Liverpool and the transatlantic slave trade

Detail from painting 'Boarding a slaver'

Detail from 'Boarding a Slaver' by L Burke

"Branded like beasts who feel no pain
And all for Merrye Englande's gain

But England's Changing-Rearranging
Only we can clear our Name

Growing! Knowing! Trade Winds are blowing!
Things'll nevva be the same."

Excerpt from 'Slavepool' by Mohammed Khalil - a poem recounting Liverpool's role in the slave trade.

A brief history of the city's connections

Liverpool was a major port for the transatlantic slave trade. Many local merchants and their ships were involved in slavery from 1700 until its abolition in 1807. As a result much of the city's wealth in the 18th century came from the trade. The personal and civic wealth gained from slaving cemented the foundations for the port's future growth.

Slave ships were often built or repaired in Liverpool. Nearly one and a half million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic in Liverpool ships.

  • The 'Liverpool Merchant' was the first recorded slave ship to sail from Liverpool. She set sail on 3 October 1699 and arrived in Barbados on 18 September 1700 with a cargo of 220 enslaved Africans. Part owner Sir Thomas Johnson is known as the 'founder of modern Liverpool'.
  • By 1795 Liverpool controlled over 80% of the British and over 40% of the entire European slave trade.
  • By 1750 Liverpool overtook Bristol and London in the transatlantic slave trade and the import of sugar and rum.
  • More than 5,000 slaving voyages started from Liverpool.
  • Former Liverpool slave ship captain John Newton wrote the famous hymn 'Amazing Grace'. After his career at sea Newton became a reverend and an anti-slavery campaigner.
  • At least 25 of Liverpool's lord mayors, holding office for a total of 35 years between 1700 and 1820, were closely involved in the transatlanticslave trade.

A formal motion of apology

On 9 December 1999 Liverpool City Council passed a formal motion apologising for the City's part in the transatlantic slave trade. It was unanimously agreed that Liverpool acknowledges its responsibility for its involvement in three centuries of the slave trade. The City Council has made an unreserved apology for Liverpool's involvement and the continual effect of slavery on Liverpool's Black communities.

Slavery Remembrance Day

National Museums Liverpool has hosted a Slavery Remembrance Day event since 1999. At the first event the late Bernie Grant MP unveiled a plaque at the docks where slave ships were once repaired. Strong local support, most notably from Liverpool's Black community, has made this an ongoing project which aims to raise awareness of an issue that can never be forgotten.

International Slavery Museum

2007 was the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade. To mark this important anniversary, National Museums Liverpool opened the International Slavery Museum on Slavery Remembrance Day that year.

The International Slavery Museum shares premises with the Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock, a world heritage site. The location is only yards away from the dry docks where 18th century slave trading ships were repaired and fitted out.