The Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture – a brief history (Part II)

Part II: the end of the first phase of the Annual Lecture and its later re-inauguration

Emeritus Professor Michael E. Turner,

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

M.E.Turner@emeritus.hull.ac.uk

Tonight Professor Douglas Hamilton of Sheffield Hallam University will give our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture. If you haven’t yet signed up you can do so here where you will also find details of the lecture. Having given us the first part of his brief history of the lecture last week, Emeritus Professor Michael Turner concludes this week with a discussion of the end of its first phase, and its later re-inauguration.

Sydney Smith died in 1984 at the age of 99, but the annual lecture he founded in 1972 continued for another four years before coming at that point to an abrupt end. In October 1988 the Department of Economic and Social History was looking forward to welcoming Arthur Marwick, the flamboyant professor from the Open University, to deliver a talk, but he never came.

The 1980s saw quite considerable debate and sometimes unrest in the University sector. Many universities embarked on radical restructuring programmes in order to embrace some of the new technologies and subject areas that society would demand in the future. More traditional areas of learning came under attack as intellectual knowledge was no longer valued for its own sake. Universities embraced different ways to confront the more targeted funding provided by the conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher. More specialisation took place, for example, and the activities of so-called fringe subjects, especially languages, were discontinued. Members of staff moved to other universities where central funding for their activities was increased. The University of Hull lost Classics, Scandinavian Studies, Dutch Studies, and Russian, and in the sciences the Physics Department was lost. Some of these activities did return, but with much reduced activity. It was the attack on Philosophy which led to the redundancy of a specific lecturer, but it also served to ignite the fuse of revolt. Redundancy was not a word easily applied to the University sector and Hull became the first or at least the most prominent University to declare a redundancy. In consequence the AUT, the national Association of University Teachers, rallied to Hull’s cause and a boycott of all activity at Hull was declared. The impact was considerable. The University found it very difficult to recruit external examiners not only for undergraduate degrees but also to examine research theses. Colleagues were no longer invited to speak at external events, and external speakers cancelled their visits to Hull. Most significantly for our story here, Arthur Marwick cancelled his invitation to give the Annual Sydney Smith Lecture.

For whatever reason, the lecture was not reinstated once order had been restored, though the income from its investments grew nicely during the years of double-digit interest rates. In 2001 the Department of Economic and Social History was amalgamated with History. From 2004, however, the Wilberforce Institute began to take shape, under the three ‘WISE’ men who founded it, David Richardson, Michael (Mike) Turner and Gary Craig; it opened its doors late in 2006.  Mike and David had both worked in the old Department of Economic and Social History, and so in 2009 they negotiated with the University to release the Alderman Sydney Smith endowment specifically to the Wilberforce Institute in order to re-inaugurate the lecture. It was a perfect match, a lecture in social and labour history but specifically devoted to slavery and all its exploitative labour connotations. To make this rebirth something to be remembered, the distinguished American historian, Professor Seymour Drescher, was invited from Pittsburgh in 2010. His credentials included books on slavery, antislavery, abolition and most controversially his Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (1977).

Later speakers included Professors Marcus Wood in 2011, Philip D. Morgan in 2012, Catherine Hall in 2013 and Verene A. Shepherd in 2014. In 2018, we welcomed Professor Jean Allain, a scholar of international law who helped draft the Bellagio Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery. Two of our former Directors have also given lectures – Professors David Richardson in 2016, and John Oldfield in 2020.

Over the years, the lecture has moved between the University Campus and the Wilberforce Institute. Last year Covid-19 forced John Oldfield to deliver his lecture using a virtual format, but this year we are planning once again to hold the Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture in the Institute, with live-streaming of Professor Hamilton’s talk for those who cannot make it. We would be delighted to welcome you in person or inline.

Reproduced by kind permission of Hull History Centre

https://hullhistorycentre.org.uk/home.aspx

A21: Walk for Freedom in Hull

Saturday 16 October 2021, 11am

Sarah Colley, PhD student

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

S.E.Colley-2013@hull.ac.uk

Walk in single file! Quietly! Wear black!

Aren’t these the kind of instructions often given in schools?

Perhaps on occasion, but on Saturday October 16th this is the guidance we will be adopting on the Walk for Freedom, which is taking place this year in Hull for the first time. A21, the charity behind the walk, describe it as a silent protest against contemporary slavery. Its aim is to raise awareness that slavery still exists.

