About that Statue of Colston

I don’t know Bristol very well. I’ve been there a few times, but mainly for work-related reasons, and I’ve never really explored the City.

I had heard of notorious slave trader (and Tory MP) Edward Colston because I had heard of the Colston Hall (though never been there). I didn’t know until this weekend however that there was a statue of him in the city. Now it is in the drink.

The statue concerned was apparently erected in 1895, one hundred and seventy four years after Colston died, and sixty two years after slavery was abolished. I’m not at all sorry to see it gone, as it should never have been put up in the first place. I was much more shocked to learn of its existence than of its destruction.

Please don’t try to argue that taught people about slavery. People have learnt much more about the horrors of the slave trade as a result of the destruction of this statue than they ever did by looking at it. The better way to teach people about history is in school, but British schools mostly avoid the uncomfortable truth of the imperial past. Mine certainly did. I wasn’t taught much about slavery at all, except that it conveniently provided one very profitable leg of the Triangular Trade, but that slavery was illegal in Britain at that time so that was somehow supposed to make it alright.

I don’t learn much about the Great Famine in Ireland at school either, but you can be absolutely sure that the Irish know all about it, and not by looking at statues of its architect, the genocidal Charles Trevelyan. Imagine what would happen if someone tried to put up a statue to him in Ireland, or to Oliver Cromwell.

So less of the phoney outrage about a lousy statue. It would be a better outlet for your energy to read some proper history and be outraged by that instead.

P. S. I’ve been busy marking examinations over the last few days which is why I’m late commenting on this.

4 Responses to “About that Statue of Colston”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    I too think good riddance to that statue, and I agree with the sentiments of that council rep who said that it will be put in a museum. I think it might be worth clarifying that, when you say “slavery was illegal in Britain at that time” (1895), it was always illegal in Britain, and had not only been made illegal in the British Empire a lifetime before that but the Royal Navy had patrolled off Africa to prevent other nations from transporting slaves across the Atlantic.

    To be clear, I see it as a matter of satisfaction – emphatically not of pride – that one of the great wrongs of the 18th century (approx) came to an end at that time. I’d also like to ask a genuine question: how much repentance is enough?

    • telescoper Says:

      I meant that slavery was illegal in Britain at the time when it was part of the Triangular Trade.

  2. Repentance should be welcome. I read that he gave a lot to charity although it did not say why. But repentance is not normally rewarded with a statue.

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    More than 20 years ago, I attended a Colston Symposium in Bristol, driving down right after the NAM in St. Andrews. I wonder if it will be renamed?

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