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JM | Nov 30, 2022

Jamaica eyes slavery reparations from British MP

/ Our Today

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Barbados has already staked claim against Richard Drax

Richard Drax, Conservative MP.

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

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

Barbados has already staked a reparation claim on the Conservative MP for harm caused by slavery at an estate he inherited in the country.

Now, Jamaica’s National Council on Reparations is also examining the case for pressing Drax for damages caused by his family’s involvement in slavery.

When contacted by BBC News, Drax did not comment on the matter.

The case came to the attention of the Jamaican Reparations Council after British newspaper reports suggested the government of Barbados was planning to demand reparations from the Conservative MP.

It is believed that this is the first time the British 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.

Drax family slavery involvement

Members of the Drax family were among the earliest English colonists to establish sugar plantations built on slave labour in Barbados and Jamaica in the Caribbean. A member of the Drax family received compensation when the slave trade was abolished by the British Parliament in 1833.

John Sawbridge Erle-Drax. (Photo taken from www.dorsetlife.co.uk)

Records show John Sawbridge Erle-Drax was awarded £4,293 12s 6d – worth £3 million 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 617-acre Drax Hall plantation in Barbados was passed down the family line until Drax 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.

The BBC has been told the South Dorset MP recently visited Barbados, where he had a meeting with its prime minister, Mia Mottley.

Drax family slavery involvement in Jamaica

A different branch of the Drax family founded a plantation in Jamaica in the 17th Century. William Drax established the estate but it was later sold to different owners.

Men and women “were brutalised in Jamaica” under the Drax name, said Verene Shepherd, director of the Centre for Reparation Research at The University of the West Indies.

Professor Verene Shepherd. (Photo: Facebook @University of the West Indies)

The professor of social history, who is a part of the local reparations movement, said families who can trace their inheritance to slavery should be held accountable, “whether they want to say they’re responsible or not”.

She said that, “insofar as [Richard Drax’s] lineage is connected to William Drax” and “inheritance was passed down along the line – whether from Jamaica or Barbados – then I think we should also join Barbados in pressing a case for reparations”.

Shepherd added that Jamaica’s National Council on Reparations investigates “where that money from Jamaica went”.

The council examines the past injustices suffered by victims of slavery and advises the Jamaican Government on what form compensation should take.

Reparations movement plans to meet with Drax

Its chairwoman, Laleta Davis-Mattis, plans to convene a meeting to discuss the case for claiming reparations from Drax. She said the council needed to review the link between Drax’s family and slavery in Jamaica “to make a substantive judgement and recommendation”.

The BBC reported that Matthew Parker, who researched the family’s history for his book, The Sugar Barons, said there was an ancestral connection between Richard Drax and the Drax plantation owners in Jamaica.

The author conceded that there was a debate about the legitimacy of reparations claims over injustices suffered centuries ago.

“The extreme example is: shouldn’t the Italians be paying [the UK] for the Roman invasion?” Parker said.

He admitted that targeting individuals for reparations was a departure from the approach up until now, which has been to put claims to governments. Caribbean countries have sought slavery reparations from European governments for several years with limited success.

Descendants of slaves have also brought lawsuits against companies for their involvement in the trade, with few wins.

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