Prints depicting enslaved people producing sugar in Antigua, 1823

Description

William Clark was a 19th century British artist who was invited to Antigua by some of its planters. His Ten Views, published in 1823, portrays the key steps in the growing, harvesting and processing of sugarcane. 

What do the prints depict?

‘Planting the sugar cane’ shows enslaved men, women and children working together in a field. This was very hard work and usually undertaken by the strongest and fittest enslaved people who made up the ‘first gang’. 

‘Cutting the sugar cane’ shows the fully grown sugarcane being harvested by the first gang with knives and machetes. The image also shows black ‘drivers’, a special type of enslaved person who had to make the others work hard by threatening them with a whip – or using it on them. A white ‘overseer’ on a horse is in overall charge of the gang. A wind-powered sugar mill can be seen in the background where the cut cane would be crushed to extract the cane juice. It was from this juice that sugar would be made. 

‘Interior of a boiling house’ shows the destination for the cane juice, where it is heated in large vats until sugar forms. This was very skilled work that was performed by special enslaved workers.

What the images don't tell us

Although Clark’s images are very detailed and based on first-hand observation, they also give an ‘idealised’ version of what work was like on a sugar plantation. None of the everyday hardships or violence of slavery is shown. In Britain at this time many people were protesting against slavery and calling for it to be ended. Those who invited Clark to Antigua may have hoped that his images would present a more positive version of Caribbean slavery.

Full title:
Ten Views in the Island of Antigua, in which are represented the process of sugar making, and the employment of the negroes (London: Thomas Clay, 1823)
Published:
1823
Format:
Book
Creator:
William Clark
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
1786.c.9

Full catalogue details

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