Monday, 8 June 2020

The contemporary relevance of the dumping of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol

In his 925  page magisterial study, The Slave Trade: the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870 (1997), Professor Hugh Thomas makes several mentions of the role of Bristol, but there is not one mention of  Edward  Colston in the index.


At page 244 of the study, Hugh Thomas does make mention of Humphrey Morice, whom he calls “the Prince of London Slave Merchants.” At the time, in the mid-1720s, a few years after Edward Colston had died, London slaver traders were sending on average 56 slave ships a year, with Bristol second at 34 and Liverpool third on 11.


But so central was slave trading to the English economy of the day, Morice was the Governor of the Bank of England  between 1727 and 1728, as well as also able to serving as an MP ( as had Colston doubled up in  politics and  human commerce). Maurice was a staunch spokesman for the independent  slave traders and made many complaints against the monopolising tendencies of the Royal African Company (RAC) , to which Colston had risen to the top.


Professor Kate Williams (of Reading University) – in a series of narrative tweets on Sunday -  explained  the  role played by Colston in slave trading. Here is an edited version of what she set-out:

When people say statues should stay because they are our ‘history’ what does this mean in the Colson context? Britain in 1895 – when the statue of Colson was erected, 174 years after his death – had campaigners for the end of Empire, legacy of a huge abolitionist movement, for which many freed slaves had campaigned. But it was slave trader Colston who was commemorated by a committee of Victorian businessmen.

So whose history is it?

Some people say it is authorities who should take down offensive statues after discussion. But this has not happened in the Colston case in Bristol. The city has been debating the place in history of Edward Colston (1636 - 1721) for years, and was not getting anywhere using the formal auspices.

In 2018, it was finally agreed  that his statue would bear a second plaque, noting his involvement in the slave trade.

But, then it proved impossible to find a wording that everyone accepted. The first plaque that it bore, added when it was erected in 1895, said 'Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city'. No mention of slavery.

Later in 2018, Bristol Council unveiled the wording for the second plaque, “As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died en route to the Caribbean and America. Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and in slave-produced sugar.
As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city’s ‘right’ to trade in enslaved Africans. Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not allowed to benefit from his charities'. The wording had been discussed by various groups, including children from Colston Primary School (name now changed). But it proved impossible for the Council to get it through.
Some councillors objected. And then the Merchant Venturers got involved and pushed for various changes, including removing the reference to 12,000 children and to focus on his philanthropy (and not to note it was selective) (6) The new plaque read ‘
 Edward Colston, 1636-1721, MP for Bristol 1710-1713, was one of this city’s greatest benefactors. He supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. Many of his charitable foundations continue.’
This was erected in 1895 to commemorate his philanthropy. But, a significant proportion of Colston’s wealth came from investments in slave trading, sugar and other slave-produced goods.
As an official of the Royal African Company (RAC)  from 1680 to 1692, he was also involved in the (8) transportation of approximately 84,000 enslaved African men, women and young children, of whom 19,000 died on voyages from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas.
As is evident, the language on the two plaques is radically different. The second says his wealth came from sugar etc and he was 'also involved in the transportation' of slaves - rather as if he sort of built boats but didn't know what was going on. The focus was on philanthropy.
The Council refused this altered plaque and the Office of the Mayor, Marvin Rees, who has been on TV over the weekend, said it was “unacceptable”, particularly the lack of reference to those enslaved.
 That was in Spring 2019 and the plaque has been under discussions ever since.
So when Labour’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, told LBC radio that he would have preferred that the statue had been removed through the democratic processes in Bristol, he was clearly unaware of the detailed shenanigans carried on by Tory councillors in  support of a now notorious slave trader.
Meanwhile, current Home Secretary Priti Patel, made some extraordinary remarks on Sunday about the felling of the statue, asserting that the action was “utterly disgraceful” and  a “completely unacceptable act”  and was ”sheer vandalism.”
Meanwhile, in less intemoerate fashion, David Olusoga, a historian of Nigerian origin, who has written a great deal about Bristol’s slave-trading past - and whose latest television series happens to  be about a former slave trader’s house in Guinea Street   (located in Bristol’s Redcliffe district) built in 1718 by Captain Edmund Saunders - told the BBC on Sunday: “I’m afraid today should never have happened because this statue should have been taken down and it should have been a great collective day for Britain and Bristol when the statue was peacefully taken down and put in a museum which is where, after all, we remember history properly.”
 “Statues are about adoration. They’re about saying ‘this man was a great man who did great things’. That’s not true. He was a slave trader and a murderer.”
He, not Patel, another immigrant from Africa, is surely right.
The 20 other things in Bristol which commemorate slave trader Edward Colston
The statue is by no means the only thing which is named after him or celebrates him
By Tristan Cork, Senior Reporter
Bristol Post, Updated14:52, 8 JUNE  2020
Bottom of Form
The toppling and subsequent dunking of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol's floating harbour on Sunday has opened up the history of the slave trader and Bristol's role in the slave trade to the world.
Many commentators from across the globe expressed surprise a statue of a man responsible for opening up the industrial-scale slave trade to Bristol, and whose own ships transported tens of thousands of people in chains from West Africa to the Americas.
But the statue was just the most obvious. The following list was originally published in 2016 and counted 20 other buildings, schools, businesses, windows, tower blocks and pubs that were named in honour of Edward Colston.
Here it is updated, and the updating tells the story of how Bristol has begun to slowly, painstakingly and gradually move away from the Colston name.

