Calls for statues of Cecil Rhodes, Sir Thomas Picton and Robert Clive linked to slave trade and oppression to be removed

  • Video report by Wales and West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

Calls to remove statues which are linked to oppression, the slave trade and white supremacy across the UK have been reignited amid anti-racism demonstrations.

In recent years, thousands have signed petitions to remove the statue of Imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Students lined across the Oxford University campus in 2016 marching in solidarity calling for the removal of the statue and have done the same on Tuesday evening.

Since the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol, there have been renewed calls from the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, among other student groups, demanding the university removes the statue at Oriel College.

Campaigners protesting against the statue of the imperialist have said Oxford University has "failed to address its institutional racism".

They have long argued Rhodes, a 19th Century businessman and politician in southern Africa, represented white supremacy and is steeped in colonialism and racism.

In a statement, an Oriel College spokesman said: “Oriel College abhors racism and discrimination in all its forms.

“The governing body are deeply committed to equality within our community at Oriel, the University of Oxford and the wider world.

“As an academic institution, we aim to fight prejudice and champion equal opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality or faith.

“We believe black lives matter and support the right to peaceful protest. The power of education is a catalyst for equality and inclusiveness.”

The Oriel College statement continued: “We understand that we are, and we want to be, a part of the public conversation about the relationship between the study of history, public commemoration, social justice and educational equality.

“As a college, we continue to debate and discuss the issues raised by the presence on our site of examples of contested heritage relating to Cecil Rhodes.

“Speaking out against injustice and discrimination is vital and we are committed to doing so.

“We will continue to examine our practices and strive to improve them to ensure that Oriel is open to students and staff of all backgrounds, and we are determined to build a more equal and inclusive community and society.”

Rhodes was a student at Oxford and a member of Oriel College in the 1870s. He left money to the college on his death in 1902.

A scholarship programme in his name has so far been awarded to more than 8,000 overseas students, including include former US president Bill Clinton and US ambassador to UN Susan Rice.

On Twitter, the Rhodes Must Fall campaigners have said: "There is no place for statues that venerate vile anti-black racists in South Africa, the US, Bristol or Oxford."

Another petition has been launched to take down the statue of Robert Clive, known as Clive of India, in The Square in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

The petition describes the 18th century figure as "nothing more than an figure of oppression and white supremacy".

His greatest exploit was the Battle of Plassey in 1757, where he defeated the French-backed Nawab of Bengal thanks largely to back-channel deals made off the battlefield.

The Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory of the British East India Company over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies. Credit: Francis Hayman/Wikimedia Commons

The East India Company had watched on and continued to collect taxes as almost 10 million people died of starvation, unable to cultivate their crops, during the Great Bengal Famine of 1770.

Clive’s victory was to cement Britain’s control of India and make him the "virtual master of Bengal", his achievements in battle matched only by his ability to line his own pocket.

The petition, started by David Parton, says: "While this statue is not anti-black racism, it goes some way to illustrate how embedded racism is in the UK."

Another petition has been launched to take down the statue of Robert Clive, known as Clive of India. Credit: Nathaniel Dance/Wikimedia Commons

Mr Parton continued: "This statue commemorates Clive, and by so doing embodies the racist and inhumane nature of his actions.

"If we are not comfortable with a statue of Joseph Stalin or Genghis Khan, how can we be comfortable with a statue of Clive?"

He adds: "Clive stands on a plinth in the centre of The Square, but was central to 200 years of theft, mis-rule that led to thousands of deaths, and eye-watering brutality in large swathes of the Indian subcontinent."

There are also mounting calls for statues and monuments to former slave-trader Sir Thomas Picton to be removed in Wales.

Sir Thomas is remembered for his role in the Peninsular War and for being the highest ranking officer killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

In 1806, Picton was convicted of ordering the illegal torture of a 14-year-old girl. Credit: PA

But he also earned the moniker of "Tyrant of Trinidad" after serving as a governor there - he was known for his brutal regime on the island.

In 1806, he was convicted of ordering the illegal torture of a 14-year-old girl, Louisa Calderon.

He admitted to the charge but the conviction was later overturned.

Picton was also accused of having amassed a substantial fortune after profiting from the then legal slave trade.

In his letter to Cardiff Council, Cllr Dan De'Ath said it was "an appropriate time to reassess how fitting it is for Cardiff to honour a man such as Picton with a statue on public display".

He wrote: "I feel is it no longer acceptable for Picton's statue to be amongst the 'Heroes of Wales' in City Hall and I am calling on you to arrange for its removal from the Marble Hall at a time when resources and logistics allow and when it is safe to do so."

One statue has already been removed is that of slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay, east London.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said the UK's past in the slave trade "does not have to be celebrated in our public spaces" as he welcomed the announcement.

The move comes as Labour councils across England and Wales will begin reviewing monuments and statues after a protest saw anti-racism campaigners tear down a statue of a slave trader in Bristol.