Scholar Talk: Blood money

Scholar Talk: Blood money

Scholar Talks

When Britain made chattel slavery illegal in 1833, vast sums were paid to slave owners in recompense. Australians see themselves as standing apart from the sordid history of international slavery, but a portion of that money was used to found Australia’s sugar industry that infamously imported Pacific Islanders as labour.

grey scale image of John Ewen Davidson
1 / 1 event in this Scholar Talks series
4 February 2020 11am to 12pm


General Admission: Free
State Library Friends Members: Free


Metcalfe Auditorium, Ground Floor
Macquarie Building
Sydney NSW 2000


Blood money

With Emma Christopher

In the UK, USA and Caribbean, there are increasingly vociferous calls to assess the true legacies of slavery and to offer recompense for one of history’s most egregious wrongs. Universities commit significant funds to uncovering how their institutions profited and, in some cases, seek to meet amends. Governments grapple with how to best address calls for large-scale reparations to be paid. Historians regularly deal with a fierce backlash against their research, which is seen to reinforce these calls by telling a history that many who are not of African descent prefer to forget.

Here in Australia, these conflicts hardly make the news. We see ourselves as standing apart from that particular sordid history. Yet that is not exactly true. When Britain made chattel slavery illegal in most of the British Empire in 1833, it paid out vast sums of money, equivalent to 40% of the government’s income, to slave owners. This debt was so vast that repayments were only completed in 2015. A portion of that money came to the Australian colonies, and went in particular to found Australia’s sugar industry, a business that infamously imported Pacific Islanders as labour. Emma Christopher will tell the story of how this some of this compensation money made its way to Australia and what it was used for. She will discuss whether we too should be asking ourselves what now should be done.

Emma Christopher is a Scientia Fellow at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She is the author of Freedom in White and Black, which was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2018. She previously wrote A Merciless Place, which won both the Kay Daniels and Ernest Scott prizes, and Slave Ship Sailors and their Captive Cargoes. She is the co-editor, with Marcus Rediker and Cassandra Pybus, of Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World. She is also a documentary filmmaker and is the director, producer and researcher of They Are We, which won five Best Documentary Awards, and was the United Nations’ Remembrance of Slavery film 2015. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the film as, ‘an inspiration a victory over slavery’.





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