Archive for February, 2008


DISCLAIMER: Too much of this entry is about finance, and doesn’t take account of human life and dignity neither past nor present. Apologies if it offends. It’s making a point about something which has been reduced to monetary values.

Given how much the Bristol Corporation (now Bristol City Council) and the city’s merchants and industries made out of enslaving Africans, I would say that £250k is miniscule recompense.

Since there is no-one putting the case for the £250k, I will attempt to clarify how it could be. The question of how to spend any money is of course central. So far this has not been put, so the only idea out there is that they are still commemorating the slave trade. Now this does sound like a waste of money. There is no ‘black’ and ‘white’ divide here either, which is refreshing. The allocation of this money has been universally rebuked.

Now there are a few things to highlight here:

1) There is a programme of activity that has been somewhat ignored by the official 2007 programme.

2) The allocation of £250k to the Legacy Commission is not seen as a one-off commemoration payment but a means to leverage further funds for sustainable activities – including education, health, and cultural representation.

3) What’s it worth anyways, two hunnud and fiddy kays?

Let’s start with point 3)

Bristol was Britain’s premier people-trafficking port in the 1730s. According to Lord Hugh Thomas in his academically respected tome ‘The Slave Trade’,

“Bristol was sending nearly fifty ships a year to Africa between 1728 and 1732, carrying well over 100,000 slaves on them….The most prominent merchants in Africans in Bristol were Isaac Hobhouse, who undertook forty-four slave voyages between 1711 and 1747; James Day, with fifty-six voyages between 1711 and 1742; Richard Henvill, who began slaving in 1709; and later James Laroche…who was far the biggest slave trader of the city, sending out 132 slave voyages between 1728 and 1769”

[p. 245, Picador 1997, hardback. ]

Now to looking at JUST ONE ‘profitable’ voyage in 1755, and quoting the correspondence of one Henry Laurens, a merchant of Charleston,SC , Hugh Thomas goes on

” ‘…Capt.[William] Jeffries [on The Pearl, owned by Thomas Easton & Co., of Bristol] arrived here the 10th instant with 251 pretty slaves….’ Most sold at between £270 and £280 each, ‘a very great price for Angola slaves’. Laurens was able to tell Easton that he had made £52,294 on this voyage.”
[p.269, Ibid.]

With a little homework and the help of this website:
(http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/?redirurl=calculators/ppoweruk/ ) it reveals something of the monetary value. Using the money calculators £270 (the price received for each Angolan) we get this :

£270 0s 0d from 1755 is worth £32,336.86 using the retail price index up to the year 2007. And, in 2007, £52294 0s 0d [the money made on that journey] from 1755 is worth £6,263,050.40.

And don’t bother doing to math to try and work out the 251 x 275 (avg.), it won’t work, as you have to take account of other things sold, and whether this is just profit or total revenue, other costs etc. This also doesn’t take account of the human cost of those who died on the way ‘black & white’….etc. But it serves to illustrate the scale of the thing.

    (However these calculations may be total nonsense. In which case if you have alternative views on how to values 1755 money today, please post em. Let us know how quickly you get to £250k in today’s money)

    While many ventures made losses, of life as well as lucre, those trips that profited really did, with some supposedly turning up 100-300% profit. Hugh Thomas averages it out, in what is a complex calculation overall at about an average of 10% profit throughout. However we look at it, we are talking BIG money. These guys in Bristol were trading ‘legally’ between 1698 to 1807. That’s 109 years. Not accounting for those unregistered journeys before, during and after that time. And the Bristol Corporation ran it. On behalf of the merchants, and the trades and the people of the city. The related industries, corollary activities and spin-offs on the backs of Africans. Those profits came back to the whole of the Bristol economy, much more than the worth of some £1.50 or whatever per council tax payer that has been calculated by James Barlow et al.

    If however you wanna do the reverse you could probably work out what £250k is worth in 1755 money, or you can work it out directly in ‘slaves’ based on The
    Pearl calculations!

