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British MP disputes slave issue

Regional 08 Dec, 2022 Follow News

Richard Drax is under pressure

Drax Hall still produces sugar cane

Jamaica is considering whether to seek compensation from a wealthy British Conservative Member of Parliament for his family’s historical role in slavery.

Richard Drax’s ancestors were pioneers of the sugar and slave trades in the Caribbean about 400 years ago.

The Barbadian government has already issued Drax, whose family played a major role in the Caribbean slave trade, with a list of reparation demands. In 2020, The Guardian reported that the MP for South Dorset, had failed to declare a former sugar plantation in Barbados on his tax returns.

The plantation, a 617-acre area known as Drax Hall, hosted the brutal enslavement of more than 100 black Africans for the profit of the family. The family also reportedly owned another plantation in Jamaica.

After Barbados officially became a republic last year, the country is now asking Drax - and other descendants of slavers - to play both a symbolic and financial role in confronting their families’ dark pasts.

As part of Barbados’ National Task Force on Reparations, part of the Caricom Reparations Commission, Drax issued the following demands:

• Drax Hall, built in the 17th century, will be turned into an ‘Afro-centric’ museum.

• A large part of the Drax Hall plantation will be used for low-income social housing for Bajan families.

• Drax’s estate will pay for some of the work.

Drax has met already met with Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, to discuss these terms. Barbadian MP Trevor Prescod, chairman of the reparations task force, said that if Drax doesn’t agree, legal action might be the next step.

Now Jamaica’s National Council on Reparations is also examining the case for pressing Drax for damages. He said he did not wish to comment on the reparations claims.

It is thought to be the first time a government has urged a family to pay compensation for the role of their forebears in the slave trade.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, millions of Africans were enslaved and transported across the Atlantic by Europeans and Americans as a labour force to work, especially on plantations.

Members of the Drax family were among the earliest English colonists to establish sugar plantations built on slave labour in the Caribbean.

A member of the Drax family received compensation when the slave trade was abolished by the British Parliament in 1833. Records show John Sawbridge Erle-Drax was awarded £4,293 12s 6d - worth $3.2m today - for 189 slaves.

Drax has previously said his family’s slave-trading past was “deeply, deeply regrettable”, but “no one can be held responsible today for what happened many hundreds of years ago”.

The Drax Hall plantation in Barbados was passed down the family line until the MP inherited the estate, where sugar cane is still grown, from his father in 2017.

For years, reparations campaigners have been calling on Drax to donate the property to Barbadians, but he has not done so. But pressure is growing on him.

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