The historiography on protection in the nineteenth-century British Empire often assumes that British humanitarians were the progenitors of protection schemes. In contrast, this article argues that the position of Protector or Guardian for slaves and Indigenous peoples in the British Empire drew on Spanish, Dutch, and French legal precedents. The legal protections and slave codes operative in these European colonies are compared to British colonial territories, where there was no imperial slave code and no clear status of slaves at common law. Drawing on debates in the House of Commons, Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry, and the published work of abolitionists and anti-slavery societies, the article examines how the pressure for amelioration in the British Empire coincided with the acquisition of new colonies that offered ready-made models for slave protection. British reformers combined their calls for greater protection for slaves with their extant knowledge of European protective regimes.

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