University of Cambridge admits it benefited from slave trade

Published September 23, 2022
General view shows the University of Cambridge on October 1, 2020. — Reuters
General view shows the University of Cambridge on October 1, 2020. — Reuters

LONDON: Britain’s University of Cambridge said on Thursday it had benefited from the proceeds of slavery over its history, and promised to expand scholarships for Black students and fund more research into the murderous trade.

The acknowledgement comes as a string of leading institutions — from the Bank of England to the Church of England — have been re-evaluating the central role that slavery had in enriching Britain and how they benefited from its injustices.

Cambridge said an investigation it commissioned had found no evidence that the university itself ever owned slaves or plantations directly. But the findings showed it had received “significant benefits” from slavery.

Those came from university benefactors who had made their money from the slave trade, the university’s investments in companies that participated in it, and fees from plantation-owning families, according to the investigation’s report.

Researchers found that fellows from Cambridge colleges were involved with the East India Company, while investors in the Royal African Company also had links to Cambridge — two companies both active in the slave trade.

The university also received donations from investors in both companies, and also directly invested in another company active in the slave trade, the South Sea Company, according to the paper, which was produced by a group of Cambridge academics.

“Such financial involvement both helped to facilitate the slave trade and brought very significant financial benefits to Cambridge,” the Legacies of Enslavement report said.

It also said that while notable abolitionists such as William Wilberforce were educated at Cambridge and developed their campaigns there, their full legacy needed to be examined further, while prominent members of the university also defended the intellectual underpinnings of the slave trade.

Several people are also memorialised at the university without reference to their involvement, the report said.

A statue to William Pitt the Younger, a member of parliament for the university who was prime minister at the end of the 18th century, makes no reference to his efforts to stall abolitionism or to restore slavery in Haiti after the revolution there.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2022

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