Edward Colston's big spash
Every once in a while, we’re reminded that grand statues should probably be made of recyclable materials. After Saddam Hussein, Mussolini, Pinochet and Colonel Ghaddafi, the most recent example is Edward Colston.
Haven’t heard of Edward Colston? That’s probably part of the problem. It’s all fun and games saying all statues must stay, but when they’re never mentioned in the school history books, you could end up posing for a family photo before a genocidal maniac.
Edward Colston was a 17th-century slave trader, and it’s estimated that he bought and sold some 80,000 slaves during his career, many of whom, along with the ship’s crews, died in the extremely dangerous trans-Atlantic voyage.
The fortune which Colston amassed from the evil slave trade he donated to charitable trusts which funded the construction of several hospitals and schools. Using his hard-stolen fortune for charity in the Bristol area, earned him the label ‘philanthropist’ – which is like remembering Hitler for being a pioneer in roadbuilding and facial hair.
That’s why he was a ripe target for a bit of iconoclasm this week. His statue was pulled down with ropes and thrown into the same harbour waters in which his slaver ships used to float. The mayor of Bristol said that Colston was an ‘affront’ and he felt no ‘sense of loss’ over the statue.
Others (just Nigel Farage, really) were shocked that the police didn’t stop the vandalism with force. Perhaps fighting a demonstration about police brutality with police brutality to defend a slave trader could have sent a mixed message. Then again, this hasn’t dissuaded the Americans.
Colston’s long-overdue bath was part of a wider series of protests seen in cities around the world in response to the murder of George Floyd in police custody.
Bristol is one of the many cities in Europe which has black lives matter protests. In London, thousands defied lockdown rules to demonstrate against a ‘pandemic of racism’, and Antwerp saw the removal of a Leopold II statue. This probably leaves Covid-19 feeling slightly jilted after dominating headlines for so long, although who knows, mass protests could change that.
Even with the drowning of the statue, Colston remains deeply linked to the city’s history and is honoured in the names of public buildings, streets. Even the ‘Colston bun’ – his very own insidious contribution to the culinary world, a yeast dough flavoured bun covered in currents, candied peel, and sweet spices. Awkward. Perhaps the same rule for tattoos of spouses should apply to name street names and statues after people.