Did Henry Dundas delay the abolition of slavery for financial gain?

By Reverend Yousouf Gooljary

Dundas was President of the Board of Control over the East India Company from 1793-1801.

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville 1742 – 1811 National Galleries of Scotland

On leaving the Board of Control [of the East India Company] in May 1801 he accepted, after previously refusing it, an East India Company pension of £2,000 as long as their charter was in force. That is £200,000 in today’s money . While Home Secretary in 1792 and first Secretary of State for War in 1796 he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the slave trade.

Henry Dundas was President of the Board of Control over the East India Company from 1793-1801. The East India company business Model relied heavily on slaves working in the Forts and settlements around the Indian Ocean . It is frankly wrong to say Dundas had nothing to do with the slave trade. The goods Western Europe received :spices, salt, cotton , opium , tea, pepper, silk was only possible because of the slave trade continued by Dundas via the East India Company.

Henry Dundas ran a company where The ‘business model’ of the EIC relied on the purchase of slaves from Africa and Madagascar to run its forts and settlements and work in its warehouses and factories, over 200 years to turn a profit. Many born into slavery were then transported throughout its vast enterprise from the Atlantic Ocean to Sumatra as specialist labour was required to trade, spices, salt, cotton , opium , tea, pepper, silk etc . The total numbers of slaves purchased or so moved probably over a million plus. 50% of the population of St Helena at one point were slaves. The EIC army at one point was double in size of the British Army. The EIC ruled India before the British took over. Henry Dundas as Home Secretary took over control of the EIC board hence it became an arm of the British Government at end of 18th Century.

Dundas delaying of the Abolition of slavery may have been motivated by financial gain .

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3 replies »

  1. Thanks for publishing this about this reprehensible individual.
    Typo: a pension of £2000 in 1801 would be over £200,000 nowadays.

  2. The currency converter at The National Archives —https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter/ — deems that in 1800 £2,000 had the purchasing power that £88,145.80 has today.

    But inflation was 36% in 1800 and 12% in 1801, so the value of the pension was plunging rapidly by the year.

    Concerning your approach to discussing Dundas’ ethical integrity, it saddens me to say that I find it unscholarly and smacking of merely specious innuendo.

    Somewhat paradoxically, his approach to the question of abolition, which he strongly favoured and advocated, was really not to delay it, but rather to hasten it by not insisting that it take immediate and total effect.

    As a Canadian I am quick to point out that when one is trying to get one’s car out of a slippery patch of snow or ice, it is a waste of time to push the accelerator to the floor. One develops traction by judicious and steadily increasing application of power to the wheels, or one is lost.

    This contrasts with the approach of the most fervid abolitionists, whose less than fully practicable demands can be said to have actually delayed abolition.

    He was quite clearly an abolitionist, one with a wise, realistic and practical view of how it could be accomplished most quickly.

    I thank you for your attention to this alternative viewpoint, hoping that you find it congenial to your aim of bringing alternative news and views to Orkney.

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