Those of us working or studying at the Wilberforce Institute strongly believe in social justice and the principle of freedom for all. Being next door to the birthplace of William Wilberforce, I have been constantly reminded that millions of people are still living in situations of contemporary slavery, such as forced labour, sexual exploitation, debt bondage and forced marriage. So, what can we as individuals do, when it feels that any action we take won’t make much of a difference to the 40 million people estimated to be in some form of slavery today?

Well, on one of A21’s awareness cards, it says “when we show up for the freedom of others, we show up for the world we want to see. A world where justice, human dignity, and freedom prevails. Your steps matter. Your voice matters. For those enslaved in your city, and around the world.” By walking here, or in a city close to us, or even by taking up A21’s virtual challenge, we can all play a part in learning more about slavery. And by having more discussions on the topic, by more people learning what to look out for and how to report it, I would argue we can all play our part.

We’d love to have you join us on the Hull walk, and this is not just a local event –  we will be joining with people in walks organised in over 50 countries, in hundreds of locations across the world, all on the same day. So, what do you need to know about the Hull walk? I will try and answer the most common questions below, but feel free to email me if you have any other queries: s.e.colley-2013@hull.ac.uk

Where is the walk taking place?

We will be following a historic route around Hull, starting from the Wilberforce Monument and walking down Humber Street, along the marina, across the new Murdoch connection bridge, and through the city centre. Our walk will end in Queens Gardens, where Wilberforce will be atop his 90-foot column, looking down on us as we finish.

What time are we walking?

We are starting the walk at 11am and as it is a 2-mile route, it will take us around an hour to walk it. We are suggesting that everyone registers online, via the A21 website before October 16th, but we will be able to register people on the day, if preferred. Registration will be open by 10am.

Who is supporting the walk?

Raising awareness is always a team effort and huge thanks need to go to the amazing support offered by my colleagues and friends at the Freedom Festival, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership and of course, those at the Wilberforce Institute. We are all passionate about doing whatever we can to raise awareness of the topic.

More about A21

For more information on A21, please have a look at their website: https://www.a21.org/ where you can read more about the charity and the work they do, and also find information on the walk and this year’s virtual challenges.

If you are concerned that someone might be held in slavery, forced labour or being exploited in other ways, you can always call the Police (999 or 111, depending on whether it is an emergency or not) or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or you can report or contact them online.

Hope to see you on October 16th!

The Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture – a brief history

Part I: Sydney Smith and the establishment of the Annual Lecture

Emeritus Professor Michael E. Turner,

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull.

M.E.Turner@emeritus.hull.ac.uk

In advance of our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture next week, Emeritus Professor Michael Turner provides a brief history of the lecture’s creation and development. The first part is given below, and the second part will appear next Thursday on the day of the lecture. You can sign up to the lecture here.

The history of the Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture goes back to the 1970s, and the Department of Economic and Social History, which was later absorbed into the Department of History. To understand the lecture’s creation, however, we have to begin with the man himself.

Sydney Smith came from a family of tailors who moved from Birmingham to Ipswich and then to London, where he was born in 1885. After spending his earliest years in the capital, Sydney moved to Goole at the age of nine when his father fell ill. His father’s brother lived there and the family thought it would be wise to be nearer to him. Sydney’s cousin was a Goole newsagent and Sydney became one of his newspaper sellers, later buying into the newsagent’s business himself.

By the age of 18 Sydney had moved to Hull and was living on the Boulevard. Thereafter he never strayed far from the Hessle Road. Born into a Methodist family, Sydney became a lay preacher in adulthood, but there were also early family connections with politics – his maternal grandfather, Charles Hedges, had been political agent to conservative politician and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Sydney took a different political direction, became a socialist and joined the ILP (Independent Labour Party). He eventually attended Ruskin College in Oxford, a popular college for bright young socialists before attending St Catherine’s College, also Oxford, where he read modern history. He expanded his newsagent business into books, especially those of the Fabian Society, and active politics beckoned. He was first elected to Hull City Council in 1923. Sydney remained almost continually on the Council until 1942, and served as Lord Mayor in 1940. Being unmarried, he took as his lady mayoress his niece, Miss Daisy Sunderland, who was only 23 at the time.

