Slavery in England
Houses of Parliament, Palace of Westminster, London.
Although property in slaves was recognized at the time of the
Conquest, it fell into decline and had ceased to exist
by 16th century.
Case in 1569, the Court of Queen’s Bench
held that flogging a slave could not be justified. The court was
dealing with a Russian slave.
In 1696 in Chamberlain
v Harvey or Chamberlaine
v Harvey, the Lord Keeper, Sir John Somers,
held that trespass did not lie for taking a slave.
1701 in Smith
v Gould, Chief Justice Holt (who was the
Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench) held that
trover did not lie for taking a slave. He
observed: “By the common law no man can have a
property in another” and he added: “there is no such
thing as a slave by the law of England”.
In 1705 in Smith
v Brown and Cooper, Chief Justice Holt
stated: “as soon as a negro comes into England, he
becomes free; one may be a villein in England, but not a
Although popular myth has
it that it was Chief Justice Mansfield
(the Chief Justice of the
Court of King's Bench)
who, in 1772 in Somerset
v Stewart held that a slave who sets foot in
England is free, the actual distinction goes to Lord
Henley LC, who, in 1762 in Shanley
v Harvey (1762) 2 Eden 126, 28 ER 844 (HC
Ch) uttered the immortal words: “As soon as a man sets
foot on English ground he is free”, and to the earlier
decision of the Court of Queen's Bench in
Case in 1569, which held
“that England was
too pure an air for a slave to breathe in”.
In 1824 in
v Cochrane (1824) 3 Dow & Ry KB 679 at
742, 2 B & C 448 at 463, 107 ER 450 at 456, 2 State
Trials NS 147, Holroyd J held that where a person gets out of the
territory where it [sc slavery] prevails and out of the
power of his master and gets under the protection of
another power, without any wrongful act done by the
party giving that protection, the right of the master,
which is founded on the municipal law of the particular
place only, does not continue.
See also the decision in 1827 of
Lord Stowell, a decision
of the High Court of Admiralty, in
Slave, Grace (1827) 2 Hag Adm 94, 166 ER 179,
2 State Trials NS 273.
However, in a concession to slave owners, the
common law of England and Scots law were abrogated by s
17 of the Slave
Trade Act 1824 to the extent that domestic
slaves accompanying their masters to the United Kingdom
did not become free.
This created new problems because devious slave
owners use this loophole as a method for transporting
slaves, pretending that the slaves were domestic slaves
accompanying their masters: see Two
Slaves (1828) 2 Hag Adm 273, 166 ER 244 (HC
Admir), per Sir Christopher Robinson;
The Adelaide (1829) 2 Hag Adm 230, 166 ER 228
(HC Admir), per Sir Christopher Robinson; The Slave, Fanny Ford (1829)
2 Hag Adm 271, 166 ER 243 (HC Admir), per Sir
Christopher Robinson; Three
Slaves (1832) 2 Hag Adm 412, 166 ER 294 (HC
Admir), per Sir Christopher Robinson; The
Slave, Duncan (1832) 2 Hag Adm 427, 166 ER
299 (HC Admir), per Sir Christopher Robinson.
April 03, 2007
to other sites also dealing with the abolition of
slavery in the British Empire:
campaign against slavery
Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1846)
Trade Act 1807
Trade Act 1843
Abolition Act 1833
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Amendment to the Bill of Rights
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slavery still exist?