What Will Happen To Bristol's Colston Statue – And What Should Replace It?

Slaver Edward Colston's statue stood in the city centre for 125 years before protesters pulled it down and dumped it in the harbour. Now it's gone, what will replace it?

Questions about what to do next were asked almost from the moment the 125-year-old statue of slaver Edward Colston was brought tumbling to the ground.

It had been a point of contention in the city for decades, with thousands of people signing petitions and joining calls for it to be removed. Now that it has, many are having their say on what should happen to it, and to the space where it stood.

“We can’t let them put it back up,” was the resounding comment in the moments after it fell, as crowds gathered around to watch as Colston was knelt upon – imitating the way in which Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes.

The statue being knelt on by protesters during Sunday's demonstration.
The statue being knelt on by protesters during Sunday's demonstration.

The statue was struck several times by protestors with a metal pole, but having already survived the fall from its pedestal it was clear that the statue couldn’t easily be broken up there and then.

Sitting just several hundred metres from Bristol’s historic harbour – the very spot from which Colston’s slave ships would have once sailed for West Africa – the answer to questions of how it could be discarded right there and then quickly became obvious.

Within a matter of minutes, the statue had been half rolled, half dragged to a spot on the waterfront next to Pero’s Bridge – the only site in the city itself named after a slave – and had been tipped into the water.

Though many in the city, and beyond, have made it clear that the river bed would be the best place for it to stay, it’s unlikely that’ll be the case.

Where will the statue go now?

Bristol’s directly elected Labour mayor Marvin Rees told BBC Breakfast on Monday morning that the statue would be removed from the harbour and would “no doubt” end up in a museum, where placards collected from Sunday’s protest would also be put on display.

There are calls for it to be displayed in a dedicated museum specifically addressing the history and legacy of slavery in Bristol but – despite the city’s interlocked history with the triangular slave trade – no such space yet exists.

There have been campaigns in the past to transform derelict buildings at the city’s waterfront into a museum, but plans have never been approved.

Instead Edward Colston’s statue looks set to be installed in one of the city’s existing museums alongside some of the placards carried through the streets on Sunday.

Dozens of protest signs were also arranged around the empty plinth, which Rees said on Monday would be collected and preserved at the M Shed museum situated next to Bristol’s former docks “so we can tell the story of this historic moment for our city.”

There has not yet been any indication of when the statue could be retrieved from the harbour, but many people have indicated that when it is eventually brought up it should be left untouched before going on display.

HuffPost UK has contacted Bristol City Council for more details on its plans for the statue.

Will another statue be installed in its place?

For now, the space where Colston’s statue used to stand is empty – but it seems that Bristolians are keen for that not to remain the case.

More than 12,500 people have already signed a petition for Colston’s statue to be replaced with one of civil rights pioneer Paul Stephenson, who led the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott.

His refusal to leave a pub until he was served a year later in 1964 – an action which resulted in a trial on a charge of failing to leave a licensed premises – hit national headlines, and paved the way for the first ever Race Relations Act in 1965.

Edward Beeston, who launched the petition, wrote: “It is time Bristol moves forward with its history in the slave trade, acknowledging the evil committed and how it can educate its citizens about black history.”

“We need a hero not a slave trader. Hope not fear,” wrote one signatory.

Another wrote: “It’s about time we recognised the contribution that Black people have made to Bristol. From slavery through to the current day.

“Without them, Bristol would not be the city it is.”

Other suggestions for a replacement statue include a memorial to the 19,300 West Africans who died during the transatlantic crossing and were thrown overboard during Colston’s time at the head of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692 – at which point it was Britain’s sole official slaving company.

In October 2018, 100 human figures in the formation of a slave ship were laid out in front of the statue in a guerilla art exhibition, reported the Bristol Post.

As well as paying tribute to those who died during Britain’s prominent role in the foundation of the slave trade, the installation also highlighted victims of modern slavery still working in the UK and around the world.

Dr Roger Ball, a historian specialising in Edward Colston and Bristol’s role in the slave trade as well as the history of urban riots, said the empty plinth should pay tribute to a collective of slaves and Bristolian abolitionists themselves.

“I will know Britain has changed in dealing with its history when we put on that plinth the slaves who rose up against slavery, such as Sam Sharpe who in 1831 led a massive uprising in Jamaica.

“I’d love to see, in Britain, recognition of the slaves who abolished slavery.

“There are a lot of figures who are not known about in British history who did amazing things and had an incredible effect. It wasn’t just individuals – it was whole networks of political and religious people.”


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