly compensated, the British government borrowed £20 million (currently £300 billion /$400 billion) to facilitate the initiative. The amount was said to be one of the biggest loans to have ever been taken. At the time, the amount also constituted 40% of the annual income of the British Treasury. That debt was settled by the Treasury just as recently as 2015.

John Gladstone, whose son was former British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, was paid over £100,000 as compensation for several slaves that he owned, The Associated Press reported.

The family’s apology on Friday was, however, not accepted by a section of people. A protest leader in the Caribbean nation said Britain as well as other European countries must pay reparations to Guyana and the Caribbean.

“The British government and others benefited from the slave trade, their descendants and heirs,” Cedric Castellow said. “They owe us, and the legacy will affect future generations as well.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 28, 2023


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