Letter: Liverpool and the slave trade: when a black child was a fashionable gift

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The Independent Online
Sir: Fritz Spiegl has raised a number of issues in his letter (16 August) on Liverpool and the transatlantic slave trade. In particular, he has posed a question about the stance of the new gallery 'Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity', which the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (NMGM) is creating with funds provided by the Peter Moores Foundation.

The trustees of NMGM recognised from the outset that people approach the subject of transatlantic slavery from many different perspectives. For this reason, an advisory committee, chaired by Lord Pitt of Hampstead, was established to guide the project. The committee includes people from the black community in Liverpool as well as others from elsewhere in the UK and overseas. The preparation of the design brief and the accompanying catalogue has been assisted by a second international committee of specialists in the history of slavery, drawn from Britain, North America, the Caribbean and Africa.

At the suggestion of these advisers, the trustees adopted a statement of intent, which reads:

The purpose of the gallery is to increase public understanding of the experience of black people in Britain and the modern world through an examination of the Atlantic slave trade and the African diaspora.

Some of the issues raised by Mr Spiegl will be addressed in the gallery: attention will be drawn to the advertisements that appeared in Liverpool newspapers in the late 18th century offering 'negroes for sale' and to the significant numbers of Africans working as servants throughout Britain.

While recognising that Africans were offered for sale on the West African coast, we will note that some captains, like Sir John Hawkins, openly kidnapped Africans. More generally, we will be examining the reasons why Africans engaged in slaving, including the temptation offered in the form of a wide range of European goods. As Obi Ossai, King of Abo, commented in the early 19th century: 'If white people give up buying, black people will give up selling.'

Yours sincerely,



National Museums and Galleries

on Merseyside


17 August

'Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity' will be a permanent display at Merseyside Maritime Museum from 25 October 1994.