British Museum removes bust of its slave-owning founding father

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The British Museum has removed a bust of its founding father, who was a slave owner, and said it wanted to confront its links to colonialism.

Hartwig Fischer, the institution’s director, revealed the likeness of Hans Sloane has been placed in a secure cabinet alongside artefacts explaining his work in the context of the British Empire.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Fischer said: “We have pushed him off the pedestal. We must not hide anything. Healing is knowledge.”

British Museum
The British Museum has moved a bust of its founding father due to his links to the slave trade (Tim Ireland/PA)

The decision had been taken partly as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum’s curators said. Protests against racial inequality broke out around the world following the killing of George Floyd in the US in May.

Sloane, a physician born in Ireland in 1660, partly funded his collection from enslaved labour on Jamaican sugar plantations. His artefacts provided the starting point for what became the British Museum.

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Fischer added: “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. We have pushed him off the pedestal where nobody looked at him, and placed him in the limelight.

“The British Museum has done a lot of work – accelerated and enlarged its work on its own history, the history of empire, the history of colonialism, and also of slavery. These are subjects which need to be addressed, and to be addressed properly. We need to understand our own history.”

Sloane married a wealthy sugar plantation heiress. He was honoured by numerous place names, including London’s Sloane Square.

The British Museum’s demotion of its founding father is part of a wider race reckoning triggered by Floyd’s killing.

In June, protesters in Bristol toppled the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston while campaigners have reignited their calls to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue from outside an Oxford college.

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  • Show Comments
    1. This seems to be a good decision by the British Museum. Mr Sloane is part of the history of the UK and keeping the bust but putting it in the context of a wider examination of his life offers people the opportunity to reflect on what their nationhood entails.

      Slavery, appalling as it is, actually happened and it cannot be ‘unhappened’. Over the time of its existence, the British Museum has been beneficial to huge numbers of people and will continue to do so in the future. We must, of course, be provided with as full a picture of peoples’ lives as possible and of the context of their times and reflect on the lessons of these for our lives and our times.

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