British Empire
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Extract from a government report on action against slavery in East Africa, 1895
(Catalogue ref: CAB 37/40/45)
  • This document comes from a report from a Foreign Office official to Joseph Chamberlain in 1895. Chamberlain was the government minister who was responsible for Britain's colonies and the empire.
  • The report refers to the actions of British officials and military in trying to stamp out the slave trade in East Africa. After the Atlantic slave trade ended, this was the biggest area of slave trading. The centre of this trade was the port of Zanzibar, ruled by the Sultan of Zanzibar.
  • Sir Bartle Frere was a British official who visited the area in 1872-73. This report is describing what he tried to do and how much progress has been made in the fight against slavery in the twenty or so years since his visit.
  • The British probably benefited more from the slave trade than any other country. In the 1700s they transported millions of Africans from their homes to plantations in the West Indies and the southern states of North America.
  • By the early 1800s pressure was mounting against the trade. In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in the British empire. In 1833 slavery itself became illegal in the empire.
  • Once the British did abolish slavery, they invested a huge amount of effort into destroying the slave trade altogether. There was a lot of illegal slaving within the empire, and large scale slaving outside the empire as well. The main markets for slaves were South America, North Africa and Arabia. The British signed treaties with all the major European powers and the USA (after 1865) to get them agree to stamp out the slave trade.
  • Not surprisingly, there have been very different views about the British anti-slavery campaign. There is no doubt that the British campaign against slavery did much good and saved many Africans from a terrible fate. Admirers of the British empire see this campaign as one of its greatest achievements. On the other hand, critics of the British suggest that they only attacked slavery once it was no longer profitable for them. They also wanted to stop slavery in other areas because doing so would help British trade.
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