Born Elizabeth Coltman in
Leicester, her father John Coltman had been a manufacturer of worstead cloth and a Unitarian, her mother Elizabeth Cartwright a poetand writer. As a young woman, Elizabeth was exposed to radical politicsand the writings of Thomas Paine, and showed a natural ability for painting landscapes. She met John Wesleywhen he visited the family house and soon after became a practising Methodist. She became a schoolteacher and, in 1787 married John Heyrick, a lawyer and a descendant of Robert Herrickthe poet. After his death in 1795 she became a Quaker, soon after devoting her life to social reform. She became one of the most prominent radical women activistsof the 1820s.
Heyrick campaigned against the
Corn Lawsand in favour of better conditions in English prisons, but her principal concern became the campaign against the British slave trade.
Society for the Abolition of the Slave Tradehad been formed in 1783 with an exclusively male leadership and organisation. The leaders of the society, including William Wilberforce, were opposed to women becoming involved, despite the fact that at least ten per cent of the supporters and subscribers to the society were women. In some places the proportion was around a quarter of the society's financial supporters.
Elizabeth Heyrick took part in an important meeting in
Birminghamon 8th April, 1825, called to address the issue of the virtual exclusion of women from the leadership of anti-slavery societies, such as the Anti-Slavery Society. This was attended by campaigners such as Lucy Townsend, Mary Lloyd, Sarah Wedgwood and others, and resulted in the formation of the Birmingham Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves, later to become known as the Female Society for Birmingham. More than seventy independent women's anti-slavery societies were started nationally as a result of her campaigning, in British cities such as Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Norwich, Glasgowand London.
Elizabeth Heyrick was a strong supporter of complete
emancipationfor enslaved Africans in the British West Indies and in 1824 she published a pamphlet entitled "Immediate, not Gradual Abolition", which was influential in encouraging public opinion to support the cause. In this, she criticised the principal anti-slavery campaigners, such as William Wilberforceand Thomas Clarkson, for what she regarded as the overly-slow and cautious way in which they had led the campaign in parliament up until that point, stating: "The West Indian planters, have occupied much too prominent a place in the discussion of this great question. The abolitionists have shown a great deal too much politeness and accommodation towards these gentlemen." The pamphlet was widely distributed and caused much discussion in public meetings in various parts of England.
In order to help promote public awareness of the issues of the slave trade, and in an attempt to hit the profits of the
plantersand importers of slave-produced goods, she encouraged the boycottof sugarfrom the West Indies, visiting grocers' shops in Leicester to persuade them that it should not be stocked.
Deeply concerned for the welfare of the long-term imprisoned, Elizabeth Heyrick was a prison visitor; and in 1809 she prevented a
bull-baitingcontest by purchasing the bull. She was the author of more than twenty pamphletsand other works on subjects as diverse as bull-baiting, prison reform, war, the plight of the poor, vagrancy, wages, corporal punishmentand election reform. Towards the end of her life she became involved in the campaign against capital punishment.
Elizabeth Heyrick never lived to see the passing of the
Abolition of SlaveryAct in 1833. She died on 18 October, 1831 and is buried in Leicester.
* Slave Trade Act, 1807
* Slavery Abolition Act, 1833
History of Slavery
* Grundy, Isobel. " [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37541 Elizabeth Heyrick] ", "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", (Oxford: University Press, 2004), doi|10.1093/ref:odnb/37541. Retrieved
*citation|last=Hochschild|first=Adam|author-link=Adam Hochschild|title=Bury the Chains, The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery|year=2005|place=London|publisher=Macmillan|isbn=978-0330485814|oclc=60458010
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