In the 1945 General Election Sydney was elected to Westminster as part of the Labour landslide. Representing the South-West Hull seat, he deposed the sitting MP Richard Law, who later became Lord Coleraine. His maiden speech was on the subject of the National Insurance Bill, where he spoke against a proposal to introduce a means test for unemployment benefits – it was contrary to the Beveridge line that paying into a fund conferred rights of entitlement if hard times and unemployment followed later. Sydney’s other main interventions at Westminster were on local issues, specifically the urban reconstruction of Hull which had been the most ‘densely’ bombed city during the Second World War. He also spoke on Hull’s fishing industry. However, Sydney stood down from Parliament after only 5 years in 1950 at the age of 65 and returned to municipal politics. Twenty years later, when he retired from the Council, he was made an Honorary Alderman for life. External honours followed in the final years of his life: a school was named after him in Hull; he became an Honorary Freeman of the City; and the University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law and conferred on him membership of the University Court for life.

The Alderman Sydney Smith Lecture was created when the new Department of Economic and Social History was formed in 1970-71.  Following negotiations conducted by two of the Department staff, John Saville and Mike Brown, Sydney made a financial bequest to inaugurate a four-year lecture series in labour and social history. Saville was the first Professor of Economic and Social History at Hull, and Mike Brown was an historian of the labour movement and very much a friend of Sydney. Reputedly Mike’s family dog Syd, was named after him. The endowment became perpetual through a trust fund.

The very first lecture was given by Professor Asa Briggs on 15 May 1972, then Vice-Chancellor at Sussex and himself a noted historian of the Labour Movement. Brigg’s lecture was on Social History and Human Experience. Sydney was therefore in his mid-80s when the lecture series began. He attended the first lecture and wrote Briggs a warm letter of appreciation, although he disclosed that he ‘scarcely heard a word of what was said. I knew he was carrying the audience with him by the ripples of laughter which shook those sitting about me’. Sydney was already blind and nearly deaf by this point, and so in subsequent years details of the lecture were narrated to him by Mike Brown (and tape recordings of the lectures were made).

Following Briggs appearance, the annual lecture became a who’s who of the intellectual left with such noted and often controversial figures as Edward Thompson in 1974. Three more heavyweight intellectual Marxists followed in the period 1978-80 in the shape of Rodney Hilton, Eric Hobsbawm, and Christopher Hill. The lecture also attracted the Welsh fireball Gwyn Williams in 1983, not to mention a relatively young new member of the intellectual left, Gareth Steadman Jones, in 1986. In those early years there was only one female lecturer, Charlotte Erickson, who spoke on Women Emigrants from Britain to the USA in the early nineteenth century. However, the lecture was proving to be a great success, attracting academics of reputation and distinction to Hull, and confirming the Department of Economic and Social History as an important centre for the study of Labour History. As Part II will show, it is somewhat ironic then that it was labour relations that would bring the first phase of the Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture to an end.

Reproduced by kind permission of Hull History Centre

https://hullhistorycentre.org.uk/home.aspx

Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture: Enslaved revolt and the Royal Navy in the Caribbean, c. 1790-1832

Thursday 14 October 2021, 5.30PM – 7.30PM BST

Wilberforce Institute, 27, High Street, Hull. HU1 1NE

Or join us by livestreaming on Microsoft Teams

Professor Douglas Hamilton

Sheffield Hallam University

D.Hamilton@shu.ac.uk

This year our Alderman Sydney Smith Annual Lecture will be given by Douglas Hamilton, Professor of History at Sheffield Hallam University. He is an historian of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic empire, with a particular interest in the Caribbean and slavery. He is currently working on two projects. The first is ‘An empire of islands’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council which explores how islands contributed to the establishment, extension, and maintenance of the British Empire in the Age of Sail. The second project assesses the role of the Royal Navy in eighteenth-century Caribbean society.

For this lecture, Professor Hamilton will focus on this second project, and he offers an abstract below of what he intends to cover.

While the actions of foreign navies and enemy privateers occupied the minds of naval officers, one of the gravest threats to the security of the British colonies in the Caribbean came from within. For a generation or more scholars have placed considerable emphasis on what Hilary Beckles has called ‘the 200-years war’ against enslavement, highlighting the role of the enslaved in their struggle for self-liberation. The actions of the Royal Navy as an instrument of the state to be used in suppressing revolt have received much less attention. Yet in virtually every major rising across the British Caribbean from the mid-18th century, the Royal Navy was instrumental in securing victory for the colonial elite. The existing scholarship currently highlights the ways in which the navy blurred the lines between enslavement and emancipation and provided routes into freedom; this lecture makes plain the extent to which it helped Britain and the Caribbean planter class face down challenges to the system of enslavement.

For details of how to get to the Institute, or to livestream this event contact R.Bloomfield@hull.ac.uk

Adolphe Duperly (1833): Destruction of the Roehampton Estate in 1832.

