Barbados History In Danger Of Fading Away Through Neglect
The UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport keeps a list of structures that have a relationship to the slave trade. The idea is that tangible artifacts of history should not be allowed to deteriorate, and to this end the UK identifies, protects and restores these buildings and other structures.
There was a time not so long ago in Barbados when the government did everything it could to destroy the tangible evidence of the slave trade. Kind of stupid when one considers the racial heritage of most of the population!
As a country we have never protected our history very well and it is telling that our most visible “touristy” historical landmark (the Morgan Lewis windmill) was restored primarily through the efforts of a few private individuals, not through the efforts of government no matter what some may wish to claim.
To see how we really fail to look after our history, one need look no further than the old book collection at the Barbados Museum. It is a disgrace.
This is not for any lack of effort by the dedicated people who are entrusted with this national treasure, it is because they are provided with zero resources. Never mind computers for cataloging and scanning – the roof leaks and they don’t have enough buckets!
One weak storm could destroy the whole lot and we would lose hand-written diaries and other irreplaceable historical records that haven’t been copied or fully explored. Many of the most precious papers and books haven’t been opened in over a hundred years. What secrets and history we have and we don’t even know it!
Do we have a complete list of buildings on the island that had to do with the slave trade?
Perhaps the BLP Government should have asked Mother Britain for assistance during these past 14 years? (said tongue in cheek, of course)
Songs and stories passed down are not good enough! Unless we preserve the real things – buildings, books, writings, tools, art – everything – our history will fade away. As I said, just one good storm would completely destroy our national books and manuscripts collection.
The following is an excerpt taken from “Listing of 18 historic buildings amended to highlight their links to the abolition of slavery”
The Tomb of James Stephen in the churchyard of the Old St Mary’s Church, Stoke Newington
James Stephen was a lawyer and anti-slavery campaigner who was a close associate of William Wilberforce both in work and family life. He became aware of the inequities of slavery when he watched a trial of four slaves in Bridgetown, Barbados who had been accused of a murder they clearly had not committed. He was outraged by both the trial and the verdict which condemned the men to death by burning. This experience was to shape his beliefs and his career.
Stephen practiced law in St Kitts for some years, and on his return to England in the 1790s he became actively involved in the Clapham Sect, a group of prominent abolitionists which included Wilberforce. He was instrumental in drafting the 1807 Abolition Act, working with Wilberforce to provide the legal knowledge. Stephen’s personal life also became closely associated with Wilberforce when he married his sister Sarah in 1800.
Following the 1807 Act Stephen established the African Institution to encourage legal and humane trade with Africa, served as an MP, and wrote a book which became the chief text for anti-slavery campaigners. He died in 1832.
Stephen’s tomb is a handsome Neo-Classical chest tomb with restrained detailing on the fluted legs and frieze. It has been newly listed as Grade II.