William Wilberforce, Hull


There is a statue of William Wilberforce outside his former home, which is now a museum. This is located within part of Hull’s Museum Quarter incorporating the Nelson Mandela Garden. Close to the Museum is a pub named after Wilberforce. 

Wilberforce was a native of Kingston upon Hull. Born to a prosperous merchant family in 1759, Wilberforce was just 21 when he became MP for Hull, switching four years later to represent the larger county seat of Yorkshire. 

It was following a dramatic conversion to evangelical Christianity that, at the suggestion of the prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, in 1787 he became the parliamentary leader of the abolition movement. Wilberforce made his first Parliamentary speech on the issue in 1789.

The slave trade was enormous and British ships transported 2.6 million of the 12 million slaves that from the late fifteenth century were taken from Africa to the Americas. 

For British slave traders it was a three-legged journey – the ‘triangular trade’ – whereby guns and brandy were traded in Africa for slaves, who were then transported under horrendous conditions to be sold in the West Indies and North America and following which traders returned to England with cargoes of rum and sugar for sale. 

The slave trade was thus highly profitable. In 1700, a slave cost around £3 in traded goods and could be sold for £20. The trade partly helped finance Britain’s subsequent industrial revolution.  

There were many slave uprisings. In 1791 slave leader Toussaint l’Ouverture – one of the greatest military leaders ever – led a successful slave revolution in Haiti. This, in part, prevented the abolition bill of the same year being passed in Parliament. 

The following year a similar bill, which had popular support, was successful but only after the legislation was weakened by the inclusion of the word ‘gradual’, plus a requirement for more research into the trade. Slave traders exploited this and with Britain at war with France from 1792 to 1805 the abolitionist campaign floundered. 

Wilberforce reintroduced his bill into Parliament in 1804. Having sounded out public opinion he published an influential tract in 1806. In 1807 he gave one of the greatest Parliamentary speeches of all time. He was subsequently backed an overwhelming vote that outlawed the trade in slaves on British ships. 

Slavery though remained in British colonies. In 1812, Wilberforce worked on the slave registration bill that failed to obtain Government backing. In 1823, Wilberforce published another tract  attacking slavery. 

Two years later, Wilberforce left Parliament. Just three days before he died on 29 July 1833 the emancipation bill received its final reading and slavery would be abolished – although not without the traders being heavily compensated! 

In 2006, Tony Blair expressed on behalf of the British Government “deep sorrow and regret” for the slave trade. 

The William Wilberforce pub on Trinity House Lane in Hull city centre is a Wetherspoon pub that serves a range of refreshments, including real ale, and a variety of food.

Hull City Council has an extensive website on Wilberforce at http://www.hullcc.gov.uk/museumcollections/collections/theme.php?irn=159

For more on Wilberforce see:- https://writemark.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-end-of-combination-acts-190-years.html



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