Family of Benedict Cumberbatch may face reparation claims from Barbados over slave-owning ancestors

Benedict Cumberbatch.
Benedict Cumberbatch. Photo credit: Getty Images

The family of Oscar-winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch is reportedly facing the prospect of paying reparations over their historical links to the slave trade in Barbados.

A top official on the Caribbean island, who is a leader of its commission for reparations, told the Daily Telegraph they are in the "earliest stages" of seeking damages from descendants of slave owners.

Cumberbatch's ancestor, Abraham Cumberbatch, bought the Cleland plantation in the 18th century, according to Insider. It reportedly housed 250 slaves until slavery was abolished in 1834.

After slavery was abolished, the family received £6000 from the British government, according to the Daily Mail, which is worth about NZ$6.8 million in today's money.

David Comissiong, the deputy chairperson of the national commission on reparations, told the Daily Telegraph he wants to see descendants of slave-owning families pay damages.

When asked if this would include the Cumberbatch family, he said: "This is at the earliest stages. We are just beginning. A lot of this history is only really now coming to light."

Until recently, the National Task Force on Reparations in Barbados only focused on seeking reparations from former colonial powers and institutions which profited from slavery, The Guardian reported. For the first time last year, they singled out British Conservative MP Richard Drax over his family's role in the development of sugar and slavery across the Caribbean and the United States.

Comissiong told The Guardian last month that families could face legal action if they don't agree to pay reparations.

"It is now a matter that is before the government of Barbados," he said. "It is being dealt with at the highest level."

Those leading campaigns for reparations in the Caribbean want to see people who profited from slavery pay up.

"Any descendants of white plantation owners who have benefitted from the slave trade should be asked to pay reparations, including the Cumberbatch family," David Denny, a leading campaigner for reparations and the general secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration, told The Telegraph.

Cumberbatch has expressed his remorse for his family's links to slavery, suggesting this was the reason he took the role of William Pitt the Younger in the movie Amazing Grace, which focused on the abolition of the trade.

He also received critical claim for his leading role as plantation owner William Ford in 12 Years a Slave over a decade ago.