Councils consider removing two north Wales monuments to 19th century explorer linked with atrocities in Africa

Credit: ITV Cymru Wales/Google maps

Two north Wales councils met separately on Wednesday 24 to consider the removal of two monuments following calls from the public to take them down.

Denbigh Town Council and St Asaph City Council met to consider the future of monuments dedicated to Henry Morton Stanley, a 19th century explorer and journalist linked to slavery.

St Asaph City Council announced that they will not be removing their monument but will rewrite the information board that goes alongside it "to reflect today's climate and feelings."

Several petitions to have the Denbigh statue of Stanley removed gathered more than 8,500 signatures altogether.

A peaceful protest in favour of its removal was also held on June 6, where people gathered around the statue and each took to one knee while facing away from it.

However, a counter petition to keep the statue in place has also reached almost 500 signatures, with some claiming Stanley did not commit the racist acts he is accused of by others.

Stanley was born in Denbigh in 1841, which is why the town decided to commemorate him with a statue in 2010. Credit: ITV Wales

Henry Morton Stanley was a Welsh-born explorer and journalist, best known for searching Africa for the missing Dr Livingstone - a Scottish explorer. He found Dr Livingstone in 1871 and famously greeted him with the words, "Dr Livingstone, I presume?".

Stanley went on to explore more of Africa and ended up working under Belgium King Leopold II in the Congo (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo).

King Leopold II was known for committing atrocities in the Congo during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Under his rule, approximately 10 million Congolese people were killed as he exploited the country and its indigenous people through forced labour. Several statues of the King in Belgium have recently been defaced or removed following outcry from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Stanley worked for the King, ultimately helping Leopold achieve personal 'ownership' of what the King called the Congo Free State. Under the King, Stanley instructed the building of roads in the lower Congo that opened the area up to trade but for the profit of colonial powers.

Later in life, Stanley became an MP in south London and was also knighted in 1899.

MP for the Vale of Clwyd, James Davies has urged Denbigh and St Asaph councillors to consider all opinions and said 'we cannot airbrush the past.' Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Although he moved to America in 1859, Stanley was born in Denbigh 18 years before which is why the town decided to commemorate him with a statue in 2010. At the time, there was criticism of that decision and a several academics in north Wales signed a letter, unsuccessfully opposing the creation of a statue of Stanley.

The controversy surrounding the statue has now resurfaced as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained international prominence following the death of George Floyd in America. Monuments, statues and buildings that commemorate colonial figures have come under increased scrutiny.

One of the petitions campaigning for the Stanley statue to be taken down states that Stanley "was charged with excessive violence, wanton destruction, the selling of labourers into slavery, the sexual exploitation of native women, sex trafficking, and the plundering of villages for ivory and canoes."

They add that "Stanley was described by his peers as shooting Africans indiscriminately as if they were wildlife while sailing down the Congo."

A statue to a man like that has no place in Welsh society in 2020. It is an insult to African people that it stands pride of place in the town.

Simon Jones, petition creator
Henry Morton Stanley is famously known for saying 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?' when he found the lost Scottish explorer. Credit: PA Images

However, MP for the Vale of Clwyd, James Davies urged Denbigh and St Asaph councillors to consider all opinions.

In the letter, Mr Davies said that while "racism should be condemned in all its forms", we should not "airbrush the past." He also states that "we need to retain historical reminders to allow us to reflect and to inform future generations."

It is important also for us not to lose sight of the fact that our ancestors lived in very different times, when there were different perspectives on what was right and wrong. Grievous faults can doubtless be found in most historical figures, but we should try to understand their lives, as we hope those who come after us will try to understand our motivations, in the context of the world today.

Extract from letter written by James Davies MP, Conservative

The statue's sculptor, Nick Elphick, also called for the statue to remain and said he did an extensive amount of research at the time he was creating the piece. He added that he never would have agreed to the work if that research had shown Stanley to be the racist man some claim he is.

The statue was unveiled in 2011 and there was controversy at the time over the decision to erect it. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

St Asaph City Council came to the decision to keep the obelisk monument. They said instead they will change the information board that goes with it to "reflect today's climate and feelings."

The new information board will use details from the book documenting Stanley's life written by Tim Jeal. The council also said that one of the people behind the larger petition to take down the statues will help them write the revised board with "a more balanced view."

Denbigh Town Council said they will release a statement on their decision later in the week.