1. Colston's School
Bell Hill, Stapleton, BS16
One of the few things in Bristol with a direct link to Colston himself, as opposed to things which were named after him long after his death.
Colston School was founded by Edward Colston in 1710. He was an old man by then, in his 70s, and had made his fortune running the Royal Africa Company in London and then bringing the slave trade to Bristol in later decades.
He tried to donate the money to open a school for boys in Bristol some seven or eight years earlier, but it didn't get the backing needed locally because he insisted only children whose parents were strict Anglicans could attend. He didn't want any of his money to be spent on educating the children of Dissenters, and in Bristol, with Quakerism and other strands of Christianity strong, that wasn't supported.
In the end, he persuaded the Society of Merchant Venturers to take on the school he founded, and they do to this day. It's an independent private school which costs up to £13,185 a year to attend.
Who could rename it? The Society of Merchant Venturers/school governors.
2. Colston Street
Soundwell BS16

(Image: James Beck)
No, not the one in the city centre where the Colston Hall is, but a fairly unremarkable road out in the east of the city. This Colston Street runs from opposite the Turnpike pub on the main Soundwell Road into the streets of post-war council housing on the western side of the main road into the Hillfields area.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council
3. Colston Yard pub - now changed
Colston Street BS1

(Image: James Beck)
The pub is named after the back alley street which runs behind it, and was only renamed in the middle of the 2010s. For years, this pub was named the Brewery Tap, owned by the Smiles Brewery, and then Butcombe Brewery had it and it was called The Yard.
It underwent major refurbishment in 2015 by new owners Rozi Hempstead and Jack Werner, who formed the Distinctly Cape Pubs Ltd company, and was soon named the Bristol Post's pub of the week and got the Mark Taylor seal of approval.
4. Colston's Almshouses
St Michael's Hill, BS2
Another building with a direct link to Colston. Edward Colston paid for them to be built for the poor in 1691 and 12 people or families lived in them, and were expected to attend chapel twice a day. Built in 1691, in Colston's first few years of returning to Bristol, they are a designated Grade I listed building.
They are now still operating as homes - 12 one-bed flats which were refurbished in 1998. The trustee for the almshouses is the Society of Merchant Venturers.
Who could rename it? Society of Merchant Venturers
5. Colston Hill
Stapleton BS16
A narrow road which separates Holy Trinity Church, Stapleton with Colston's School itself. The road is a picturesque back lane of homes which narrows to become a footpath down to the River Frome.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council
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6. Colston's Primary School - now changed
Cotham Grove BS6

(Image: Jon Kent)
A state primary school which is now an academy managed by the Co-operative Society. The school's latest Ofsted report said all aspects of the school were good, apart from the leadership and management, which is outstanding.
The Co-operative ethos means parents, teachers and local residents can get involved in the running of the school, as long as they sign up to the Co-op movement's values of fairness, equality and self-help.
After the debate over renaming the Colston Hall, the school's governors, parents, staff and children embarked on a long-running project to have a discussion about the name. They concluded they would change it, and in September 2018, it opened for the new school year as Cotham Gardens Primary School.
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7. Colston Street
City Centre BS1
The hill which runs from St Augustine's Parade in The Centre to Upper Maudlin Street by the BRI. Gives its name to Colston Yard, the Colston Hall and the Colston Tower. So much so this area of town - in the absence of another more obvious name - could well be known as 'Colston' itself.
It was originally called Steep Street, but was renamed by the Victorian city leaders in honour of Edward Colston.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council

