Memorial honouring slave trade victims to be unveiled in Plymouth

Plymouth Hoe Peace Garden
A plaque will commemorate the lives lost to the trade and the citizens of Plymouth who campaigned to end it.

Plymouth City Council has announced it is going ahead with a memorial to victims of the slave trade, including information about the anti-slavery campaign in Plymouth, in the Peace Garden on the Hoe.

A plaque will commemorate the lives lost to the trade and the citizens of Plymouth who campaigned to end it.

It will be unveiled on Thursday, 25 March, to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The plaque in the Peace Garden will include an image designed by Plymouth MP and artist William Elford, depicting the British slave ship Brookes.

The drawing shows the terrible conditions in which captives were transported, and was first published in a 1788 pamphlet by the Plymouth chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

It became an iconic image in the campaign for abolition.

The image of Brookes' ship depicting the conditions people were forced to travel in. Credit: United States Library of Congress

The city council’s leader Tudor Evans said in a statement: “It is so important that we recognise the role that Plymouth played in the Slave Trade and the devastation which this caused to lives and communities all over the world. 

 “Although slavery was abolished over 200 years ago the trauma of these atrocities – the legacy of racism and discrimination - can still be felt today. 

The proposals for a memorial to victims of the slave trade in the Peace Garden on the Hoe was first put forward by the city council in June 2020 in response to concerns about racism and the portrayal of historic figures involved in slavery.

Details have also emerged of a plan which was scrapped to install a plaque on the Barbican at Plymouth telling the story of Elizabethan seafarer Sir John Hawkins, considered a founder of England’s slave trade, and the city’s role in the campaign to abolish it.

Plymouth-born Hawkins, a second cousin of Sir Francis Drake, became the city’s MP and treasurer of the Royal Navy.

He is considered to be the first captain to have transported captured Africans across the Atlantic to be sold into slavery in the Americas in the 16th Century.

The plaque on the Barbican was one of the initiatives being considered by the city council following the Black Lives Matter Movement which swept across the country last summer with a wave of anti-racism protests, including in Plymouth. 

Plans to install a plaque on the Barbican have been scrapped.

A planning application for listed building consent to install the board on the harbour wall near the Mayflower Steps was submitted in December but withdrawn on Monday (1 February), five days after documents were published for consultation.

The city council has confirmed the application was submitted in error after a decision was taken not to go ahead.

A Plymouth City Council spokesperson said about the planning application for the Barbican: “Last summer, we worked hard to respond appropriately to the issues raised following the death of George Floyd, to raise awareness of Plymouth’s involvement in the slave trade.

“One such idea was a memorial to the victims of slavery that we have recently announced. Another was a new plaque on West Pier however, following internal discussions, it was decided it would not be taken forward.

“Despite this, a planning application was submitted in error late last year. This application has now been withdrawn and we apologise for any confusion caused.”

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Credit: Ed Oldfield, Local Democracy Reporting Service