Yorkshire – East Riding Day is on the 24th August. The date was chosen in celebration of the East Riding of Yorkshire’s greatest son, William Wilberforce,
born on that day in 1759. Wilberforce was closely associated with the East Riding of Yorkshire having being born in Hull, baptised in Seaton Ross and having attended Pocklington School.
From 1789, Wilberforce regularly introduced bills in Parliament to ban the Slave Trade. He was fiercely opposed by those making fortunes from the trade, who used all kinds of delaying tactics. The first time a bill was introduced, Wilberforce lost the debate by 163 votes to 88 but he never gave up. A bill to cease the trade was passed by the House of Commons in 1792 – but with the amendment that the ban should be ‘gradual’, which those with an interest in the trade interpreted as ‘never’. Finally on 25th March, 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act abolished the Slave Trade in the British colonies. It was carried by 267 votes. The house rose to its feet and cheered wildly.
However, this was not a vote to abolish slavery as a whole throughout the Empire, just the trade in enslaved people. William Wilberforce continued to work for the abolition of all slavery within the British Colonies. He joined the ‘Society for Gradual Abolition’ and, when the campaign intensified again in the 1820’s and 30′, he did as much as his failing health would allow. In 1821 he requested that Thomas Fowell Buxton take over the leadership of the campaign in the Commons and resigned his parliamentary seat in 1824, after a serious illness. By May, 1830, when two thousand people met in London at Freemasons’ Hall, Wilberforce was stooped with age and wearing a metal girdle to prevent him slumping.
Despite the groundswell of public opinion, Parliament still refused to ban slavery, until parliamentary reform removed many of its supporters but it was still not clear that Parliament would act. Wilberforce wrote a last petition. The Parliamentary debate lasted three months. On the 26th July, 1833, the Abolition of Slavery bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. A messenger rushed to Wilberforce’s house. They told him that slavery in British colonies would finally be abolished. Just three days later, on 29th July, William Wilberforce died.