Slave Past Haunts Rich and Famous
Benedict Cumberbatch and Slave Compensation
Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of 12 Years A Slave, had a sneaking feeling his family history would come back to haunt him.
Ancestors of the Hollywood heartthrob owned 250 slaves in Barbados – and were compensated to the tune of £3.6m (nearly US$5m) in today’s prices when the British Empire abolished the iniquitous trade in the 1830s.
The family of Benedict Cumberbatch was among many thousands of British people who profited from the trade and the slavery compensation which followed.
Among them was a distant relative of former British prime minister David Cameron (pictured) and the ancestors of another English politician, the current owner of Drax Hall.
British parliamentarian Richard Drax is one of the richest men in southern England and still visits the Jacobean plantation house in central Barbados. In 1836, the Drax family was paid £4,293 – £3m (about US$4 million). Read About the Drax Family.
Family money helps… all three men were educated at Britain’s top fee-paying schools.
Star spoke against racism
A portrait of Abraham Cumberbatch, the actor’s seventh great-grandfather and the first in his family to own slaves, hangs in St Nicholas Abbey.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s family owned a plantation in the parish of St Andrew, in the north of Barbados, not far from the abbey.
When he launched his acting career, his family encouraged him to use another name lest he became a target for reparation claims from slave descendants.
The star of BBC TV series Sherlock has always been open about his family history and has spoken out against racial discrimination in the acting world.
Compensating slave owners across the Empire cost the British Treasury £20m (US$26m), which is about £16bn (about $21bn) today.
An ancestor of US actor Ben Affleck owned 24 slaves – a fact revealed during research for a programme exploring the star’s family tree.