British, Dutch banks, slave trade profiteers

This December 2014 video says about itself:

The Atlantic slave trade: What too few textbooks told you – Anthony Hazard

Slavery has occurred in many forms throughout the world, but the Atlantic slave trade — which forcibly brought more than 10 million Africans to the Americas — stands out for both its global scale and its lasting legacy. Anthony Hazard discusses the historical, economic and personal impact of this massive historical injustice.

Lesson by Anthony Hazard, animation by NEIGHBOR.

Translated from Maaike Schoon in Dutch Vrij Nederland magazine, 10 July 2020:

How Dutch bankers financed slavery

The UK financial sector is under attack for its involvement in slavery. Research by Vrij Nederland shows that predecessors of Dutch banks, and even former members of the management of De Nederlandsche Bank [central bank], were also involved in the slavery economy.

A series of films on the bank’s origins can be found on the international ING Group website. It begins in 1762, reports a cheerful female voice, with the founding of Baring Brothers, a British trading house owned by English bankers Frances and John Baring. The trading house grew into one of the largest investment banks in the world.

The international reputation of the bank does not die until the 1990s when the fraudulent merchant Nick Leeson gives the bank an unbelievably large loss of millions. Thanks to that loss of millions, ING is able to buy the chicest bank in the United Kingdom for the symbolic amount of £ 1, thus opening itself up to London City. And, as the video shows, also to the glorious past of the third oldest investment bank in the world. Even Napoleon was a customer, the woman says cheerfully.

This 2018 ING bank video says about itself:

Barings bank’s first big client was Napoleon. What did this British bank do for the French statesman in 1803 and how is ING related to what was once the UK’s most powerful investment bank?

The Vrij Nederland article continues:

What the video does not tell: Baring Brothers made big profits in the early years, thanks to large-scale investments in slavery. When slavery was abolished, Sir Alexander Baring, the founder’s son, had enslaved more than 2,000 humans as property in British Guiana (modern-day Guyana), and more than 1,000 on the island of Saint Kitts, totalling 3,400 people.

With the abolition of slavery, owners were compensated for the loss of their “possessions”. Sir Baring received compensation that would come to 1.2 million euros today.

Since June this year, a heated debate has raged in Britain about the slavery past of national business. Insurance corporation Lloyds Bank and brewer Greene King published press releases and apologies for the fact that the founders had enslaved people and had benefited financially. The numbers are a shadow of that of Barings: 162 and 231 persons respectively.

Directly related to slavery

ING is not the only Dutch bank that can be directly associated with slavery, or its financial derivatives, such as investments in plantations, through a legal predecessor. In the seventeenth but certainly also eighteenth and partly nineteenth centuries, the fine fleur of the Amsterdam financial world became involved in investing in ship insurance and plantation loans in Suriname and Guyana. It was mainly wealthy families who engaged in trade in the West Indies in search of returns.

According to research by historians Pepijn Brandon and Ulbe Bosma associated with Harvard, the trade in slave-produced goods accounted for forty per cent of economic growth in Holland in the second half of the eighteenth century. This growth again sparked a wave of speculation in plantation loans. Ultimately, this led to a major financial crisis in 1773, after which the investments declined again. But the trade did not stop.

Plantation loans are loans granted to plantation owners, both Dutch and foreign owners. The loans themselves were subsequently resold in pieces as bonds, says Brandon, who researched the subject. “You can compare the funds from then with private equity parties now; lenders provided capital to plantation owners, but then resold that debt to smaller traders. ”

In this way, the involvement in slavery was interwoven throughout the entire financial system: trading houses that did not immediately issue plantation loans often had to deal with it. Hedging was also not unusual for the eighteenth and nineteenth-century traders: hedging a financial risk should the slavery economy collapse. Thanks to the publication of these innovative financial products, Amsterdam – and to a lesser extent London – remained the financial nerve centres of Europe.


London City is currently in the spotlight because of that past. After all, legal predecessors of HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, as revealed in June after a University College London database was published, also had ties to the slavery economy. It lists the individuals and firms that received compensation in 1836, as well as those who made a claim in vain.

The database provides insight into which political parties, country houses, museums and other institutions benefited from slavery. As an important financial centre, London was a prominent player in the slave trade: the database lists numerous bankers, trading houses and politicians who took advantage of the enslaved persons trade.

And after the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matters protests, this new June information hit the ground.

Even the Bank of England, founded in 1694, was forced to apologize. No fewer than 27 former bosses of the Bank were found to have invested in slavery or to have been compensated for its abolition. “As an institution, although the Bank of England itself was not directly involved in slavery, it is aware of and apologizes for some unforgivable ties to former governors and directors,” said the regulator’s official press release. Eleven portraits of former presidents associated with slavery have since been removed from their buildings by the Bank of England.

