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London insurers face up to former role during Transatlantic slave trade

London is facing up to its role in insuring the slave trade as part of a global reassessment of history and racism.

The catalyst for this reappraisal was the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer effectively suffocated him to death whilst detaining him with a knee to the neck for nine minutes.

For centuries, London has maintained a leading role in financing global trade. On Thursday (June 18), Lloyd's of London insurance market (popularly known as Lloyds), apologised for its "shameful" role in the Atlantic slave trade between the 18th and 19th centuries.

Image credit: cityAM

In what is considered one of the most tragic and horrifying periods of human history, around 17 million men, women and children of the African continent were brutally torn away from their homes and forced into one of the world's most savage globalised trading system between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Although figures on the loss of life are difficult to estimate, it is thought that approximately 1.2-2.4 million African captives died during their transport to the New World and in merciless conditions nonetheless.

By the late 18th Century, Britain was the leading slaver nation, carrying about 40 per cent of Africans transported between 1761 up until the abolition of the trade in the year 1807.

Other major traders were Portugal/Brazil, with about 32 per cent of the market, and France, with about 17 per cent. American and Dutch ships were also involved, with around 6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

European-style coastal forts and castles can be found across many parts of Africa, a reminder of the barbaric past that raped Africa of its people and resources. In Ghana for example, during the colonial period known as Gold Coast, many imperial monuments built mostly by the Portuguese, Dutch and British can be found, including Fort Amsterdam and Cape Coast Castle.

Although there is a lack of documented evidence from the time, historians have estimated that the slave and West India trades combined accounted for 41 per cent of British marine insurance in the 1790s.

According to Nick Draper, former director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, “Between a third and 40 per cent of London marine insurance in the 18th century was accounted for by the slave trade and by the movement of slave-grown produce across the Atlantic”.

There were three main marine insurers in the 18th century: London Assurance, Royal Exchange and Lloyds of London.

It was Lloyds, however, that had the dominant insurance business, with roughly 80 to 90 per cent of the market in their possession. The insurance market at the time worked by classing slaves as cargo and included them in the general insurance rate.

Slaves were often termed as a "parcel" whose value was determined by ethnicity, size, height, age, gender and health. Underwriters also classified slaves as "perishable goods", alongside cattle. Moreover, most insurance policies for the slave trade excluded the death of enslaved people from disease or insurrection and rather insured the ship against the perils of the sea.

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