On this day: Slave trade abolished 207 years ago

A law to abolish the slave trade was signed by the King on this day 207 years ago, with Christian MP William Wilberforce an influential figure in the trade’s demise.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was given Royal Assent on 25 March 1807 by George III, banning the involvement of British ships in the trade.

The United Nations is marking the occasion with a series of events, saying it wants to help people “honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system”.


According to the UN, more than 15 million men, women and children were used as slaves over the course of 400 years.

By the end of the 1700s, Britain dominated the slave trade with some 150 ships leaving ports such as Bristol and London every year.

However abolitionists, including Wilberforce, fought for years against the system and introduced many Parliamentary Bills to bring it to an end.


The campaign overcame numerous defeats – in 1805 when a Bill was unsuccessful it was the eleventh such loss in 15 years.

Prior to Royal Assent of the successful anti-slave trade Bill, Parliament witnessed a 10 hour debate on the issue.

MPs voted 283 votes to 16 in favour, with politicians giving Wilberforce a standing ovation during the Commons debate.

Branding irons

Many others worked to see the abolition of the slave trade, including Thomas Clarkson who heavily researched the trade, and former slave Olaudah Equiano.

Clarkson used examples from the slave ships – such as branding irons, shackles and handcuffs – as striking visual aids to make his point.

Equiano published his autobiography in 1789, a book which became hugely popular and helped the cause of the abolition campaign.

Slavery itself was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833, just before Wilberforce died.