A man of contradictions, John Julius Angerstein (1732 – 1823), was a local land owner, investor, businessman, Lloyd’s underwriter and art collector who built a mile (1.6 km) long railway line that runs from Blackheath to Charlton. It was the prospect that his art collection was about to be sold by his estate in 1824 that galvanised the founding of the British National Gallery. John Julius Angerstein was born in 1732 in St Petersburg, Russia. It has been claimed that in his role as a merchant Angerstein owned a third share in slave estates in Grenada and used the profits to build up his art collection (while also benefiting from Lloyd’s underwriting of the slave trade). Angerstein was chairman of Lloyd’s from 1790 to 1796 and counted king George III, British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and artist Sir Thomas Lawrence among his friends. However, in his article for History and Policy, Dr Nick Draper writes: “Angerstein’s early wealth flowed from broking and underwriting in marine insurance, of which an unknown proportion was in slave ships and West India vessels bringing to Britain tropical produce grown by enslaved people. But there is no evidence that he himself was a slave-trader or slave-owner.” Certainly he was on the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organisation with strong abolitionist connections. He also gained some fame in Georgian London for his prominent role in the so-called “London Monster” knife attacks on women, Angerstein promised a reward of £100 for capture of the perpetrator.
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