Ties to the slavery past

The Bank of England’s apologies are relevant to the Netherlands. Research by Vrij Nederland shows that De Nederlandsche Bank – founded in 1814 – also has ties to the history of slavery.

One of the sources for this is a thesis by historian J.P. van der Voort from 1973, in which all plantation loans are recorded between 1720 and 1795. It is the most direct proof of financial involvement of investors in slave plantations in the Netherlands, in addition to the archives of the Emancipation Act of 1863 (which abolished slavery).

Van der Voort’s list states that the family company of the second president of De Nederlandsche Bank (he was that from 1816 to 1827), Jan Hodshon, provided plantation loans – he would eventually work for the company Hodshon & Co. As late as 1789, the trading house Hodshon & Co issued a loan to a plantation in St. Eustatius.

The family firm of Paul Hogguer, the first president of De Nederlandsche Bank (the daily management has consisted of the president plus five directors since its foundation), is also on this list. Although it is not immediately possible to determine whether he actually traded in these loans: his archive has largely disappeared. He briefly served as President: from 1814 to 1817.

Hogguer is from an important noble Swiss family, who owned several plantations, Pippin Brandon and Sven Beckert, another Harvard historian, recently wrote in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. For example, his grandmother and father had the La Liberté plantation in Suriname, according to data from the Amsterdam City Archives.

Hogguer was no longer very active as a banker after 1790, suspects Professor of Economic and Social History Joost Jonker, who obtained his doctorate on the subject. “After the financial crisis in 1773, the market for plantation loans collapsed. Hogguer had already largely withdrawn from the markets at the end of the eighteenth century.”

Compensation schemes

Furthermore, data from the National Archives shows that during the official abolition of slavery in 1863, three directors of DNB were involved in the compensation scheme of the Dutch government for the freeing of slaves in Suriname. Owners received 300 guilders for each enslaved person – in 2020 this means around 7,000 euros, or parts thereof, if owners had shares in the plantations.

DNB director Ferdinand Rendorp represented the interests of shareholders in such a fund and, according to archivist and historian Okke ten Hove, also held shares himself. Secretary Herman Molkenboer is mentioned because his wife was compensated for shares in a plantation. Women only became legally competent in 1956, so the money fell to him.

At the time of the Emancipation in 1863, Jacobus Insinger owned several plantations and shares in plantations. For example, researcher Dienke Hondius previously reported that Insinger personally owned 214 people on the Surinamese Barbados plantation. During Emancipation, Insinger was a director at De Nederlandsche Bank.

In response to this, De Nederlandsche Bank states that it will approach an independent party to conduct historical research into the Bank’s initial period and into then presidents and board members.

Widow Borski

The woman who – according to the president of De Nederlandsche Bank Klaas Knot – is responsible for the existence of the Bank, widow Borski, also appears to have been involved in trade in the slave economy.

The Borski Fund, a fund for female investors, was established in October 2019. Named after perhaps the richest woman of the nineteenth century, and one of the few female investors of the time. Knot is a speaker at the presentation of the fund in Museum van Loon. They are “still grateful” to the widow, says the President of the Bank, because without the widow Borski it would have been questionable whether De Nederlandsche Bank could have existed at all.

De Nederlandsche Bank was founded in 1814 by King Willem I, on the advice of the aforementioned Paul Hogguer.

But that did not happen by itself: the existence of the Bank hung on a thread in 1814. Of the five thousand shares issued, only three thousand were sold; Amsterdam’s high finance had little confidence in the bank’s future. But one trading house dared to: Borski and sons, headed by the widow Borski. Thanks to a convenient deal with Willem I, she bought the remaining two thousand shares, thereby providing DNB with much-needed starting capital.

Thanks in part to her, the Bank got off the ground, says Frank Elderson in a broadcast of the VPRO series De IJzeren Eeuw. A replica of the portrait of the widow is still hanging in the DNB meeting room. Knot, in his speech: “(…) We still exist. Thanks to the shares that the widow Borski – probably largely in gold and silver coins – settled with King Willem I.”

This July 2016 VPRO TV video is about the widow Borski.

Purely out of self-interest

An extensive inventory from 1818 between the British and Dutch State, from the National Archives in London, shows that widow Borski had been investing in Demerary (present-day Guyana) since 1802: plantation loans with a current value of more than eight million euros.

