Barbados ‘pauses’ acquisition of former slavery plantation owned by Tory MP

By Thomson Reuters Apr 24, 2024 | 2:31 PM

By Catarina Demony

(Reuters) – Barbados will halt the acquisition of a former slavery plantation belonging to a British Conservative MP after locals said he should transfer land ownership to the state as a “reparations gesture” for historical wrongs.

Multiple generations of people were enslaved at the 250-hectare Drax Hall plantation in Saint George, Barbados, a Caribbean nation that received at least 600,000 Africans between 1627 and 1833.

They were forcibly put to work in sugar plantations, earning fortunes for English owners such as the Drax family. The Drax Hall plantation has belonged to the family since the 17th century and is currently owned by Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset.

Barbados’ government has been considering buying around 21 hectares of the Drax Hall plantation to build homes for low- and middle-income families, according to Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

David Comissiong, Barbados ambassador to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and a well-known reparations advocate, said in a statement Drax, a wealthy British MP, was set to receive around £3 million if the deal was to go ahead.

Comissiong said the land of the Drax Hall plantation was “soaked in the blood, sweat and tears” of 30,000 enslaved people who were “worked to death” there and that the MP could take the opportunity to address some of the damage caused by his ancestors by giving up ownership of the plantation.

Comissiong is one of the many advocates calling on Drax to hand over the land.

In a video message on Tuesday, Mottley, who has been at the forefront of calls for reparations globally, said that by law Barbados has to pay for the land due to “compulsory acquisition” rules but said it was appropriate to “pause” the process to listen to people’s concerns and to “understand what is really at stake”.

Barbados ditched Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth as head of state in 2021 and renewed its campaign for reparations. The movement to pay reparations or make other amends has been gaining momentum worldwide.

Mottley said her government had met with Drax but she was not happy with the way conversations were going and that they were evaluating all legal options against Drax.

Drax did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment but previously said his ancestors’ actions were “deeply regrettable” but that he cannot be held responsible for something that took place hundreds of years ago.

One of the MP’s ancestors, James Drax moved to Barbados in 1627 and was a pioneer in the establishment of the slavery sugar plantation system and used the wealth generated to acquire numerous properties and land in Britain.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and Sarah Morland; Editing by Aurora Ellis)