Harewood House, Yorkshire, seen from the garden
Built for wealthy slave owner Edwin Lascelles. Photo by Gunnar Larsson.
Many of the most significant collectors and donors to British museums, such as John Julius Angerstein and Hans Sloane, were plantation owners, slave traders and/or involved in the trades that directly propped up the slave economy. Slave-owners such as Edward Colston and Christopher Codrington used their profits to support and endow libraries, hospitals and other institutions; being commemorated in statues and public monuments for their trouble.
The construction of numerous stately homes – like Harewood House, home of the Lascelles family – was funded by slavery profits, and these are today open to visitors. London’s West India Docks, a major infrastructure project begun in 1802, were not only funded in part by slavery profits, but actually designed to enhance those profits by making the import of slave-grown goods more efficient.
The legacy that slave-traders have left behind can be uncomfortably close to home. Robert Milligan, a slave-owner who settled in London, was the driving force behind the docks' construction. Upon his death in 1809, he owned 526 enslaved Africans who were forced to work on his family's plantation in Jamaica. The West India Docks company erected a statue in his honour. It now stands in front of the Museum of London Docklands, itself a converted warehouse once used to store slave-harvested sugar.