The statue of slave trader Robert Milligan adorned with a Black Lives Matter banner, ahead of its removal

Statue of slave trader removed from outside Museum of London Docklands

Simon Stephens, 10.06.2020
Mayor of London announces commission to look into future of controversial landmarks in city
The statue of slave trader Robert Milligan that sat outside the Museum of London Docklands was taken down yesterday by the authorities in Tower Hamlets.

This follows the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being pulled down and thrown into the harbour during an anti-racism protest in Bristol this weekend.

The news comes as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, unveiled the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, which will make a series of recommendations on the future of the London landmarks, including murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials.

Milligan was a prominent British slave trader who, by the time of his death in 1809, owned two sugar plantations and 526 slaves in Jamaica. The statue, made by Richard Westmacott, was moved to West India Quay, opposite the Museum of London Docklands, in 1997.

“The statue of Robert Milligan has stood uncomfortably outside the Museum of London Docklands for a long time, one of only three museums in the UK to address the history of the transatlantic slave trade,” said a Museum of London spokesperson.

“The Museum of London recognises that the monument is part of the ongoing problematic regime of white-washing history, which disregards the pain of those who are still wrestling with the remnants of the crimes Milligan committed against humanity.

"At the Museum of London we stand against upholding structures that reproduce violence, and have previously engaged in interventions that critically engage with pro-slavery lobbying.”

The land where the statue of Milligan is located is owned by the Canal and River Trust. A statement from the charity read: “We recognise the wishes of the local community concerning the statue of Robert Milligan at London Docklands and are committed to working with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Museum of London Docklands and partners at Canary Wharf to organise its safe removal as soon as possible.”

A number of other councils in England and Wales have announced that statues in their areas will be examined for links to slavery and plantation owners.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and, while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored. This cannot continue,” Khan said of his decision to launch the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm.

“We must ensure that we celebrate the achievements and diversity of all in our city, and that we commemorate those who have made London what it is – that includes questioning which legacies are being celebrated.

“The Black Lives Matter protests have rightly brought this to the public’s attention, but it’s important that we take the right steps to work together to bring change and ensure that we can all be proud of our public landscape.”


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11.06.2020, 11:18
It would be interesting to compare the rates of erecting statues of individuals in public places over the periods: before 1850, 1850-1900, 1900-1950, 1950-2000 and since 2000. (And make comparisons with other countries) London is a special case (there are statues everywhere and a lot of modern ones), but most town and cities (outside the four capitals) you walk around the majority of the statues of individuals were put up between 1850 - 1950 and inevitably those statues reflect the values of those eras. The consequences in the change of attitudes towards our public realm is that recent generations have not chosen or not been able to erect statues as a means of celebrating today's individuals. This may be because we have other avenues to celebrate individuals in our media saturated world. This may be because we can't agree on who should be put on a pedestal. This may be because we don't want to put anyone on a pedestal. This may be because in an era of multinational businesses and improverished local authorities, there is no one with the cash locally to spend on statues Whatever way it does have an impact on our city centres and the representation of our history in public places. Then you add in the hierarchies created by people's attitudes and you end up where we are: people feeling their concerns are being ignored, officials and politicians apparently unable to decide how to label a statue, let alone remove one until the dam of frustration finally bursts.