British Empire
Living in the British empire - Africa
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Map of Africa showing the main slave trading routes in 1889
(Catalogue ref: FO 925/356)
  • This map was published in 1889 showing the extent of the slave trade in Africa. The arrows show where the slaves were moved after they had been taken. The shaded areas show the parts of Africa where the slave traders got their slaves.
  • Maps like this were published regularly. They were used by politicians and the military to plan campaigns against slave traders. The maps were also used to publicise the fact that slavery was still a major activity in Africa.
  • 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.
  • However, 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 to get them to 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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