In the early years of the 19th century reforming elements in the town came up against entrenched interests over the question of the abolition of slavery. The slave trade on British ships had been made illegal in 1807 and reformers sought to extend the ban to other countries and to abolish slavery totally. Although Southampton was not directly involved in the slave trade, it did have extensive trading links with the West Indies and many former West Indian planters and merchants had retired to the town and surrounding areas. At a stormy meeting at the Audit House in January 1824 a petition in support of the government’s proposals to improve the conditions of slaves in the West Indies was defeated. The Southampton Herald reported that all the nobility and gentry of the town had attended the meeting and voted against the petition.
In March 1825 a Southampton branch of the Anti-Slavery Society was set up by Robert Lindoe, a local doctor. After a slow start the society achieved some success and in 1828 a petition in support of the abolition of slavery in the colonies carrying 1358 signatures was presented to parliament. Two further petitions followed in 1830.
The work of the anti-slavery movement was rewarded in 1834 when the reformed parliament abolished slavery in the British West Indies, after which the activities of the Anti-Slavery Society diminished nationally and locally.
In 1839 the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was established in London with the aim of abolishing slavery worldwide, but particularly in the United States. In 1840 the Southampton Anti-Slavery Society was re-convened as a branch of the BFASS. Prominent in the local branch were Thomas Adkins, Minister of the Above Bar Congregational Church, Edward Palk, a High Street chemist and George Laishley, a Methodist and a draper. The political make-up of the society was predominantly Liberal.
Unlike the first wave of anti-slavery activity, the new movement was international in scope and Southampton sent five delegates to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1843, and two were members of a British delegation to attend a conference in Paris in 1842. However, the issue of foreign slavery lacked the immediate relevance of the West Indies and the anti-slavery movement in the town declined during the 1850s and 1860s, as it did nationally. After the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1862, British abolitionists turned their attention to improving the conditions of freed slaves.


Further reading:
‘Southampton and Anti-Slavery’, by J. R. Oldfield, in Southern History, Vol. 9, 1987, p90-102. (H/h)
History of Southampton Volume 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p85, 149-152, 172 . (HS/h)
‘Slavery: the Southampton Connection’, by Lillian King, in Southampton Local History Forum Journal, No. 7, Summer 1998, p22-23. (HS/h)


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