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'A Moral Millstone'? British Humanitarian Governance and the Policy of Liberated African Apprenticeship

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-422
JournalSlavery and abolition
Issue number2
Early online date21 Jan 2016
E-pub ahead of print21 Jan 2016
Published1 Jun 2016


King's Authors


Between 1808 and 1848, under the terms of the Abolition Act, thousands of liberated Africans were distributed as apprentices to private citizens in the colony of Sierra Leone. In 1847, Governor Fergusson described apprenticeship, by that date primarily of children, as ‘a moral millstone round the necks’ of the colony's population. The Liberated African Department in particular was singled out by many contemporary European critics as unable or unwilling to monitor the whereabouts of apprentice children and to police the welfare obligations placed on apprentice-holders. This article explores a policy that was identified with widespread patterns of abuse, neglect and re-enslavement, and considers contemporary critiques in terms of underlying anxieties regarding the efficacy of humanitarian governance and the possibility of a post-slavery world.

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