British Museum removes bust of slave-owning founder Sir Hans Sloane: ‘We have pushed him off the pedestal’

‘Dedication to truthfulness when it comes to history is absolutely crucial,’ museum director said

Adam White
Tuesday 25 August 2020 12:32 BST
Protesters call for removal of Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford

The British Museum has removed a bust of its slave-owning founder from prominent display, citing a move to acknowledge the museum’s historical relationship with slavery.

Sir Hans Sloane funded his collection of artefacts, books and curiosities with profits from his wife’s sugar plantation. Shortly before his death in 1753, he bequeathed many of his belongings to the nation, and 71,000 of them formed much of what would stock the British Museum.

A bust of his head will now no longer be displayed prominently, however, and rather stored in a secure cabinet. He will be described as “a collector and slave owner” on signage, and artefacts displayed alongside him will explain his work in the “exploitative context of the British Empire”.

“We have pushed him off the pedestal,” museum director Hartwig Fischer told The Telegraph. “We must not hide anything. Healing is knowledge.”

Fischer continued: “Dedication to truthfulness when it comes to history is absolutely crucial, with the aim to rewrite our shared, complicated and, at times, very painful history. The case dedicated to Hans Sloane and his relationship to slavery is a very important step in this.”

The deplatforming of the Sloane bust is one part of a wave of changes being made to the British Museum, which will involve prominently acknowledging its links to the slave trade and the imperialist actions from which the museum profited.

This year’s Black Lives Matter protests have proved to be a catalyst for systemic reform in the historical sector.

The National Trust last weekend (23 August) highlighted a series of objects on its sites that have direct and indirect links to slavery and colonialism, while a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from display at Oxford University.

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