In 1825, at the age of 65, Wilberforce retired, having enjoyed a 45 year career as a Member of Parliament. Throughout his life, Wilberforce had suffered from bouts of ill health and this was the main reason for his decision to leave Westminster.
Although he never gave up the fight to end slavery, Wilberforce recognised that the cause was now being led by younger politicians. The early abolitionists had hoped that ending British involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, by the passing of the Abolition Bill in 1807, would end slavery altogether.
Wilberforce gave many speeches to parliament following the passing of the 1807 Bill and although he retired as a Member of Parliament, he retained his position as chair of the Anti-Slavery Society. In 1823 he began a campaign to emancipate (free) all slaves with the publication of an Appeal in Behalf on the Negro Slaves in the West Indies.
During the last few months of his life, Wilberforce grew increasingly weak and frail and spent his last days surrounded by his family and friends at his cousin's house, Cadogan Place, near Westminster, London. William Wilberforce died on 29th July, 1833, aged 73 years of age. His death came just three days after the Abolition of Slavery Bill in the British Colonies was passed by parliament. Just before he died, Wilberforce was visited by his old 'Clapham Sect' friend, Thomas Babington Macaulay, who told him the news of the passing of the abolition bill. Wilberforce is reported to have said: 'Thank god that I should have lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give 20 millions sterling for the abolition of slavery'.
Within hours of his death, over a hundred high profile figures and MPs, including the Duke of Gloucester and the Lord Chancellor, wrote to request that Wilberforce be buried in Westminster Abbey, London (see Related Links below) in recognition of his humanitarian and political achievements. Both Houses of Parliament suspended their business to attend Wilberforce's funeral.
On 3rd August, 1833, The York Herald newspaper recorded Wilberforce's death by declaring that ' with which there is probably associated more love and veneration than ever fell to the lot of any civilised individual throughout the civilised globe...His warfare is accomplished, his cause is finished; he kept the Faith. Those who regard him merely as a philanthropist, in the worldly sense of that abused term, know but little of his character'. Following Wilberforce's burial, the Herald went on ' Thus terminated the mortal career of as pure and virtuous a man as ever lived...'
Back in Hull, a public meeting was held on 12th August 1833, at which the people of Hull expressed their admiration of Wilberforce's dedication and achievements ' this meeting contemplates with the warmest admiration the splendid career, during the period of half a century, of our late townsman, William Wilberforce who, while he exhibited in private life all those virtues which spring from the cordial reception of Christian principles, in public life declined every scheme of personal aggrandisement...it would not be creditable to the character of the town, which justly glories in having been the birthplace of such a man, and in having first sent him into Parliament, to suffer him to sink into his grave without raising some lasting monument of its veneration and affection for his memory'.
It was therefore agreed to erect a monument - similar to Nelson's column in London - in Hull city centre to commemorate William Wilberforce. The first stone was laid on 1st August, 1834. Work was completed on 12th November 1835.
Wilberforce House opened as a musuem on 24th August, 1906. A plaque in the room known to be where Wilberforce was born read ' Statesman, orator, philanthropist, saint'.
interactive journey through the life of William Wilberforce.
Google map link: This is where William Wilberforce is buried in Westminster Abbey, London»