Thomas Clarkson was born on 28th March 1760 at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, son of the Reverend John Clarkson (d.1766) and Anne (Ward). He was educated at his father's school and then went to school in London and later to St John's College, Cambridge. His brother John (1764-1828) joined the Royal Navy and was later Governor of Sierra Leone. An anti-slavery movement had been started by the Quakers and a formal committee, which included Thomas, was set up in 1787 to bring about the abolition of the slave trade. He laboured tirelessly in this cause, working closely with William Wilberforce, but the act abolishing the trade was not passed until 1807. Not until 1833 was slavery abolished throughout the British Empire.
Thomas married Catherine Buck (d.1856) but their only child Thomas died before his father. He died in 1846 and was buried at St Mary's church, Playford, near Ipswich, in Suffolk.
A memorial of green Cumbrian slate was unveiled for him in Westminster Abbey on 26th September 1996, being placed between the statues of William Wilberforce and Stamford Raffles in the north choir aisle. This was cut by the Kindersley workshop. The inscription reads:
a friend to slaves THOMAS CLARKSON b.Wisbech 1760-1846 d.Playford.
Other slave abolitionists with memorials in the Abbey are Granville Sharp, Thomas Fowell Buxton, Charles James Fox, Zachary Macaulay, William Pitt the Younger and William Murray, Earl of Mansfield.
In St Margaret's Church Westminster is a memorial to Olaudah Equiano. Ignatius Sancho is buried in the church yard (not marked).
Order of Service - Memorial Dedication to Thomas Clarkson (PDF, 272KB)
"Thomas Clarkson, a biography" by Ellen Gibson Wilson (1989)
"Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" 2004
© National Portrait Gallery, London [Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
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