FROM my window in Gosport I have recently had a view of the careful restoration of the Royal Clarence Coat of Arms at the old Royal Navy Victualling Yard.
These are the arms of William IV, the reigning monarch when slavery was abolished in 1833 and the Yard was built.
William had been a critic of abolition, expressing the opinion that the ‘negroes’ were in a ‘humble state of happiness’ and much better off than the rural poor in Britain and Ireland. This was an opinion shared by commentators of the time such as William Cobbett.
In 1830, just before the abolition of slavery and the reform of parliament, a long period of rural grievances led to a widespread outbreak of rioting and arson and breaking of the new agricultural machinery, commonly known as the Captain Swing riots, across mostly the Home and Eastern Counties.
Punishments were heavy, with hundreds being sentenced to death. However there were large numbers of spontaneous petitions and many death sentences were commuted to transportation.
I was brought up in Horsham, and it was whilst researching the last public hanging in Horsham that I came across the figure of William Cobbett. Two local men had been sentenced to death for their part in the burnings of 1830. One of the sentences was revised to transportation when the defendant Thomas Goodman admitted that he had been inspired by a Cobbett speech, which helped towards a charge of sedition against Cobbett. The other man, Edmund Bushby, someone that we would nowadays consider had learning difficulties, was hanged on New Year’s Day 1831 in front of a large crowd outside the gaol building that is still in Horsham opposite The Bear pub.
Large numbers of those transported left from Portsmouth but I have not found them commemorated. Most went to Australia, New Zealand or Tasmania. Over the following decades many more freely chose transportation as a way of escaping the dire situation in Britain and Ireland and reuniting with people who had already gone.
Gosport is thankfully distant from the metropolitan Leftie mob violence of Black Lives Matter and its allies, determined in their selective use of history for their collective pursuit of power. However a BLM event in Gosport was allowed in Walpole Park (close to where fires were lit on November 11, 1830) despite the cancellation of all other events – it filled the usual spot of Armed Forces Day. It was attended by a handful of young people and officiated by some scruffy reluctant-looking trade union officials, one of whom said that the Covid-19 response was proof of ‘systematic racism’.
The impressionable young of today, drowsy of years of the Left’s indoctrination in our education system, all got their big moment to take a knee to Marxist propaganda, and clap each other earnestly and prepare for a fairer world. The event was cut short at 14:30 when other park users were appalled and took issue with it, as you would expect in Hampshire.
Thankfully nobody has decided to target monuments here.
However following the saga of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, Amandla Thomas-Johnson argued in the Guardian that ‘it’s time for Britain to think seriously about reparations for slavery’. Her argument rests on Britain ‘providing the basis for racism’, a highly selective comment given the international aspects of the trade and the fact that slavery was widespread and is timeless and has affected all races, colours and creeds over time – and ‘racism’ is what, exactly?
If reparations are to be made, and the Left are clearly applying pressure for it, could it be done in any sense fairly without regard for the wider picture at the time? What about those who rioted in Britain out of desperation with a plight that many described as being as bad as slavery? At the same time that slavery in foreign lands was being abolished, British rural labourers were being transported, often shackled, to work in hostile conditions in foreign lands. Many died on the way.
They helped build those lands in Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps that is why we have forgotten them.
If we really are going to make reparations, I demand my share for how the liberal Left’s cultural changes, especially pop culture, socialism and feminism, have ruined my life and caused more misery as time goes on. I want at least a million from the record industry and plenty more from the liberal Left establishment.