(Image: SWNS)
8. Colston Road
Easton BS5
Residential street in the Chelsea Road area of Easton which is at the heart of the gentrification of this bit of inner-city Bristol. An ordinary road of turn of the 20th century terrace homes which runs east towards Whitehall.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council
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9. Colston Consulting
Portwall, Redcluffe
Recruitment firm that in 2016 was based in the second tallest building in the city, Castlemead. The firm has more than 40 years' combined experience in recruitment and specialises in high-end data management, technology and developer roles.
Who could rename it? Colston Consulting.
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10. Colston Yard
off Colston Street BS1
Dead-end back alley which runs from the top of Colston Street between and underneath two shops. Another back alley that runs down the hill towards the city centre was recently named Johnny Ball Lane after the TV presenter.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council
11. Colston Arms
St Michael's Hill, Kingsdown BS2

(Image: James Beck)
Small pub on the steep St Michael's Hill which is a regular haunt for students and staff from the nearby hospitals. Has a regular pub quiz which includes a round where those taking part make models out of Play-Doh.
Who could rename it? The landlord.
12. Colston's Girls' School
Cheltenham Road, Montpelier BS6

(Image: South West News Service)
Opened by the Society of Merchant Venturers in 1891, it shares Edward Colston's family motto of 'Go and do thou likewise' with The Colston's School. For more than a century it was a fee paying girls' school - the female equivalent of the boy's school over in Stapleton, but in 2008 it converted to a state-funded academy school.
That increased the number of girls from ethnic minority backgrounds and now it is one of the city's highest-achieving secondary schools, and the school with the most demand for places in Year 7. The Society of Merchant Venturers still have a controlling majority on the Academy Trust.
"We recognise that Edward Colston is a divisive figure in Bristol and that we have a role to play in the passionate debate about the use of his name across the city," said a school spokesperson on Monday, June 8.
"This is an ongoing discussion that we are very much part of, with one immediate action being the removal of the statue of Colston from the reception area of Colston’s Girls’ School," she added.
Who could rename it? The Society of Merchant Venturers/ school governors/ trustees
Read More
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13. Colston Parade
Redcliffe BS1
A narrow street of traditional Georgian houses which is bordered on one side by the church yard of St Mary Redcliffe Church.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council
14. Colston Tower
The Centre BS1

The most prominent building in the area known as The Centre of Bristol, it was built in 1973 and is becoming regarded as a classic of brutalist modern architecture. The 18 floors and 63m height make it the sixth tallest building in Bristol, but it towers over the open space of The Centre and houses a number of different major businesses, including banks and insurance firms.
It has changed hands a number of times in the 21st century, most recently in 2014 when London-based Resolution Property bought it for £12 million. The clock was added in 1995 and sits next to the name 'Colston Tower' which is illuminated in red every night.
Who could rename it? Resolution Property
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15. Colston Avenue
The Centre BS1
The Centre area of Bristol is effectively two different roads which run either side of what used to be a water-filled dock which went all the way up to what is now Electricity House. But the roads are called different things in different places. Both sides of The Centre around Colston's Statue and the Cenotaph are officially Colston Avenue, a road which continues on the western, northbound side towards Lewins Mead, while the other side of the road is still Rupert Street.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council

(Image: James Beck)
16. Colston's Lower School
Park Road, Stapleton BS16
Part of The Colston's School, the Lower School is based in an adjacent site a bit further up Park Road in Stapleton.
Who could rename it? Society of Merchant Venturers / school governors
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17. Colston Hall and Colston Street Bar & Kitchen - to be renamed
Colston Street, BS1
Bristol's premier concert hall and its associated bar and kitchen restaurant.
When the Colston Hall reopens following its £50million refurbishment next year, the entire concert hall will be renamed, although its new name is yet to be announced.
On Monday, June 8, a spokesperson for the Colston Hall said: "We announced three years ago that we would be changing the name as part of the transformation of the Hall, which is currently closed whilst the redevelopment work is taking place. The Hall was built 150 years after Colston died and was not founded with any of his money.
"The current name does not reflect our values as a progressive, forward-thinking and open arts organisation – we want it to be representative of the city, a beacon of its values of hope, diversity and inclusion.
Who is going to rename it? Bristol Music Trust
18. Colston Window
Bristol Cathedral BS1

(Image: SWNS)
The stained glass window commemorates Edward Colston in Bristol Cathedral, and is now the subject of consideration by church leaders. It's the biggest window in the cathedral.
Who could remove it? The Diocese of Bristol
19. Colston Dale
Stapleton BS16
Across the River Frome from Colston's School is a post-war council development around Trendlewood Park, just south of the old Blackberry Hill Hospital. One of the side roads off Trendlewood Park is called Colston Dale.
Who could rename it? Bristol City Council
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20. Colston House - renamed
St Mary Redcliffe & Temple School, Redcliffe

