THE CLARKSONS OF WISBECH
By Ellen Gibson Wilson
Published by The Wisbech Society
Reviewed by Cardinal Cox
Write Dope on Pnuk part 26
2007 sees the two hundredth anniversary of the important legislation that banned the trade in slaves throughout the colonies. As a result a squadron of naval ships were sent to West Africa to seize ships. Disgracefully, the ownership of slaves was not itself made illegal until 1834, but it was a step in the right direction. Two major figures in the campaign were brothers from Wisbech and this pamphlet is a brief introduction to their lives.
The younger brother, John Clarkson (born 1764) joined the Navy when he was 13 and served through the American Revolution. During this time, if American slaves joined the British side they were promised freedom. At the end of the war they were settled in the barely hospitable Nova Scotia.
A plan was hatched though to move them to a colony in (what is now) Sierra Leone and John led the armada of 15 vessels in 1792. He then served as the first governor for a year. Unfortunately the Sierra Leone Company did not appreciate his fair treatment of the blacks and so replaced him.
Back home he continued to be an activist and in 1816 was a founder of the Peace Society.
His elder brother Thomas (born 1760) is better known as he was a major figure in the abolitionist movement, travelling widely to collect information and to lecture. It was Thomas who chose (the now better known) William Wilberforce to lead the campaign in Parliament.
In latter life he was host to the exiled Queen of Haiti (the first independent black state in the Caribbean).
The pamphlet - that only cost £3 - is a good introduction to two important figures. Britain certainly played a crucial role in the enforced black Diaspora (along with Spain, Portugal, France and Islamic elements in Africa itself) but it also realised the evil that this was and took steps to end it. We should not forget the part our nation played in the trade (the wealth from which underpinned the birth of the Empire), nor the efforts that good folk made to end it.
© All work copyright of Cardinal Cox.