It is remarkable that she still had it in 1818, says professor Jonker, because the trade in plantation loans had already largely dried up. “That the widow still has a mortgage of one hundred thousand guilders on plantations in Demerary at that time in history. She was of course very wealthy, but that is still a large amount. Incidentally, the widow acted with her deal with De Nederlandsche Bank purely for self-interest: she knew how to immediately sell those not yet issued shares to numerous traders in Amsterdam.”

In response to questions from Vrij Nederland, DNB states that it is aware of Borski’s investments. “The widow Borski, who co-financed DNB in ​​its founding years, is known to have used its capital to fund plantations in Suriname and elsewhere in the Caribbean.”

From a historical perspective, loans to plantations are so important because it was precisely this financial infrastructure that allowed the plantations in Suriname and other colonies to grow, says Karin Lurvink. On behalf of VU University Amsterdam, she conducted research into the involvement of bankers and insurers in the slave trade.

Lurvink: “Mortgages were placed on the lives of African slaves by plantation owners, with the intention of obtaining credit, so that they could, among other things, buy even more slaves.” The African slaves represented a third of the total value of the plantation. And based on that value, the loan was granted. This led to the cynical reality that the more enslaved people were owned by a plantation, the larger the loan that could be taken out. With which even more enslaved people could be bought.

Slavery downplay

In the past, the involvement of the Dutch in slavery was often dismissed; an activity that historian Matthias van Rossum describes as “slavery downplaying“. The Netherlands supposedly did not profit that much from slavery, was the idea. Moreover, the British transported many more enslaved people.

However, the Dutch bankers’ records have shown that the involvement of the Dutch is much greater than is often assumed. The inventory from the London archives that was drawn up in 1818 shows this. Not only do the Dutch control eleven percent of all British plantations, they also issue loans to foreign plantation owners. And the Dutch mortgages and slave owners together accounted for no less than a third of the total slave trade in the region west of Suriname, according to the accompanying document. Thanks to the financial elite in the Netherlands.

Not very keen

Dutch bankers also directly owned slaves, especially when the abolition of slavery was in sight. Some of the plantations went bankrupt before their abolition and fell into the hands of the creditors: the bankers.

The best-known example of this is the company Insinger & Co, the legal predecessor of the current InsingerGilisen. Research by Karin Lurvink, who previously wrote about it in OneWorld, shows that in 1863 the trading house Insinger & co-owned over 1,500 enslaved, more than any other Dutch company.

Moreover, the Dutch elite was not very keen on the abolition of slavery, says historian Pepijn Brandon. “People knew in the Netherlands that it would end, but have tried to stretch it until the very end. And then it became part of an economic rationale: in the final stages, it even became profitable to keep plantations, because the owners knew they would be compensated by the government anyway.”

Frits Insinger was particularly active in this: as a Member of the Dutch Parliament he postponed the abolition of slavery for years. “The government has no right to free slaves without compensation,” he said in 1854 (can be read in the historical documents of the Senate). In 1863 his company receives this compensation: 300 guilders per person, 350 thousand guilders in total. Converted to now, that is more than eight million euros.

Incidentally, the historical irony, according to professor of colonial and postcolonial history Gert Oostindie, in a radio conversation with VPRO, wants the abolition of slavery in the West to be funded by proceeds from unfree labour in the East. Thanks to the profits from the Dutch East Indies, the Dutch State had enough money to compensate plantation owners.

Double compensation

Dutch plantation owners were not only compensated by the Dutch state for their lost property, but also by the British. The British took out the largest loan in their history for this: £ 20 million – converted 2.5 billion euros. The British taxpayer has had to pay until 2015 to repay this loan.

If they abolish slavery in 1836, dozens of Dutch people still have plantations in British areas at the time. The University College of London dataset contains 31 Dutch people who received money from the British government in 1836. In total, the Dutch receive hundreds of thousands of pounds for many thousands of men, women and children that they counted as their personal property: converted to now that is tens of millions of euros.

One family, in particular, makes a fortune: the Secretary of the Demerary colony, Philip Tinne, a successful sugar merchant who also invested in coffee plantations. In 1813 he forms a partnership, Sandbach, Tinne & Company, which trades in, according to the archives: “prime Gold coast Negros”.

The company gets a windfall profit during the British abolition: converted to now it would receive more than 22 million euros for the enslaved people in various coffee and sugar plantations. Philip Tinne himself receives almost thirteen million from the British State. His fortune allows his wife and daughter Alexine to do whatever they want after his death. Years later, The Hague’s Alexine Tinne made waves as “the first female explorer.”

