Tea and Abolition of Slavery

This may seem to be an odd link, but in the current BBC history magazine is an article on the Cutty Sark tea clipper now a tourist attraction at Greenwich. The 19th century passion for tea drinking in England led to competition between ships to get the annual tea crop to London first, hence improvements in the speed of sailing ships, with the rise of tea clippers like the Cutty Sark.

In the article, it claimed that

The Cutty Sark cost about £16,000 to build… That sounds like a lot of money until you consider that a full cargo of tea was worth close to £300,000, or about £18.5m in today’s money.

The tea trade was so lucrative the government got in on the act:

The British government imposed a 100% import levy on tea. It’s been calculated that this levy alone covered the entire cost of running the Royal Navy in the first half of the 19th century.

When the British government voted to abolish the African slave trade in 1807 the Royal Navy effectively became the world’s police force, pursuing slave ships off the coast of Africa, campaigning for other nations to ban the trade and to prosecute ships’ captains and confiscate and free the slaves. Fr many years it was complained that the cost of the Royal Navy patrols of the coast of Africa was costing more and more and achieving little. But here it seems it was costing only the lives of sailors.

But tea consumption was widely complained of at this time, by Wesley and Cobbett as I have previously noted, that tea lacked nutrients and calories of cider and beer, and in addition the tannin prevented the absorption of nutrients in food, so for poor people working hard manual labour, tea led many of them to starve.

So, by starving poor people in England, tea merchants became rich and the abolition of the slave trade was financed. Try unravelling the morality of that one.

One thought on “Tea and Abolition of Slavery

  1. Pingback: Surinamese Anansi stories, now part of Dutch heritage | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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