Petition calls for Sir Francis Drake statues in Tavistock and Plymouth to be removed because of slavery links


A petition is calling on authorities to remove identical statues of Sir Francis Drake in Tavistock and on Plymouth Hoe because he was a "pioneer" of the British slave trade.

It comes after protesters tore down the statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader, MP and philanthropist, in Bristol at the weekend and scores of people also joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Plymouth.

The petition's author has set and surpassed a target of one thousand signatures. Credit:
A demonstration in Plymouth shows solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Credit: Plymouth Live

Sir Francis Drake has identical statues on Plymouth Hoe and in Tavistock, where he began life at Crowndale Farm in 1540.

He is celebrated as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world and for his central role in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

But the petition argues that Drake's involvement in the slave trade can not be ignored and should not be celebrated.

The petition calls for the curriculum to accurately reflect Drake's involvement in early slavery. Credit: PA

The petition goes on to call for the school curriculum to reflect the whole picture with regards to Plymouth's history and Drake's involvement in the slave trade.

Plymouth's Black Lives Matter protestors. Credit: Plymouth Live
Credit: PA

Archaeologist and local historian, Win Scutt, does not believe that the argument for removing Drake's statues is quite so clear cut.

He said: "Harking back to those times and picking through the bones of history is a bit of a pointless exercise, I think. Particularly in the 16th century, when Britain wasn't yet a major player in the slave trade."

The historian continued: "In the statues, I think Drake is being celebrated for his circumnavigation and exploration. When he returned to Plymouth after his circumnavigation, with a fortune, as far as I know there weren't any slaves, it was mainly spices, and that's what treasure was in those days, which was completely different come the 18th century.

"The whole dockyard in Plymouth, and our navy, to a large extent is built to control colonies and control our interests abroad, so if we're really going to cleanse Plymouth of it's imperialist, colonialist and slavery connections, we would have to get rid of the dockyard as well.

"Our curriculum needs to deal with Britain's part in colonialism and imperialism thoroughly, rather than just talking about the abolition of slavery."

Sir john Hawkins was cousin to Sir Francis Drake and has a Plymouth square named after him. Credit: PA

Plymouth City Council has responded by outlining a series of measures to "condemn" the role that Drake and his cousin Sir John Hawkins - who has a square named after him in Plymouth - played in the slave trade.

The local authority, however, has stopped short of agreeing to the petition's demands for Drake's statue on the Hoe to be removed from public view.

Council Leader Tudor Evans said: "We recognise our responsibility for ensuring we condemn the role these figures played in this awful trade and how offensive many people find what they see as their glorification."

"While we acknowledge this terrible side to our city’s history, we also need to remember that Plymouth played an important role in the eventual abolition of the slave trade and that it also has a long and proud history of welcoming oppressed communities."

Plymouth's new museum, The Box, will Credit: ITV News

Responding to calls for Drake’s Statue to be removed from Tavistock, Leader of West Devon Borough Council Neil Jory said: "In my view, there are lessons to learn from Drake’s involvement in slavery and piracy that should encourage us to continue to strive to create a more just and equitable society.

"Rather than airbrushing Drake from history, there are stories that should be told and history that should be taught; Drake’s statue gives us the opportunity to do that and to recognise the different aspects of his life and character.

“Overall, I think the statue should stay but that more should be done to recognise the other parts of this story and to recognise the great wrongs of the past."