An etching of a young William Wilberforce ESQ, seen here holding the gizmo du jour - a 'paper back' - demonstraing its user friendliness compared to the more presigious, heavier, hard back.




William 'cajones' Wilberforce

Born in 1759 to a life of privilege and wealth William Wilberforce had an easy ride into the English Parliament, becoming the elected representative for Kingston-upon-Hull at the age of 21. Eloquent, charming and cashed-up he was a rich boy destined for a job on the front bench. Before him lay a long, happy and interesting life as a ruling elite.

Things took an unexpected turn when Wilberforce converted to Christianity after being spiked by the revivalist, John Wesley. With an awakened moral compass he set about doing good works, in 1787 founding a society with a charter for 'the reformation of public manners'. The trouble began when it occured to Wilberforce a good place to start reforming public manners might be the abolition of human slavery.

By all accounts his 1788 parliamentary speech on the subject was a slam-dunk, greeted by hearty cheers. Everyone agreed slavery was an abhorrent practice. Meeting no opposition it seemed right to Wilberforce the next step should be a bill banning it, put to the vote.

Slavery's 'big-tobacco' caught wind and immediately sent stooges around to stop the crazy talk. What seemed a straight-forward proposition turned into a chinese puzzle. Votes were delayed, proposals white anted, expert testimony called for, amendments moved, sub committees formed. Months turned into years.

The economic forces marshalled against Wilberforce took pleasure in not just frustrating his project but also flushing his career down the toilet. Once seen as a future Prime Minister William Wilberforce was transformed into a 'nutter'. Such was the force of malice aimed at him even John Wesley advised Wilberforce, unless he had a direct telegram from baby Jesus asking him to lead the fight against slavery, he should give up before he became a grease stain.

Undeterred, Wilberforce persisted with the wacky idea that trading humans as slaves was grade A bullshit.

It cost Wilberforce his looks and youth but on July 26, 1833, forty five years after he first spoke out, the Emancipation Bill abolishing slavery (with heavy compensation going to the owners) received its final reading in parliament.

Three days later Wilberforce died aged 74. By then he was back in fashion so they buried him in Westminster Abbey.

The only other thing I'd like to say about William Wilberforce was he was an early adopter of the new technology of the day - the 'paper back'. He was such a paper-back geek he had a jacket especially made with pockets big enough carry one or two with him where ever he went.

A forward thinker in all ways.