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Tacitus Lecture 2022

Friday 25 February 2022

LCCI's Black Business Association were proud to be a Platinum Sponsor for this year’s lecture, with the topics covered aligning with the association’s history and mission to promote Black business ownership, entrepreneurship, and Black employees in London.

The BBA was formed to bring together Black business owners and employees to create a purposeful outlet, enabling networking and promoting Black entrepreneurs and business ownership in the capital. Furthermore, the BBA group provides a forum to collectively address barriers to equality in London’s economy that have roots in the exploitation of imperial rule that Professor Olusoga discussed in his fascinating and insightful lecture.

See the full news release from The Worshipful Company of World Traders below.

Professor David Olusoga OBE Delivers 2022 Tacitus Lecture:

“Finance and the City in an Age of Historical Reckoning”

The Worshipful Company of World Traders’ 35th Annual Tacitus Lecture “Finance and the City in and Age of Historical Reckoning” was delivered last night by historian and broadcaster Prof David Olusoga OBE to 650 invited guests in London’s Guildhall. The Tacitus Lecture is the largest lecture of its type in the City of London, bringing together the international business community, City livery companies, educators and students. Amongst the invited audience were pupils from schools supported by the Charitable Trust of the World Traders Livery Company.

Prof Olusoga’s passionate and enlightening Lecture highlighted the pervasive influence that the Atlantic slave trade still has today on UK social behaviour two centuries after abolition.

Prof Olusoga’s Lecture was structured around three men of the City of London whose wealth was underpinned and generated on the backs of black Africans sold into slavery to work initially on Spanish and Portuguese and later British plantations in the Caribbean and North America. Two were former Members of Parliament, Edward Colston (1636-1721) and Sir John Cass (1661-1718) who were closely involved in the management of the Royal African Company, the principle English slave trading company established under Charles II in 1660, and the third Alderman William Beckford (1709-1770), twice Lord Mayor of London in 1692 and 1669, whose grandfather was Governor of Jamaica, and who grew up to inherit 13 plantations covering 22,000 acres and owned approximately 3,000 enslaved Africans.

The Lecture began with a reminder of the notorious 1783 Zong Case heard by Lord Mansfield in London, when mass murder onboard a slave ship was deemed acceptable grounds for an insurance claim, and whose abhorrent details recorded in an English court of law gave added impetus to the abolitionist movement. It finished with questions and answers from the audience and with Prof Olusoga’s zeal for writing children’s books to ensure the history taught to future generations of British children is inclusive and not exclusive of the slavery sources of Britain’s 17th and 18th century merchant wealth.

In between, Prof Olusoga highlighted his belief in the Age of Historical Reckoning, a current moment of cultural shift. Rather than seeing history being erased, it was being created as hidden parts of Britain’s colonial past were rediscovered and brought to light through academic research and publication. In a generational awakening, young Britons were keen to reappraise their history – a subject Prof Olusoga stated was not a comfortable experience for many. Black history is the missing chapters in a shared British history.

He highlighted the many prominent investors, including several Lord Mayors and Samuel Pepys, who had sought to make money from the trade in enslaved Africans through the purchase of shares in the Royal African Company. The use of Dutch engineering, financed by traders in the City of London to move from cotton to sugar plantations in Barbados further increased demand for slaves. The records of a visit there in 1645 by Sir George Downing, whose street is now home to UK Prime Ministers, details the rapid returns on investment to be made from this industry built upon enslaved labour and the scale of slavery on this tiny island. Prof Olusoga explained how the capture of the much larger Jamaica in 1655 by the English brought about such a huge increase in British slave trading that the Royal African Company could no longer supply enough slaves for the demands of the island’s plantation owners, one third of them Scottish. Breaking the Company’s monopoly allowed traders in other British cities, Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool to profit from the African slave trade alongside London. The Royal African Company moved from controlling 97% of Atlantic slave trade in 1689 to 8% in 1701.

Covering the emotive subjective of historical statues to these leading merchants whose wealth was gained from slavery, Prof Olusoga explained they were mute and even with contextual notes could not properly explain the brutality of the slave trade, whereas historical documents spoke volumes. Statues are not delivery systems for history. Yet the re-examining of history highlighted how slow and toxic evolution of culture related to slavery persisted in the inequality that the slave trade has left behind. He quoted the 2019 European Social Survey which found that 81% of Britons today do not agree with the statement: “some races are born less intelligent than others”. Despite there being no scientific evidence for this statement, this means 19% of Britons do believe in the statement and with this the implication that by being black and British nearly 1 in 5 people hold racist views prejudiced against you. People who could be teachers, police officers or job interviewers. This is not unconscious bias, but conscious bias and evidence that ideas prevalent in 21st century Britain date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Prof Olusoga highlighted the great work being done by academia and commercial companies who are genuine about diversity and inclusion. Those who are keen to shift the dial by opening up their histories and confront the legacies of the past. To reveal the whole truth and not just the white truth. Yet he also sought to separate the historic Atlantic slave trade from modern slavery. At the time the Atlantic slave trade was legal, with English Common Law and City of London merchants colluding to treat fellow humans as chattels, not better than a piece of wood, to be thrown overboard simply to claim a marine insurance pay-out.

The main sponsors of this year’s Tacitus Lecture demonstrate the new inclusive approach to trade and education in the City. Established by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Black Business Association seeks to promote the role and place of Black owned businesses in London as a global city. As LCCI CEO Richard Burge commented: “David Olusoga showed how the current consistent disadvantage suffered by Black business is a direct consequence of our city’s past. We have much to do in this age of historical reckoning for London”.

Bayes Business School, as an educational institution, is committed to open and respectful discussion of its history, having renamed itself in 2021 after Thomas Bayes rather than Sir John Cass. Bayes’ theorem suggests that we get closer to the truth by constantly updating our beliefs in proportion to the weight of new evidence. It was this idea – not only the person – that was the motivation behind adopting this name.


About The Tacitus Lecture

Founded in 1988, The Tacitus Lecture has a long-established reputation for bringing leading speakers to address the City of London on international trade.

Named after the Roman senator, Publius Cornelius Tacitus, the lecture’s recent roll call includes: Dr Kirsten Dunlop, CEO of EIT-Climate KIC, Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Christine Lagarde, as Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Sir Simon Fraser GCMG, former Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Sir Paul Tucker, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England; Terry Smith of Tullett Prebon plc; Professor Sir Vince Cable MP and Mrs Naina Lal Kidwai, formerly Group General Manager of HSBC Holdings plc and Country Head of HSBC India. Other speakers have included senior figures from Unilever, BP, Deutsche Bank and the ambassadors of both Germany and the United States.

The 35th Tacitus Lecture in 2022 was kindly sponsored by Bayes Business School, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Black Business Association, and Alembic Strategy.

About The World Traders

The Worshipful Company of World Traders is a modern, active livery company in the City of London that welcomes members from a diverse range of professions and backgrounds. For more information on The World Traders, please visit http://www.world-traders.org