Calls for Reparations to Jamaica by the Gladstone Family for Ancestor’s Role in Slavery

The descendants of former Prime Minister William Gladstone, known for his role in British politics, are facing demands to pay reparations to Jamaica for their ancestor’s involvement in slavery. The Gladstone family recently apologized for their slaveholding past in Guyana and pledged funds for research into slavery. However, they have been accused of neglecting the responsibility to acknowledge and compensate for slavery in Jamaica.

The controversy surrounds John Gladstone, the father of William Gladstone, who happened to be one of the largest slave owners in the British West Indies. Records from the University of London’s Legacies of British Slavery database reveal that John Gladstone owned more than 2,500 enslaved Africans in Guyana and Jamaica during the 19th Century. After the British Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1833, John Gladstone received substantial compensation for his slaves in Jamaica. However, the family’s recent apology in Guyana failed to address John Gladstone’s slave ownership in Jamaica.

Verene Shepherd, the director of the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies, insists that the Gladstone family must apologize and commit to reparations in Jamaica as they are doing in Guyana. Reparations are considered compensation for past wrongs, and the demands can take various forms. The family stated their intention to donate £100,000 to the University of Guyana’s International Institute for Migration and Diaspora Studies and to fund projects in Guyana and the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery in the UK for a five-year period. However, this gesture has not satisfied Jamaican advocacy groups, and the National Council on Reparations is discussing potential actions to address the Gladstone family’s involvement in slavery.

The issue of reparations for the descendants of slave owners is not unique to the Gladstone family. In recent years, various British descendants of slave owners have sought to atone for their ancestors’ actions. Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests brought increased attention to these historical links to slavery. Some individuals and families, like Laura Trevelyan and her family, apologized and pledged reparations. However, UN Judge Patrick Robinson expressed skepticism about these efforts, emphasizing that reparations should be based on a calculation of the number of slaves owned and the extent to which the family benefited economically.

To address this skepticism, the Brattle Group Report, co-authored by Judge Robinson, proposed that the UK pay $24 trillion for its involvement in slavery across 14 countries. It is suggested that the Gladstone family should undertake a similar calculation to determine the amount owed for their ancestor’s role in slavery. Professor Robert Beckford from the University of Winchester argues that conversations with community organizers and reparations groups would be more effective than funding further research. He believes that the failure to acknowledge slavery in Jamaica indicates a reluctance to confront the true extent of the brutality and horror of chattel slavery in the country.

As the debate surrounding reparations for slavery continues, it brings to light the complex and ongoing consequences of historical injustices. Advocacy groups in Jamaica and beyond believe that the Gladstone family, as well as other descendants of slave owners, should take concrete actions to address their ancestors’ involvement in slavery and offer reparations to affected communities. The outcomes of this demand for reparations will have implications for the broader discussions on historical injustice, accountability, and the path toward healing and equality.