Slavery Abolition Act. Photo Credit: © New York Public Library Digital Collections.

United Kingdom – Slavery Abolition Act 1833

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) abolished slavery in parts of the British Empire. This Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom expanded the jurisdiction of the Slave Trade Act 1807 and made the purchase or ownership of enslaved people illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of “the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company”, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Saint Helena.

The Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire freed more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada. The act did not explicitly refer to British North America. Its aim was rather to dismantle the large-scale plantation slavery that existed in Britain’s tropical colonies, where the enslaved population was usually larger than that of the White colonists. Enslaved Africans in British North America were relatively isolated and far smaller in number.

As an imperial statute, the Slavery Abolition Act liberated less than 50 enslaved Africans in British North America. For most enslaved people in British North America, however, the Act resulted only in partial liberation, as it only emancipated children under the age of six, while others were to be retained by their former owners for four to six years as apprentices. The British government made available £20,000,000 to pay for damages suffered by owners of registered enslaved people, but none of the money was sent to slaveholders in British North America. Those who had been enslaved did not receive any compensation either. The Act also made Canada a free territory for enslaved Black Americans. Thousands of fugitive enslaved Africans and free Black people subsequently arrived on Canadian soil between 1834 and the early 1860s.


  • Henry, L. Natasha. 2016. “Slavery Abolition Act (United Kingdom 1834).” Britannica.
  • Peter P. Inks, John R. Michigan, R. Owen Williams. 2007. Encyclopedia of antislavery and abolition. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Simon, Schama. 2005. Rough Crossings. London: BBC Books.