Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities:
Hans Sloane's Atlantic World

A noose, a whip and bullets used by rebel African slaves against their would-be Caribbean masters, were among the objects collected by Sir Hans Sloane. His collection led to the foundation of the British Museum in 1753.

Sunday 25 March 2007 is the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of Portrait of Sir Hans Sloane, 1729. John Faber after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Mezzotintthe Slave Trade Act, which outlawed the slave trade throughout the British Empire, made it illegal for British ships to be involved in it and marked the beginning of the end of the transatlantic traffic in human beings. As part of Atlantic Trade and Identity - a season of events and exhibitions organised to mark the anniversary - the British Museum is exploring Sloane’s connections with the slave trade.

Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities: Hans Sloane’s Atlantic World, an essay by James Delbourgo, Assistant Professor in the Department of History at McGillUniversity, Montreal, is available to download.

Download essay in pdf format (225k)

Sloane began collecting in the late 1600s when he travelled to Jamaica as personal physician to the new governor, the Duke of Albermarle.

Delbourgo’s essay looks at why Sloane collected objects associated with slavery and what it meant to display them before the era of abolitionism. It aims to reveal how the experiences of enslaved Africans were often made public as a matter of curiosity, rather than out of moral concern or as evidence supporting scientific racism. In doing so, the essay investigates the relationship between collecting, slavery and empire across the Atlantic during the eighteenth century.


Image: Portrait of Sir Hans Sloane, 1729. John Faber after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Mezzotint, Bequeathed by William Meriton Eaton, 2nd Baron Cheylesmore, PD 1902,1011.1876