In 1833, the British parliament took the long-overdue step of abolishing slavery in the Empire, having abolished the slave trade in 1807. The only way it was possible to get the legislation through both Houses of Parliament was by offering compensation. Compensation to the slaves for their mistreatment and humiliation? No: compensation to the owners for their loss of property and income.
Among the many Exeter people who received compensation for loss of slaves was the Bishop of Exeter, Henry Philpotts. He was joint owner of 665 slaves on plantations in Jamaica, and received a share of £12,729 4s 4d.
He had been installed as Bishop in 1830. A passionate theological and political conservative and highly skilled debater, he opposed the Great Reform Act of 1832, stressing in a speech in the House of Lords the need to “recognize [the] importance and necessity” of rotten boroughs in limiting democracy. He gained an early reputation for largesse and strong political beliefs, leading to a mob besieging his home in November 1831.
He opposed the Abolition of Slavery Act, though he did not refuse the compensation that it offered him. In 1838, he declared that though he had thought in 1833 that he “did not think that the negroes were sufficiently prepared” for freedom, he had been convinced not that slavery was immoral but that “the negroes were now fitted for it” and declared the abolition of slavery as “the proudest monument of legislation which any nation ever reared”.
See the Hansard transcript of the debate in the Lords:
University College London have made a fascinating website which shows all the people who received compensation for the loss of slaves. There is a page for Henry Philpotts.
Research by Eamonn Custance