COPPER INDUSTRY BUILT UP SUCCESS ON BACKS OF SLAVES
WHILE the legacy of slaves runs indelibly through the history of many British ports, the nature of the Industrial Revolution meant that while cities like Bristol and Liverpool grew wealthy from the slave trade, it was largely the profits of coal and iron ore that made Wales rich.
But in Wales’ booming 19th century copperworks, the story wasn’t quite so clear cut.
An explosion in demand for copper meant business owners struggled to meet demand.
Our booming age of industrialisation may have been a source of pride, but it also was at the core of Wales’ relationship with slavery.
According to Chris Evans’ book, Slave Wales, there was a massive increase in Wales’ demand for copper. Raw materials were brought from around the world. And that meant turning to the mines of Cuba, worked by slaves.
The El Cobre mines were hugely profitable for Welsh copperworks, as all ore was shipped to the Swansea copperworks of the Tawe and Neath Valleys. However, they were notoriously cruel mines, and it was the almost ceaseless demands of Welsh industrialisation that forced slaves into them during the 1830s.
An account by James Whitburn, a Cornish engine man who worked in the mines, reads as follows: “The flogging of the Negroes in this country is most cruel. I have seen them laid on the ground, sometimes tied to a ladder, and at other times held by one man at the foot and another at the head, while another Negro with a whip 10 or 12 ft long from the end of the stick to the point of the lash, gives the Negro confined 25 blows or I may say, cuts . . .every blow rattles almost as loud as a gun. I have seen I think from 15 blows out of 25 to make cuts in the flesh from eight to 12 inches long and open as if done with a knife.”
Mary Glascott and her sons, who owned the Cambrian copper works at Llanelli, and solicitor Alexander Druce, a partner in the Llanelly Copperworks Company, tolerated slaves in their Cuban mines.
As did Pascoe St Leger Grenfell and his brothers, who inherited their copper company from their father, Pascoe Grenfell.
The firm dominated copper smelting in the Swansea Valley from the 1820s-1890s, and Pascoe St Leger Grenfell became a prime mover in the firm’s development from the 1840s onwards.
When slavery was brought to an end, he was awarded, with his partners, the compensation for the enslaved people on Hazelymph in St James, Jamaica, receiving £4,121 and 19 shillings.
As he did not technically own the slaves in Cuba, he could not be compensated for their freedom.
He was married twice and had nine children by his first wife.
Thomas Williams, also known as Tom Fair Play, was from Anglesey. He owned copper mines in Parys Mountain, manufacturing their own copper goods, and developed copper shielding to cover the hulls of slave ships to ensure they were not worm eaten.
Mr Williams produced his own goods to trade in Africa for slaves, such as copper manilla bracelets, pots, pans and bowls. He would then sell the slaves to earn more money, therefore saving himself costs.
He actively fought against the abolition of slavery, and at the time of his death in 1802 was the richest man in Wales.
Edward Hamlin Adams was a supplier of enslaved labour to the British state in Jamaica in partnership with Robert Robertson.
Adams Robinson and Co supplied slaves to work in military camps in Jamaica.
He was born in Jamaica, but later settled in Wales, and became and MP for Carmarthenshire in 1833.
He purchased Middleton Hall, designed by SP Cockerell for the East India nabob, Sir William Paxton, in 1824, and died there in 1842.
John Foster Barham lived from 1799 to May 22, 1838.
He was the eldest son of Joseph Foster Barham, Whig MP for Stockbridge, and Lady Caroline Tufton, daughter of Sackvill Tufton the 8th Earl of Thanet.
In September 1832 he succeeded his father to estates in Trecwn Pembrokeshire, Stockbridge and the West Indies.
The Barham family had owned and operated the Mesopotamia estate for more than a century and “took a special interest in their slaves” by inviting missionaries to educate them. However, John Barham “never visited Jamaica and took little interest in his property there”.
By 1836 he was under medical superintendence and in March 1837 he was certified by a commission of “lunacy as of unsound mind”. He died in March 1838.
His widow administered his estate, while those in Pembrokeshire and the West Indies were entailed on his brother Charles.
Samuel Bosanquet III of Dingestow Court, Monmouthshire, was born in 1768 and died in 1843.
His father’s cousin, Jacob Bosanquet, was a chairman of the East India Company.
A London banker, he and other partners of the bank were awarded compensation for three estates in Nevis, in two cases as assignees and in the third as “parties interested in the compensation”.
They received £3,655, 18 shillings and five pence for slaves in Clifton’s, Paynes and Morton’s Bay, £2,018, 0 shillings and eight pennies for another estate in Nevis, and £297, 11 shillings and seven pence for an estate in Meales.
Samuel Bosanquet retired from the bank in 1836.
Richard Pennant is a well-recorded supporter of the slave trade. He lived just outside Bangor in Penrhyn Castle, with more than 300 rooms. The castle was built to show off his fortunes. He held six plantations in Jamaica.
Thomas Clarkson, of the Society for the mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery, stated that: “Mr Pennant, the Heir of Lord Penrhyn, a man of £50,000 a year in the neighbourhood, is quite against us in consequence of being a very large West India Proprietor.”
He was in fact a chairman of the West India Committee.
Mr Pennant wrote letters to managers about the running of his plantations, including the breeding of slaves. He strongly felt that the banning of slave trafficking in Africa would be an economic disaster.
The fortune he made in the slave industry meant that he was able to develop slate production and shipment in Wales. He took back leases in the slate industry and built a unified quarry on an industrial scale.
He built a port, roads and railway to connect the quarry, and was able to ship slate to anywhere in the world.
A drawing shows the crowded deck of a slave ship full of unclothed slaves in the 1700s
Copperworks in Wales relied on the work of slaves