Facts About Thomas Clarkson

Thomas Clarkson (1760 – 1846) was the first ambassador and promoter of the first anti-trafficking campaign that lasted from 1787 to 1807. After helping eliminate slavery from the British Empire, Thomas Clarkson also took the initiative to eliminate slavery from the rest of the world.

Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade

In 1787, Thomas Clarkson and abolitionist Granville Sharp led the formation of Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade. Many members of the committee formed were the quakers. It was this committee that persuaded the parliament to take up the issue of slave trade. This was when William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament.

Painting – The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon

Many people believed that slave trade was important for Britain’s wealth.

Hardwork to eliminate slave trade

The thought of fighting slavery struck him when he won an essay competition on whether it was right to make slaves. It was in 1785 when Clarkson decided to make it his life’s purpose to eliminate slavery. From this moment he spend the rest of his life fighting slavery. Thomas Clarkson worked hard to collect evidence of slave trade going on around Britain.

On the basis of the evidence he collected, he wrote “A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition” in 1787. This pamphlet was used by Wilberforce in the parliament.

Influence on Wilberforce

He influenced William Wilberforce in the anti-slavery. William Wilberforce was an influential leader leader in the British Empire who played an important role in the abolition of slave trade in the British Empire.

Member of three anti-slavery societies

He was one of the first British abolitionists. He was an important member in anti-slave societies –

  • The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (later, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade) (1787)
  • The Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Dominions (1807)
  • The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (1839)

Diagram of the ‘Brookes’ Slave Ship

The diagram depicting how slaves were packed together tightly in a slave ship for the middle passage is the most famous work of Thomas Clarkson. It is also one the most widely distributed illustrations of the slave trade.

Assassination attempt

When he visited Liverpool, a gang of sailors attempted to assassinate him. At that time, Liverpool was a major center of slave traders.

Friends with William Wordsworth

In 1794, Thomas Clarkson had fallen sick due to which he retired from the anti-slavery campaign. This was when he met William Wordsworth. When the bill for abolition of slave trade was passed, William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet to Clarkson, that started with “Clarkson! it was an obstinate Hill to climb”.

From slave trade abolition to slavery abolition

Thomas Clarkson not only played an important role in abolishing the slave trade but also total abolition of slavery. With the slave abolition bill in 1807, slave trade was abolished and then with 1833 slavery abolition act, slavery was abolished completely. With this act, all the slaves in the British Empire were finally free.

Memorial in Westminster Abbey

Thomas Clarkson died in 1846. There is a memorial dedicated to him in Westminster Abbey.

Brother of Thomas Clarkson

Clarkson’s brother John Clarkson was in charge of Sierra Leone, the colony established for freed slaves.

Attempt to abolish slave trade in France

During 1789, Thomas Clarkson traveled to Paris. During his trip, he tried to persuade the French government to abolish slave trade too, but to no avail.

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