Descendants of UK slave owners going to Guyana to apologise

Quamina Statue Guyana

Family members of John Gladstone, a former owner of enslaved Africans, will be arriving in Guyana later this week to participate in the launch of the International Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies (MiDias) at the University of Guyana (UoG).

The family also plans to apologise for their ancestor’s role in that dehumanising period of world history.

“The Gladstone family, which includes several historians have today confirmed that they will in fact offer an apology given the role their ancestors had played here,” UoG said in a statement on Saturday.

John Gladstone was the father of four-time British Prime Minister William Gladstone, owned 2,500 salves and according to the UK Guardian, was the fifth-largest beneficiary of the £20 million fund (about £16 billion today) set aside by the British government to compensate planters when the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833.

The paper also reported that in addition to making an official apology for Gladstone’s ownership of Africans, the 21st-century Gladstones have agreed to pay reparations to fund further research into the impact of slavery, through a £100,000 grant to the MiDias.

Former British Prime Minister William Gladstone

The Diaspora and Migration Centre is set up to pursue five specific areas of research interest including Diaspora and Migration in and around Academia, Youth, Technology and Vulnerable Communities, Indigeneity, Indentureship and Slavery as specific and integral aspects of dispersion.

“The research track for Slavery and indentureship is the reason why it was deemed appropriate to launch the MiDias in this historically auspicious month in regard to the emancipation of enslaved peoples as well as the 200th anniversary of the 1823 slave revolution in Demerara,” UG added.

UoG says it has been collaborating for several years with a number of universities as well as the Guyana Reparations Committee on specific aspects of impacts of the plantations’ enterprise of slavery and indenture as well as indigeneity on native populations, including relations being experienced today.

According to that publicly funded tertiary institution, as such UG and the Guyana Reparations Committee invited members of the Gladstone family, part of the heirs of slavery grouping to participate in the event since Quamina and his son John, who led the 1823 rebellions were enslaved on Gladstone plantations.

John Gladstone owned or held mortgages over 2,508 enslaved Africans in Guyana and Jamaica. After emancipation, he was paid nearly £106,000, a huge sum at the time. The Demerara rebellion in August 1823 began on one of his plantations. It was led by Jack Gladstone, an enslaved man forced to take his owner’s name, and his father, Quamina, who had been transported from Africa as a child.

About 13,000 Africans rose up in Demerara, a British colony that later became part of Guyana. Conditions for the enslaved were particularly brutal there. The plantations were the most profitable in the British Empire, with an enslaved person in Demerara worth twice that of one in Jamaica.

More than 250 enslaved Africans were killed and a further 51 were sentenced to death when the uprising was crushed. Many of the convicted were tortured, decapitated and had their heads impaled on poles as a warning to others. Quamina’s body was hung in chains outside one of John Gladstone’s plantations.

Friday’s launch is being done in collaboration with the National Reparations Committee and Heirs of Slavery, a group that includes the Gladstones, at the George Walcott Lecture Theatre of the Turkeyen Campus and is expected to be attended by several elders, the Guyana reparations Committee and other groups, students and senior potentates to witness the launch and receive the formal apology from the Gladstone family.

After the formal ceremony at the UoG, the moment will be marked by an inter-generational dialogue between students and youthful members of the Gladstone family, a linking of the University of Guyana Library with digital archives of the Council of World Missions and an exhibition of scholarly work throughout the day on the subject matter.