Toppling of slave trader Edward Colston starts domino effect across UK

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A report by Ben Ellery, Eleni Courea, Will Humphries, Neil Johnston, Charlotte Wace, Patrick Maguire for The Times of London.

The drive to rename and topple British landmarks connected to slavery gathered momentum yesterday as councils and universities pledged to act.

A public square in Plymouth named after Sir John Hawkins, a cousin of Sir Francis Drake and considered the first English slave trader, will be renamed. Tudor Evans, Labour leader of the city council, said that Plymouth needed to acknowledge “some aspects of its past” after more than 15,000 signed petitions.

All 130 Labour councils will review statues linked to colonialism after the toppling in Bristol of a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader.

Nadhim Zahawi, a business and industry minister who moved to Britain with his Kurdish parents aged nine, said there should be no statues of slave traders but added: “I wouldn’t break the law to take statues down; it should be done through our democratic process.”

Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said that people decided to take action over the statue in Bristol because they felt their voices were not being heard. “Why was that statue removed in the way that it was removed? Because for 20 years, protesters and campaigners had used every democratic level at their disposal, petitions, meetings, protests, trying to get elected politicians to act, and they couldn’t reach a consensus and they couldn’t get anything done,” she told ITV’s Peston.

“Now this is reflective of what has happened to people of colour in this country and across the world for a very long time. We’ve had seven reviews into racial discrimination in this country in the last three years alone, and very few of those recommendations have been acted on. That is why people are so frustrated.”

Dawn Butler, the Labour MP and former shadow minister for women and equalities, added: “I think the activists in Bristol have been fighting for many years, probably over a decade to get the statue removed, and to get the statue put into a museum, and that didn’t happen. It’s absolutely right and correct that we review the statues that glorify slavers. People who raped women and children, people who murdered them by throwing them overboard.”

In Shrewsbury the council must consider moving its statue of Robert Clive, who played a significant role in colonising much of India, to a museum after a petition reached 1,000 signatures. Counter petitions have been launched.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London said that it would consider whether to remove a statue of its founder, Sir Thomas Guy, but would not be changing its name. Sir Thomas helped to set up the hospital near London Bridge in 1721 having made his fortune in the 17th and 18th centuries as a shareholder of a company selling slaves to the Spanish colonies.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ welcomed a review of statues and street names in the capital and said that the future of the monument should be considered.

Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, has set up a commission to review statues, murals and street names
Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, has set up a commission to review statues, murals and street names

Last night, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said that Nelson Mandela would have opposed removing statues of Cecil Rhodes, according to the Daily Telegraph. Louise Richardson pointed to the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, which offers scholarships to African students, adding that Mandela may have felt toppling the controversial statue was “hiding history”.

Professor Richardson said: “I think he was a man of great nuance who recognised complex problems for what they were. I don’t think he sought simplistic solutions. Hiding our history is not the route to enlightenment.”

She nevertheless said that she was “delighted” to see students engage in the debate around the Black Lives Matter movement. “This is the kind of issue I think that, you know, universities are designed for. We should be having questions about who should we accept money from, what are our responsibilities with that money, how do we judge people, what lens do we use to evaluate people ethically? Today? In the past?”

The lord mayor of Cardiff is demanding that a marble statue of Sir Thomas Picton, the highest-ranking British officer killed at Waterloo, be removed from City Hall because of his slave trade past.

Sir Thomas executed dozens of slaves during his time as governor of Trinidad and authorised the torture of a 14-year-old girl. Dan De’Ath, the first black mayor of Cardiff, called the monument an affront to black people.

A statue installed to honour Sir Henry Stanley, who uttered the famous phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”, when he found the lost explorer in east Africa in 1871, is also the subject of a petition. It has been signed by more than 1,500 people who want the statue removed from the centre of Denbigh, in Wales, where he was born. Simon Jones, the petition organiser, said: “He was known for his brutal treatment of Africans to the extent that he used to shoot black children from his boat to calibrate his rifle sights.”

Bristol city council announced today that the statue of Colston had been fished out of the city harbour and will eventually be put in a museum alongside placards from the protest over the death of George Floyd in the US. “Early this morning we retrieved the statue of Colston from Bristol Harbour,” the council said. “It is being taken to a secure location before later forming part of our museums collection.”

Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, also announced that a commission would be asked to research and share Bristol’s “true history”.

The largest stained-glass window in Bristol Cathedral bears Colston’s name and motto, “Go and do thou likewise”. The cathedral said it was considering urgently what to do about the window.

Penny Lane in Liverpool has also become the focus of controversy. The street that inspired the Beatles song was said to have been named after James Penny, a Liverpool slave ship owner and prominent anti-abolitionist. Joe Anderson, the Liverpool mayor, argued that it was actually named after a “toll bridge that cost a penny”. “There is no evidence that Penny Lane is named after slave trader James Penny,” he tweeted.

Haringey council in north London is to consult on changing the name of Black Boy Lane, one of 61 streets in the capital given the name in the 16th-19th centuries, but the only one remaining.

Marylebone Cricket Club has removed two paintings which feature Benjamin Aislabie, its first secretary, because of his position as a slave owner. MCC, owner of Lord’s, owns three paintings and a bronze bust of Aislabie, two of which were on show in the pavilion. The rest of the collection will be reviewed.

Clive of India
A delinquent who was sent away from home aged 18, Robert Clive became a celebrated military leader who laid the foundations for British rule in India.

Robert Clive has become synonymous with colonial oppression

After defeating the French in several key battles over trade in the subcontinent, he was dubbed the “heaven-born general” at the age of 27 by William Pitt, the prime minister. But his policy of siphoning off wealth from Bengal, where he twice became governor, is thought to have contributed to the famine of 1770 which killed a third of the population in some areas.

When Clive of India, as he is known today, returned to Britain having amassed immense wealth he was denounced as corrupt and morally bankrupt. According to William Dalrymple, the historian, after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 Clive transferred £2.5 million from the defeated rulers of Bengal to the East India Company, pocketing some himself. In today’s currency he took about £23 million and gave £250 million to the company.

In Britain he was subjected to parliamentary inquiry and cross-examined on his record, ultimately being exonerated of most of the accusations. He told MPs he was “astonished” at his own moderation given the opportunity for massive corruption and plunder on the subcontinent. By the time of his death at 49 he had a fortune of £500,000, worth about £33 million today. A statue of him stands in Shrewsbury and outside the Foreign Office on Whitehall.

 

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