By permission of Wilberforce House Museum, Hull
Slavery was abolished in British territories by an Act of Parliament in 1833, following nearly 50 years of campaigning by a range of humanitarian groups. Among the most successful of these was the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, an alliance of evangelical and Quaker interests that organised many hundreds of petitions to Parliament advocating the trade’s abolition. Despite powerful lobbying by figures such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, Parliament at first remained reluctant to legislate against slavery, owing to its preoccupation with the wars with France and fears of domestic radicalism. By the first decade of the 19th century, however, a new momentum was found in the abolitionist cause. After a further round of petitioning, in March 1807 Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act, which abolished the selling and trading of enslaved people throughout the British Empire, but not slavery itself as an institution. The Act was enforced by the Royal Navy, which had the power to seize vessels caught transporting enslaved Africans and to release their human cargoes.
It was not until 27 years later that the practice of enslavement itself was outlawed in the British dominions, resulting in the release of all enslaved people still held in bondage throughout the Empire.