The Hunted Slaves

WAG 3070


This artwork has been identified as having links to a person connected with transatlantic slavery. This research is part of the Walker Art Gallery’s ongoing work to be more transparent about the collection’s relationship to Britain's colonial past. Painted in 1861, the picture is a powerful indictment of slavery in the United States at that time. It shows two enlaved people who have escaped, only to be hunted down by a pack of savage dogs. However, the circumstances of the painting's history, offered in a Liverpool lottery, illustrate the shocking contradictions of a situation in which a painting opposing slavery was used to support British people employed through the economy of the transatlantic slave trade. The lottery's winner was Gilbert Winter Moss (1828 - 1899), a local banker whose family, according to the UCL Legacies of Slavery database, 'appears to have been embedded in slave-trading and slave-factoring'. Gilbert's father John Moss (1782 - 1858) had inherited, with his brothers, 1,000 enslaved people from their uncle James. The Moss family's claims in compensation on the Slavery Abolition Act (1833) were multiple, complex and high value. The picture dates from the same year as the outbreak of the American Civil War. Many Liverpool cotton merchants believed slavery kept cotton prices low and so opposed its abolition. One consequence of the War for Britain was that it prevented the export of raw cotton from American plantations, causing a 'cotton famine' and leading to hardship in the mill towns of Lancashire. Ansdell donated 'The Hunted Slaves' to a lottery held to raise money for the relief of the famine. It raised £700. The winner presented the painting to the Corporation of Liverpool. The artist Richard Ansdell (1815 - 1885) was one of Liverpool's most successful painters. When this work was first exhibited at London's Royal Academy in 1861, it was accompanied by a quotation from the poem 'The Dismal Swamp' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, describing an escaped slave's desperate flight. A passage from Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' also described a hunted slave attacked by dogs and may have inspired this piece.