[1833] - Emancipation Act receives its final reading, abolishing slavery in British colonies

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 (sometimes referred to as the Emancipation Act) abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, with the exception of the islands of Ceylon, St Helena and the territories of the East India Company. In 1772 the court ruling known as Somersett’s Case had declared that slavery was unlawful in Britain, leading directly to the emancipation of thousands of slaves. The 1807 Abolition Act had outlawed the trade in slaves, but it was not until the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act (which took effect on 1 August 1834) that slavery itself was prohibited by law throughout the majority of the British Empire. In addition to abolishing slavery, the act also acknowledged the right of compensation for slave-owners. Consequently, the government paid out £20 million (around 40 per cent of its annual expenditure) in compensation to the registered owners of emancipated slaves.

For almost half a century William Wilberforce had been the leading parliamentary campaigner against slavery, although he had had to resign his seat in the Commons in 1825 due to ill health. On 26 July 1833 he heard the news of the passage of the bill for the abolition of slavery, the culmination of his life’s work. Three days later he died in London and was interred at Westminster Abbey.

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