There is much gnashing of teeth just now at the Liverpool Museum, where
the 1700-strong body of Friends of the Museum has been effectively disbanded
and thrown out of its office at the Albert Dock.
The Museum and its ‘Friends’ have been at odds for several
months in a crude debate of ‘elitism’ versus ‘dumbing-down’.
Where the Friends have truly put their foot in it, though, is in their
refusal to support the International Slavery Museum. They regard it as
‘not a balanced exhibition’. They’d like more about
William Roscoe and the other good guys of Liverpool.
We’ve been round the exhibition and could suggest a few improvements:
- There is not enough hard information about the local culprits. Liverpool's
merchants developed the slave trade, fought tooth and nail to preserve
it and whinged for compensation when the game was finally up. Their speeches
and petitions to Parliament are cringeworthy but should be on view. So
should their efforts to support the slave trade even after abolition.
Banastre Tarleton's election campaign of 1807 – that’s abolition
year - was "The Church and the Slave Trade for ever" and he
sent two black boys through the streets with a placard reading 'African
- The exhibition's stirring title is "Remember not that we were
freed but that we fought", yet there are few quoted examples of the
subjects of the empire striking back. We have the August 1823 slave uprising
on the Demerara estate of John (father of William) Gladstone. But how
about the Liverpool slave ship Scipio, blown up by insurgents off the
West African coast in December 1749? There were plenty more such incidents.
- The 'triangular trade’ took manufactured goods from England to
West Africa to exchange for slaves. Who bought these goods? Were they
happy enough to buy them with other people's bodies?
- There were abolitionists more outspoken than Roscoe and his Athenaeum
mates. William Roscoe after all got into Parliament not by campaigning
against slavery but by not mentioning the issue at all. So some space,
please, for the blind poet Edward Rushton, who in 1796 took George Washington
to task for owning slaves while claiming to uphold liberty."Shame!
Shame! That man should be deemed the property of man; or that the name
of Washington should be found among the list of such proprietors."
Something tells us this isn't quite the 'balance' the Friends are after.
Still, when the exhibition expands - with or without their help –
we can hope that some of these gaps will be filled.
Find out more about Edward Rushton at: