London museum decides to keep statue of slave ship owner
A statue of a slave ship owner won’t be taken down from the front of a museum in London, despite a public poll showing support for its removal.
The Museum of the Home in Hackney has decided to leave the figure of Sir Robert Geffrye in place, opting instead to ‘reinterpret and contextualise’ it.
Geffrye was involved in the transatlantic slave trade and made his money with the East India Company and the Royal African Company.
He donated the funds for the buildings which now house the museum which until recently, was named after him.
A statement from the board of trustees said: ‘The board believes that the museum should reinterpret and contextualise the statue where it is, to create a powerful platform for debate about the connection between the buildings and transatlantic slavery.
‘The museum has a responsibility to reflect and debate history accurately, and in doing so to confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the museum buildings.’
Geffrye, who died in 1703, has become the latest controversial historical figure to come under the spotlight after the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest last month.
Shortly afterwards, a statue of slaveholder Robert Milligan was taken down from outside the Museum of London Docklands and the Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced a review of all of London’s statues and street names.
A petition to remove the Geffrye statue from its prominent location was started a month ago and has gained more than 4,000 signatures.
The trustees’ statement acknowledged that a recent public consultation had come down on the side of removing it but said the feedback they received showed how ‘complex’ the debate had become.
They’ve pledged to hire more staff from BAME backgrounds and use the statue as a platform for discussion.
The statement continued: ‘We acknowledge the pain caused by the connections between the museum buildings and the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.
‘The Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated a profound need for people and institutions to educate themselves about the legacy of structural racism and colonialism.
‘We are committed to reflecting this at the museum when we reopen as a place to explore the many meanings of home.’
Robin Priestly, who lives next-door to the site and started the petition to get the statue removed, told Metro.co.uk that he was ‘shocked and a bit speechless’ at the decision.
He said: ‘They could have easily taken it down and kept it as an exhibit but instead they’ve decided to leave it pride of place.
‘This isn’t about changing history. You can reflect on these things and learn from them but you don’t have to hold these people up as pillars of the community.
‘This felt like a moment when the museum could show it was on the right side of history but instead they’ve decided to ignore what the vast majority of people want.’
The museum dropped Geffrye’s name from its title in December last year. It’s currently closed for renovations which have been delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Mayor of Hackney, Phil Glanville, has also expressed his disappointment at the decision. Critics of the statue have pledged to continue the campaign.