Trevor Burnard reviews 'Freedom in White and Black: A lost story of the illegal slave trade and its global legacy' by Emma Christopher

Trevor Burnard reviews 'Freedom in White and Black: A lost story of the illegal slave trade and its global legacy' by Emma Christopher

Freedom in White and Black: A lost story of the illegal slave trade and its global legacy

by Emma Christopher

University of Wisconsin Press, $53.95, 256 pp, 9780299316204

Because the settlement of Australia by the British proceeded in a certain way, we tend to forget how unusual it was in 1788 to start a colony without slavery. The year 1788 saw the first major manifestation of the abolitionist movement, which had a massive success by 1807 when the Atlantic slave trade was abolished. But slavery was central to the British Empire in 1788, one in which there had not yet been a ‘turn to the east’ towards India, and in which the sugar colonies of the West Indies were rich and important. The small number of convicts disembarking in Botany Bay in 1788 were vastly outnumbered that year by the tens of thousands of Africans taken to the Caribbean to labour in miserable slavery. Africa was a crucial part of the British Empire – far more important, of course, than a nascent Australia.

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Trevor Burnard

Trevor Burnard

Trevor Burnard is a Professor of American History and Head of School in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, He has published a study of plantation societies in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British North America and the West Indies called Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650–1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and, with John Garrigus, The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

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