Legacies of Enslavement at Christ's
We have chosen to store all the research we produced during the 2022 project on a publicly accessible database. This allows users to explore our research in a different format, and access the other avenues of enquiry we explored but did not publish on this website.
Fergus Kirman (matric. 2020)
Sarah Clark (matric. 2021)
Our approach explained
We approached the project by centring individuals who attended Christ's for whom we could substantiate a direct connection to enslavement.
We quickly found it necessary to distinguish between the 'primary industries' of owning and transporting enslaved people, and 'secondary industries' bound into enslavement (such as banking, or trade in goods like West Indian sugar, which depended on the use enslaved labour). Many Christ's alumni might have been involved in such secondary industries, but it was impossible for us to substantiate more than indirect connections to enslavement for the vast majority of those identified as 'merchants', or 'sugar refiners'. The project's finite time and resources necessitated focusing on anyone connected directly to enslavement by ownership (or similar instruments, such as mortgaging), rather than anyone involved in the broader economic system supporting and sustained by the institution.
We set out to identify all the alumni who were 'financial beneficiaries' of enslavement: as explained here, this is an intentionally capacious category, which includes both those who owned enslaved people, and those who benefitted only through their family members having done so. In some cases, a financial beneficiary might not even have been alive when a member of their family owned enslaved people.
Hannah Arendt writes of the 'banality of evil': at many points in this project, we were struck by the banality of the lives of these financial beneficiaries. After graduating, a significant number of them embarked on unremarkable careers as lawyers or clergymen in England, never travelling or returning to the West Indies. They might have given little thought to where their own family's wealth came from, and may not have regarded themselves as financial beneficiaries of enslavement.
Nonetheless, we argue that 38 alumni of Christ's were beneficiaries of enslavement, and detail precisely the basis for each of our claims. Some of these individuals vehemently endorsed the institution: some others probably condemned it. We have identified three alumni (two of whom were also financial beneficiaries) who publicly defended enslavement, including one who also became a fellow at Christ's. As historians, our role has been to uncover and record the complex connections between members of the College and enslavement. It was not our role to judge these people: at all points, we have attempted not to do so.
This project provides an account of Christ's connections to enslavement that is strongly focused on individuals. One shortcoming of the project is that it lacks a focus on how money derived from enslavement benefitted the College through donations. While we may reasonably assume that wealth generated by enslavement funded these students' expenses at Christ's (for tuition and accommodation), the question of larger gifts to the College is a lacuna in the story of Christ's and enslavement.
Currently, bursarial records for the vast majority of the period under investigation (1685 - 1887) are not catalogued in the College Archives. The closest similar items found were ledgers detailing the rents collected from land across England owned by the College during the period. Full bursarial records may have been destroyed or lost at any point prior to the summer of 2022. They may be in the next box waiting to be catalogued, or they may be lost to us permanently. We were able to locate one account book for the College covering a handful of years in the mid-nineteenth century, but this avenue of enquiry was effectively closed to us.
If such records are discovered in the future, cross-referencing them with the 38 financial beneficiaries identified here would be a valuable exercise, in order to establish whether Christ's acquired wealth derived from enslavement in larger donations and bequests.
It should be noted that donations of silver are an exception: the catalogued and comparatively complete silver register, stored separately from any bursarial records, enabled us to identify the four instances where financial beneficiaries of enslavement had given silver to the College.
As noted on their pages, Ralph Bernal donated two large silver candlesticks to the College, as did Jonathan Blenman. Edward Protheroe also donated a pair of silver candlesticks, while John Abel Smith gave a large silver soup tureen and cover. Of these items, the two candlesticks donated by Bernal and the soup tureen and cover donated by Smith are still in the College's possession.
Fergus Kirman (matric. 2020)
Sarah Clark (matric. 2021)
This database shows all the information included in this website, in a searchable table format ('Website content'), in addition to other unpublished information that may be of use for researchers. The second and third tables (for 'Under-evidenced cases' and 'Other Christ's alumni born in colonial settings') are incomplete, and should be regarded as a starting point for further research if additional sources are accessed in the future.
All information (including references) displayed on this website.
A list of cases where a connection was deemed likely, but could not be substantiated with available sources
Other Christ's alumni born in colonial settings
A list of other alumni born in colonial settings for whom no probable connection was identified
A note on references and ACAD
References are given as footnotes at the bottom of each webpage, in MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association) Style. There are approximately 7,000 words of references in total across the website.
The exception to using MHRA Style is in is references to ACAD (A Cambridge Alumni Database), given as generic references to "Venn, J.A., ed. (19--) "[Last name], [First name]". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part -). Vol.-, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive".
Information from the Alumni Cantabrigienses (a series of ten volumes published between 1922 and 1953) was accessed either via digitised copies of the volumes, or via the navigable online database. These references, centring Venn as the editor while also noting that the information was accessed via the 'Internet Archive', reflect the hybrid ways in which we accessed Venn's work.
The brief biographical outline at the start of each profile page - prior to the 'Connection to enslavement' section - uses information taken solely from ACAD, except where otherwise indicated.
An outline of the sources of all the images included in this website is available here. Unless marked as a public domain image, all photos were taken by Fergus Kirman.