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The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840

1 portrait by Benjamin Robert Haydon

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840

by Benjamin Robert Haydon
oil on canvas, 1841
117 in. x 151 in. (2972 mm x 3836 mm)
Given by British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1880
Primary Collection
NPG 599

Artistback to top

  • Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), History painter and diarist. Artist or producer associated with 34 portraits, Sitter in 10 portraits.

Sittersback to top

This portraitback to top

In 1787 a small, mainly Quaker group led by Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) formed The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Their cause seemed hopeless as slavery was crucial to Britain's economy but popular feeling was on their side. The French Revolution and the backlash against British Radicalism temporarily stalled the anti-slavery campaign. The Society's Parliamentary spokesman William Wilberforce finally oversaw the triumphant passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. The Great Reform Act of 1832 swept away many of the old pro-slavery MPs and the final emancipation of slaves in British colonies was effected in 1833. This monumental painting records the 1840 convention of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society which was established to promote worldwide abolition. A frail and elderly Clarkson addresses a meeting of over 500 delegates. Identifiable portraits include the liberated slave Henry Beckford (b. c. 1809), in the foreground, the Irish Radical Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) and the novelist and campaigner Amelia Opie (1769-1853). Haydon later wrote: 'a liberated slave, now a delegate, is looking up to Clarkson with deep interest … this is the point of interest in the picture, and illustrative of the object in painting it, the African sitting by the intellectual European, in equality and intelligence'.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 3782: Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Bt (study)
  • NPG D20516: 'The Abolition of the Slave Trade' (The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840) (after)
  • NPG D23546: 'The Abolition of the Slave Trade' (The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840) (after)
  • NPG D20517: Key to The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 (key)
  • NPG D20518: Key to The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 (key)
  • NPG D20519: Key to The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 (key)
  • NPG D20520: Key to The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 (key)
  • NPG D23547: Key to The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 (key)
  • NPG D32033: 'The Abolition of the Slave Trade' (The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840) (after)

Linked publicationsback to top

Placesback to top

Events of 1841back to top

Current affairs

Sir Robert Peel's second term as Prime Minister. Peel replaces the Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne after a Conservative general election victory. The English comic periodical Punch is first published, under the auspices of engraver Ebenezer Landells and writer Henry Mayhew, and quickly establishes itself as a radical commentary on the arts, politics and current affairs, notable for its heavily satirised cartoons.

Art and science

Thomas Carlyle publishes his set of lectures On Heroes and Hero Worship, in which he attempts to connect past heroic figures to significant figures form the present.
William Henry Fox Talbot invents the calotype process, in which photographs were developed from negatives. This allowed for multiple copies of images to be made, and was the basis of modern, pre-digital, photographic processing.


Signing of the Straits Convention, an international agreement between Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, Russia and Turkey, denying access to non-Ottoman warships through the seas connecting the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, a major concession by Russia. Whilst signalling a spirit of co-operation, the convention emphasises the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

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Catherine Binney

06 March 2021, 20:31

My very great grandfather Thomas Binney is in this painting.

Jim Brennan

03 February 2018, 18:07

I did earlier and got it wrong. James Whitehorne didn't, as I suggested, die in 1880 or 1879. A death notice in The Standard I found today from 8(I think) September 1874 gives his date of death as 2nd Sep 1874 (British Newspaper Archive will find it online) at Bagneres de Bigorre, in the Hautes Pyrenees as"formerly of Jamaica aged 80". This is strictly accurate - he was born in 1793, but later in the year than September.

Pamela Poulin

08 January 2018, 03:49

Why are there women in the portrait, if women weren't allowed to sit with the men during the conference, rather kept from view behind drapery?

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