Wednesday 21st March 2007 by C. Freeman
Manacles, bead necklaces and a bedsheet were a few of the props which helped Brooke Weston students understand the slave trade. To mark the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act, Year 7 students worked through project sheets and had a talk from a local historian.
Chris Leuchars from Manor House Museum in Kettering explained how the freedom from slavery is symbolised in the borough council's coat of arms, which depicts a slave with broken manacles. Pressure from churches and religious groups such as the Baptist Missionary Society, founded in Kettering, meant that slavery was outlawed, but only after a staggering 1.2 million people were captured and transported, a tenth of whom died in appalling conditions on slave ships.
Locals who were instrumental in the abolition were Rev William Knibb. Born in Kettering, he subsequently moved to the West Indies where his funeral was attended by 8,000 African islanders and he was posthumously awarded The Order of Merit in Jamaica; the first white man to receive the country's highest civil honour.
The students each looked at a specific area of slavery, and then presented their findings to the rest of the class. Students from tutor groups 7B and 7K heard how the slave trade started by Europeans buying glass beads from Bohemia (now the Czech republic) then exchanging necklaces and trinkets for slaves in Africa. These were then transported across to Jamaica where they were set to work, mainly cultivating the cotton, sugar and tobacco crops which were then sent back to Europe and the profits were ploughed back into slavery.
Slaves were manacled together on the voyage across the Atlantic. Each occupied a space just six feet long, 18 inches high and 16 inches wide. As a visual aid students saw a bedsheet marked out to show students just how cramped conditions were. The journey to the West Indies would take anything from 21 days to three months depending on wind strength and direction. On arrival slaves were sold off at public auctions. Families were split up and beatings and punishment were routinely handed out to slaves who didn't submit to their masters.
The Slave Trade Act, which was passed on 25 March 1807 abolished the slave trade in the British empire. The trade had begun in 1562 during the reign of Elizabeth I. However the 1807 Act did not eradicate the slave trade so the Anti Slavery Society was formed in 1823. After a decade of campaigning the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 meant that the practice was finally over.