Horatio Nelson statue down... next?

Horatio Nelson statue down... next?


Friday, August 07, 2020

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On July 24, 2020 Barbadian minister with responsibility for culture John King announced that the Cabinet of the Government of Barbados had agreed to the removal of the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson from Heroes' Square in the country's capital of Bridgetown. This decision came after Barbadians signed a petition demanding its removal and, in protest, joined in a march to the statue on June 20, 2020. King, however, stated that this decision was as a result of recommendations made by the National Heroes' Square Statue and Development Committee and the Committee of National Reconciliation to remove the statue dedicated to Nelson.

Of course, one may ask who exactly was Horatio Nelson, and why has the statue dedicated to his memory been such a controversial matter? Nelson was a British naval commander celebrated for his victories against the French during the Napoleonic Wars period. A brief search on Nelson finds a romanticised version of a man who lost appendages in war to defend the honour and rule of Britain. However, if one digs deeper, one will find that Nelson was a vigorous defender of slavery and was, as we have now termed it, a white supremacist. In fact, in a letter penned by Nelson to his friend, Simon Taylor — a British plantation owner living in Jamaica — in regard to slavery, he remarked: “I have ever been and shall die a firm friend to our present colonial system…neither in the field or in the Senate shall their interest be infringed whilst I have an arm to fight in their defence, or a tongue to launch my voice against the damnable and cursed doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies.”

The outrage at having such a figure being displayed in the Heroes' Square of a country with a majority population of the descendants of enslaved Africans, who Nelson so vehemently believed should be subjected to bondage, exploitation, rape, and torture under the auspices of chattel enslavement, is therefore justified.

While Nelson's statue will join the already toppled statues in Martinique, like Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, and French trader Pierre Bélain d'Esnambuc, the outrage should also be extended to other colonial monuments which should have no place in our postcolonial spaces. It is important to note that Nelson's statue is only one of two located in Barbados, as another statue of him can be found in Hunte's Gardens in the Barbadian parish of Saint Joseph. In addition, in Antigua and Barbuda, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nelson's Dockyard remains named after Horatio Nelson. Added to the Nelson statues in Barbados are other statues erected to other British 'war heroes' across the Caribbean region.

In Jamaica, for instance, a statue is erected in honour of Admiral Lord Rodney. Rodney, another celebrated war hero, spoke vehemently against the abolition of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans in British Parliament. His statue still remains in the square of Spanish Town, Jamaica. Alongside Rodney's statue, Jamaica still has statues erected to Queen Victoria and to Sir Charles Metcalf, former British colonial administrator and governor of Jamaica. Monuments to Christopher Columbus still remain populated all over the region — in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago. We have failed to follow the lead of our Haitian brothers and sisters who, in 1987, removed the statue dedicated to Columbus from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Therefore, while we celebrate the pending removal of Nelson's statue, the work of true iconographic decolonisation across the region remains unfinished. We must continue to advocate for the toppling of the statues and other monuments that vilify the very legacies and lives of our enslaved ancestors who sacrificed everything for our present reality.


Gabrielle Hemmings is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Reparation Research. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or reparation.research@uwimona.edu.jm.

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