The winner of the competition presented to you in my last blogpost was none other than Mr R. Brague of 10101 Strollingdownthe Avenue, Canton,
USA. My congratulations to him. Already his worthless exclusive prize
is winging its way towards him via FedEx.
As Mr R.Brague knew immediately, the mystery man in those three pictures was none other than William Wilberforce. He (not Mr R. Brague) was born in the city of Hull, Yorkshire in 1759. After a lifetime in politics, he died at the age of seventy three in London. Like most of us, between birth and death he did many things but unlike the rest of us Wilberforce was a tireless anti-slavery campaigner - The Slave Trade Act of 1807 was largely down to him. And The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was mostly built on Wilberforce's dogged political work though he died a short time before it reached the statute books.
Throughout the eighteenth century, British plantation owners - who operated largely in the West Indies, Guyana and some of the southern states of America - had callously exploited their African workforce in order to maximise profits. Stories of this barbarism did not sit well with free-thinking Christians and humanists back in Britain. Wilberforce became the parliamentary voice of these dissenters.
|Wilberforce's grave in Westminster Abbey|
Here's an extract from an anti-slavery speech he made in parliament in 1789 - "Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we can not evade it; it is now an object placed before us, we can not pass it; we may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we can not turn aside so as to avoid seeing it; for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision." It chimes with another Wilberforce quotation unearthed by my friend Mountain Thyme in Colorado “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
After a grand funeral in the summer of 1833, William Wilberforce was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey alongside his lifelong friend - William Pitt. Back in Hull, his childhood home is now a museum - devoted mainly to his ceaseless work against slavery - and in front of Hull College a statue of him sits atop a tall stone pillar. Unlike the majority of politicians who seem intent on inflating their egos and feathering their own nests, I think that Wilberforce really did achieve something of worth - forcing his countrymen and fellow politicians to think differently about slavery and to get something done about it. His work also had tremendous resonance in a newly independent America, wrestling with its conscience regarding slavery and the notion of "liberty and justice for all".
|Wilberforce's Column in Hull, East Yorkshire|