With a debate in the House of Commons about Wilberforce and the Abolition of Slavery imminent, it was time to find out what the Youngs were up to during this period of social reform. As those who have researched their ancestors know, this is not a risk-free project; the Youngs could have been on the wrong side.
Mercifully, this turned out not to be the case.
In a speech which he made in the House of Commons on April 18th 1791, William Wilberforce referred to Sir George Young. “An honourable baronet, Sir George Young, and many others, had said they saw the slaves treated in a manner which they were sure their owners would have resented if it had been known to them.”
This Sir George was several generations back. While it is relatively easy to trace my ancestors, it is less easy to find out which one is being referred to. This is because, for over 200 years, the eldest son has always been Sir George Young, Bt. This tradition looks set to continue for some time as we have a son called George; and so, by chance, does he.
The one referred to by Wilberforce was serving in the Navy – he went on to become an Admiral – and we have a letter from him dated October 14th 1787. As he contemplated the war clouds over Europe, he wrote “From the present appearance of War, I am induced to request, you will please to acquaint My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that should such an event take place, I should wish to be employed in a more active situation that that of Commander of the Royal Yacht.”
In fact, shortly after that he was examined before the bar of the House of Commons on the African Slave Trade and we are told “gave evidence of its evils, not less valuable because temperately worded.” This gene of temperate speech has, I hope, passed down the generations
We learn from the Official Report that
“Sir George Young, then a Captain in His Majesty’s Navy, gave evidence which was summarised in the Committee’s report.
By the evidence of Sir George Young. He ….observed that they – (the slaves) - “were so crowded, particularly on Board of one ship, that the stench of the hatchway was intolerable.” That “the men slaves were chained,” while “the women were at liberty”
What struck my ancestor was not just the overcrowding of the slaves; but the poor treatment of the sailors “They were half starved, ill-cloathed and inhumanly treated by their captains. The reason assigned by the sailors for this ill-treatment was to induce them to run away in the West Indies and forfeit their wages.” “A guinea ship seldom returns with more than half her complement and the annual loss of seamen sustained by the nation by the guinea Trade amounts to the manning of two ships of the line.”
One has some idea of the problems that confronted Wilberforce when one reads the conclusions of a joint council which reported to Mr Speaker in 1789. “It is notorious our slaves in general are not only treated with kindness and humanity, but they are also protected by law from immoderate chastisement or cruel treatment, and enjoy more easy, comfortable and happy lives, than multitudes of the labourers in Great Britain.”
What will my heirs make of my contribution on social reform? Well, they may look up the debate on Lords Reform and find, to their relief, that the sixth baronet spoke and voted for a democratically elected chamber to replace an outdated system of patronage.