Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Aborigines Protection Society

When slavery was abolished throughout most of the British Empire in 1833, many of those who had been active abolitionists knew that the work was not over. Two organisations were born in the aftermath: The British and Foreign Antislavery Society, founded in 1839, which continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery worldwide, and The Aborigines Protection Society (1837-1909), which focused on the treatment of indigenous people within the British Empire.

In 1835, the MP Thomas Fowell Buxton (not a Quaker but a close associate of the Gurney family and married to the sister of Elizabeth Fry) set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to examine colonial issues and the effect of white settlement on indigenous peoples. Then in 1837, prompted by the physician Thomas Hodgkin, Meeting for Sufferings of London Yearly Meeting established The Aborigines Committee. The following year, this committee published, under its own name, extracts of the evidence presented to Buxton’s Parliamentary Select Committee

In 1842, they published a further report, which showed that Quakers in North America, Australia and New Zealand were troubled by the “aggravated sufferings and oppressions inflicted on the uncivilised portions of the great human family, by the cupidity and avarice of merely nominal Christians.”

In parallel with these two committees, The Aborigines Protection Society (1837-1909) was set up “to ensure the health and well-being and the sovereign, legal and religious rights of the indigenous peoples while also promoting the civilization of the indigenous people who were subjected under colonial powers.”’ Many of those involved in the Society were Quakers, including Thomas Hodgkin, Joseph Sturge and William Allen.

The Aborigines Protection Society (APS) operated in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa and the Congo. The motto of the society was Ab Uno Sanguine – ‘Of One Blood’ – and it focused on the principle of equal rights for indigenous people. Those rights, however, were not considered to include protection of indigenous cultures.

The issues raised by the Society were wide ranging, as can be seen from their reports and from the Aborigines' Friend and Colonial Intelligencer, which they published from 1855-1858. A report from 1840, for example, focuses on the treatment of indigenous tribes of Upper Canada, and demands adherence to treaties, compensation for lands taken, and the appointment of indigenous officers to oversee processes.

In 1850, the society was gravely concerned with the case of a black man in the Cape colony, South Africa, who was accused of stealing from a white man and tortured.

In 1880, their attention was taken by the issue of bonded labour of black children in the Transvaal province of South Africa. In the build up to the Second Boer War, they continued to protest the exploitation and ill treatment of indigenous people in southern Africa, often motivated by a ‘mercenary spirit’ imported under a ‘guise of philanthropy and Christianity.’

Nor were they solely a campaigning organisation. Throughout the early years of the 19th C, the Mi’kmaq people of Prince Edward Island had petitioned unsuccessfully for a homeland. In 1870, the APS purchased Lennox Island on their behalf for the sum of £400. This is still their home and is administered by a democratically elected Chief and Council.

While the APS was primarily focused on campaigning, Thomas Hodgkin was interested in studying indigenous people and particularly their languages - something which led him to establish, in 1843, the Ethnological Society.

The APS continued until 1909, when it merged with The British and Foreign Antislavery Society to form what is now Anti-Slavery International.

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