Thomas Clarkson


Painting of Thomas Clarkson.

Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was one of the early British abolitionists.  He interested William Wilberforce in the issue.  He was a leading member of each of the three early Anti-Slavery Societies:

  • the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (later, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade) founded in 1787;

  • the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Dominions, founded in 1807; and

  • the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1839.

He worked tirelessly, gathering evidence for Wilberforce.  His most famous work is his drawing of the hold of 'The Crookes', a slave ship, showing how slaves were tightly packed together for the Middle Passage.  You can see a reproduction of his drawing in almost every child's history book.


He survived an assassination attempt by slavers.


When the Slave Trade Bill 1807 was passed, the great English poet, William Wordsworth, wrote his poem about Clarkson, which starts with the words:

"CLARKSON! it was an obstinate hill to climb".

Clarkson's next task was the abolition of slavery itself, which was finally achieved by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.


The painting above by Benjamin Robert Haydon, a major portrait painter of his day, shows Thomas Clarkson addressing the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840.  Haydon describes the scene:

"the aged Clarkson came in, grey and bent, leaning on Joseph Sturge for support, and approached with feeble and tottering steps the middle of the Convention.  Many had never seen the old man before, and all bent forward eagerly to observe him.  In a tender, feeble voice [he] appealed to the assembly for a few minutes' meditation."

Clarkson uttered a short prayer and the World Convention responded: "Amen, Amen", most of whom were apparently in tears.  Haydon felt that the "Amen" seemed to be the "death-warrant of slavery all over the earth."


You can see the painting, which is a large canvas with portraits of the leading American and British abolitionists of the day (as well as delegates from France, Jamaica, Haiti and other countries), in the National Portrait Gallery in London.


Thomas Clarkson died in 1846.  There is a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey in London.


His brother, John Clarkson, was in charge of the original colony in Sierra Leone established for freed slaves.


The Reverend Canon John Clarkson — a direct descendant of Thomas Clarkson — is a Member of the Society's Board of Trustees.



The Society wishes to express its appreciation to Hilda McDonnell, Harry Finley, Mrs Wendyann Street and David Keeling for their valuable assistance in making corrections to errors on this page.








Links to other pages dealing with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire:

British campaign against slavery

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1846)

Granville Sharp (1735-1813)

Slave Trade Act 1807

Slave Trade Act 1824

Slave Trade Act 1843

Slavery Abolition Act 1833

Joseph Sturge (1793-1859)

William Wilberforce  (1759-1833)

Links to pages dealing with the abolition of slavery in the USA:


Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Abraham Lincoln

American Civil War

13th Amendment to the Bill of Rights

Links to pages dealing with the abolition of slavery in other countries:


Peter Van Scholten

Links to other pages dealing with slavery:

Does slavery still exist?






  2003 by the Anti-Slavery Society. The text on any page may be reproduced provided that the source is acknowledged.  This does not apply to photos.

Last Updated April 02, 2007