First item from female Abolitionist

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New letter in the collection of the International Slavery Museum

The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (UK) has acquired a letter written by a female anti-slavery campaigner, following a funding boost to grow collections at the Museum.

It is the first example of an account by a female anti-slavery campaigner in the Museum’s collection.

The Museum is announcing the acquisition ahead of 8 March 2016, International Women’s Day, the global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

The autographed letter, dated 17 September 1837 is from Sarah Greenshaw in Liverpool, to Martha Wicksteed in Chester.

It was written after The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 came into force on 1 August 1834, but when the practice of slavery still existed. In her correspondence, Sarah Greenshaw refers to a presentation during an Antislavery Society meeting commemorating three years of the abolition of colonial slavery by Dr Palmer, during which he stated that slavery had been much worse in Jamaica since the Abolition and had not only continued under the apprentice system - but had also increased, especially in regard to females.

Dr Palmer was a Jamaican magistrate who, after being dismissed for interpreting the law in light of abolition, threw himself into the anti-slavery movement in England.

Sarah wrote: “I have begun a few lines hoping to send by Dr Palmer who is again visiting Chester for the purpose of forming an antislavery Society – it appears from his account and statement of facts that Slavery has been much worse in the island of Jamaica since the abolition, that it was before, although this Nation has made the sacrifice of twenty millions of pounds in order to remunerate the planters…”.

Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, said:

“The letter is of particular significance because the Liverpool-based anti-slavery campaigner who wrote it was also a woman. This is important because Black and white women played a significant role in the anti-slavery struggle but are often marginalised from the narrative. This important acquisition will challenge that to some degree and the fact that it is International Women’s Day adds even more significance”

Due to its fragile nature, the letter will be available for viewing by appointment in the Maritime Archives and Library at the Merseyside Maritime Museum and as a part of the Museum’s online collections by the end of the year.

On Tuesday 8 March, Dr Ray Costello will present a talk at the International Slavery Museum, highlighting the female abolitionists who fought to end slavery more widely, looking at how they were perceived and treated. This is part of the International Women's Day series of events across National Museums Liverpool’s venues:  

The letter is the third acquisition the International Slavery Museum has announced under the Transatlantic and Contemporary Slavery Collecting Project, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme. The Museum formerly announced the acquisition of a pair of shackles, used onboard slaver ships during the so-called ‘Middle Passage’, which are currently on display at the John Hay Library at Brown University in the United States. The Museum also recently acquired a copper engraving by the famous British caricaturist James Gillray, announced on 10 December 2015, International Human Rights Day.

The International Slavery Museum highlights the international importance of enslavement and slavery, both in a historic and modern context. Working in partnership with other organisations with a focus on freedom and enslavement, the Museum also provides opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacies of slavery today.

To learn more about Collecting Cultures, please visit our website or contact us at

Free entry
Open daily 10am-5pm
Albert Dock
Liverpool Waterfront
L3 4AQ
Telephone 0151 478 4499

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Notes to Editors

International Slavery Museum
The International Slavery Museum opened in August 2007. It is situated on the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum at the Albert Dock. It is the only national museum in the world to cover transatlantic slavery and its legacies as well as modern forms of slavery and enslavement. It is also an international hub for resources on human rights issues and campaigning.

About National Museums Liverpool
National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues, including some of the most visited museums in England outside of London. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. We attract nearly 2.7 million visitors every year. Our venues are the Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Border Force National Museum, Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery. 

About the Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 36,000 projects with more than £6bn across the UK.