Explorer and abolitionist David Livingstone condemned by Council on ‘links to slavery’

Councilors in SNP-driven Glasgow are expected to vote on Thursday to give a formal apology to descendants of slaves “for the city’s significant role” in trade.

Links to slavery ‘weak’

Christopher Whatley, a professor of history at the University of Dundee, said it was clear Livingstone was “linked to slavery” along with hundreds of thousands of Scots at the time.

He said, however, that the connection could be seen as “weak” and questioned whether it was reasonable to expect a child in the 19th century to question his employer’s ties to the slave trade.

“Should we condemn ordinary people like Livingstone, who had little or no choice but to work for a living at a time when state support for the unemployed was non-existent?” he said.

“There were definitely several factors other than salary that explain Livingstone’s subsequent career.”

Livingstone’s illustrations of how slaves were treated in Africa shocked audiences in Britain.

He also reported a massacre of prisoners in 1871, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was seen as influential in ending the East African slave trade.

This omits the report, however, but focuses instead on his work on the mill.

It states that the owner of the mill, where Livingstone began work in 1823, “was in a partnership with two Glasgow West Indies merchants in the 1810s”.

It adds that it is “likely” that the cotton he was working on was “sourced from the Caribbean”, with his “high remuneration” allowing him to study at university.

When he returned to Blantyre Mill as a famous explorer in 1856, he condemned slavery as the “greatest evil ever committed”.

The report says, however, that at the same time, he made a “strong defense” of “paternalistic and benevolent” cotton champions.

‘Participation in movable property slavery’

The 119-page document, by University of Glasgow academic Stephen Mullen, also highlights 62 Glasgow streets and locations and 11 buildings that have a “direct” or “association” connection to Atlantic slavery.

It claims that Glasgow, a major port in the age of the empire, had not done as much as other British cities with historical links to slavery, such as Liverpool and London, to acknowledge and apologize for its past.

Susan Aitken, SNP council leader, said the report offers “an indisputable evidence base on the extent of Glasgow’s involvement in movable property slavery”.

A spokesman for the council said: “It has always been our intention to hold far-reaching public discussions and consultations on the results. As such, it will be up to the people of Glasgow to decide the next step of the city.”

Other problematic Glasgow statues:

James Watt (George Square)

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