Conference: Modern Slavery and Climate Change

Monday 11 October 2021

Climate change and modern slavery are elements of a vicious circle. Natural disasters and slow degradation of the environment destroy traditional livelihoods and push people towards hazardous and exploitative work. Meanwhile, these exploitative and unregulated industries are often extremely polluting and high emitters of CO2.

This free online event, hosted by the Wilberforce Institute in partnership with Anti-Slavery International, brings together researchers and practitioners from around the globe to share their experiences and solutions to this vicious circle.

Join us online on 11 October 2021 by registering for your free ticket at: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/158716331821

Those taking part include speakers from Rainforest Alliance, Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, Rights Lab, Fundación Libera, International Institute for Environment and Development, and Confederación Nacional de Mujeres indígenas de Bolivia, among others.

Wilberforce Institute Debate: The Impact of Brexit – has this increased or decreased the risk of labour exploitation and modern slavery in the UK?

Tuesday 21 September 2021, 4PM – 6PM BST

As issues about the supply of goods and pharmaceuticals begin to bite in the wake of Brexit, Cristina Talens, Head of Business Risk Assessment Services in the Wilberforce Institute, will lead a major discussion about the impact of Brexit on labour exploitation and modern slavery. This webinar introduces a panel of experts, listed below, who are working at the forefront of identifying and tackling exploitative practices on the ground today.

Dame Sara Thornton – UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and chair of the Government Skills and Curriculum Unit Leadership Advisory Board. Dame Sara was Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police from 2007-2015 and the first Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council from 2015-2019

Melville Miles – Head of Human Rights (Greencore) and Board Member of the Food Network for Ethical Trade

Darryl Dixon – Head of Gangmasters Licensing Authority single enforcement body

Shayne Tyler – Group Compliance Director at Fresca Group and Anti-Slavery Network Director

David Camp – Chief Executive of allianceHR Ltd and the Association of Labour Providers Ltd

This is not a discussion between academics. Cristina has assembled a stellar panel of experts from a diverse range of backgrounds from the Anti-Slavery Commissioner to police enforcement and experts in the areas of ethical trade and supply chains. Our speakers will be talking about the impact of Brexit on labour in the UK and the new risks companies need to be aware of with the sourcing of labour.

To sign up for this event please click on the link below:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7287658042180033552

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Uncovering and Celebrating Black Canadian History: The BlacktoCanada podcast

Channon Oyeniran

Former postgraduate student

University of Hull

channonc425@gmail.com

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”

                                                                                                        Marcus Garvey

In 2018, after some thought and discussion with my husband, I decided that I wanted to document the stories of Black Canadians and the over 400 years of history that we as Black people have in Canada. I concluded that a written blog or a video blog would be ideal! I liked the idea of a video blog because I could visit different historical sites across my home province of Ontario, and then eventually venture to the other provinces and territories in Canada, to show everyone the importance of that site to Black Canadians. However, after some more thought about the logistics of this and how it would work, especially with a then two-year old, maybe a video blog wouldn’t be the best way for now to share these stories. I did need a name for this project, even though I didn’t know what the project would look like and with help from family, friends and members of my community, the name “BlacktoCanada ” was chosen as one of four options for my new project!

Though I had a name intact and a logo ready to go, other projects, having my second son and the busyness of life took over, and it wasn’t until three years later that I finally launched the idea I had envisioned in 2018: to document and showcase the rich and amazing stories of Black Canadians. However, despite originally wanting to write a blog and more specifically create a video blog, I decided on a podcast – a growing and popular trend and a way for people to listen while on the go!

Being a historian of Caribbean History, Black History in Canada and the history of Black enslavement (thanks to the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull!), it has always been important to me to share all the amazing stories I learned about with others, specifically the next generation. Growing up in the Canadian school system, I didn’t always learn about the rich history of Black people in Canada. I want this podcast to be a resource and a tool that students, teachers and anyone can use to learn about the history, communities and the individuals who helped build Canada into what it is today. Particularly, after all that occurred in 2020 concerning the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the murders of countless Black people, it is evident that now more than ever, the attention is on Black people, their history and how that history connects to anti-Black ideas, and the injustices Black people face across the world. We are in an era of racial and social awakening globally, and I believe we must act and not be stagnant. This is another reason why I started and launched BlacktoCanada. I want to be able to contribute what I know about Black History in Canada and share it with as many people who will listen!

