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London’s finance district, steeped in slavery, confronts its past

‘We can’t ignore the history. We can explain it, we can educate.’
Image: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

British ships ferried over 3 million enslaved African people across the Atlantic Ocean. Lloyd’s of London insured many of those vessels, the people chained below deck sometimes categorised as “perishable goods”, alongside cattle, by the market’s underwriters.

Lloyd’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade is not included in the market’s permanent exhibition at its modernistic City tower but that is set to change.

“The legacy of slavery is racism. You can’t do what you have to do to make slavery work unless you constitute the enslaved people as less than human,” said Nick Draper, a former JPMorgan banker who was founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery (LBS) at University College London

“We did it on the basis of ethnicity, race and skin colour. It’s embedded in British and European culture – that’s what we are working through now.”

Along with other financial institutions in London, the insurance market has been forced to confront its racist past following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Lloyd’s and the Bank of England have each hired a historian to delve into their roles in the slave trade and are planning on publicizing the results in the next year.

The exhibitions will shine a light on the fortunes coined off a barbarous system and the role played by some of the City’s most venerable grandees in keeping it afloat, including people such as John Julius Angerstein, known as ‘the father of Lloyd’s’.

The 18th-century industry titan was chairman of the market when a large chunk of its business was based on the slave trade and Lloyd’s says there is evidence to suggest he was a trustee of estates in the Caribbean that held enslaved people.

His portrait hangs in the market’s HQ.

Chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown wants Lloyd’s to be upfront about its past but he doesn’t want paintings removed.

“I’d rather tell the story than cancel them,” he told Reuters.

The African-Caribbean Insurance Network (ACIN), set up to boost Black and minority ethnic representation in the London insurance market, disagrees. It said firms should review “organizational artefacts, and remove any with racist connotations” according to recommendations submitted to the London market last year.

ACIN co-founder Junior Garba, a Lloyd’s underwriter, said it was better to place artefacts in museums.

“We can’t ignore the history. We can explain it, we can educate.”

Deep roots

The roots of the slave trade are deep and broad in London’s famed institutions.

Angerstein’s art collection, including works by Rubens, Raphael and Rembrandt, formed the nucleus of London’s National Gallery when it was founded.

The gallery makes no mention of Angerstein’s links to the slave trade on its website. It does say he belonged to the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organisation with abolitionist interests.

In an email to Reuters, The National Gallery said it was working with LBS to clarify the links between slave-ownership, art collection and philanthropy in Britain and will publish initial results later this year. Angerstein will be included in that study.

According to research by Draper, Angerstein was “a beneficiary of slavery in the marine insurance business on which he founded his career and fortune”. There is no evidence that he was a slave trader.

A decision on what to do with the portraits of Angerstein and other prominent Lloyd’s names will be made after Victoria Lane, previously archivist at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, completes her review.

Lane, who began work at Lloyd’s last month, is trawling through art, swords, silverware and documents held by the market. Lloyd’s declined to make her available for interview.

The Bank of England removed 10 portraits and busts of former governors and directors with links to the slave trade earlier this year and plans to explain their role in an exhibition at its museum next year, a spokesperson said.

Statues of two politicians with links to the slave trade look set to stay at Guildhall, the ceremonial centre of the City of London, after an earlier decision to remove them.

The financial district’s municipal authority will this week discuss a report that recommends retaining monuments of twice Lord Mayor William Beckford and merchant John Cass, both of whom made fortunes off slavery, with “explanatory plaques or notices” placed next to them.

The report says over 2,000 responses to two consultations showed “low demand” for removing the statues.

Legacy

Europe’s sugar colonies in the West Indies were built on slave labour from Africa during the 17th and 18th centuries and the City of London was the financial centre of the trans-Atlantic trade in humans.

Historians estimate between one and two-thirds of the British marine insurance market was based on the slave trade in the 18th century, in particular, insuring the ships returning to Europe with produce from the plantations.

Lloyd’s was one of three major British 18th century marine insurers. The other two, Royal Exchange and London Assurance, were later folded into insurers AXA and RSA.

AXA apologised for its association with the slave trade and said it was working to make its workplace more inclusive.

RSA said there were aspects of its history which “don’t reflect the values we hold today”, adding that the firm was committed to tackling injustice.

The legacy of the slavery industry persists, experts say.

Fewer than 1 in 10 management roles in financial services are held by Black, Asian or other ethnic minority people, according to a discussion paper published by UK regulators in July.

The Bank of England has set itself a target of 18-20% of senior managers to be Black, Asian and minority ethnic in February 2028, compared with 8.2% in November 2020.

The lack of progress in diversifying the City is putting pressure on the Financial Conduct Authority to act and it said in July that senior manager pay may need to be linked to improvements in hiring.

ACIN recommends insurance firms set targets for ethnic minority representation at senior levels.

Only 2% of the nearly 50,000 strong Lloyd’s of London insurance market is Black. It has an “ambition” for a third of all new hires to come from ethnic minorities.

“Legacy is part of the response,” said Oliver Kent-Braham, co-founder of digital insurer Marshmallow.

“What’s important is that companies make sure they have really unbiased interview processes that are not heavily weighted towards junior levels … making sure that companies are hiring from everywhere.”

