London Vacation Day 2, Slavery Exhibition

Day 2 – Docklands Museum also in Greenwich click here

All photos taken by me within the Exhibition.

Reading Part 1 (again with my photos) may help a little with background to this posting, lol saves me repeating myself again!

‘Is it not strange to think, that they who ought to be considered the most learned and civilized people in the world, that they should carry on a traffic of the most barbarous cruelty and injustice….are become so dissolute to think slavery, robbery and murder no crime?’

Honestly speaking, apart from watching American movies (love Tarantino’s Django Unchained) sadly my knowledge of African Slavery, Plantation life in North America, sugar/tobacco production in the The West Indies WAS very sketchy before today, in my defense American history wasn’t taught in British schools, so understandably I knew very little and probably the reason I found the Slavery Exhibition at The Docklands Museum captivating.

Most Brits will be aware of the notorious and disreputable ‘West India’ also ‘East India’ Companies, their ships crisscrossing the oceans from Docklands creating an Empire, plundering the world’s treasure as their own in the name of The Crown, HOWEVER I had been unaware (should have been) ‘Great’ Britain supplied the shipping for the transport of African Slaves, many hundreds over three Centuries!

Thames Docklands has a truly disreputable past, Slavery Empire and Colonialism all inextricably entwined.

Maritime trading allowed European nations to impose European rule across Africa, established colonies as their own. This contributed to an assault on African identities, and from the early 1600s onwards London merchants were importing increasing amounts of gold and ivory, sugar tea, tobacco and silk. 500 years ago little was known about Africa, a little knowledge came from the writings of Portuguese travelers in the 1500s, but often those mixed truth with fantasy.

Legends of fabulous cities of gold mines hidden in the heart of Africa and mythical tales of black people replaced real knowledge. This, in turn led to a dismissal of African cultures, and as Africa became the principal source of human Slaves for the new world of the Americas, perhaps Britain’s ignorance fed racism which, in turn, came to justify brutal exploitation.

Ottobah Cugoano, Narrative of the Enslavement of Africans of Africa, 1787.

(Below) Portrait of George Hibbert a highly successful ‘West India’ merchant and slave owner owning a large number of Plantations in Jamaica. An MP (no less) and leading member of the ‘West India Merchants and Planters’, he played a key role in the defense of the Slave trade.

In the parliamentary debate on abolition, Hibbert argued “that a greater number of acts of cruelty occurred each week in London than a month in Jamaica”.

In 1834 his family received £31,120 compensation for 1,618 Slaves.

Britain is finally coming to terms with Colonial Slavery, marble statues have been removed, cultural institutions renamed, business paying compensation for centuries old crimes…………..oh how distinguished George looks in oil and canvass, sadly there are many many more! Now should they be removed from Art Galleries? Rewrite our history?

(Below) The names of enslaved men, women and children are listed here. Children were put to work from the age of seven. Those too old to do heavy work managed the livestock, collected animal fodder or nursed the sick…..says so on the plaque.

(Below) Painting titled ‘The Island of Fort William Estate with Part of River Roaring, 1778’.

(Below and clockwise) Sugar Cane harvest, Preparing the ground, Selling Sugar, Use of Sugar in confectionary, Use of Sugar in tea, Skimming the Sugar, Boiling the Sugar.

(Below) During the 1700s Britain was the leading slave-trading nation, A half of all Africans transported across the Atlantic into slavery were carried in British ships.

(Below) Once boiled, the sugar crystallized a thick liquid called molasses, ‘cakes’ later exported to Bristol, Liverpool and Thames Docklands.

1. Earthenware sugarloaf mould 1670.
2. Earthenware molasses 1600s.
3. Plantation token 1688. During reign of King James II the price of Tin collapsed. To help recue owners of mines in Britain from financial ruin the government began mining Tin coins for use in Plantation currencies.
4. Machete, 1880.The machete also known in the Caribbean as a ‘cutlass’ was both a tool and an instrument of punishment.

(Below) In 1783, the packet ship Antelope was wrecked on the Pellew Islands in the East Indies. The crew were befriended by the local islanders who helped them them build a new vessel in return for help in conquering rival islands. When the crew sailed away they were accompanied by the 19 year old Prince Lee Boo, who lived in London until his death 13 months later. Lee Boo’s well intentioned yet patronising treatment in England was a form of exploitation.

………………………and of course The Docklands Museum contains so much more treasure and historical document. 🙂 Go visit if you have the opportunity……………and it’s free of charge!

A. Shepherdson 2021

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