Also, what I really appreciate about my podcast is that it is not specifically a tool to be used or listened to only during a specific time, such as Black History Month. Often during Black History Month, the focus is on the achievements, accomplishments and the legacy that people of African descent have left behind and continue to make. Black History Month is of course a time of memorialization with a goal to educate, recall and celebrate the Black experience, achievements and endurance of people of African descent, from their forceful journey from the shores of Africa to their lives in the Americas and Europe. Sadly, when the month is over, many people put the activities, memories and knowledge of Black History Month “away” until the following year. However, the beauty of a podcast like BlacktoCanada, means that the accomplishments, achievements, legacies and stories of Black people in Canada remains relevant and real in the memory of those who choose to listen to the podcast.

On January 11th, 2021, the first episode, “Africville”, of the BlacktoCanada podcast was launched and the last episode, “Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present”, of season one wrapped up on April 19th, 2021. I’m so happy and proud of how far the podcast has come in a few short months!! It has been humbling and inspiring to talk with different guests about their connections to Black history in Canada. Season Two of the podcast will launch in September and there will be more awesome guests who will share their knowledge and stories concerning Black Canadian History. As mentioned, the BlacktoCanada podcast provides listeners with the rich, interesting and often untold 400-year history and stories of Black Canadians. Listeners can learn about the challenges, barriers, hardships, joys and resilience of Black Canadians and how they helped to build Canada. The BlacktoCanada podcast also has a mandate to celebrate the achievements of Canada’s Black communities!

BlacktoCanada is available on a number of podcast platforms including:

Anchor: https://anchor.fm/channonoyeniran

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/4dAXZH6dp3h8xLD6LURcRh

‘Anywhere Kids’ – a film for young people by young people

Andrew Smith

Coordinator, Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, based at the Wilberforce Institute, has teamed up with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for Humberside and local award-winning production company My Pockets to produce an innovative animation and resource pack for parents, teachers and carers to educate 10–12 year-olds on the dangers of child criminal and sexual exploitation.

The OPCC fund and oversee a local campaign called Not In Our Community that aims to raise awareness of child exploitation, both criminal and sexual. In addition to successful social media campaigns, they also produce resources and stories based on real life events that are used throughout educational and professional settings to raise awareness that helps protect young people.

My Pockets has vast experience in making innovative and heartfelt films, music, digital campaigns, and social art projects. In 2008 the company was invited to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister in recognition of their work inspiring young people.

‘Anywhere Kids’ uses aspects of real stories from real victims in our area to reveal how young people are groomed, coerced, and trapped into exploitation such as drug dealing, forced criminality and sexual exploitation. The film seeks to open a dialogue with younger children about some of the dangers they may face online or in person and how they might protect themselves from being targeted by exploiters and organised criminal gangs.

The film is narrated by the female character called Aiesha, a young person who lives in our area, and her story is very real. Aiesha wanted to tell her story in a way that would help other children stay safe from sexual exploitation and abuse. From beginning to end this brave and inspirational young lady has been a constant motivation for all who have worked on the film. We are absolutely sure that when other young people hear her story, they will not only be able to relate to Aiesha but they will feel more confident and empowered to stay safe or ask for help.  

The resource pack will help children explore elements of the film by using specially designed question and activity cards that promote critical thinking, group discussions, debate, and even creative activities such as drawing and painting. The resource pack also contains useful information for teachers, parents, and carers such as the definitions of child criminal and sexual exploitation, signs to spot, support available and specific advice on how to work with children who make disclosures or have concerns. The hope is that this resource will empower teachers to be confident in facilitating conversations with their pupils, give children the confidence to speak up, and help parents to understand the risks of this destructive crime.

As coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership I recognise that ‘finding new ways of reaching young people in Humberside is a top priority for us and our partners. Seeing first-hand the devastating effects this despicable type of crime has on young people and their families we are determined to bring partners together to take the fight straight to the criminals and organised criminal gangs who are relentless in finding new ways to exploit and harm our young people for their own gain.

‘These criminals destroy our children’s lives for profit, they tear families apart and show little regard for the lasting damage they often do. As this issue becomes increasingly complex, we must work hard to find more suitable and lasting solutions by which to safeguard our young people. This must always begin with education and empowerment. By giving young people the knowledge and confidence to push back against those who would take advantage of them we are building the foundations of more resilient communities that drive out CCE [Child Criminal Exploitation] and say no to all forms of slavery.

With input from colleagues at the Wilberforce Institute the resource pack will act as a template for discussing other difficult subjects with young adults and children in the future.

