Monthly Archives: June 2013

Compensating the Slave Owners

A mini hullaballoo arose earlier this year when the Independent newspaper revealed that the UK Government had paid some £20M to pay off the slave owners in 1833. It was a sort of ransom money, and the usual suspects were expressing their shock and horror at such largess.

“Britain’s Colonial Shame” screamed the headlines. It was a typical Main Stream Media “holier than thou” comment with little interest or appreciation for the problems of 180 years ago. We only needed calls for the likes of David Cameron to apologise to someone and our self flagellation would be complete.

At the time Buxton was subject to a considerable vilification. One of his children reported:

“And now the Anti-slavery people are so violently turned against my father for not voting against the 20 millions that they can hardly find word to express their displeasure. I must say that his spirit through all is wonderful. He is as uninfluenced by the attacks of friends as of foes and goes straight on to his mark with a degree of firmness which considering it is unaided by that very supporting quality, natural obstinacy, seems almost incomprehensible. Every day he receives violent letters of censure.”

Politics has always been the art of the possible. But what if Buxton had dug his heels in and insisted in no compensation; there would certainly have been an impasse. Another slave revolt would have been likely with lives lost and property destroyed. Of course the USA had seen their own slave crisis looming for many years (“A firebell ringing in the night” said Thomas Jefferson), but the country either lacked the will or found it impossible to resolve it. Eventually this was resolved by a bloody civil war at great cost.

We recall the prayer by Abraham Lincoln on Saturday March 4th 1865 at his inauguration for his second Presidential term (just 6 weeks before he died from an assassin’s bullet)

. . .Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.” . . .

The cost to the USA of that civil war was estimated at the time as $8,000,000,000 (8 Billion dollars). Three quarters of this was spent by the Union, the other $2 Billion by the Confederacy. Even at the devalued dollar exchange rate (10:1), 8 billion dollars is still equivalent to £800,000,000 in 1865 moneys.

At a cost of £20M, it seems that Buxton got quite a good deal, especially as many of the beneficaries invested their ill gotten gains in the burgeoning railways.

 

 

The TFB Monument’s Geological Heritage

The design of The Thomas Fowell Buxton monument reflects the neo-classical architectural style so typical of Weymouth’s Georgian and Regency seafront townscape

Design from Portland Stone

portlandThe monument’s design by Weymouth College student Peter Loizou and the working of the stones by fellow masonry students celebrates the skills and enterprise of our young people.

Its construction in Portland Stone, quarried and supplied from Portland Island by Albion Stone, reflects the geological heritage of this World Heritage Jurassic Coast.

Jurassic Environment

The marine environment back in Jurassic times in our area was one of deposition.

This was followed by earth movements that created an upfold of these marine rocks, forming a large island environment up against which washed the Cretaceous seas lying to the north.

chesil

The Jurassic rocks of this ancient island, today the Weymouth Anticline, have subsequently been eroded by wind and water to create today’s Ridge and Vale landscape, so typical of our area. Try cycling across it to really appreciate its ups and downs

The erosion has revealed a pairing of rocks on the south and north of the anticline. The Portland Stone, a limestone, is found both on the Island of Portland to the south of Weymouth, and also in Upwey, north of the town in West Dorset.

The Romans quarried the stone at Upwey to build the walls of Roman Durnovaria, Dorchester, our county town, situated a half hour drive from the centre of Weymouth.

 

Architectural Heritage

weymouth

In 2012, the Olympic Year, Weymouth had the opportunity to showcase this earlier architectural heritage, as well as our local Georgian and Regency one.

monumentOur monument to Thomas Fowell Buxton, who as MP for Weymouth 1818-1837 was instrumental in effecting the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833, reflects our pride in our local student masonry skills, our important local historical heritage, and our equally important architectural heritage, but it celebrates too the local geological heritage of our renowned World Heritage Coast.

Spielberg’s film “Lincoln”

lincolnSpielberg’s acclaimed film about Abraham Lincoln was released in the UK on 25th January. It focuses on Lincoln’s efforts towards the end of the Civil War to abolish slavery in the USA.

 The issue of slavery had split the USA asunder with 11 Southern slave states seceding to form the Confederacy. The Civil War raged from 1861, and only ended on 9th April 1865. But six days later, on 15th April, Lincoln was dead, from an assassin’s bullet.

The USA’s struggles to abolish slavery, achieved at great cost in blood and treasure puts into perspective Thomas Fowell Buxton’s remarkable achievement, in getting slavery abolished through the Parliamentary process.

Abraham Lincoln and the Lancashire cotton workers

 The civil war in the USA caused a ‘cotton famine’ in Lancashire and mill workers suffered great hardship. Nevertheless, representatives of the Lancashire Cotton Industry resolved to support the North in its fight against slavery and sent a message to Abraham Lincoln.

 In his reply Lincoln said ‘I cannot but regard your decisive utterances on the [slavery] question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism, which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.’

 See Sublime Heroism for a full account of this inspiring story.