    Now let’s take point 2)

    What is the £250k allocated for. Now this has not been clearly defined, and the idea of the local media and the community groups and everybody else is that it’s to ‘commemorate’. Well the idea is Legacy. While there are many people who were glad to see the back of 2007 in as far as it dealt with the slaving business, there were many who expected all the hype to disappear and for the African agenda to die a quiet death. Well they were right, that’s what’s happening. However the Legacy Commission is the remains of the Abolition 200 group, chaired by Paul Stephenson. The idea behind it is to ensure that the 2007 thing don’t just go away. Not to hang on to the past, but to plant a more secure future.
    Stephenson, I know, is keen to see that money used to leverage in other money for other sources outside the city, which can contribute to those groups who are crying out for structural support.
    Even the official report from the city council (http://www.bristol.gov.uk/ccm/content/Leisure-Culture/Local-History-Heritage/abolition-200.en ) talks about sustaining the focus on 1) education, 2) health & well-being & 3) cultural representation. Of course, without the government pressure of a national commemoration this too can go by the wayside, like many other things that are uncomfortable, and just get buried. Like the programme proposed by the COBG at the end of 2006.
    Right now, the debate means that an education group in St Pauls for instance, which works with many African children is busy looking to get this £ that is going to support ‘more commemoration’. Whereas in fact, it could be money that is leveraging in further support for education, of which they could and should be a benefactor. Instead thanks to Cllr Eddy and the Evening Post, the blacks are at each others throats again. Killing the goose, and trying to dig out the golden eggs. And so the Knowle Westers are at St Pauls’ throats.

    And speaking of things that get buried, whatever happened to that programme of activity put forward by the COBG in the moment of glory when everyone was looking at them cos the Deputy Prime Minister was. Now the spotlight if off, where is that sitting?
    Which takes me to point 1)

    I have taken the Admin privilege of making a page for this paper clickable above – ‘Operation Maafa’ – (or the link at the end of this paragraph). This is a paper that was not buried, it was in fact still-born. Never really seeing the light of day, as there were too many people feeling threatened by the Introduction. [So I’ve taken another liberty and pasted that Introduction at the end so the paper starts with Vision & Purpose] Now if that was studied carefully, then I think people might see some productive work that has come out and could still come out of it for the benefit of ALL Bristol citizens. Some might have to look harder than others to see the benefit. Some are wearing spectacles that would never see the benefit, but either way, some light needs to be cast on it. So here it is again… https://bristol2007.wordpress.com/operation-maafa/
    The most telling thing about this paper when it landed, was that the voluntary sector, and teh black voluntary sector, who should have been in a position to deliver it, were totally unable to due to lack of capacity. That could and should be addressed. And this paper should be reviewed. It falls short in many ways, and there are partnerships to be had with the tentacles of the same Bristol City Council (formerly Bristol Corporation) to develop some of that Legacy programme.

    Now for me, it’s not that I am so bogged down, or tied up with this money. But I got very frustrated about the many public views about what it wasn’t. And to see groups who could be supporting it, OR MOREOVER AT LEAST SUPPORTING EACH OTHER, with a bigger picture in mind, set to squabbling for scraps. Now is it best to give a few crumbs to a group in St Pauls or Knowle who will need much more than what they are offered now, to run for one year, and then see them all screwing up their face in December 2008 again? Or invest in a strong and sustainable voluntary sector that has to capacity to deliver services and have the capacity to manage itself, build skills, resources and creative ways of educating, healing, entertaining, informing or whatever.

    250 or no 250! Either ways these black groups, white groups, asian groups, muslim groups, legacy commissions and wot not will all be looking at each other hatingly. As these stories of peanuts which make the press giddy, are divvied up to cupped hands of slathering desperados with over-low aspirations, beaten down annually by the budget round.

    Not saying how to spend it, but rather how to look at it.That’s my £250k’s worth anyway. In old money that’s probably about a tuppence.
    Aw I dunno you do the math then!



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