Past past

If Dutch ABN Amro bank wants to take over the US American bank LaSalle in 2006, one of the conditions for that takeover is that the bank investigates its own slavery past. The city council in Chicago, where LaSalle is based, already considers it fundamental in the context of corporate social responsibility that companies know whether they have ever made a profit by slave trade.

The investigation shows, among other things, that predecessor Mees & Zonen was actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Karin Lurvink previously concluded that the involvement of Hope & Co is not included in this, while ABN also refers to the past of this predecessor on its website.

Hope & Co is a renowned Dutch bank, and one of the private companies that maintained the transatlantic slave trade, says the Amsterdam City Archives.

In several cases, they work closely together with the Barings company. In Van der Voort’s thesis, Hope & Co is mentioned with seven credits: loans worth now just under thirty million euros. The Amsterdam archive also contains extensive lists and descriptions for the equipment of slave ships – which were necessary for the financing and insurance of the ships.

Called to account

In the meantime, the pressure on banks for their problematic past is growing in the United Kingdom. For example, Member of Parliament Layla Moran stated three weeks ago that she will write to all institutions that appear in the database, so that they can make apologies and donations, just like Lloyds and Greene King.

But “sorry” is not enough, says Hilary Beckles, president of the Caricom countries (the Caribbean islands plus Suriname and Guyana). Previously, these countries threatened to sue the British, Dutch and French states for their role in the slave trade and slavery, under the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Racial Discrimination. Martyn Day of the Leigh Day law firm at that time. The case has not yet been brought to court.

The question is whether ING Group, as the parent company of Barings, can thus face a claim for damages. Day: “There are banks and institutions – and Baring Brothers is one of them – that have profited enormously from slavery and its abolition. To be honest, I would be surprised if there are no legal consequences for this in the coming years. Exactly how things will take legal form differs per case, according to Day. But: “All these organizations are nervous now. The time has come for them to be held accountable.”


4 thoughts on “British, Dutch banks, slave trade profiteers

  1. Amazing story, thank you Pieter. It made me realise that slavery was a way of life for the whole known world back then, from South America, including Brazil which ‘ bought’ the most slaves from Africa, Africa of course, North America, the Middle East, where a million whites were enslaved, captured by Barbary pirates from places like Cornwall and Ireland – even Cervantes was once a chained galley slave, and Louis the fourteenth sent criminals to the galleys, with a minimum term of seven years if the poor things survived.
    Enslavement then was a way of thought just as eating factory farmed animals poisoned with hormones is part of our way of life now, and I hope will be just as much abhorred in the future as slavery is now.
    Having lived in the East for many years I’m also conscious of the cruelties inflicted by white men there, where sadly, the Dutch had one of the worst reputations for brutality in Sumatra.
    We cannot right the wrongs of the past, or change them, but we can create a decent, kinder society now, as long as we don’t join in a chorus of blame, shame and hatred, which seems to be creeping up on the world at the moment.
    Thank you for pointing me to this very thought provoking report, and thank you too for your wonderful blog reflecting so many aspects of life, and problems to tackle now, as well as your beautiful posts of birds and animals and wild life. Your blog is one of the treasures of the internet,
    Warm wishes, Valerie


    • Thanks for your kind words, Valerie!

      There was slavery at various points in history, with various differences. In ancient Greece, slaves were mainly inhabitants of Greek city-states which had lost wars against more powerful Greek city-states like Athens or Sparta. Racism did not play a role.

      The expansion of the Roman empire was largely fueled by slave raiding, eg, Caesar in Gaul. Some slaves were African, but most were Asian or European. So, also not racism.

      However, when in the 16th century the trans-Atlantic slave trade started, first Spain and Portugal, then other European countries, it gradually gave rise to racist ideologies to justify it. Which later were used to justify colonialism. Eg, in Congo. Where the pretext of King Leopold II was stopping Arab slave raids (which were only in the extreme east of the Congo). Technically, King Leopold II did not enslave Congolese. He made them forced labourers. With their hands cut off if they did not work hard enough. Ten million people died.

      ‘Enslavement then was a way of thought’: among many people, yes. But not all people. Not among enslaved people, from Spartacus in the Roman empire on. And there always were voices like De las Casas in Spain, and the Dutch people horrified when they captured a Spanish slave ship and freed all slaves, and a Scottish eighteenth-century soldier, Stedman

      who became a mercenary in Dutch service for fighting runaway maroon runaway ex-slaves in Suriname and then became an opponent of slavery writing about it.

      In Libya, slavery had been abolished earlier than in the USA and in Dutch colonies. But the 2011 NATO war on Libya has brought it back.

      All the best for you and your blog!


  2. Pingback: Torturing slave owner, a ‘hero’ no more | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: British royal family and slavery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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