LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters) – British ships carried over 3 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. Lloyd’s of London insured many of these ships, the people chained below decks, which the market’s insurers sometimes classed as ‘perishables’ alongside cattle.
Lloyd’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade is not included in the market’s permanent exhibition in its modernist City Tower, but that is set to change.
“The legacy of slavery is racism. You can’t do what you have to do to make slavery work unless you portray the enslaved people as less than human,” said Nick Draper, a former JPMorgan banker who is the founding director of the Center for Das Studied the Legacies of British Slavery (LBS) at University College London
“We did it based on ethnicity, race and color. It’s embedded in British and European culture – that’s what we’re working on now.”
The insurance market, along with other financial institutions in London, was forced to come to terms with its racist past following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Lloyd’s and the Bank of England have each hired a historian to look at their role in the slave trade and plan to publish the findings next year.
The exhibitions shed light on the fates shaped by a barbaric system and the role played by some of the city’s most distinguished grandees in keeping it afloat, including the likes of John Julius Angerstein, known as ‘the father of Lloyd’s’.
The 18th-century titan of industry was chairman of the market when much of his business was based around the slave trade, and according to Lloyd’s there is evidence he was a trustee of estates in the Caribbean where enslaved people lived.
His portrait hangs in the market headquarters.
Chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown wants Lloyd’s to be open about its past, but he doesn’t want paintings removed.
“I’d rather tell the story than break it off,” he told Reuters.
The African-Caribbean Insurance Network (ACIN), set up to increase black and ethnic minority representation in the London insurance market, disagrees. According to the recommendations presented to the London market last year, companies should “review organizational artifacts and remove any with racist connotations”.
ACIN co-founder Junior Garba, an underwriter at Lloyd’s, said it’s better to place artifacts in museums.
“We cannot ignore history. We can explain them, we can enlighten.”
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The roots of the slave trade run deep and deep in London’s famous institutions.
When it was founded, Angerstein’s art collection with works by Rubens, Raffael and Rembrandt formed the nucleus of the London National Gallery.
The gallery does not mention Angerstein’s connections to the slave trade on its website. It is said that he belonged to the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organization with abolitionist interests.
In an email to Reuters, the National Gallery said it is working with LBS to clarify the links between slave ownership, art collection and philanthropy in the UK and will publish initial results later this year. Angerstein will be included in this study.
According to research by Draper, Angerstein was “a beneficiary of slavery in the marine insurance business, on which he built his career and fortune”. There is no evidence that he was a slave trader.
A decision on what to do with the Lloyd’s portraits of Angerstein and other prominent names will be made after Victoria Lane, former archivist at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, has completed her review.
Lane, who started working at Lloyd’s last month, combs through art, swords, silverware and documents held by the market. Lloyd’s declined to make her available for an interview.
The Bank of England removed 10 portraits and busts of former governors and directors with links to the slave trade earlier this year and plans to explain their role in an exhibition at its museum next year, a spokesman said.
Statues of two politicians with links to the slave trade are to remain in Guildhall, the ceremonial center of the City of London, following an earlier decision to remove them.
The Financial District City Council will this week debate a report recommending that monuments to two-time Lord Mayor William Beckford and merchant John Cass, both of whom made their fortunes from slavery, be preserved with “explanatory plaques or notices” next to them. Continue reading
According to the report, over 2,000 responses to two consultations showed “low demand” for the statues’ removal.
Europe’s sugar colonies in the West Indies were established by slave laborers from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the City of London was the financial center of the transatlantic human trade.
Historians estimate that one to two-thirds of Britain’s maritime insurance market was based on the slave trade in the 18th century, specifically insuring ships returning to Europe with produce from the plantations.
Lloyd’s was one of three major British ship insurers of the 18th century. The other two, Royal Exchange and London Assurance, were later merged into insurers AXA (AXAF.PA) and RSA.
AXA apologized for its connection to the slave trade and said it was working to make its workplace more inclusive.
RSA said there are aspects of its history that “do not reflect the values we hold today,” adding that the company is committed to fighting injustice.
The legacy of the slavery industry lingers, experts say.
According to a discussion paper released by UK regulators in July, fewer than 1 in 10 senior positions in financial services are held by black, Asian or other ethnic minorities.
The Bank of England has set a target for February 2028 for 18-20% of senior managers to be Black, Asian and ethnic minority, compared to 8.2% in November 2020.
The lack of progress on the city’s diversification put pressure on the Financial Conduct Authority to act, and it said in July that senior manager salaries may need to be linked to hiring improvements.
ACIN recommends that insurance companies set targets for ethnic minority representation at senior management level.
Only 2% of Lloyd’s of London’s nearly 50,000 insurance market is black. It has an “ambition” that one-third of all new hires should come from ethnic minorities.
“Legacy is part of the answer,” said Oliver Kent-Braham, co-founder of digital insurer Marshmallow.
“What’s important is that companies make sure they have truly unbiased application processes that aren’t heavily geared towards junior levels… and make sure companies are hiring from everywhere.”
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Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Koh Gui Qing in New York; Edited by Carmel Crimmins
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