COMMENTS   18

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It’s great to see, that the recognition of the injustices perpetrated on an entire people, are being acknowledged, but it needs to go further.

Reparations need to be paid to the victims and their descendants. These should include money, property and scholarships.

An apology is not enough!

The victims passed away a several hundred years ago. The descendants will find it difficult to prove they descended from slaves and they certainly don’t want to return to their roots in West Africa.

This is why we should not delay, in seeking reparations for what happened before 1994.

Individuals who have left for Australia, NZ and other countries should not be exempt from addressing what happened.

@EFF. The truth is, the ANC and their connected elite (and the whole patronage system) has ALREADY ENRICHED (i.e. stolen..) themselves ON A GRAND SCALE since 1994 with MUCH MORE state funds vanishing through corruption, nepotism, etc compared to corruption under the past Apartheid regime.

Let’s count all the billions involved in corruption (state & municipal) since 1994, and compare that with the much less than was appropriated since 1948 by whites.
The ANC stole way more…completely overcompensated. You owe us now….

The Nguni settlers should pay compensation to the Khoi whose lands they invaded then too.

Big enough to confront their past.

Are we big enough to confront our present,- wholesale corruption, ineptitude and racism? Or will just blame someone else and put the begging bowl back on the table and continue the slide backwards.

Wake up Mr. Eff Commissar, if you are a South African black person you are not descended from the slaves who went to the Americas. Are you saying that people who emigrated to Australia etc have to make reparations to you? For what? For working and having the ability to earn money. You are plain ignorant. You have to work to make money, nobody gives it to you. You were handed a beautiful country. Make the best of it. Stop whining and make your own money.

First of all how are the stats worked out? The slave trade of West Africa would never have succeeded without the assistance of local chiefs, kings e.g. the Kings of Ghana, who became enormously rich, Arab traders. Is the West going to collect back taxes from these people LOL. Only Westerners are ever punished. WHY are the Arabs and other Islamic nations ever mentioned as the biggest perpetrators of slavery in history. Countries such as Mauritiania, Lybia etc are still slave nations. Arabs and Other Islamic nations have been raiding Western nations and others for slaves for 3000 years, going as far as Iceland and other Northern European nations and plucking people from their homes and cities. Look up Naples, Lisbon which suffered intensely. Nobody ever mentions the Chinese slave trade centred in Zanzibar. NOBODY has ever come up with stats. The slave masters were the Somalies nd Ethiopians and the slaves came from Kenya and Mozambique. These slaves were castrated before being sold to Chinese. No beepp from the Chinese or their African nation friends. By the way slavery was only banned in Ethiopia in the 1940s.

Commissars internet must be down ??

There needs to be a class action suit against the participating slave nations and gigantic reperations in favour of the aggrieved nations.

The biggest culprits were, Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain.

The monarchs of these nations have got away with global murder on an industrial scale.

Why do Africans think they were the only slaves in history and that they are the only ones who should be compensated? Do you know how many other nationalities were enslaved throughout history, you were not the only ones?

And don’t forget, all these atrocities happened hundreds of years ago when people thought the earth was flat and religion was law. You need to grasp the mind set of these people and how ignorant they were. They were dim-witted as all hell! They were just discovering the world and by doing so were trying to destroy it too, they never had a clue, they killed or captured every animal they saw and cut down every tree they could. They were idiots and now you expect us modern man to pay for their sins, how preposterous!

The single largest recipient of slaves was Brazil, not the US, not the Caribbean countries – Brazil. Go and claim reparations from the Brazilians.

Sorry, I left off Portugal. Brazil was Portugal.

This is a sentiment manifesting in the (mainly Anglophone) West. It’s origins are in the Humanities departments of the Oxfords and Harvards of these nations. And from there it is being foisted on corporations and any institutions they can reach. The gist is that slavery and colonialism is all Western and White. The large conglomerates immediately send out huge “Mea Culpa’s” and then carry on business as usual. They really don’t give a toss. Anything to avoid accusations of racism. And the chorus of self recrimination and the self flagellation is taken up by the Loony Left. We all have to “Virtue Signal” how much more White Guilt we have than the next Lefty. And it’s predominantly White driven. A lot of Black commentators in the U.S. can see through much of this and recognise it for what it is.
Pure hypocrisy.

It is based on classic US lawyer tactics I reckon. “Go for the deep pockets”. Simple greed and opportunism.

How far back can we go? Can I get something for my great-grandfather that had his farm burnt down by the English, lost his wife & another son in a camp (all resulting in my grandfather growing up in extreme poverty) Can I get some property in France for the land my family lost when they fled France due to Catholic persecution. Maybe the French can recover that from Rome? How much of KZN, (Ex-)Transkei will be handed back to the San/Bushmen people as a result of them having been driven south/west by Zulu & Xhosa migration? (and subsequent white settlement? If you throw a stone up in the sky, it’s bound to fall somewhere

“How far back can we go?” Exactly!!

And as a British subject, can I lodge a claim against those Anglo-Saxons who invaded my country in the 5th/6th centuries and stole my ancestor’s land??

End of comments.

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