Plaque rewrite as row goes on over wording for Colston statue
ASECOND plaque detailing Edward Colston’s involvement in the slave trade, due to be attached to his statue in Bristol city centre, is to be rewritten and remade, after the mayor’s lastminute intervention.
It had been reported that the second plaque was to be scrapped after Mayor Marvin Rees had stepped in, but the Post can reveal a second plaque will still happen – just not with the original wording.
Now more people will be more closely involved in working out what the plaque should say, after a year of wrangling over the wording has already taken place.
Bristol City Council said the job of creating it would form part of a wider project looking at how Bristol marks, commemorates and acknowledges its slave trade and abolitionist history.
The saga of the second plaque began in February last year, when Bristol City Council agreed a new plaque should be placed on the statue of the controversial slave trader.
he statue’s current plaque is was placed on it in 1895 when the statue was erected in The Centre.
It reads: “Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.”
Last spring, a project was set up involving historian Madge Dresser and Year 6 pupils from the then Colston Primary School – which changed its name over the summer to Cotham Gardens Primary School, following a consultation with pupils and parents.
In the summer, the wording of this second plaque was revealed as being a three-paragraph statement about how Colston “played an active role” in the enslavement of more than 84,000 Africans – including 12,000 children – of whom 19,000 died on board his ships.
It was controversial – at least for Tory councillor, Richard Eddy, who said he objected so strongly to the wording he would understand if it was vandalised or stolen.
Then, in August, Bristol historian Francis Greenacre, on behalf of the Merchant Venturers – the organisation Colston belonged to which still holds services and commemora-
❝ The proposed words are unacceptable. We will pick this back up as part of our wider work on improving our cultural offer around the transatlantic slave trade.
Statement from Mayor’s office
tions in his honour – got involved.
Changes in the wording included using the word “transported” instead of “trafficked”, and there was a lengthy dispute about the numbers and ages of children who died on Colston’s ships.
Those behind the project accused Mr Greenacre and the Merchant Venturers of ‘sanitising’ Colston’s involvement in the slave trade.
It was understood that, finally this month the wording of the plaque had been agreed and a plaque had been made. It 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 statue was erected in 1895 to commemorate his philanthropy.
“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 from 1680 to 1692, he was also involved in the 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.”
The Post asked Bristol City Council last week about the progress of the project, and was told it was still on track, but there were still discussions taking place.
But Mayor Marvin Rees, and others, objected to the wording, saying that key people in the debate in the city had not been kept up to date with the final wording.
Mr Rees said the Merchant Venturers were “extremely naive” if they thought they would have the final say on the plaque, “without reference to the communities of descendants of those Africans who were enslaved and treated as commodities by merchants like Colston”.
He described as “an oversight” that he had not been kept in the loop on the issue.
Mr Greenacre told the BBC: “What the plaque was intended to do was to put the two sides to the question”.
A statement from the Mayor’s Office criticised the Merchant Venturers, saying what they and the project produced was ‘unacceptable’.
It said: “It’s an oversight to put it mildly not to even have had a conversation with Mayor Marvin Rees, Europe’s first mayor of African heritage and the mayor of a city whose wealth has been inseparable from slavery and plantations and who is himself the descendant of enslaved Africans.
“The proposed words are unacceptable.
“We will pick this back up as part of our wider work on improving our cultural offer around the transatlantic slave trade.”