Penny Mordaunt backs campaign to honour Portsmouth Fleet that helped to end slavery
Penny Mordaunt has backed a major campaign to honour the West Africa Squadron which helped to bring about the end of slavery and freed 150,000 men, women and children.
The Portsmouth based Royal Naval fleet, operated between 1808 – 1867, policed the seas between West Africa and America, boarding any vessels suspected of being involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and seizing vessels that were.
So seriously did the UK embrace the quest to end slavery, following the passage of William Wilberforce’s Slave Trade Abolition Bill in 1807, that at its’ peak the fleet 36 of Royal Navy ships, crewed by 4,000 men, consumed 50 per cent of the entire Royal Navy’s budget, or two per cent of Great Britain’s entire GDP, equivalent to around £50 billion today.
Yet, there is no memorial to the thousands of sailors who lost their lives, or the pivotal role played by the Royal Navy which waged the 60-year campaign to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Penny Mordaunt commented:
“This sixty-year campaign saw thousands of men lose their lives to slowly turned the tide against this evil trade. It is estimated their actions directly freed 150,000 slaves and seized 1600 vessels. Such a memorial is not only a long overdue tribute to their sacrifice and achievements. It would also be an asset to modern Britain.”
The campaign was started by a group of local historians, led by Colin Kemp, who was surprised that there was no memorial to the West Africa Squadron. They have established a company to raise the £100,000 needed for the memorial, commissioned a design of a memorial a design from award winning sculpture, Vincent Gray and later this month will be unveiling a model in Parliament.
Colin commented: “The slave trade was an appalling episode in our island’s story, which has rightly been consigned to the history books – but how we got there and then engaged in a titanic struggle to end slavery once for all, is virtually unknown. Indeed, in a recent survey of UK adults, just one person had heard of the West Africa Squadron, while half of young people thought that the US was the first country to abolish slavery.
“In highlighting the atrocious treatment of those who were enslaved, we should also highlight and honour the work of those who did so much to end this vile trade, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives, in what academics Robert Pape and Chaim Kaufmann argued was ‘…the most expensive international moral action in modern history’.”
The proposed design for the memorial comprising three figures, a shackled woman, symbolising slavery, a naval officer of the time, making a compassioned gesture to the third figure, with broken shackles, reaching upward, symbolising a freed slave.
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Notes to editors:
Published in the Daily Mail, 6th January 2024.