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January 20, 2014

Were 454 African slaves were 'packed in like sardines'
aboard the British slave ship Brookes?
Some say the illustration was faked by abolitionists and
note that the ship carried no less than 609 and as many
as 740 slaves on each of its four voyages.
Based on the illustration, that many Africans
simply wouldn't fit.
They are stored on 15 miles of shelving. Just one of the 1.2 million items may itself contains 2.9 million documents, it is believed.

The massive cache of secret papers date from 1662, the media suggest. They are thought to contain information about England's involvement in slavery.

The files have been held in secret at a high security location called Hanslope Park, reports say.

Besides their historical value, The Slave Papers may be used by descendants of slave to seek financial compensation for the abuse their ancestor's suffered. Lawsuits would, no doubt, be filed against European participants, but not African nations.

While much ado is being made about the massive cache of documents, the media wryly admit they haven't actually seen them.

William St Clair, senior research fellow at London University and author of door of The Door of No Return, a study of the Atlantic slave trade, said he doubted that the hidden papers would "cause embarrassment or difficulty today", but raised the possibility that they might provide background information for people seeking financial compensation for the manner in which their ancestors were treated.

Nick Draper, who helps to run the Legacies of British Slave-ownership research project at University College London said he too doubted that any of the documents were likely to trigger a wholesale revision of the history of Britain and slavery, but wondered whether they detailed the continuing involvement of British merchants after the trade was abolished in the British empire in 1807.

St Clair – who was a senior civil servant at the Foreign Office before becoming a historian – added that in the absence of a written constitution, assorted statutes such as the Public Records Acts "are essential components of democracy and public accountability", and that the department was in clear breach of the law.

A number of the country's leading historians have expressed anger and alarm at the way in which huge numbers of files have been unlawfully hidden from public view. Several are considering whether legal action may be needed in order to preserve the Hanslope Park archive and to secure access, and some have questioned whether their major works on such subjects as the outbreak of the first world war may need to be rewritten. -- The Guardian


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