Change of heart: The transformation of Zachary Macaulay, by Barbara Henderson

‘Macaulay was constantly vilified and misrepresented.’

‘He had experience of plantation life, and a mind that could remember statistics.’ | Photo: Image: Contemporary portraits of Macauley, courtesy Clapham Antiquarian Society

As a society, we are finally beginning to address our collective guilt about the British treatment of black African people. But some individuals involved in enslavement had to confront their guilt while the trade was ongoing. One of these men, Zachary Macaulay, had been an assistant manager on a sugar plantation in his teens and early twenties. It is said that his shame never left him, even as he went on to devote the rest of his forty years to the abolition of the slave trade. Thomas Fowell Buxton, who took over William Wilberforce’s role as leader of the abolitionists in parliament, said that, should Africa’s enslaved people be emancipated, they would be ‘more indebted to Mr Macaulay than any man living’. Statements like these are now rightly understood as inappropriate and inaccurate, giving credit to white saviours over black resistance, but this does perhaps speak to the level of Macaulay’s transformation.

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