Plaque of 17th Bristol Slave Trader Links Him to 20,000 Deaths

Published July 24th, 2018 - 01:00 GMT
Statue of Edward Colston in Bristol City Centre (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Statue of Edward Colston in Bristol City Centre (Shutterstock/File Photo)

A plaque is set to be added to a statue of a 17th century Bristol slave trader to link him to the deaths of nearly 20,000 people.

Edward Colston, a divisive figure among city residents, played a key role in the Royal Africa Company, which turned the buying and shipping of slaves into an industrial-scale practice in the 17th Century.

A statue honouring Colston was erected in the city centre in 1895 with a plaque reading: 'Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.'

Bristol City Council has now submitted an application to add a second plaque explaining the instrumental role he played in the slave trade after the statue was repeatedly targeted by protesters over its representation of history.

It is the latest move by the city to dissociate themselves from Colston, with venues and schools having previously removed his name from their titles.

Last month the Lord Mayor of Bristol removed a portrait of Colston from the mayor's office.

The statue itself has been targeted by protesters furious with the way the original plaque and the honouring of the slave merchant.

It comes amid similar controversy in Oxford surrounding the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a racist mining magnate and the founder of Rhodesia, at the university's Oriel building.



The proposed secondary plaque will read: '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 permitted to benefit from his charities.'

The proposed plaque has already been criticised by some residents, including a newspaper reader who wrote in to say the wording ignored Colston's philanthropic work.

Julian Hill, from Knowle, said: 'It includes misinformation and cheap political shots unworthy of a permanent public monument.

'And of course it doesn't make a lot of sense when added to a statue with the original plaque describing Colston as "virtuous and wise".'

The statue has repeatedly been defaced, including a 'yarn-bombings' and paint attacks.

Recently a plaque bearing the words 'unauthorised heritage' was added, which says 'This commemorates the 12,000,000 enslaved of whom 6,000,000 died as captives.'

It was removed by council workers but has since returned.

Historians estimate Colston was involved in the deaths of 20,000 people - including as many as 4,000 women and children - on board his slave ships in the late 17th century.

A local man, he opened access to slave trade routes to Bristol's merchants, and profited hugely from the forced trafficking of people over a number of decades. He later invested heavily in opening up slave trade routes through Asia.

A small portion of his fortune was given away to good causes in Bristol - setting up his own school and building almshouses.

Bristol has at least 20 roads, schools, pubs, businesses and buildings named after Edward Colston, but authorities have been attempting to dissociate themselves with him.

Concert venue Colston Hall closed last month and will re-open in 2020 with a different name.

Governors and parents at Colston Primary School in Cotham meanwhile voted to change its name.

Colston Girls' School, the highest attaining in the city, decided not to change its name following widespread debate.

However it did remove any mention of Colston from an annual church service traditionally held to commemorate the school.

Bristol City Council said in a statement: 'There have been calls to remove the statue to a museum that can provide this historic context.

'The view of the council is that keeping the statue in the public realm with the additional context provided by a plaque encourages further debate about these important issues concerning Bristol's heritage.'


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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