Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833. Abolition depended on the British government compensating slave-owners for their ‘property’. The government budgeted £20 million. This breath-taking sum recognised the large numbers of British people directly implicated in slavery through finance, families like the Neaves of Romford.
Compensation claims submitted by the Neave family to the Slavery Compensation Commission included contested claims because slaves were also a ‘financial instrument’ underpinning annuities and mortgages. For example, slave-ownership was normal for wealthy families like the Neaves.
The government felt it wasn’t worth protecting slavery in the Caribbean for families like the Neaves. The expense of keeping the Royal Navy and army in readiness was a drain on the naval budget, a situation that they were sure would worsen over time. Therefore the British slave-owning class was bought off.
The abolition of slavery in 1833 wasn’t an act of generosity. It was the pragmatic recognition of the odiousness of slavery whilst ‘squaring the circle’ about the importance of slavery to the finances of many British people. That was the genius of the 1833 Act. The government bailed-out the slave-owners, avoided costly military campaigns in the Caribbean and took the high moral ground.
Addendum: from the parliamentary debate 1833
“They were beings of the same flesh, bone, and muscle as ourselves—they were imbued with the same immortal spirit—they were rendered heirs, by the same blood, to the same glorious eternity as we—and was it to become in these days a question and a doubt whether they were entitled to the first birthright of mankind—freedom? He would put a case: suppose that the hon. member for Lancaster who had so ably and eloquently defended the cause of the West Indians, was taken prisoner on his way out to the West Indies, by a corsair, and sold for a slave, should he remonstrate and say he had primitive as well as rational rights which interdicted his being considered as a slave, he would doubtless be told there was a law in that country making him a slave, and thirty-nine lashes would be his least reward for talking reason to his master.” Mr O’Connell Col. 316 HC Deb 3rd June 1833 Ministerial Plan for the Abolition of Slavery 1833
This £20 million is subject to lurid inflation calculations which range from £1 billion (http://discoveringbristol.org.uk) to David Olusoga’s £16 billion (Guardian 12th July 2015). These calculations serve little purpose and are ‘tabloid’ headline grabbers.
UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership A superb on-line database
Admiral Fleming HC Debate 3rd June 1833 c. 326 see also http://www.abdn.ac.uk North East Story: Scotland, Africa and Slavery in the Caribbean
Parliamentary Papers 1836
For an excellent site which also deals with the Neave family see http://www.friendsofdagnampark.org.uk/