Drax Of Drax Hall Plantation Owner Selling Up In Barbados.

Photo: Nathan Fisher--Creative Commons. Drax Hall is one of the few surviving Jacobean buildings in Barbados.
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Richard Drax, the Conservative Party British MP who is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of his ancestors’ profitable careers in Caribbean slavery is in line for a multimillion-pound payout from the Barbados government which is purchasing some of his ancestral lands to build new middle-income housing estates, reports The Guardian, a left wing British newspaper founded in 1821 which supported the abolition of the slave trade, the end of slavery, and compensation for slaveowners.

Despite threats to make Richard Drax pay reparations and seize his family’s plantation – described by one Barbadian historian, Hilary Beckles,  as a “killing field” of enslaved Africans – The Guardian says the government is now planning to pay “market value” for 21 hectares, about the size of 15 soccer pitches of his land for housing.

Drax Hall still stands on the site where sugarcane was first grown on Barbados and is one of the island’s three remaining Jacobean houses. As Barbados was the first place where highly organized mass production of sugarcane was developed, it was immensely profitable.

The estate has belonged to the Drax family since the early 1650s when it was built by James Drax and his brother, William Drax, early settlers in Jamaica. Sugarcane is still grown there.

In 1832 just before  slavery was abolished in the British Empire the estate had 180 slaves employed, according to a contermporary inventory, in producing sugar and rum for export and maintaining the home and estate.

The move has angered many Barbadians, says The Guardian, especially those who say the Drax family played a key role in the development of slavery-based sugar production and the Barbados slave code in the 17th century.

In the 18th century, one of James Drax’s descendants helped to write the literal book—Instructions for the Management of Negros, sometimes referred to as The Instructions—on how business, in the Barbados plantocracy’s view, should be done.

Critics have called the planned deal an “atrocity” and said this is “one plantation that the government should not be paying a cent for”.

Trevor Prescod, MP and chair of the Barbados National Taskforce on Reparations, said: “What a bad example this is. Reparations and Drax Hall are now top of the global agenda. How do we explain this to the world?

“The government should not be entering into any [commercial] relationship with Richard Drax, especially as we are negotiating with him regarding reparations.”

In December 2020, the Observer revealed that Drax had taken control of the 250-hectare plantation on his father’s death in 2017 but he had not declared this in the UK MPs’ register of interests. He did then declare the plantation but said the registrar had told him he was not required to do so until probate was complete.

Drax is one of the wealthiest MPs and is said to be worth at least £150m.

Historian Prof Sir Hilary Beckles has described Drax Hall as a “crime scene” where as many as thiry thousand Africans and their descendants died in terrible conditions. The Draxes also owned a slave plantation in Jamaica, which they sold in the 18th century, and at least two ships that brought enslaved Africans to the Caribbean.

In 2022, the Observer reported that Drax, the MP for South Dorset, travelled to Barbados to meet prime minister Mia Mottley. It is understood he was asked to hand over all or a substantial part of Drax Hall plantation. If he refused, legal action would follow. Mottley’s spokesperson said the current Drax Hall purchase was not linked to reparations and the government “constantly acquires land through this process”.

Mottley has pledged to build 10,000 new homes to meet demand on the island, where there are 20,000 applications for housing. A senior valuation surveyor said the market value for agricultural land with an alternative use for housing would be about Bds$150,000 (£60,000) an acre. At this price, the 21 hectares could net Drax Bds$8m (£3.2m). The land would be for 500 low- and middle-income family homes, which would be for sale.

Barbados poet laureate Esther Phillips, who grew up next to Drax Hall, said the planned deal was an “atrocity” and a case of the victims’ descendants now compensating the descendant of the enslaver.

“He should be giving us this land as reparations, not further enriching himself … at the expense of Barbadians. As Barbadians, we must speak out against this.”

Richard Drax declined to comment to The Guardian. In the past, he has said the role his ancestors played in the slave trade was “deeply, deeply regrettable but no one can be held responsible today for what happened many hundreds of years ago”.

Sources: The Guardian, Wikipedia, TIME.
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