News & Opinion | January 3, 2023 12:00 pm

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Family May Pay Reparations for Ties to Barbados Slave Trade

The actor's ancestors made a fortune when slavery was abolished in Britain in the 1800s

Benedict Cumberbatch
Getty

According to the National African-American Reparations Commission, the British government paid out £20 million — or, in today’s valuation, £16.5 billion — to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their “property” when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833. It accounted for more than 40% of its national budget at the time.

What’s more, is that those “obligations” to slave owners weren’t completely paid off by the British government until 2015.

“The amount of money borrowed for the Slavery Abolition Act was so large that it wasn’t paid off until 2015. Which means that living British citizens helped pay to end the slave trade,” the British Treasury tweeted back in 2018.

Which is why it’s not hard to believe that there are also living British citizens still benefiting from the end of the slave trade. And, per a new report from Insider, Benedict Cumberbatch and his family are apparently counted among those citizens.

According to the report, Cumberbatch’s ancestor — Abraham Cumberbatch — owned a plantation in Barbados the 18th century that housed somewhere in the vicinity of 250 slaves. Further, according to The Daily Mail, after slavery was abolished, the family made a killing on the plantation, receiving a payment of £6,000 from the government — or approximately $1 million by today’s standard.

It’s why, as part of a campaign to get reparations from wealthy descendants of slave owners, Barbados’s National Task Force on Reparations is now reportedly zeroing in on the Cumberbatch family.

“Any descendants of white plantation owners who have benefitted from the slave trade should be asked to pay reparations, including the Cumberbatch family,” said David Denny, secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration.

For his part, Cumberbatch has acknowledged publicly his family’s role in Britain’s slave-owning history (this is in spite of his mother’s admonition to avoid using his last name professionally to avoid becoming the eventual subject of a reparations campaign), though he has yet to comment on these latest developments. That said, the Cumberbatch clan could face litigation if they fail to pay reparations.