Statement from Edmund Southworth


Black Lives Matter

In a previous note about George Quayle and his legacy I mentioned, almost in passing, that the issue of how George’s activities related to the Slave Trade would have to be investigated and addressed as we developed our plans and stories. The recent tragic and tumultuous events in America have rightly focused minds on the impact and legacy of Slavery even more.

In my professional career I have had the opportunity to focus on these issues several times now and it still surprises me how reluctant some people are to acknowledge how important Slavery and its legacy was in a worldwide context. I was part of the curatorial team in Liverpool in the 1990’s that developed the first major gallery in the UK on the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Even in that city which was largely built on the wealth created by slaves – there was a significant minority of people who rejected the facts. When I moved to Lancashire Museums, with responsibility for museums in Lancaster, my team helped the local community to create a monument on the quayside to the tens of thousands of slaves transported by ships funded and operating from that very port. Again, it was difficult to build a consensus despite the well documented legacy.

Let’s be absolutely clear on the facts. The Isle of Man played a key role in the slave trade from the North West ports and was involved in almost every aspect. This is well-documented in the archives that MNH holds but probably not as widely known as it should be. There’s a very good guide available on the MNH website and we have recently posted some links to further resources on our social media.

Key to the development of the trade in the first half of the 18th century were the differential taxes charged on the Island on the goods used to trade with Africa. These “Guinea goods” were mainly imported from Holland and stored briefly in merchant’s property in Douglas before being loaded onto ships bound for Africa. The rapid development of Douglas as a town is testament to this and the custom records are still available. Many of the merchants names are familiar Manx surnames today.

Many of the ships from Whitehaven, Lancaster and Liverpool had Manx seamen as crew and we have copies of correspondence which show that many sailors did not survive the perilous voyages. A John Callister for example, died on a Liverpool Brig in Sierra Leone in January 1776. One of the brothers of Fletcher Christian was a surgeon on the slaver William. He records that even after the deaths of many slaves they arrived in Kingston Jamaica with 500 slaves of both sexes. His sold his two for£120. One of the most famous Captains was Manxman Hugh Crow who was in command of the last “legal” slave voyage. He was one of George Quayle’s investors in his bank.

Most of the 12 million or so slaves transported across the Atlantic were set to work in plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean. Even though the “Trade” was abolished in the UK in 1807 this plantation system operated till past the middle of the 19th century and its legacy in the US in particular is still deep rooted. The products of that economy were luxury goods at first such as tobacco and sugar, followed by rum, cotton and even timber. Again the differential tax in operation on the Isle of Man encouraged significant imports of tobacco and rum, alongside Gin, Brandy and Madeira from Holland France and Spain. The island’s reputation for smuggling in the first half of the 18th century was well-deserved and directly linked to the outputs from the plantations and the investment in the trade.

A significant number of Manx merchants and worthies continued to benefit from trade with the Americas and the Caribbean throughout the 18th century and into the 19th. Some Manx families, such as Henry Corrin formerly of Peel, bought property there. Others, such as John Taubman MHK invested directly in individual voyages such as that of the vessel Prince Vauba which went from Liverpool in 1760 via Douglas to Angola hoping to buy 250 slaves.

It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the social and economic fabric of the United Kingdom in the 18th and early 19th century was involved with or impacted by the Slave Trade and its legacy in some form. The particular circumstances of the Isle of Man and its trade links means that that impact is greater. Yet there are few books on the topic. Large parts of the Athol papers and the Quayle Bridge House papers remain unexplored. MNH will be commissioning work into the Athol papers later this year and we are keen to look at the Bridge House archive as well.

The recent public expression of concern on the Island over the “Black Lives Matter” campaign is surely an opportunity to look again at the Island’s past and provide a wider understanding of the evidence. If anyone would like to support the work of the charity in this regard – please contact me.