Archive for Slavery

About that Statue of Colston

Posted in History with tags , , , , on June 9, 2020 by telescoper

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.

The Sins of the Fathers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 20, 2012 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a very short post this lunchtime about the story about Richard Dawkins run in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph  (which, I hasten to add, I don’t buy). It seems that some of Dawkins’ ancestors were slave traders:

He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.

The implication seems to be that Dawkins should not be taken seriously because of something that was done by his ancestors almost three hundred years ago. I’m no great admirer of Richard Dawkins. I think he’s the sort of chap that gives us atheists a bad name, advocating a kind of fanatical fundamentalism that I find just as unpalatable as if it had a religious flavour. But, really, is there any need to smear him with the transgressions of his forefathers? Dawkins is reported to have been “speechless” when he heard about the Telegraph story – which I have to admit is no bad thing – but it does strike me as  a puerile stunt.

There’s probably hardly a family in Britain that hasn’t got a connection with slavery somewhere down the line. It’s a shameful part of our collective past, but it’s no more Richard Dawkins’ fault than any other living person. All I can say is that I hope the Telegraph’s hacks do a similar job digging up the dirt they’ll no doubt find in the history of any number of wealthy families, including those to which prominent members of the Conservative Party belong.

Anyway, mindful that the Telegraph journalists, being the deeply honorable people that they are, will now in the interest of balance be going back through the family histories of everyone in the UK who has an opinion about anything, it is time for me to come clean and reveal that my  own great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Coles, was himself guilty of the heinous act of forcibly taking his entire family to Newcastle…. (geddit?)