(Image: BristolLive)
For decades St Mary Redcliffe School divided its pupils into houses, and one of them was called 'Colston'.
But in February 2019, the school announced it was scrapping all of the names, and had come up with new names. Colston was being replaced by Johnson, after Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician, who did the calculations that enabled the Apollo moon landings.
More On
Bristol school removes its statue of Edward Colston from display 'immediately'
By Tristan Cork, Senior Reporter
Bristol POst, 14:43, 8 JUNE 2020
A Bristol school named after slave trader Edward Colston has removed its own statue of the 18th century merchant.
Colston's Girls' School, on Cheltenham Road in Montpelier, has had a smaller replica of the city centre Colston statue on display for decades.
But, after the statue of Colston in the city centre was toppled on Sunday, June 7, the school took "immediate" action to remove its statue.
In a statement issued to Bristol Live on Monday, June 8, the school also confirmed it is having "ongoing discussions" over its use of Colston's name.
Read More
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The school's statue is around 3ft high and stood on a 5ft high plinth in a main thoroughfare outside the entrance to the school hall.
The school was a fee-paying private school set up in Victorian times to be a female counterpart to Colston's School, which was set up by Edward Colston himself in 1710.
It became a state-funded academy in 2011, part of the series of schools run by the Society of Merchant Venturers, the guild to which Colston belonged, and which set up and ran the transatlantic slave trade in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

A statue of Edward Colston that has stood in the reception area of Colston's Girls' School for decades (Image: Society of Merchant Venturers)
In a statement, a spokesperson for Colston's Girls' School said they recognised the school had 'a role to play in the passionate debate' surrounding the slave trader, on whose slave ships around 20,000 people, including 8,000 children died.
"We recognise that Edward Colston is a divisive figure in Bristol and that we have a role to play in the passionate debate about the use of his name across the city," she said.
"This is an ongoing discussion that we are very much part of, with one immediate action being the removal of the statue of Colston from the reception area of Colston’s Girls’ School," she added.
The Society of Merchant Venturers, which runs Colston's Girls' School, issued its own statement earlier today, less than 24 hours after the main statue of Colston was toppled in the centre of Bristol.
The SMV said they must 'never forget the 12 million people who were enslaved as part of the transatlantic slave trade'.
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Backstory: a collection of contemporary tweets by Professor Kate Williams of Reading University
What ended the slave trade in Britain? A lot of people think it was William Wilberforce and (white) middle class abolitionists. Actually much was due to freed slave abolitionists  eg Equiano and two big legal cases1) freed slave James Somersett and 2) an insurance claim after a massacre on the  slave ship  Zong.
James Somersett was bought by Charles Steuart in Virginia. Steuart brought him to London in 1771, where he escaped and was baptised. Steuart captured him back and took him to a ship for transportation in the Thames. In 1772, Somersett's three godparents brought a case backed by abolitionist Granville Sharp that Somersett was no longer Steuart's posession, could not be sold and was illegally imprisoned on the ship. The case gained huge public attention and press coverage. Somersett's lawyers argued that no law recognised slavery.
Steuart’s defence argued the paramount importance of property. The Judge, Lord Mansfield, ruled that ‘no master was ever allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had  deserted his service, and Somersett went free.
The case did not end recapturing of slaves or the slave trade but it had a huge effect on public opinion and influenced successive cases such as that of Joseph Knight in Scotland, who demanded wages from John Wedderburn who had bought him in Jamaica, Knight ran away and when Wedderburn tried through the courts to get him back in 1777, the judge ruled that Wedderburn had no rights of 'dominion' over Knight in Scotland and he should go free.
The other major case that had a huge effect on public opinion was the horrific case of the massacre on the slave ship Zong in 1781. En route to Jamaica, the Zong ran low on water and 130 of the trafficked individuals were thrown into the sea. In Jamaica, the Zong's owners claimed on insurance for their 'lost cargo', as enslaved people were insured as 'cargo'. The insurers refused, declaring that the captain was at fault. This became a huge lawsuit between the owners and the insurers - and it finally brought the horrific conditions on ships, and the barbarous treatment of slaves to public attention. Equiano did much to raise its profile and Granville Sharp campaigned, trying to try the Captain for murder. The swell of public opinion, the petitions and middle class anger pushed forth the abolitionist movement
Yes, Wilberforce took abolition through Parliament, but he was building on the work of freed slaves such as Equiano and Knight - and the shocking scandal of the Zong massacre.
So when we talk about what should replace statues of slave traders, rather than choosing all white abolitionists, let's commemorate freed slaves such as Equiano, Somersett and Knight who fought for their own freedom and forced Britain to confront the horror of the slave trade.

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