Church of England sets aside £100mn to address ‘shameful past’ of slave trade

The Church of England has set aside £100mn to address “past wrongs” relating to its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and apologised for its “shameful past”.

In a report on Tuesday, forensic accountants from Grant Thornton and historians found the church’s financial arm had received funds linked to enslavement potentially worth more than £1bn in today’s money.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said the report laid “bare the links of the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund with transatlantic . . . slavery”.

“I am deeply sorry for these links. It is now time to take action to address our shameful past,” he added.

Welby pledged £100mn from the Church Commissioners’ funds to initiatives to address “past wrongs”, including an “impact investment fund” aimed particularly at communities affected by the legacy of enslavement.

The announcement marks the latest effort to address concerns raised by probes into how the church benefited from the slave trade, specifically via Queen Anne’s Bounty.

Established in 1704 to support poor clergy, the fund was in 1948 transferred to the then newly established Church Commissioners.

Tuesday’s report, which was ordered in 2019, concluded that the bounty might have received funds equivalent to roughly £1.21bn in current money from sources linked to the slave trade.

The Church Commissioners’ total endowment is worth £10.1bn. The research was led by forensic accountants from Grant Thornton, with support from two historians — Helen Paul of Southampton University and Arthur Burns of King’s College London.

The report found two main links between the commissioners’ endowment and enslavement. The principal source was through the bounty’s purchases of shares in the South Sea Company, the government-linked venture that handled much of the slave trade between Africa and the UK’s colonies.

By 1739, when the South Sea Company stopped engaging in slave trading, the bounty held annuities issued by the company valued at £204,278 — equivalent to about £443mn today.

The bounty continued investing in the company’s annuities until they reached a peak in 1777, when they were worth £406,942, or roughly £724mn now.

The bounty also received benefactions of cash and land that the accountants said they believed came from people with links to enslavement, including Edward Colston, a merchant and slave trader. A statue of Colston was toppled by protesters during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 and dumped in Bristol harbour.

The accountants estimated that, between 1713 and 1850, the bounty received benefactions worth £359,242 from individuals with a very high or high risk of being linked to the slave trade. They put the bounty’s value at about £482mn in contemporary money.

The church said the £100mn for the impact investment fund would “invest for a better and fairer future for all”.

“It is hoped this fund will grow over time, reinvesting returns to enable it to have a positive legacy that will exist in perpetuity,” the church added.

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