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The Mills Papers document the work of Thomas Mills and his son John, London merchants who owned sugar plantations in St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies between 1752 and 1777.

The archive consists of seven letter-books and a plantation journal, which the museum will put on public display until Friday, December 22.

The journal, acquired from an unnamed dealer, lists the names of enslaved Africans and records their age, physical condition and work done, offering a ledger account of both the chain of production and the grim human cost of bringing sugar to London.

The documents are expected to prove a unique resource for researching African and Caribbean heritage.

The museum will concentrate on building a digital archive of the documents in time for the autumn opening of a permanent gallery space devoted to the 'triangular' slave trade between London, West Africa and the Indies. Fittingly, it will be located at No. 1 West India Quay, a former sugar warehouse.

By Stephanie Harris