  1. You can view the ‘Anywhere Kids’ animation here
  2. Click here to visit the Fearless.org website
  3. The full range of Not In Our Community resources can be accessed at www.notinourcommunity.org along with information on the help and support available in Humberside

Wilberforce Institute Debate: Slavery in Massachusetts

Thursday 22 July 2021, 4PM – 6PM BST

Slavery was important everywhere in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, including in places like Massachusetts where the numbers of enslaved people were relatively small and the colonial economy was not directly based on enslavement. Slavery had been legally sanctioned in 1641, but just over a century later, according to the Massachusetts government’s own website, the population of the enslaved may have constituted little more than 2 percent of the total population.

What has drawn the recent attention of scholars however is not the number of the enslaved or their economic roles. The topic of Native American and African American slavery in Massachusetts has flourished following a series of important articles and books on a range of issues, from the rise and fall of slavery in Boston, to the life and works of Phillis Wheatley, the African American poet, to the question of why emancipation occurred, when it took place and how it happened during the American Revolution. This webinar introduces some of the major scholars who are contributing to this dynamic field – Jared Hardesty, Gloria McCahon Whiting and Margaret Newell – along with commentary from two very distinguished historians of New England and Canada – Mark Peterson and Charmaine Nelson. The speakers will reveal how important the question of slavery was in Massachusetts, despite the small number of the enslaved, and outline a range of historical opinion on slavery and emancipation in this fascinating British colony and American state.

Jared Hardesty
Gloria McCahon Whiting
Margaret Newell
Charmaine Nelson
Mark Peterson

To sign up for the webinar please click on the link below:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1007670936280116239

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

First slaves arrive in Massachusetts. Image at https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/first-slaves-arrive-in-massachusetts.html

Tropical Hospitality, British Masculinity, and Drink in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute

University of Hull

t.g.burnard@hull.ac.uk

In our last regular blog before the autumn, Professor Trevor Burnard provides a summary of his recent article in the Historical Journal. 

Jamaica was the wealthiest and most unequal colony in the eighteenth-century British Empire. It established a distinct culture among its white inhabitants – what we might call the lifestyle of the ‘British male abroad’. That culture was characterized by various forms of libidinous excess, as seen in sexual behaviour that was depraved, deviant and debauched by the standards of the time, and by our standards today, involving as it did the sexual exploitation of enslaved women and free women of colour. It involved, moreover, reprehensible and exploitative attitudes to non-white people both directly and also indirectly – the gluttony and drunkenness of white Jamaicans contrasted glaringly with enslaved people on the verge of starvation. Commentators such as the historian Edward Long praised the white inhabitants for their commitment to an ethos of hospitality and generosity but the reality of white Jamaican ‘hospitality’ was much more sordid. A better guide than Long to the realities of white culture in eighteenth-century Jamaica, even though Long is by far the more important writer, is J.B. Moreton, who wrote a racy guide for the benefit of ‘cowskin heroes’ or young male immigrants seeking wealth and fortune in managerial positions as overseers of enslaved people on plantations.

Tropical Hospitality, British Masculinity, and Drink in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica uses Moreton’s guide as a means to investigate Jamaica’s debauched drinking culture. It shows that drink, dancing, and illicit sex combined to create a milieu in which activities frowned upon in Britain, or which were confined to specific and highly regulated homosocial encounters, defined white male cultural practices in the island. They drank to excess, adopted libertinism as a mode of behaviour, and saw hospitality less as a virtue than as a way of obtaining pleasure, often at the expense of enslaved women. In short, white Jamaicans were hospitable but they were not polite. If anything, they grew less polite over time, as their positions as privileged parts of the plantation system made them feel especially entitled. Ideas about the tropics formed in the Caribbean quickly migrated to other regions, notably to India. This revealed that British rule was not inevitably linked with ‘moral progress’. The tropical male abroad was devoted to very hard drinking, a vice which harmed their health, turning their well-formed British bodies into diseased Creole ones. This transformation showed in the malign effects of the tropics on character and physiognomy. The white tropical male abroad was thus not generous and hospitable, as patriotic Jamaican writers tried to insist was an intrinsic part of Jamaican culture. Instead, the tropical male abroad, at least those that took enthusiastically to island life, was typically a drunkard and a sexual predator. Their drinking culture provides a window into how white men devoted to satisfying their urges and seeking pleasure as a major goal adapted themselves to the peculiar social conditions, including slavery, of eighteenth-century Jamaica.

Harbour Street, Kingston, Jamaica, between 1820 and 1824, James Hakewill (1778-1843). Source: https://archive.org/details/picturesquetouro00hake/page/12/mode/2up