U.S. Markets open in 51 mins

Edward Colston plaque listing his links to slavery scrapped after mayor says wording isn't harsh enough

Helena Horton
The Edward Colston statue in Bristol - Jay Williams

A plaque commissioned to acknowledge the history of 17th century merchant and Member of Parliament Edward Colston under his statue in Bristol has been scrapped after the Mayor complained it watered down his links to slavery.

Last February, Bristol City Council agreed to affix a new plaque under the statue of the controversial figure, to inform visitors of the slave trafficking he was involved in.

The current plaque was made when the statue was erected in 1895.  It makes no mention of the slave trade and reads: “Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city”.

A new plaque was commissioned and made after debate. Bristol historian Francis Greenacre, on behalf of the Merchant Venturers, the organisation Colston belonged to, made changes to it before it was sent to be cast.

For example, rather than writing that he "trafficked" slaves, the proposed plaque read that he "transported" them.

The inscription read: "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."

Mayor Marvin Rees deemed this "unacceptable", and his office said in a statement: "It was extremely naive of the Merchant Venturers to believe they should have the final say on the words for a new plaque for the statue of Edward Colston without reference to the communities of descendants of those Africans who were enslaved and treated as commodities by merchants like Colston.

"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."

Because of his intervention, the plaque inscription will now be revised, and a new one will be affixed to the statue when the wording is agreed.