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Online event - Breaking the Chain: St Helena and the ending of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Updated: Feb 13

Wednesday 27th March, 6-7pm.

Melliss's 1861 map of Rupert's Valley, showing the Liberated African graveyard.

Join Sir Brian Unwin, Dr Andrew Pearson and Helena Bennett for a UK-St Helena Heritage Trust online event focusing on St Helena’s uniquely important role in the suppression of the slave trade.


Between 1840 and 1872, 450 ships carrying more than 26,000 enslaved Africans were captured by the Royal Navy West Africa squadron and brought to St Helena, where the slaves were liberated and the crews put on trial.  The majority of the former slaves were housed in a ‘Liberated African Establishment’ set up in Rupert’s Valley, which acted as a receiving centre, hospital and quarantine zone. Tragically, more than 8,000 men, women and children died – mostly from disease – shortly after their liberation. Most were hastily interred in two burial grounds in the Valley.

In 2022, excavated human remains were respectfully reinterred by members of the St Helena community.

In 2008, archaeological excavations led by Dr Andrew Pearson unearthed 325 intact human skeletons, along with a large quantity of disarticulated bone and numerous artefacts – including name tags, metal bracelets, beads, necklaces and wristbands.  A 2014-2015 exhibition at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool described the Rupert’s Valley burials as ‘one of the most important archaeological finds of recent times in one of the most remote places on earth’.

Remains of a bead and horn necklace found within one of the graves.

In this online event, the uniquely important role of St Helena in the 19th century suppression of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade will be examined, along with the archaeological project that helped bring this story to light. The 2022 community-led initiative to reinter the excavated remains of the liberated Africans will also be discussed, along with plans for restoring ‘No. 1 Building’ – the single remaining structure from the Liberated African Establishment – and developing it into a modern interactive interpretation centre to educate future generations about this uniquely important episode in St Helenian, British and world history.



Sir Brian Unwin KCB is a former senior civil servant in HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office. From 1987-1993, he was Chairman of the Board of HM Customs and Excise, and from 1993 until his retirement in 1999 he held the position of President of the European Investment Bank. He is Chair of the UK-St Helena Heritage Trust, and author of Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St Helena (2010).


Dr Andrew Pearson is a professional historian and archaeologist who has been studying St Helena since 2006. He was Director of the archaeological excavations in Rupert's Valley in 2007-2008, and has since published two books on the subject of St Helena and its role in the 19th-century abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.


Helena Bennett is Director of St Helena National Trust and Chairperson of the Liberated African Advisory Committee, working on the memorialisation and interpretation of St Helena’s role in slavery and the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  She has a background in auditing and accounting, a passion for conservation, and personal interest in identity and ancestry.


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